Thursday, November 11, 2010

In and around Udon

I guess I'm writing this in part to express my disappointment that the big ride I had anticipated since the end of last year's trip isn't going to happen. Everybody is on a different schedule, and well, things just didn't work out. Al left Udon a few days ago to travel alone. DC is here but says he has at least a week's worth of chores to do before he can leave, Andy doesn't even arrive in Thailand until mid month. The trip of last year was a rare event -- the other riders like to travel solo -- so I was very lucky to have had such a fine group to travel with last year. I was prepared to send Nut back to Bangkok so I could travel with the boys. The plan, at least my plan, was to send for her again to meet me in Chiang Mai after the trip and before I returned the bike for another few days of biking together. But now with the boys opting out of the group ride, I was unsure of exactly what I wanted to do next.

Nut and I at Phu Foi Lom park

At first I thought, okay, I can make my way around north Thailand on my own. It will still be a great trip. But Nut, always protective as a mother hen, said, "No way. You cannot travel alone. You don't speak Thai. How will you buy food, etc."

I replied, "I'll get by. I need to learn how to travel on my own anyway."

The discussion went back and forth for a few hours. She was adamant. I wanted to do some solo riding on those fabulous mountain roads. I was adamant. We see-sawed back and forth. She clammed up. I went out for a walk alone. As soon as I returned to the hotel, she went for a walk -- something she's never done before.

Finally, by using the full compliment of women's tricks and persuasions she won me over to her point of view. The only real drawback to traveling up north riding 2-up is the the lack of horsepower on the Phantom. We'll be crawling up those hills in first gear some of the time. OTHO, the benefits to traveling with Nut are many. We can go at our own pace and stop to smell the flowers whenever we like. She can bargain for rooms and help me keep the Honda running; in short she will remain my traveling companion and expert interpreter for the duration of the motorcycle trip. I'm sure it will be a great experience.

Ah, the Phantom: I've come to the sad conclusion that renting a bike is a crap shoot. I thought that this one with its low mileage would serve me well for a month of riding. Well, since the brake caliper seized (and has been replaced) I've taken a much longer look at the bike I've rented. I learned that it does not have just 6K kilometers on it-- it has a new speedometer, replaced when someone dumped the bike and broke the original. I wonder how many miles this bike really has traveled? The chain is badly worn and should be replaced along with both sprockets, a fairly expensive repair. The front tire has seen better days, etc.

I called Tony and was prepared to give him hell for sending me off on a one month trip with a machine that needs so much. He replied immediately I could go ahead and get the work done and that he would reimburse me. Phew! I went to a nearby shop and had the chain and sprockets replaced. Then yesterday I had a new front tire mounted. The entire bike feels better. It runs quiet, shifts cleaner and without any clunking. And the new front tire feels cushy and inspires confidence that it won't slip on a turn. We're ready to travel.

Nut keeps the repair guys honest
I'm going to close with a little talk about driving in Thailand. I know I've complained often about the drivers here and with good cause. Motorcycle drivers especially don't obey the rules (do they even have rules here?) and many drive at great speed, weave in and out of traffic, and come out of nowhere when you least expect it. As I was driving along the "super highway" (in Thailand this is a four-lane divided highway with lanes on the left) the other day, and pulled left onto the bike lane (Thailand is like England - one drives on the left) to escape the truck that was attempting to pass me. You would think this lane would be one-way, correct? It should be because after all you're on a divided highway. But you'd be wrong.

Here comes your friendly tuk-tuk driver, heading right at you, in your "lane" and driving like he owns it. Or the moto with three young girls coming at you as they drive a short distance to the market or to school. This used to make me furious until I understood their thinking in these situations. If the tuk-tuk driver needs to go a kilometer or two back the way he came (let's say it's to the south on a highway running north-south) and he were to do that according to our laws, he would have to drive north until he came to a legal U-turn, perhaps 4 or 5 km away, make the U-turn across 6 lanes of traffic, drive south past his intended destination until another U-turn is possible, perhaps another few km, then make the turn across 6 lanes of traffic for the second time. Now he's heading north again and his destination is a few kilometers away. It just doesn't make sense to go though all of that when he can simply drive the wrong way for a kilometer or so on the same side of the highway he is already on. Got it? Good, you're all set to drive the super highways in rural Thailand.

Here's a few shots form one of our several trips in the area of Udon. The weather's been perfect. Temperatures hover around 80 deg F day and night. We made a day trip to Nong Khai last week with Al. Most of the photos below are from that trip.

Lotus - Nong Khai

Flower - Nong Khai
Garden sculpture - Nong Khai
Amaryllis - Udon Thani
 We've been spending a lot of time with Albie, who arrived the other day, DC, and an old friend of mine, Scott, who we will be visiting in Lao next month. But the other day we went to the market, bought some chicken and sausage, a baked yam, some sticky rice and watermelon. We had a picnic in our hotel room.

It appears we'll be leaving Udon tomorrow. DC is finished with his chores earlier than anticipated, the Phantom is in as good shape as it's gonna get, Nut and I are eager to be on the move again and to get back to the countryside we left 10 days ago. We will hang with DC for a day or two until we get to Nan. Then our trails will probably split. He likes to go much faster on his Honda CBR 150 than we can comfortably travel 2-up on the heavier, slower Phantom. We'll catch up to him tomorrow night in Nam Pat. He has a different hotel there to try. He says it's nicer than  the one we stayed in one the way here, at 250 baht costs the same, and has wi-fi to boot. As we know, DC is a bargain hunter. I'll file a report when I can.

Our last night in Udon with (L to R) Scott, Albie, Nut, me and DC