October 23, 2014

My 6 days bike tour in Thailand

I finally got it out of my system. Ever since I came to Thailand I've been dreaming of an extended holiday cruising through Thailand. I came pretty close to it when I traveled to Chiang Mai a few years back, where I rented an ER6n and rode up to Pai and the Mae Hong Song round. That was already a great experience.
This time though, I had my own bike and no time pressure. Getting ready for the trip, I purchased a set of saddlebags from the German 'Bags Connection' bought at Panda Rider in Bangkok. Brilliant kit by the way, and I will get a tank bag from them too.

(The map above doesn't show the last stretch from Pak Chong through Khao Yai National Park, Pratchinburi-Phanom Sarakam-Chachoengsao.)

Back to the tour. My wife and I started Sunday 12/10 from Chachoengsao direction Wang Nam Kieaw, where we stayed at the Village Farm & Winery, a place we already knew and loved for its peaceful atmosphere, great food and wine. We were not disappointed, especially when I got the German pork leg ('Schweinshaxe' in German, 'Kaa Moo Yerman' in Thai), which was even above what I had last time at home in the Alps.

Monday we passed through Korat to meet a few friends and then up to Chayaphum province to see what they call "The Stonehenge of Thailand". Mo Hin Khao is a plateau of large rocks in strange shapes, aged over 100 million years.
We enjoyed walking among the stones and there were very few people around when we reached the view point on top of a hill at the right time to watch the sunset. At this beautiful place and at this most amazing time of the day, everything seemed perfect, until....
...until a family of Thais arrived. One of them was a old and quite drunk guy with a can of beer in his hand, behaving like a proper idiot. What made my blood boil was when he decided it was a good idea to hang the empty beer an on a tree, all the while looking at me and smiling. I had all kinds of murder images passing through my mind, but I had to control myself very hard. "Keeping face" is paramount in Thailand. People regularly kill for something they perceive as a loss of face...and alcohol only inflates that feeling.
So, keep your mouth shut and look at the sunset. :-(
Just when it got dark we found a nice and very colorful resort for 800Baht a night (about 25$). Sorry, I forgot the name...

Tuesday we got something for our soul. My wife Poopae remembered reading a book written by a monk she highly revered (Luang Pho Sai Thong) and that he had his temple (Wat Pa Huai Gum in Chayaphum province) not too far from there. It seemed important for her, so I decided it would be a good idea to make her happy. If you're married you know what I'm talking about. After riding for a couple of hours through small villages and dusty fields, we arrived at the temple, right in front of this famous monk, as he was directing workers in the parking lot. Coincidence, because in 2 days it would be his 65th birthday and the whole area was getting ready for the big celebration. Poopae got all excited as if she'd seen a superstar or something. That on the other hand impressed me, because I've rarely seen her in that state, except when....well....
Again, since there were not too many people around, we got a semi-private audience with him, where he blessed us with a powerful portable sprinkler (I kid you not) and gave us a few lucky charms, which would protect us on our trip. Can't hurt having extra protection, right?
After we said our goodbyes, we rode on up a very steep road to the highest mountain in the Petchabun province, Phu Tabberk. Phu Tabberk was once famous for growing poppies for the production of heroin. After they got busted by the government, they shifted to cabbage and tourism. Less exciting but probably more profitable in the long run. There's quite a lot of development going on up there, with many new guesthouses being build. No wonder....the views are impressive and the weather very cool. Too cold for my taste I have to admit, even though I come from the Alps...but that's what 8 years of hot Thai weather does to you.
We stayed at a mini resort on a hill with a massive illuminated Christian cross on it, not because I'm religious, God forbid, but because it was easier to spot on the dark mountain roads.

Wednesday. Leaving the chilly mountain top behind, we headed towards Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park, one of the highlights of our trip. The road was strewn with potholes and annoying stretches of gravel, but when we arrived at the loop trail, all our worries were forgotten. This beautiful and scenic trail passes through amazing stone formations that are quite unique, cliffs that drop hundreds of meters and give way to stunning views of the valley below. Not only that, but this plateau is also of historical importance, because between 1968 and 1981 it was home of some fierce battles between the Thai Army and the Communist revolutionaries, who had their headquarters right there. Even though the Communists were outnumbered, they really gave the Thai army a hard time until eventually they were defeated.

Is this some sort of riddle?

 Put in at least 3 hours to soak it all in, you won't regret it.
We rode on Route 12, which is under extensive construction, being enlarged from a 2 lane to a 4 lane road. This route is an important part of the Asian Highway and connects Burma, Thailand, Cambodia all the way to Vietnam.

At this point we were quite tired, but next on our list was Wat Phra Son Keaw. I've been here 8 years now and I've seen my share of temples and to be honest, going to a temple is not the most exciting thing in the world. Unless it's Wat Phra Son Geaw! This is not just an ordinary temple, it's a piece of art embedded between soft green hills. The whole place is covered in delicate and colorful mosaics. See it to believe it. I suggest you go there during the week as I think it will get very crowded on weekends.

Next stop: Khao Kho, the 'Switzerland of Thailand'. Now, I don't know how much that comparison fits, but one thing is sure: the road going through Khao Kho is what we motorcycle enthusiasts dream about. Again, try to go during the week as I heard it gets very congested on weekends and having to share that nice stretch of road with countless metal cages is definitely no fun.

After such a long and eventful day we were lucky to find rest in a nice and almost empty resort. They even did their best to cook a proper breakfast for me, because I just can't cope with the traditional Thai rice soup in the morning. I'm Italian from the waist down for goodness sake!

Thursday was probably the hardest for me. The loooooong stretch of road that goes from Petchabun to Khao Yai is mind numbing and butt hurting. The only light at the end of the tunnel was the knowledge that we would sleep in one of our favourite places. I won't say the name because I like it quiet as it is. :-) We had dinner at PB Valley, a winery and restaurant. I highly recommend going there to taste the PB Shiraz and their steak, both excellent.

We stayed in our 'secret' place for 2 days to relax and recover from the trip. On the second day we visited the Khao Yai Art Museum. The entrance is free and the museum is well worth seeing.

Saturday: time to head home through another one of my favorite roads, 2090 that goes right through Khao Yai National Park. The guards almost wouldn't let me enter because they deemed my exhaust to be too loud. After a little persuading though we were allowed to go in.

To summarize, we had great weather throughout, not a drop of rain. We didn't get stopped by police, which is another little miracle. We encountered very little traffic, thanks God.
We met an important monk, check.
We enjoyed great food and wine, check.
We saw some great art. Check
We rode some fantastic mountain roads. Check

I think it couldn't have been better!

October 4, 2014

Tom's Honda Cubs

A little history for the few who don't know it:
The Honda Cub is the world's most produced vehicle with well over 60 million produced since 1958 and has been assembled in 15 countries. The engine is a 4 stroke air cooled single with sizes going from 49cc to 109cc. Similarly to other style icons such as the Vespa, the Beetle, the CV2 or the VW Bus, the Cub still has a huge following all over the world, fuelled by its timeless lines, its simplicity as well as its versatility and ease of modification.

This brings me to the reason behind today's post. I would like to share a little known secret.

If you love small displacement bikes like me and the Cub in particular, you'll be pleased to know that now it's very easy to get your hands on either a fully restored Cub or, in my opinion even better, a super cool custom Cub.

There's a man here in Thailand, who made it to be his mission to restore, revive and reinvent this most ubiquitous of bikes. His nickname's Tom and he spends his time between Lamphun and Bangkok where he's passionately working on his Cubs. It all started out as a hobby, but due to high demand it has quickly become his full time occupation. Is there anything better than being your own boss and doing what you're passionate about? I think not.
Mr Tom takes his clients step by step through the 'cub-omization' process, giving them full creative freedom to ensure a truly unique and individual machine. Last but not least, the price. These are easily the most affordable Cubs in the Land of Smiles (Thailand that is) and probably anywhere else.

Why am I endorsing Tom's Cubs? I've been playing for a long time with the idea of getting a custom Cub, but was never able to find a place that could do what I had in mind....until now. So, to get my very own Cub, I just have to do the following: make space in the driveway (doable), deciding how my Cub will look like (my favourite part), telling my wife that there's yet another bike coming (my least favourite part). Easy.

If you're interested in getting your own classic restored or cool 'cub-omized' two wheels, get in touch with Callum, who is helping out Tom with English speaking customers.
Here is the Facebook page: Tom's Honda Cubs

Tom and Callum are currently looking into shipping the bikes abroad, since they already had several requests from the UK and the United States.

For those who are wondering, here's an idea on his available products. There are two main options, the Classic and the Custom

The Classic: 

A 100% restored Honda C70, C90 or C100. These bikes are restored to impeccable, original condition. They're just as reliable as the day they left the factory. Make it your daily ride or keep it for your day off. 

Price guide: 
C70 - from 18,500฿ (approx. 600$) - 70cc engine.
C90 - from 22,000฿ (approx. 700$) - 90cc engine.
C100 - from 31,000฿ (approx. 1.000$) - 100cc engine.

The Custom:

This bike is what you make it! Each bike has a 100cc Honda Dream engine, comes with a green book (bike registration document) and is tailored to suit any preferences you may have. Want a speedo/rev counter? No problem. Want to keep the front/rear fenders? No problem. Your wish is Toms command. Expected build time - 3/4 weeks*.

Price guide:
Dream 100 - from 25,000฿**, (approx. 800$), this price allows you to choose the frame/body colour, engine colour, with or without leg shield, rim colour, handle bar set up/grip colour, seat shape/style and colour, standard coloured rear shocks or aftermarket spring shocks(black/chrome), single gauge (rev counter or speedo).

*Registration/green book can sometimes take longer due to regular delays at the Thai DLT.

**Tom can do anything, if you want more than what is listed above, no problem. Let him know your desires and we can work to make your dream a reality. Any photo references are more than welcome.