LOG ENTRY 57
Sadao - Koh Samui - Hua Hin - Bangkok - Chiang Mai
Distance: 1891 kilometers in two rides
As we decided to head North to China, we had to apply for four visas which take around a week to obtain, so we rode up to Chiang Mai for some jungle trekking.
Leaving Samui is getting more and more painful. We have been coming back here since we arrived in Thailand and it is because of Rudi’s and Monika’s utmost hospitality. This time we left for real, no plan to return during this trip, little we know that time that we will end up on the coconut island sooner than we wished for.
The distance from Donsak where the Seatran ferry ported is slightly more than 800 kilometers. The double range for a day we aimed to do it and arrive in Bangkok by the evening. However, we did not plan the continuous rain storm which slowed us down to the point that we decided to stay in Hua Hin, about 220 kilometers from South of Bangkok. It was a reasonable choice as further North from Hua Hin we would constantly ride in the rush hour traffic, and with the side boxes, it is always a nightmare.
We stayed in the same guesthouse as last time on the way to South, only two of us this time, celebrated the fact that we passed the 20,000th kilometers on the trip just before Hua Hin and dived into our Cartographia road maps to plan the way up to China. The next morning we took it easy, we wanted to avoid the high traffic again and did the last remaining 230 kilometers to Bangkok within three hours.
Before settling down at the same guest house near Khaosan road, we dropped our passports at an agent to obtain the Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian visas. It will take almost a week to get the visas so that we will be around for a while.
Where all the magic happens, the bar. Dad is in the making of big ideas.
After settled down in the guesthouse we went out to have a few beers or as we call it “planning.” We knew that the visa application process would take some time, but we didn’t have a clear plan what to do for that one week. We both agreed not to stay in Bangkok, so we had to come up with some plan for the following week. After a few cold beers, we decided to head up North to Chiang Mai as we read about the jungle trekking trips there. Filled with anticipation we hit the closest internet café to search on those trips, and we found a few fascinating ones, wrote down the names of the places and mentally prepared for the jungle with some more beers.
The road to Chiang Mai is about 900 kilometers from Bangkok, and we are on very sketchy terms with the tires, so we had to change them before leaving Bangkok. That put our departure to Chiang Mai to next day’s afternoon.
In Thailand as I wrote earlier, shops with similar products are all located in the same area. The tire street as we called it isn’t so far from Khaosan road, only about 10 minutes ride towards China town but the traffic made it be over an hour in the morning. We used Michelin Anakee tires until now, so we aimed to get those again. With all the hassle to find two sets and get it fitted we spent half of the day, so we decided to stay a few more hours in Bangkok. Decided to have a cold shower and only leave to Chiang Mai after dark so we can have some rest, avoid the rush hour traffic out of Bangkok, and we could have a nice night ride and arrive in the morning to the second biggest city of the kingdom.
It was about 8 pm when we left Bangkok; earphones were plugged in, and we headed up North in the seemingly endless dark highway for one of the best rides on the trip so far. After midnight the temperature dropped substantially, and we enjoyed every minute of the trip. We stopped twice on the way, once for fuel and once for a quick refreshing break. A few hours before dawn we reached the mountains before Chiang Mai and the curvy road, and the cold weather kept us awake, just to arrive safely at the city around 4 am in the morning. After being awake for 24 hours and 900 kilometers behind us, all we wanted is a cozy bed with air-conditioning to recharge our batteries for the trekking on the following day.
LOG Entry 56
Johor Bahru - Kuala Lumpur - Sadao
Distance: 830 kilometers
Since I couldn’t get the Australian visa we decided the day before to head up to North, towards China through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
We left Johor Bahru eight in the morning and headed to Malacca at first. About hundred kilometers North of Johor Bahru we stopped for a quick drink and to check the map. This was before smart phones and Google map and to be honest stopping time to time for a few minutes to navigate made the trip even more fun. As we were looking at the map almost the same time Dad and I looked at each other’s and instantaneously had the same thought. Why don’t we just ride up to Thailand? The border was about 800 kilometers from where we were and it seemed like a good idea and a doable ride.
The 800 kilometers turned into 900 by the time we reached the Thai border. This was a really boring and a fairly hard ride. The Suzuki’s are great on the highway and the 140 km/h cruising speed is good and comfortable but the weather was really hot and the rain caught us four times. It was eight in the evening when we arrived to the border, luckily no complication with the visas and by nine we were looking for rooms in Sadao. Sadao is the border town on the Thai side, famous for its nightlife and red light district. To be honest the whole town looked like a big red light town. Neon signs are offering all sorts of womanly pleasures to the mainly Malaysian clientele together with cheap booze.
We realized how much this town is about sex and booze tourism when we tried to get a room in numerous hotels. We tried at least three until one hotel was willing to give one room for the two of us. Places we tried didn’t understand why we want to stay in the same room. No mister, two rooms for two persons was the reply everywhere we tried. They are just not used to guys sharing a room I guess.
Even thought we got separate rooms, about half an hour later when we both finished showering we heard a knock on the door. Dad opened it and two very lightly dressed ladies smiled at him back. Room service, said the older, obviously the leader girl. They must have heard our stomach grinding but to be fair, we were more up for some food than late night shenanigans with this two career butterflies.
The next morning we had to make a decision how far up we go today. The unthinkable destination was Bangkok to obtain the necessary visas for Lao, Cambodia, Vietnam and China but the 1200 plus kilometers seemed a bit farfetched for the day, no question, we had to find a place to stop. If you are a reader of riderslog.com you can guess where is that place. Koh Samui, about 450 kilometers from the border and 850 from Bangkok it seemed like a good choice, Rudi and Monika would surely like to see us again and we needed an oil/filter change and the garage next to Springers pub had the filters. As we arrived without any notice they were really surprised. Had a chilled afternoon together and decided to get matching tattoos together with Rudi and Dad, marking our friendship as the three brothers as Rudi liked to call our triumvirate. After all the male bonding we ended up in the main entertainment area again to ease the pain with some not so fine local liqueurs.
Next morning we headed up to Bangkok and then to Chiang Mai to explore the jungle wilderness and taste whatever the Golden Triangle had to offer, but that’s the next LOG ENTRY’s story.
LOG ENTRY 55
Johor Bahru - Singapore - Johor Bahru
Distance: endless kilometers on foot
The moodiest face ever over Singapore
When we left Hungary with the bikes I haven’t imagined that I will cross borders on foot without the beloved Suzukis. It happened once already in India, when our bikes was not allowed into the country and we ended up walking into India and spent weeks travelling without the bikes.
This was the case again in Singapore. We agreed with Dad that it would be cheaper and much easier to leave the bikes in Johor Bahru and cover Singapore with public transport. Luckily our guest house was so close to the border bridge that we could easily walk there in the morning. To be perfectly honest, it was like being in an exodus. Thousands upon thousands walked towards the immigration from Malaysia, daily workers mostly from all sorts of ethnic background.
Surprisingly getting through the border was really simple and fast and after walking across drug sniffing dogs kennels we were already in the tiny city state.
I forget to mention that the day before we tried another ferry near Malacca but they informed us that without visa they can’t take us to Sumatra. The twist in the story is that Hungarians do not require holding a tourist visa to Indonesia; we are exempt for 90 days. We tried to explain this to the ferry company but they were reluctant, we either have a visa or no ferrying. Because of this seemingly small inconvenience first we headed to the Indonesian embassy in Singapore. Surprisingly we got through the lines really quickly just to get the first slap of the day. They told us that without ferry or flight ticket we can’t get a visa at the embassy, again we tried to explain the situation but rules are rules, we heard the reply. The situation is not helpless; booking a flight from Singapore to Jakarta or to Bali is really not expensive but before we do that we wanted to make sure that I get the Australian visa first.
Merlion, the lion headed fish, symbol of Singapore
Next stop was the Australian embassy, another surprise, no queue, we got admitted right away and a lovely middle aged woman talked to us little after she took my details for track down my visa application. As she was returning I knew instantly that something is not right. She told me that the application was rejected weeks ago and she doesn’t understand why the Australian embassy in Hungary informed us. I guess no more worry about the Indonesian visa for a while.
We kind of had seen this coming. Dad has received his visa within days but for Mom had to submit lots of extra paperwork and waited almost two months until the point of rejection. We talked about possibilities, what else we could do and decided to have a great day in Singapore and see what previously thought ideas would work the best.
The view from Merlion's mouth.
From the Australian embassy we headed to the popular Sentosa Island. The small island is on the south side of Singapore, offering a great view of the city as well as the port and the Changi international airport. We climbed the Merlion, a lion headed fish statue which also the symbol of Singapore.
After Sentosa we wandered around downtown Singapore, enjoyed the air-conditioned and bubble gum free footpaths. Visited the Chinese and the Indian quarters, filling our bellies with the authentic Indian and Chinese food –roasted duck was amazing-, checked out the famous Orchard towers and talked a lot about what to do next.
Love watching ships, Sentosa island has a few good lookouts for that.
While we were munching on the roasted duck I suggested turning towards China. There was not much point crossing over to Indonesia if we cannot go any further since I don’t have the Australian visa, we have to go somewhere anyway so why don’t we just head to North, Japan via China and Vietnam. Australia was both of our dreams, crossing the big red dessert, camp in the bush for weeks but faith had different ideas. Dad agreed after my sales pitch ad we set to go to China.
As the sun went down we took a bus back to Johor Bahru and prepared for the very early morning departure. We planned to reach as north as possible, maybe until the Thai border next day so a good night sleep was all we needed.
China town in Singapore.
LOG ENTRY 54
Port Dickson - Malacca - Johor Bahru
Distance: 330 kilometers
The morning rain woke us up earlier than we planned. It is the monsoon season here and heavy periodic rains are a daily occurrence. So far we were lucky with it, since we left Koh Samui we only got wet a few times and only once a day. Also, the rain is normally heavy but short, doesn’t last more than an hour, except this one. We waited about three hours, had a nice breakfast but the rain just didn’t seem to stop so we decided to put the rain gear on and head to Malacca.
Within a few kilometers the rain has stopped so another pit stop to pack the gear away and cruise the scenic coastal route 138 after turning off from the main route 5. It took less than 2 hours to reach the town of Malacca. Although we haven’t really explored it much we stopped at the town center, had an amazing Chinese noodle and posed with locals who wanted a snap with us. This was actually new. We got this in Iran that people stopped us for a picture but since then it was a regular occurrence. I can only imagine how many times we would be photographed now, when everyone has a mobile phone with a camera unlike in 2005 during our trip.
It is regrettable that we didn’t spend more time in Malacca, the historic center of pre-colonial Sultanate with rich Chinese and Indian influence but the road was waited for us. We wanted to make it to Johor Bahru early so we could find some accommodation before sunset. From Malacca we turned back on to the main E2 highway towards Malaysia second largest city.
Our plan was to find some safe accommodation where we can leave the bikes while we are in Singapore. We didn’t plan to stay long in Singapore, mainly just wanted to check on the Australian embassy why my visa is still in process. Johor Bahru seemed like our solution. The ride to JB took less than 3 hours from Malacca and we found ourselves in a large city again. To be honest I felt that JB is larger than Kuala Lumpur. It isn’t but definitely messier and you just see much more people and cars going about. It is a large city just right next to Singapore, very multi cultural, tens of thousands workers commute from JB to Singapore for work, Malays, Indians, Bangladeshi, Chinese, you name it.
Personally I liked JB better than Kuala Lumpur. Its multi cultural messiness really caught me. We found a small but decent guest house with safe parking near the main food market, the owner was Pakistani and gave us 20% discount from the already cheap 50 ringit room after we told them that we just been to Pakistan a month ago. After a quick shower we headed down to the food market which was amazing and truly beat any street food market we’ve seen so far. Not its mere size but more of its diversity that amazed us. Bangkok has so much to offer when it comes to street food but you never see an Indian stall next to a Chinese wonton restaurant, variety of Arab, South Asian and East Asian cuisines, all in one place. We ended up stall hopping, try as much as possible, probably the grilled stingray was the most mention able but loved the lamb shawarma.
After dinner it turned out that the safe bike parking is in a small back room of the hotel so we had to unbolt the boxes and took them up to our room, small inconvenience but better than leave the bikes outside. In the next LOG ENTRY I will write about another major course changing event which changed the entire plan of our trip.
LOG ENTRY 53
Kuala Lumpur - Port Klang - Sepang - Port Dickson
Distance: 160 kilometers
We were hipped up after the awesome views of Kuala Lumpur and decided to visit the Petronas Towers again in the morning to go up to the top floor as we missed that a day before. Even thought the price was hefty since we are here we shouldn’t miss it so went to the towers with the bikes this time but the earliest ticket was at noon so we gave up on it.
Next we headed to Port Klang. The port is the largest in Malaysia and one of the largest in the world in container traffic. As our next destination would be Sumatra Island in Indonesia we thought finding a ferry from Port Klang would be easy. Port Klang is an easy 50 kilometers ride from the towers and as Kuala Lumpur has great highway system which can be used with motorcycles we got to the port fairly quickly. Finding the ferry was not as easy thought.
We rode around and asked every transport company’s office and ferries but none would take us with the bikes. Originally we planned to go down to Singapore and find a ferry from there but it worth the try. Also, online we found a ferry company but that either was willing to take the bikes.
Bad luck we thought, still many opportunities ahead of us to find ferry, it was just a try. One good thing about Port Klang is the food. As many Indian and South Asian workers employed at the port, we had our best Indian food so far on this trip in one of the small dirty canteen. The selection was more than we ever seen in any restaurant we been to in India and the price was also really low. We paid 10 ringit, around 3 dollars for two huge portions of meals, a water buffalo stew and butter chicken.
The main straight of the Sepang Circuit
With full bellies we headed down south towards Singapore when I noticed the sign to Sepang. Being a huge MotoGp fan and missing the GP which was won by Gabor Talmacsi –also Hungarian- in the 125 ccm category a week before we had to go and visit the race course.
Not being a big detour Dad quickly agreed and we headed towards the most famous track in Southeast Asia. We have bought fake press cards in Bangkok so entering the closed circuit for free was not an issue. We got a free pass at the entrance to wander around and ride with the bike as well. To be honest I was really sad as we missed the race a week before. I really wanted to steer our trip to the direction of visiting the race with Mom but we ended up staying a bit too long in Koh Samui.
As big part of the day passed we knew that reaching Singapore is unrealistic so instead we headed towards Malacca, an awesome old port know from one of my childhood travel novels. To get there we had to drive towards the coast on the number 5 road which, as soon as it reached the ocean turned really nice. Being early afternoon with a very nice looking town, Port Dickson, we decided to catch the last shines of the sun and enjoy the big waves of the Indian Ocean and the sunset here. Rooms weren’t cheap to be honest but we managed to find a decent bungalow for 90 ringit. Since the town was really quiet after sunset we ended up chilling in our rooms and searching for ferries in an internet café. We expected to receive my Australian visa within days as Dad got his weeks ago already so we can cross the sea to Indonesia without the worry that we wouldn’t be able to continue towards Australia after that.
LOG ENTRY 52
Butterworth - Penang island - Kuala Lumpur
Distance: 360 kilometers
We had an excellent night in the Berlin Hotel. For less than 15 dollars we got more than we paid for. After stuffing our bellies with the buffet breakfast we jumped on the bikes and took the ferry to Penang Island.
First thing in Penang what struck us is the Chinese influence. So far in Malaysia we felt ourselves like we are back in Pakistan or Eastern Turkey. Penang was different, Chinese shops, streets; basically we found the whole island as a big China town. After a brief ride around and a delicious wonton soup we decided to take the bridge back to the mainland and head towards Kuala Lumpur.
The highway from Penang to KL was nothing like the one from the highway from Thailand to Penang. It was way much better and even the day before I was surprised how good it was. Two by two and then three by three asphalts lines stretched towards the capital city of this Asian powerhouse. The highway rest area was comparable to the Autogrill in Italy. Clean, chilled, organized and most of all immerse amount if food in restaurants and food stalls without the overcrowded feeling we were used to in Thailand.
Rakyat Central Night Market
With a very good pace we reached Kuala Lumpur in a matter of hours, not more than 4 hours. Normally when you arrive to a major city the first sign of your approach is the increasing traffic and the density of the populated area. This was only partially true here. The traffic slightly grew as we got closer but the first impression of Kuala Lumpur was the Petronas Towers poking their head out from behind the hills. There are hills surrounding KL from the north and we couldn’t really see the city until we got really close, just over the mountains and it was impressive. Many people think that the Petronas twin tower which was the tallest building in the world until the opening of the Taipei 101 in Taipei.
Kuala Lumpur Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers at night
For a city as big as KL we quickly found accommodation near Rakyat central night market. Not as luxuries as the night before but still very nice for around 10 dollars. After unloading the bikes we headed out to the market first and then explore the city on the skytrain.
Kuala Lumpur monorail
We are on the connecting bridge between the Petronas Twin Towers
Petronas Twin Towers
View from the Kuala Lumpur Tower
Kuala Lumpur Tower, it offered much better view for the fraction of the price than the Petronas Towers
Next day we spent with sightseeing. First we headed to the Petronas towers but unfortunately the top observation deck was closed to the public so we only got up to the bridge connecting the two towers. Hungry for heights and better view we headed to the Kuala Lumpur Tower which has an observation deck 335 meters from the ground. The entrance was 20 ringit but it worth it more than we thought. Even thought it wasn’t as tall as the Petronas towers, the KL Tower is on a small hill so the observation deck actually lies higher than the Petronas tower which gave us an excellent view for the fraction of the price we would have paid for the Petronas. Kuala Lumpur Tower is highly recommended if you are in for the good view.
Totally gutted, we walked all day and the heat got to us.
The rest of the day spent with walking, walking and walking. We explored this rather diverse city, the Indian and Chinese quarters as well as the colonial British areas. Even thought Kuala Lumpur was better than we expected it is still not as magical as Bangkok and we lost so much time already in Thailand that we decided to keep on going the next day towards Singapore.
LOG ENTRY 51
Distance: 520 km
Koh Samui - Nakhon Si Thammarat - Hat Yai - Sadao - Penang (Butterworth)
The ferry from Nathon, the main city of Koh Samui, sadly but steadily sailed with us towards the mainland. We had a great two weeks on the island, already missing Mom, Rudi, Monika and the endless adventures I’ve experienced. Felt like that this was the first time in my life that I am really free. I’ve have been to numerous African countries before, from windy Cape Town to the misty jungles of Zimbabwe and the white sandy beaches of Kenya but somehow the amount of freedom and fun I had in the past two weeks overshadowed all my previous experiences. Needless to say how much a barely twenty years old guy enjoyed every second of this island paradise. Every girl seemed to like me, and no, not for the money as many of you would think rightly as we are talking about Thailand.
The last picture of Koh Samui
As the ferry anchored at Donsak port we regained full control over our head, no hangover or melancholic feelings anymore just the determination to reach our final destination today, Penang.
Penang is a state in Northwest Malaysia and also the name of its constituting island in the Strait of Malacca. The distance from Donsak to there was 520 kilometers. First we headed to Nakhon si Thammarat and then continued towards Hat Yai and Sadao, the border town between Malaysia and Thailand. The way to Sadao was really familiar as we did the same trip a week earlier to renew our Thai visas. Luckily the V-strom’s can do around 420 kilometers with one full tank in this climate with the 140 km/h cruising speed and extra 50 plus kg of gear. We fueled up in Donsak and it got us easily to Hat Yai where we planned the next refueling. Hat Yai is the largest city in Southern Thailand and a major trading port so it had a really nice and large service station we stopped a week earlier too.
Crossing the border was peanuts. Unlike the hours or even weeks we experienced in Pakistan and India, crossing here took about five minutes. Hungarians can travel to Malaysia without a need of a visa and also the bikes can enter without the Carnet. The first thing we noticed in Malaysia that the roads are much better than in Thailand. We had no complain about Thai roads, especially after India and Pakistan but roads in Malaysia were more like n Europe. The first few cities we passed through was however dirty and seemed unfriendly. Maybe just our eyes got really used to Thailand but somehow the cities we passed through looked really run down and dirty. This however changed quickly as we approached to Penang.
With Mr Joe front of the House of Bikers
We had a Malaysian rider contact who we called from a public phone and we set up a meeting with him in the outskirts of Penang. Mr Joe as he called himself took us to his friend’s motorcycle shop which was totally breathtaking. In the shop he had brand new models of bikes, all the major European motorcycle gears and a MotoGp themed restaurant. He invited us for a dinner and offered us free T-shirts of any brand we wanted. He was such a nice and welcoming guy, we felt home in Malaysia really quickly.
After the dinner he took us to a hotel in downtown Penang which called Berlin Hotel. It had very spacious and nice room for 92 ringit. The plan is to do some sightseeing tomorrow morning here and then head down to Kuala Lumpur which is a mere 370 kilometers from here, an easy ride on these highways.
House of Riders restaurant