Saturday, February 20, 2010

Udon Thani at last!

February 19, 2010 -- Return to Udon Thani

I started out at about 10 am after a Thai/Japanese breakfast that came with the room. Lots of variety: several kinds of curried veggies, soups, rice cupcakes, and fruit. No eggs or bacon were available, no problem there, but the coffee was Nescafe instant. Time was when instant coffee was all the rage. I remember my folks drinking it all the time, my mom being glad she didn't have to clean the percolator and the rest of us thinking how very modern we were to be drinking "instant".  And when I worked for Xerox Research in the 60s we had what we called "the coffee mess" in a drawer in the lab. Its contents: instant coffee, sugar, and powdered non-dairy creamer. What horrible swill it was!  But I needed some coffee and so with my otherwise tasty breakfast I drank one cup of Nescafe, just as in the old days with a bit of sugar and powdered non-dairy creamer, confident that just down the road I'd find a place to have some real coffee.

I had dressed light with shorts and a sleeveless shirt in anticipation of the mid-day heat I was sure would assail me as I moved ever further east toward Udon. I had spoken with Al earlier and he assured me it was on the warmish side there. Yet as I rode I got colder and colder as the road climbed up and onto a sort of high plateau. Pretty country but decidedly cooler than I had anticipated. I stopped for coffee at a little place with a big view and put on my jacket for only the second time during the trip.

A few miles from there, as I was hurrying down a long grade, the old Phantom suddenly died. It just lost power--going downhill no less. I twisted the throttle a couple of times -- nothing doing. I had coasted almost to a dead stop before the engine finally caught and returned power to the rear wheel. Wow, I thought, if that had happened when I was passing that truck a few miles back, it might've been much more serious! I was starting to worry about the old bike now that I was so close to completing the trip. In typical Dave fashion, I began thinking that it would be just my luck to have the thing fail this close to the finish. I stopped for my second coffee just outside of Chum Phae where I would turn north on Rte 228 to point myself toward Udon Thani at last.

Knowing that my goal was just ahead and, under normal circumstances, within easy reach I had to restrain myself from pushing the bike too hard. Where before I had been making 100 km/hr (about 60 mph) now I tried to keep my speed under 80. I had spoken with Al at the last coffee stop, who as I said earlier was in Udon, and he told me he'd gotten me a reservation on the night bus to Pattaya with him but that I had to be there by 6:30 to make the purchase. "I would have bought it outright for you but I wasn't sure you were gonna make it", he said. No kidding. I wasn't sure I was gonna make it either. Onward and northward I went.

After a few miles, the Phantom died, again. Just like the last time. I knew something was seriously wrong now. Ignition? Fuel problems? It has been missing under load from the beginning. Is the plug wire or coil beginning its swan song, I wondered? I slowed down even more and started using the bike lane along with the slower, smaller motos in order to safely drive at around 60 km/hr. My fingers were crossed as I neared Udon. Then just as I hit the city limit I started hearing a rattle from the engine, never a good sound. And it started to smoke. OMG, it's just a little further! Let's go, let's go! After about 10 more minutes of intense anxiety I arrived at Erwin's bar just across the street from Top Mansion, the hotel we'd started out from and where Al was waiting with my reservation. Erwin's mechanic friend was there and when I described what had happened he told me it sounded like a piston ring had failed. That caused a loss of compression, and power, which is what I experienced. Then after a few revolutions the ring probably reseated itself in a different orientation which allowed the engine to run again. But that can't go on indefinitely. Obviously.

I suppose the beauty of a rental is that it's not your problem when and if engines fail. I settled up with Erwin who, after who knows how many beers, was a bit drunk already at 4:30 when I arrived. By the time we subtracted my deposit and the costs of the repairs and parts I'd bought on the trip I owed him 1450 baht, about $43 USD. The total cost to rent the bike for the trip came to 6,000 baht or about $180 USD. If I return  to Chiang Mai later I will certainly rent another motorcycle. It's a fun way to get around and, as I hope you've gathered by now, exciting as well.

We made it to the bus station in plenty of time. I paid the 700 baht for my ticket and grabbed a quick supper from a food vendor across the street from the station as I had eaten nothing since breakfast. I slept most of the way here. Pattaya is the sex and sin capital of Thailand I'm told. The scene here is crazy and it goes 24/7. We arrived at 5 am and the bars, the 7-11s, and some restaurants were still open. Not all of them by any means, but enough so that if you've a mind to do it you can still find a pool game or a couple of beers at anytime, day or night. I came here mostly because my friends are here. And because I will need to go to Cambodia for a few days and a taxi from here to the Bangkok airport an hour and a half away is only 800 baht. Through a screw up on my part I only have a 30-day visitor's visa, a visa that expires around March 2. By going to Cambodia and applying at the Thai Embassy there I can obtain a 60 day extended visa which will be valid up to and beyond my departure date of April 4th. Lucky for me, Albert will be in Phnom Penh and will guide me though the process. It takes a few days to obtain visa approval so I'll get to sample yet another culture, and with an old friend as my guide.