LOG ENTRY 46
We spent a week exploring Bangkok with Dad and our new friend Geng because we had to wait for Mom as her work required her to stay an extra week before she could leave and visit
Idyllic view of the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok
Bangkok is an incredible city at first. I will never forget the excitement and anticipation to see more of the “big mango” in my first days in this great city. The glittery gaze wears off after a while as it happens with everything new but at that time Bangkok seemed to offer unlimited possibilities and fun.
We have been here only for a few days but we both felt this place could be our home easily. Little I knew back then that years later Bangkok will really become my home in the future, of course the glitter and neon shaded since then.
Khaosan road with Dad's grey helmet on the bottom of the picture
We received a bad news from Mom that due to work issues she had to postpone her flight for a few days so we have to wait in Bangkok for a while. Not entirely a bad news but I really wanted to meet Mom again. Luckily we have heaps of things to do. One of these thing was to stock up our supplies, buy new tires, oil filters, oil, chain, small tools which we forget to bring from Hungary and it turned out we need them such as a chain breaker.
People who ever came to Bangkok know that the red light areas and party hot spots are located in a few places. Unlike Europe where mainly clubs and bars are scattered around town, Bangkok has avenues where 40-50 clubs placed next to each others such as the Royal City Avenue or even Khaosan road. When it came to parts shopping it was not otherwise. One street in China town has about 30 to 40 tire shops which makes our life incredible easy. No hassle with comparing price and brands, just walk into one shop and then walk to the one next to it and so on, simple and fast. We managed to buy everything we needed and in some cases we paid ridiculously low price as well. Of course as we are in Asia and especially Thailand, the genuinity of the product was questionable but who cares if the pump or a spanner is not original Beta, it works fine. We bought Michelin Anakee tires for both bikes for a fairly reasonable price too.
Parts market near China town
After a not so hard shopping day we headed back to our nest to freshen up for the night. Dad and me became fairly obsessed of the neon lighten and buzzing Khaosan road and the ever buzzing crowd on it. After spending almost two months in the Middle East and India I think we needed this and of course the cheap beer makes it look even more exciting.
As the evening turned towards night Dad withdraws himself from the fun and left me alone in one of the biggest bar in the middle of Khaosan road. Before you start to feel bad about me I was not alone for a very long time. Soon after Dad’s departure a young lady set next to me and chat me up. Her name was Geng, a 22 years old English teacher, she was Thai.
On the same night Geng and I went on a massive sightseeing tour around the not so sleeping streets of Bangkok. She directed me to little secret places and perfect viewpoints of the night city and we watched the sunrise together by the river. It is always great to have a local guide to explore and it was a plus that she loves motorcycles too. As she was on her summer holiday we got her to stay with us and turned the night ride into another trips outside of Bangkok in the next following days.
Dad's birthday cake with Geng, 23rd of August, 2005
On the 23rd of August we celebrated Dad’s birthday. Growing old but still with a heart of a child. The three of us had great time and we decided to visit Pattaya, a well known tourist destination just 2 hours South East of Bangkok. As it turned out Pattaya earned its name from its nightlife which we decided not to explore deeply and returned to Bangkok on the same day. The ride was great on the way down but it really didn’t worth as the beach was dirty and the ride back in the middle of the night was something similar we experienced in India. This is how we spent our week in Bangkok until Mom came so we finally could continue our trip to the South. Geng also decided to come with us until the Thai border. In the next LOG ENTRY Mom will join the trip and the four of us heads down to Koh Samui at first and then to Malaysia.
LOG ENTRY 45
The bikes have finally arrived to Bangkok after a few days of waiting. Luckily Bangkok is a place where waiting is never a problem, especially when there are ping pong shows with wheeling tuk tuk drivers.
The first night in Bangkok was great. It was nothing like the gap year student’s lad trip or an elderly doctor’s “health” retreat but as a relaxing, food full and smiley first glimpse of this country. With all energized we headed out to the airport. The owner of the guest house wondered why we are carrying two strange looking helmets. At that time large motorcycles were rare in Thailand. Nowadays and especially in the past 2-3 years it became a huge fashion, every high society kid have to have a Ducati monster, some with the taste go for bigger and sportier Ducati. Not surprisingly “big bikes” were associated almost only with Ducati, especially in Bangkok. For my push we are travelling with motocross/enduro helmets with goggles and that was fairly unseen and unusual in Bangkok that time, even more so in Apple guest house.
Still bike but not helmet less :)
At the airport after a very short hassle we were informed that the bikes haven’t arrived yet. The told is in such an apologetic way that we felt uncomfortable even asking. We took the bus back to the city instead of the taxi so we can explore more and hope for the bikes to arrive the next day. Apart from being hot and humid Bangkok is a great city, even magical for the fresh ones like us. We spent the day exploring the old town where we stayed, visited temples after temples, ate different food at every corner and waited for the sun to set for our last run of the day, Khaosan road.
Khaosan road is the coolest 1 kilometer of sealed road I ever seen. Used as a regular connecting street between two other roads at the day and turning into a massive party/carnival/walking street at night. Bars and clubs are offering the cheapest booze in town with many even smaller cart bars selling mixed up whiskey cokes and vodka tonics in plastic buckets. The price is cheap; the effect is deadly next day. We tried a few different places, strictly open air budget pubs which took us to a state of mind where we easily said yes for a ping pong show.
Where all the magic happens credit: bangkokhangover.me
Ping Pong shows are unique to Thailand as far as I know and every night tuk tuk (Thai rickshaw) drivers are offering free rides to the venue from the tourist hot spots. In the past years ping ping shows sadly turned into big time scams but ten years ago we experienced otherwise. The entrance fee was approximately 15 dollars each with unlimited alcohol consumption. As we stepped into the premise an older women took us to our table. The stage was in the middle of the room and tables surrounded it from every side. When we got seated and order our first whiskey coke all of a sudden a live sex show started on the stage. It was a proper one on one raw sex in front of about 100 people in the club. As the waitress arrived with our drinks I asked her whether it is a special night or this show is happening every night. My question made her giggle and she looked at me and said, -this is just the break. It turned out that the live sex on the stage was really just the break time entertainment while the girls prepared for the “real” ping pong show backstage. I will not go deeply into the details of a ping pong show, but it does involve vaginas, ping pong balls, razor blades, beer bottles, balloons, arrows, sticks and all sorts of open-able and throw able objects.
After making a good deal out of the all you can drink option we headed back to Khaosan road with the same tuk tuk driver who lured us in to this adventure. He waited us downstairs and obviously paid by rice wine as a commission as he kept pulling wheelies on the three wheeled tuk tuk.
Heading back to the airport
The next morning the old Chinese lady at the guest house gave us a huge smile again after seeing us leaving with the helmets again, holding our heads from last night. God knows what she was thinking, why this two strange foreigners leaves every morning with helmets in hand. Unfortunately we got the same news again about the bikes so another day to wait. We only have two more days until Mom comes to visit us. We planned this visit for a while now that Mom fly out to Bangkok and ride with us all the way down until Bali. This night Dad was a bit tired and decided to take an early rest and retire in his room. Well, I wasn’t even 20 back then so it was another night for me exploring the street which left magical marks on me.
The old Chinese lady couldn’t hold herself in the following morning but asked why are we heading out every day with helmets, we just said, we are motorcycle riders. Luckily that day we received our bikes after maybe an hour of paper works and we were good to go. Bangkok is filled with motorcycle taxis which is very handy when you live a bit far away from a train or bus station and when you are on a round the world trip without GPS or city maps. We paid 2 dollars to one of these taxis and let him lead us back to our area. There weren’t any more smiles on the Chinese lady’s face when the two Suzuki rolled into the tiny alley. Needless to say, that day and the night we started to explore the city on two wheels, as nothing can move our soul better than those two wheels.
Not just me but a little boy as well had fun with the bike on the first night
LOG ENTRY 44
Leaving Kathmandu behind we left South Asia and on our short journey to reach the city of angels, the capitol city of the land of smiles, Bangkok where our Southeast Asian journey begun with new members riding with us.
The couple of hours sleep did not refresh me at all. It was way past midnight when we finished and got back home from the agent and it was four in the morning when we had to wake up to leave to the airport. Kathmandu is not a giant metropolis but that taxi ride felt like really long and painful, something we experienced in India more often than we did here in Nepal. After we paid the agreed fare to the taxi driver, which not surprisingly he tried to increase in the end, we headed towards the entrance. Whether because the country is in civil war now or just an unseen safety measure, soldiers with machine guns guarded the entrance and checked papers and bags. We went through three full security checks before even reaching the check in counter. We are in 2005, South Asia, details on our ticket is changed with a pen, perfectly acceptable according to the travel agent. Well apparently not by the check in lady. My first and since then the last hassle for checking in started which ended almost twenty minutes later when the travel agent explained the counter on the phone why and how is our ticket has been changed. We are cleared and good to go. Only until the next set of security check point. All together it took us almost two hours to get in to duty free from the entrance of the terminal.
Royal Nepal Airline, Boeing 757
Luckily both Dad and me are notoriously early arriving passengers at airports so we had plenty of time. Even without our habit of arriving at least three hours before departure we would have been safe, our flight is delayed. There were two Nepal Airlines flights from Kathmandu to Bangkok on that day within an hour between them and for some reason one was cancelled. Little we know about this until we border the aircraft -which by the way was heavily guarded by armed soldiers standing around it on the tarmac- and seen the passengers from the other flight walking over, carrying their bags and boxes. This was the first time I seen people flying with carton boxes instead of suitcases. It does make sense, small weight, compact and cheap. As they kept boarding and boarding it felt like our Boeing 757 -which was clearly seen better days and sadly was decommissioned from another airline- was already carrying twice as much passengers as it designed to do. The craziness came from the luggage and box issue. It seemed like we had way more luggage than compartment or even storage space under the seats so many carry on luggage ended up going down the hold, again, more minutes added to our already hours late departure.
Don Mueang International Airport, Bangkok
The three hours flight was fine, except the food service which came two hours after take off, making my bite all my nails down to their roots. On the plane we got a little booklet about Thailand, her people and customs. "The land of smiles" was written on the first page, as an appetizer what we are getting ourselves in. It talked about main rules of the kingdom, such as the importance of the Royal family in every Thais life and how much a traveler should respect them and preferably avoid every conversation about them. Also it talked about customs such as removing shoes before entering someones house and one I really liked, do not raise your voice. All this custom warnings made us feel that we are actually arriving to a very calm and disciplined country. As the aircraft landed at Don Muang international airport in Bangkok we seen something I never seen before in my life. There was a golf course between the two parallel runways. As I ended up living in Thailand half a decade after this story I even played on that golf course which is belongs to the Royal Thai Air force. If you are coming to Thailand now for the first time most likely you will not arrive to this airport. A new and much bigger airport opened in 2006 which accommodates every international flights from Europe and the U.S. The smiles mentioned in the booklet was apparent right after we left the aircraft. People seemed friendly, organized and yes, smiling.
Apple Guest House near Khaosan road
Surprises came after surprises. First of all the smiling taxi driver and his habit to use the side mirror for changing lane on the elevated multi-level highway. Three things in the past sentence what we haven't encountered since Iran. Later on I realized that driving and in general the smiles aren't that perfect or honest in Thailand but at that moment I couldn't believe or digest that someone in Asia using a mirror for changing a lane. As usual we picked our accommodation on price. We had no idea of the location but seen many guest houses with the same postal code on the tourist leaflet handed to us at the airport so we thought the area should be good, some sort of backpacker district. Very well, we ended up arriving to Khaosan road area which is the old part of Bangkok, near the royal palace. Our guest house -Apple guest house- situated in a very small alley and its built at least half a decade ago. It was a typical tropical wooden house with the Chinese family living downstairs and simple but clean rooms upstairs. Only two toilets with shower was in the building which we also had to share with the family members of the owner and other guests but still, it was very clean. Surprises after surprises, the day went buy quickly as we roamed the neighborhood of this seemingly magical city, tasting the hot, the great food and the widely and cheaply available alcohol. We planned to stay in Bangkok at least one week as a very important visitor will join our trip and we are still did not know complicated the bike's custom clearance will be. If you want to find out how we spent the first few days in Bangkok, who is the important visitor who join our trip and also who is the another unexpected person who ended up riding with us, come back and read the next LOG ENTRY.
LOG ENTRY 43
As a result of an another quick decision we packed up the bikes and put them on a plane to Bangkok in a hope that we finally start riding long distances without the usual hassle and problems and to avoid the flooding in Bangladesh.
Not even in my wildest dreams I thought that the best bakery ever will be in Kathmandu. Probably the lack of wheat and grain in our diet recently contributed to my excitement but the croissant and chocolate bun was so good that it would drive most of the bakers out of business in Hungary. Unfortunately life is not all about cupcakes and buns so after satisfying our hunger we headed to the Indian embassy for the last time. We got all the information from them earlier, well at least what they told us which was kind of contradicted with the Hungarian consul's information and what we read online and we already made up our mind about flying but we had to give it another go. The ride to the embassy from our hostel is not a long one and the road yesterday was flooded with cars and people around the Indian embassy. We knew something is not right since we haven't seen a single soul walking or standing on the road front of the embassy. It is closed, and it is closed for 5 days according to the security guard due to an Indian holiday and the weekend right after it. That put us to a situation where we would have to wait at least two weeks to get our visas to India. No other options at this point but to fly.
My DL 650
As we rode back to the guest house the consul sent the address and the details of the shipping company. We went there straight away and within two hours we were quoted 2200 dollars for the two bikes. That is a bit more than we expected at first so went to another agent. The price there was 1100 all included so we made a deal. As we had full tanks we decided to ride that out the next morning, use it to drive the mountainous road around Kathmandu for one last time. Probably from the food we ate or something from India but I started to develop rushes all over my hand. It was horrible, red and after a few days the skin started to peel off. Anyway, morning trip cut short, back to the agent who took us to the airport to crane the bikes. It was all went good, except that we had to make the crane for the bikes, no one really had a clue how or what to do. After we finished the agent drove us back to the office to pay. This was about 7 pm. It took almost 5 hours and two black outs to finally clear all the papers and bills which of course increased by the minute just to argue it back to the original price in an hour each time. We were knackered by midnight and frustrated and 400 dollars shorter than we expected as some "extra" cost came up but finally it was done. We had four hours to sleep to board the aircraft in the morning.
LOG ENTRY 42
Sadly leaving Pokhara, one of the friendliest city so far in the trip and heading towards Kathmandu where again difficult decision to be made about the course of the trip.
After an early morning start we headed to the Tibetan village before leaving Pokhara. Nyima must knew that we will stop as he was wearing our trip T-shirts what we gave him a day before. Not just wearing it but also had a gifts lining up for us, small Tibetan things of all sort was waiting to be given to us. One scarf was especially precious for me as it came from the area where Alexander Csome de Koros, my childhood inspiration lived and worked in Tibet. Later on I donated that scarf for my elementary school which was named after him too.
The road from Pokhara to Kathmandu was not as great as the earlier mountain passes to Pokhara. It was wide with fairly heavy traffic and potholes almost as frequently as in India. Also less and less military presence here, definitely no rebels in this area and only a few check points set up and maybe one with a tank barrel looking down on us. Th last stage of the day's ride went through the mountains which surrounded Kathmandu. It was nothing like the earlier ranges before Pokhara but still exciting for someone who grew up on the flatland's of Europe. Unfortunately the heavy traffic killed the fun and we ended up slaloming between trucks all along. It wasn't bad, it actually brought back some memories from Pakistan. The road before we arrived to Queta was almost like this, except that the goats are sitting on the top of the buses here unlike their poorer colleagues in Pakistan where they have to use their little, hairy and skinny legs to cross the mountains.
Alleys of Kathmandu
Kathmandu is so far the lightest and breeziest capitol city in Asia. Traffic is moderate, nothing like in India or Pakistan and every traffic police spoke English so it took us minutes to find the Indian embassy. Although I realize the size difference between Kathmandu and even a mid sized Indian city but somehow it felt and looked more organized here. The embassy unfortunately was closed so we spent the rest of the day wandering around the tiny allies of Kathmandu's backpacker area where all the fake North Face and other climbing and trekking brands are sold. Next day we headed back to the embassy to get our transit visa back to India. The original plan was to head south towards Calcutta and then continue to Bangladesh and to Thailand but the recent typhoon and flooding would make it almost impossible to cross Bangladesh and then still Burma where getting the right visa and paperwork for the bikes is very difficult. Plan B was to ride down to Calcutta and ship the bikes from there to Bangkok through Singapore or maybe find a smaller vessel heading to the eastern side of Thailand. After consulting with people from the Bangladeshi embassy we decided that Plan B is the way forward as we are already stretched out our budget with the extra hassle in India earlier. At the embassy we had two options, apply for a tourist visa which would take over a week and cost more or get a transit visa for less and they promised that we can get that right away. The only problem is that the transit visas are only good for actual transit through an airport, not transiting through half of the country with motorcycles. We continuously asked them to clarify this at the embassy and every time they said that the visa will be good but we need a flight ticket to get it. As things got messier here we decided to get some reliable information from the local Hungarian consul who is one of the richest person in Nepal. As there is no Hungarian embassy or consulate in Nepal, a rich local businessman bidden for the position which landed him an EU passport as well. He lived in a huge hotel complex which was also his just outside of Kathmandu. Surprisingly no appointment needed and he seen us without making us wait. This was really rare but according to him he hardly every see Hungarians coming to his house for help. We explained him our situation and all the confusing visa information we got from the Indian embassy. He also said that the transit visa, unlike they said in the embassy, is only good for an actual airport transit and not for riding. He told us that Bangladesh will be extremely complicated to cross during the flood as it covers half of the country and we will most likely be stranded somewhere for a long time. He then asked us why don't we just fly directly from Kathmandu to Bangkok with the bikes. This option never even crossed our head but really, why don't we? He said the tickets will be similar to what we would pay for the shipping in Calcutta, plus the extra fuel cost, possible troubles in Bangladesh and the extra week we would have to spend in Nepal until we get the Indian visa, adding all this up flight seemed superbly cheaper, giving us some chance to catch up with our schedule and budget as well. He promised to hook us up with some shipping company which can get us discounted prices for the flight. Now we just have to think this over and decide. We spent the rest of the day with discussing the options, visited a great Japanese restaurant, which to be honest was the tipping point for me, I am ready for Southeast Asia, really had enough of South Asia.