One of my dreams was to tour the whole of Thailand on a bike before I become too old to ride. Secondly, I wanted to take photos of the beauty Thailand had to offer. Thirdly, I wanted to meet some Flickr buddies.
The bike I had chosen for this trip was the Modenas Elegan 150cc. I had ridden over the past 8 months or so, all around Peninsular Malaysia, and found that it was reliable and could fit my purpose.
Since my budget was only MYR4,000, the number of places was limited. I calculated that I could do only north to south of Thailand over a period of 24 days and had to forgo the eastern parts. Accommodations and nourishments would be on the cheap since petrol (or gasoline as the Thais called it) was in the region of THB38 to THB41 for RON-95 as compared to only MYR1.90 in Malaysia. They do not sell RON-97 but they have RON-91 and also Ethernol/Petrol mixture (about THB31 or so but not available in every station) which is cheaper than RON-95. I understand motorbikes can use RON-91 as well but I didn’t try using it.
There were 2 dates I had to keep, i.e. 28.Nov.2012 in Chiang Mai for the Loy Krathong festival and 5.Dec.2012 in Bangkok for the King’s Birthday. Thus the start of my trip was basically calculating how many days it would take me to reach Chiang Mai based on an average of 400km per day. Based on this formula, I would need to start on 21.Nov.2012 and do the longest run for the trip of about 600 km, mainly Malaysian road and I know the condition quite well. Therefore, it would be a rush to Chiang Mai and also to Bangkok but the journey after that would be more relaxing and slower. If I could save, then my trip back home would be more leisurely and could even be longer.
There were also 2 more dates I had to keep, i.e. 25.Nov.2012, with my Flickr friend, Jo’s birthday in Nakhon Sawan, easy since it was on the way from Kanchanaburi to Sukhothai, on 2.Dec.2012 with another Flickr friend, Bruno, near Phetchabun, also easy since it was on the way from Phayao to Ayutthaya, and on 4.Dec.2012 with Jo again, who graciously became my tour-guide and driver. I was also supposed to meet Igor, another Flickr friend on the 6.Dec.2012 but he had scheduled a trip with his family to Hua Hin. Unfortunately, during this trip, my date with Bruno didn’t materialize due to the breakdown of my bike. However, I was able to meet Igor as I had to extend my stay in Bangkok whilst waiting for my bike during the repair period.
Prior to the trip, I had the bike serviced with new brake pads, new drive belt, new clutch system, new CVT rollers and sliders etc. Total costs for that service was MYR560. However, the mechanic had warned me that the engine didn’t sound right and should go for an overhaul. I should have listened to his advice and had that overhaul first before going.
From my experience, the Elegan 150 drinks petrol if pushed hard. Therefore I had a 4 litre container with petrol in case the bike runs out of petrol along the Mae Hong Son loop. It actually came to good use from Sukhothai to Lampang as there were virtually no gas station along the route I took.
Most of my accommodations were booked through Agoda.com from Hat Yai until Bangkok. When I was in Chiang Mai, all the budget hotels and guest-houses I inquired were fully booked, so I was lucky to have made the bookings via Agoda.com. If on a budget, it’s good to book at least the first day at the town you are visiting and then look around for better alternatives when you are there. Generally, if you have your own transport, you should be able to get good cheap and decent accommodations if you hunt around. Generally, the rooms in Thailand are quite cheap. Some guest-houses will require you to remove your shoes and some guest-houses have a closing and opening hours and are operated by owners. So if you intend to come back late or go out early, you need to inform them. That’s the main reason I don’t like to stay in guest-houses.
My friend loaned me a LG P500 smart-phone so that I could plan my journey using the Navigator system. Another friend loaned me a 30 litre water-proof bag which was very useful. The LG P500 came in useful since I could also use it to read and write emails when WiFi connections are available.
I brought along my NetBook if the hotel or guest-house has free WiFi, else I could go to use a cheap Internet Cafe if not available. Nowadays, most hotels provide free WiFi.
A friend suggested I also buy a map of Thailand, which I did, in Malaysia before going for the trip. Using Google Map or Wikimapia, I planned the places to stop-over for the night based on an average of 400 km distance between each stop.
Generally, the road-signs have both English and Thai wordings. With my limited ability to converse in Thai, hand signals came in useful and the people are generally helpful in giving directions. Actually, the roads have too many sign-boards and too many advertisement boards. The Tourist Authority of Thailand is very good at pointing out their tourist attractions and generally there are too many along the roads. Especially in Phuket and Krabi, you have to filter out the actual road signs out of all the other road signs.
Experiences on the road
Biking gear: Sensible bikers will have good quality rain coats, padded jackets, full riding gloves and biking boots for both long and short trips. Thinking that a short trip around town is safer is false thinking and accidents are even more likely to happen in towns than on longer distances. Don’t be lazy! During this trip, thinking that the short excursion was only for a few minutes, I didn’t wear my gear, I got into an accident and my scars now proved my foolishness!
Insurance: You can get your motorbike insured at Caltex, Gurun R&R, for bikes over 150cc for about MYR30. However, for bikes below that capacity, you can get it insured in Changloon just before the traffic light intersection for about MYR20 to MYR35 depending on how long you need to be in Thailand.
Currency Exchange: Don’t bother to change your money in Kuala Lumpur if you are travelling by car, motorbike or bus. You can get very good exchange rates in Changloon or at the Caltex station in Gurun R&R for Thai Bahts.
Debit Cards and Credit Cards: Bring them along. Best if you have a CIMB bank account since in Thailand, especially in Bangkok, you have many CIMB-Thai ATMs. During my stay there, whenever I used my Hong Leong Debit Card, I got charged THB150 per transaction and they limit me to THB10,000 per withdrawal. Not only that, the exchange rates are lousy!
Last Petrol Station before the Bukit Kayu Hitam border crossing is near the traffic light intersection and belongs to Caltex. After that, when you cross over to Thailand, the price of petrol will be double or more.
Cigarettes are slightly cheaper in Thailand but if you intend to stay for some time in Thailand, I would suggest you buy your cigarettes at the Zon Duty Free shop at the Bukit Kayu Hitam border crossing.
Motorbike and bicycle lanes: On highways, there will always be a small lane designated for bikes along the road. The bikers using this lane generally travel below 60 kph. So if you are a fast rider like me, you will need to travel on the road used by cars, trucks and buses. Many times, the slow lane can be very bumpy because of damage and heavy use by over-weight trucks. For such stretches, I will be travelling on the fast lane.
Police/Army Check Points: There are many especially near border towns. I have no problems with the officers there and they usually wave me along. If they stopped me, they would inquire where I was from, admire my bike and then wave me along.
Telcos and Thai SIM cards: The two main operators are 1-2-Call and DTAC. If you need to stay in touch with your fellow traveller, this is one good and cheap way to stay in-touch.
My friend had warned me about the highways and expressway road conditions. With a few exceptions, they are quite good. For bikes and cars, the speed limit is 80 kph but I do see drivers speeding over that limit many times whilst riding my bike. Some highways were made from concrete instead of the usual asphalt.
Like in Malaysia, buses can be very intimidating and they generally speed above the 80 kph limit. Small trucks are also fast drivers. In Thailand, you will see trucks pulling trailers but they don’t usually speed unless they don’t carry any load.
Except for the ExpressWay in Bangkok which are tolled, on highways, drivers can make U-turns every 2 km. Therefore, the right lane is not only for over-taking, it could be used for making U-turns. On tolled roads, motorbikes and bicycles are not allowed.
Along the Mae Hong Son loop, bikers have to be good in doing a uphill or downhill sharp turn. I’ve seen riders fall because of the steep gradient when making such turns. You need to do a timing based on an average speed of only 30 kph for this loop for country-roads. I can guarantee you that after you had done this mountain loop, you will get sick of doing turns and gladly speed along highways. The Genting Highland resort road or Fraser’s Hill road should be a good testing ground if you need to go on this loop.
During my trip, I liked to travel very early, sometimes as early as 5 am in the morning. Why? Basically, by the time I reached my destination, I’m tired and I sleep early. My bio-clock would wake me up at around 5 am or so and I couldn’t sleep thereafter. Travelling at such an early time is great because there is not much traffic and it is much cooler. Travelling during mid-day or afternoon can be very hot.
I will table inside this page, like a summary, the dates and destinations with links to my blogs on my 25 days travel so that you can pick out the destinations you want to see and review. I can promise you that there are lots of beautiful photos in each blog.
Day 7 & 8 – 27.Nov.2012 & 28.Nov.2012
Discovering Chiang Mai
Day 9 – 29.Nov.2012
Doi Inthanon, Mae Hong Son
Day 10 – 30.Nov.2012
Mae Hong Son, Pai, Chiang Rai
Day 11 and 12 – 1.Dec.2012 and 2.Dec.2012
Stuck in Ban Chai, Phayao
Day 13 – 3.Dec.2012
Stuck in Den Chai
Day 14 – 4.Dec.2012
Day 15 – 5.Dec.2012
Day 16 to 22 – 6.Dec.2012 to 12.Dec.2012
Day 23 – 13.Dec.2012
Bangkok, Cha Am
Day 24 – 14.Dec.2012
Cha Am, Prachuap Kiri Khan
Day 25 & 26 – 15.Dec.2012 & 16.Dec.2012
Hat Yai, Dannook, Subang Jaya
Distance travelled by bike was 4,469.7 km. By rail was 1,200 km, making a total of 5,670km. Not counted inside here were distances travelled by MRT/BTS/AEL (in Bangkok) and by Jo’s car. Bike broke down just before Phayao, again in Den Chai and Prachuap Kiri Khan. Had an accident in Cha Am.