As a fairly well travelled chap, I knew very well what to expect for the first half of our journey. South East Asia didn’t disappoint, but nor did it surprise. Once leaving India however Drew and I were both thrust into very new territory – an unfamiliar culture, staunchly religious (and a very unfamiliar religion at that), with a bad reputation in our western media for unsavoury social behaviour.
We are in a Pakistani Prison, it’s 8pm and we are drenched from the storm we have just ridden through for 2 hours in the dark, thankfully we are in the guest quarters and not housed with the hundreds of Pakistani Prisoners. Our friends from Lahore had arranged our stay here only 3 hours ago via telephone – it was a good thing they insisted on taking a local SIM card for our phone.
This is the second time I’ve visited the Indian sub-continent. Eight years ago when I was last here, I rented a 500cc Royal Enfield ‘Bullet’ and rode from Delhi through the deserts of Rajasthan to the high mountain passes of the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh. I recall it being one of the best times in my life. And I seriously wonder what has changed in these last years…
I’m sitting in a Italian Cafe in New Delhi. I am enjoying a long black the way it should be and an orange juice to match. Today marks 2 months on the road and I thought I would treat myself to a ‘Melbourne’ Breakfast, mind you in Melbourne I don’t need to argue with a Rickshaw driver over an agreed $2 for the near death experience through Delhi traffic. I must confess that I’m a useless traveller and if I didn’t have James here to keep me on the straight and narrow I would have already spent the trip’s budget on beggar handouts and expensive western meals. I did however enjoy my meal and after 2 months of eating locally on the road I feel I have deserved it – let’s hope this meal won’t contain ‘Delhi Belly’
India has been intense and we were both pleased to cross into Nepal to be greeted with better roads, more reserved people and a cooler climate. When James and I ride in Australia we consult google maps and try to find the best roads for motorcycles, twisting and remote. Nepal was a highlight for us and on the first night we employed the same tactics. The main highway across Nepal runs along the southern border to India and we were determined not to use it, the other road above it looked more ‘interesting’ and given it wore the same colour and thickness as the highway what could go wrong?
When I’m sitting on the back of James’ bike I think of all sorts of things. I think about that corner in front of us and how it would feel if we were to slide off and scrape across the concrete. I see that car pulling out of a garage and imagine how it would have been if we had put the brakes on too late and flew over its boot. I observe the trucks rushing past and picture how it would be to fall under its chunky wheels.
This is what crosses my mind on a casual motorbike trip in Australia. Where roads are beautifully smooth, trucks stick to the street markings, traffic splits away to let ambulances pass and hospitals adhering to the best hygienic and medical standards.
You realise what a sheltered and privileged life you’ve lived when you take a walk through a town and can feel every single eye upon you. We arrived in Phidim, a long way from the well trodden path, and Drew took an afternoon nap whilst I strolled alone through the small, remote township. Whilst I walked, there was not a single pair of eyes that didn’t stop to look at me. Young children ran and hid, whilst some not so young children called “What’s your name?” after I’d walked passed them, followed by childish giggles. Young men stared coldly and young women tried to hide their intrigue. It was only the older men and women who didn’t seem to show much interest at all. You can’t help but feel uncomfortable at the way people react in a place like this; not unsafe, but certainly not at ease.
The last day of Myanmar was amazing, twisting backroads through gorgeous countryside overlooked by mountain ranges. We were also allowed to motor ahead of the van for most of the day giving us the freedom we all needed and are used to. The Myanmar/India border road takes us by surprise as no longer are there countless Buddha images but Christian Churches. Passing through on a Sunday morning, we are taken back by well dressed folk on their way to church with bibles in hand. As we work our way to the border we all become anxious about another dreaded border crossing taking hours with many people, pushing and spitting their way to the front of the line. We couldn’t believe we’d arrived at the border as there was literally no one else there – passports were stamped and I was even asked where I would like the stamp to be in my passport. I was offered some local fruit by the immigration official and most of the delay was our government official making chit chat with the border control.
We were waved good-bye as we crossed a metal bridge, moved back to the left side of the road and entered India with smiles across our faces; until the smell hit us!
54 million people live in Myanmar and 95% of the population are Buddhist which means most people have their own Buddha. There are Buddha images in Pagodas and temples, Buddhas in parks, on top of hills, in shops and anywhere else you can find space for one.
We arrived at Mae Sot, the Thai-Myanmar border town, on Friday evening after spending time off the beaten track in a failed search for a waterfall. Mae Sot seems like a pretty happening place for a border town; busy, with a lot going on.
We did the math before deciding a route through Thailand and decided it was better to head to Ko Lanta Island on the west coast for some R & R before heading straight up to the north of Thailand to our border crossing at Mae Sot into Burma. Ko Lanta is an island off the west coast of Thailand and based upon our research seemed to be the island to stay on not to touristy on the south end and we could get the bikes over on 2 ferries at the cost of $2 each. We were surprised at the amount of tourists but ended up happy on the south end in a great little beach side resort to enjoy our first official rest day. It was difficult to leave Ko Lanta but we were happy to be back in the saddle and once back on the main land our next leg took us through Khlong Phanom National park with perfect tight corners and limestone mountains literally leaping out in front of us, not the longest road but given our constant freeway journey since landing in South-East asia it lifted our spirits. We made it as far as Phetkasem to find a hostel within walking distance to the beach and lay our heads for the night.