[YEAR 7!] Quit our jobs, sold our home, gone riding...

Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/378.html



Well we've been tooling around Phuket for a couple of weeks now, I think we're ready to hit the road and kick-start the Chiang Mai lifestyle.


The security guard at our condo building takes one last picture of us before we head out

I think we're the only ones in the building with "big bikes". She's seen us go in and out while we've lived here, and we've nodded and smiled at her as we've ridden by. On our last day, she sees that our bikes are all loaded up and she asks where we're going. When we tell her, she exclaims: "Oh, Chiang Mai! Very far!"

Motorcycles are not long-range vehicles in Thailand.

Getting off the island and onto the main highway that spans the length of Thailand is a real slog through an unending, uninteresting urban jungle. No pictures.

It does allow us to get used to touring with the CRFs again. Our two week rest in Phuket got us used to riding on the left... again. Plus we've got our packing routine established from last season, so we're hitting the ground running.


At a gas stop, we make some adjustments to our ghetto-make-shift motorcycle seat cushions

The CRFs are terrible for touring:poor tank range (we have to gas up every 175kms), buzzy at highway speeds, poor pickup when trying to pass at highway speeds. But the biggest pain in the *** (LITERALLY) is the horribly uncomfortable banana seat - a product of Honda's Torture Device Division.

We spent the whole last season ridng all over SE Asia in acute discomfort. So before leaving Phuket, I did some research on all the ways we could alleviate the pain. The problem is that the seat is too narrow and the edges dig into your sitting bones. The Airhawk cushions we bought did nothing to widen the seats, so no joy there. :(

So I read one guy's solution was to build a little fabric seat widener that lay across the stock seat. It had pockets on each side which hung over the edges of the seat which you could insert empty plastic water bottles inside. So the seat cover + 2 water bottles hanging off either side created a wider flat surface for your butt.

We achieved almost the same effect by stuffing empty water bottles into the Airhawk seat cover.

We'll let you know how that works out...
 

After our seat stuffing experiment at the gas station, we suit up and get ready to continue. And that's when it starts to rain

And not just rain. It comes down in buckets. Like a proper tropical torrential downpour.

Sa-Wha-Dee-Faaa....

And it *has* to happen on our very first day on the road, right? Can't have given us just one dry day for us to get used to moto-traveling again? Thank you, Thailand. So very RideDOT.com...

We wait a bit, glancing up at the sky every few minutes. The rains don't look like they're letting up, so we decide not to wait for it to pass. We reluctantly pull on our rain suits. Onwards, straight into the driving rain!

Ugh, the suits are so hot and stifling in the tropical heat! We might as well be riding without the rain suits because we're sweating so much. Within minutes of leaving the gas station, there's more sweat inside the suit than rain on the outside! Gross.

And then a mere 15 minutes later into our sausage-suited rain ride, the water works from above abruptly end. Aaaaand we're drenched in sweat. If we had only just waited...

Damn you, Thailand!!! :)


A couple of hours outside of Phuket, the scenery begins to get interesting

We are entering the Khao Sok National Park. Although we haven't traveled that far today, we're staying here for the night because we want to check out some of the interesting scenery.

Yes, FOMO strikes again.


We found a place deep inside the dense jungle of the park. Just kidding, we were right off the highway
 

The place we're staying in had these great bungalows in the jungle. They're called Jungalows. I just made that up.


One of the most distinct features of Khao Sok are these towering limestone mountains shrouded in trees. They rise up all around us.


Neda is loving being surrounded by nature!
 

The next day, we head out deeper into the park. Amazing riding past these huge karst formations!


We take a little detour to get off the main road. We have dirt bikes after all!

Despite all the aforementioned drawbacks to riding these small motorcycles, sometimes it's nice to just shoot off the well-worn path without a second thought.

Beautiful scenery all around us!


Back on the main road, northbound
 

Aaaand it rains again... Seriously? Is this the way it's gonna be all the way to Chiang Mai?!?

We leave Khao Sok National Park behind us as we head further north. We've done this road once before, when we rode all the way south to Singapore. Now, doing it in reverse, we already know what's in store for us as we traverse the narrow strip of land joining south Thailand to the north: Nothing but highway and urban sprawl; gas stations and roadside restaurants.

This is going to be our life for the next few days:




Stopping for food in Chumphon
 

We're still far enough south that there's a prevalent Muslim population, which means: Malaysian food!!! I love roti canai!


Further north, we stay overnight in Prachuap Khiri Khan. Too cloudy to visit the beaches! Going for a little ride to find food


Roadside vendor. Eat, Sleep, Ride!

The urban sprawl becomes more dense as we approach Bangkok, and we take care not to wander onto the highways because motorcycles aren't allowed to use them in the big city. I remember we almost got caught and fined the last time we were here!
 
North of Bangkok, we turn east and head into Muak Lek District in Saraburi.

From the road, we see dairy farms for the first time. There are cows everywhere here!

We must investigate.

And by investigate, I mean eat.


We check into an awesome resort-style accommodation in the town of Mittraphap

In Thailand, the most popular online booking service is a site called Agoda.com. Lots of affordable, yet luxurious places!

Mittraphap isn't really on the farang radar list. The people working at our resort don't speak English and they had to phone someone to come in to help check us in. We used Neda's translation app on her phone: the Thai text-to-speech translations worked quite well. It's amazing to think all this technology wasn't as readily available when we first started our trip back in 2012...

The resort is beautiful! Very bucolic. We're booked here for a couple of nights. The only other people here are another younger Thai couple. They arrive the day after we do. I think they're up here from Bangkok for a short weekend vacation. The big city is only a couple of hours away.

We exchanged some polite Sawadee-Khhraps and that was it. I wish I knew more Thai.


Walking around the resort, spying on Neda. She is immersed in her cross-stitching

I should really be working on the blog.

Meh... I think when we get to Chiang Mai, I'll try to catch up then. :)


Neda's cross-stitching is really coming along! She actually started this one last year in Thailand, but basically stopped when we were in Europe
 

In the evening, we ride out to the main village near the highway to grab some food, just 5 minutes away

Muak Lek district has a thriving agro-tourism thing going on with all the dairy farms in the area. The rolling meadows around here make for a perfect place to raise cattle and the farms have been here since the 50s. They supply most of the milk products for the rest of the country. The most popular thing for tourists to do here is to visit a steakhouse, and there are so many in town to choose from.

This is actually quite unusual, because we've been in Thailand for so long and they're not really known for beef or steak, not like Alberta or Argentina.

It's a shame that we're not here in the new year. There's a National Dairy Cows festival held every year. It's a country and western theme and there's a part where they get dressed up like cowboys and put on a show, complete with lassos and cattle rustling demonstrations. It looks quite fun!

Eating steak is quite fun too.


I found this steak place online, it had some pretty good reviews

It was okay. The meat was kind of tough. I ordered it rare and it was over-cooked...

The most interesting thing that happened that evening was this policeman who came in after we did. He seemed to be a pretty important person, everyone in the restaurant greeted him and he seemed to know everyone and walked around like a real big wig. He walked over and sat down with the family sitting behind Neda.

Maybe he was like the town sheriff? Come to check out the only two farangs in Mittraphap? All he needed was a white cowboy hat!

I wish I knew some Thai so I could eavesdrop! :) Still it's fun speculating and making up stories in your head.
 
The next day we were talking with the one staff person who spoke Engish at our place. When we told her of our so-so steak experience, she recommended another restaurant, Big Joey, just around the corner.

I like the name! I had a good feeling about this place.


So we pay a visit to Big Joey that evening. Looks nice so far! Hopefully they won't call the sheriff on us tonight!


Jackpot!

So juicy and tender! And done perfectly as well! Excellent presentation too. Would highly recommend to anyone. Funny thing is that it's not even listed on Tripadvisor or any of the farang sites... So glad we got a local to show us where to go.

As you can see from the picture, Neda didn't feel like having steak two days in a row. But hey, when in Muak Lek, do as the Muak Lekkens do! Let them eat steak! I'm having my steak and eating it too. Steaking my claim? NO! Claiming my steak! Driving a steak through my arteries. One missed steak can ruin everything. Oh steak, can you see? By the dawn's early light...
 

Okay, back on the road, though more urban landscape


I always make fun of Neda when she carries the groceries hanging off the end of her handlebars like the locals do!

This picture typifies Thailand for us. The 7-11 in the background. The blue-red-and-white PTT gas station logo. Neda doing her best smiling Sawadee-Kah-Lady impression...

That's all going to change for a little bit while we make just a small-teensy-weensy detour...
 
Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/379.html



So we're off to Cambodia today!

It's a bit of a detour from our trek to Chiang Mai, but this was originally on our SE Asia bucket list, just that we ran out of steam last year. We're a bit conflicted, because although we really want to see Cambodia, we're not sure if we're up to touring and sightseeing quite so soon after our Europe burnout.

But on the other hand we did buy motorcycles in Thailand expressly for the purposes of being able to ride to other countries, so there's a bit of pressure to make use of the bikes while we have them...


Our last stop in Thailand, check out our funky digs

We've stationed ourselves in Prasat, about 45 minutes away from the Cambodian border, to prepare for our crossing. As is customary, we try to do all border crossings early in the morning when we're fresh and the weather is cool, but also to give ourselves plenty of time in case anything goes wrong, and in the case of Cambodia, plenty of things *could* go wrong:

There's an air of nervous tension between us because of all the research we've done. Cambodia is one of the most difficult countries to ride into. On the forums and on social media, there are so many reports of corrupt border officials giving overland travelers a hard time, denying them entry despite having all the correct paperwork. And in the worse cases, horror stories of vehicles trapped in the No Man's Land between countries - unable to get into Cambodia or re-enter Thailand again, predatory officials offering the owners paltry sums to take their vehicles away.

They specifically target the non-ASEAN riders with foreign-plated vehicles. Having Thai bikes should alleviate most of the pitfalls. At least that's what we're hoping...


How do you prepare for crossing into Cambodia? Well, first you have to modify your motorcycle...


Riding with Daytime Running Lights is illegal in Cambodia, so I have to pull the fuse to the headlights

I've read that the Cambodian police pull over non-Cambodian motorcycles and fine them on the spot (ask for bribes) for having Daytime Running Lights. We're just trying to mitigate any problems beforehand and try not to give anyone any reason to stop us.

I just have to remember to plug the fuse back in again if we're going to be riding at night...
 
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The main overland crossing is at Poipet, on the highway between Bangkok and Siem Reap. At that crossing, we've heard of officials insisting on a Carnet de Passage (Cambodia is not a Carnet country) and requiring a special permit from the government offices in Phnom Penh. Some travelers have had to leave their vehicles on the Thai side, take a bus to the capital to apply for and wait for this permit and then return to the border...

So we chose this smaller, rural crossing of O'Smach in the north because we've read that the Cambodian officials here were more lax about letting foreign vehicles through. It' a bit out of the way from the main highway, but again... forewarned is forearmed. It's a bit frustrating and unnerving to enter a country where the rules change from crossing to crossing, as well as day to day. Timely information has never been so important. The Internet has been a boon to overland travelers.

Still, even with all the research we've done, I am plenty anxious as we approach the cluster of buildings that mark the border between Thailand and Cambodia.

We park the bikes and go through the overly-familiar process of getting ourselves and our bikes out of one country and into the other:

Step 1) Stamp ourselves out of Thailand
Step 2) Export our motorcycles out of Thailand
Step 3) Stamp ourselves into Cambodia
Step 4) Import our motorcycles into Cambodia

Step 1 was dead easy. The Thai border officer quickly checked to make sure we hadn't over-stayed our visa and with a swift KA-CHUNK, our passports were marked with an exit stamp.

Sorry, no pictures. We were nervous enough as it was, didn't want to give anyone a reason to stop or deny us entry!

Okay, Step 2: Getting our bikes exported out of Thailand. This shouldn't be a problem, we did it in Malaysia, the process is simple.

So, here's an additional tip I read about getting into Cambodia: tell the border guys that you're only going to stay in the province that you enter in at. So if you enter in Siem Reap province, tell them you're only going to the city of Siem Reap, because otherwise you'll need a vehicle permit to drive to another province, like Sihanoukville. Which means leaving your vehicle here and traveling by bus to the capital to get that permit...

So that's what we did. But unfortunately we told this to *THE WRONG SIDE*. The Thai customs official asked where we were riding to. "Siem Reap", I replied confidently, my well-rehearsed lie rolling off my tongue like honey. We were planning on going much farther than Siem Reap.

The Thai official typed some stuff out on his computer, printed out a vehicle exportation form -- you're only allowed to take out a Thai vehicle out of Thailand for a month, it's a bit of weird rule...


Before we left the booth, I checked the form

A couple of things immediately stood out.

First, our tiny CRF250Ls have grown in size. They're listed as CRF1000As. We now have Honda Africa Twins! Sweet! :)

Second, we were only given two weeks export permission. What? Normally we're allowed to be out of the country for a month!

I questioned the Thai official, "Is this right? Only two weeks? Why not 30 days, like before?"

He replied, "You are only going to Siem Reap. Not far. Only two weeks."

NOOOOO!! I was so worried about getting into Cambodia, I was not expecting to be screwed by the Thai side exiting Thailand!!!! Why did I tell the Thai official we were only going to Siem Reap? He didn't care how far we went inside Cambodia?!?! DAMMMIT!!!!!

I tried arguing for the usual 30 days, but the official wouldn't budge. Now we'd have to rush through the whole of Cambodia in two weeks. We don't rush. It's not what we do. Plus we are still travel fatigued. Suddenly, this whole Cambodia side-trip didn't seem like such a good idea. But it was too late. Us and our motorcycles were already stamped out of Thailand. We were in between countries, in No Man's Land.
 
We trudged over, dejected, to get our visa-on-arrival at the Cambodian office. Step 3. The guy at the office overcharged us $37 for a $30 visa. I read about this. You can put up a fuss and after a lot of time and hassle, they will eventually charge you the right amount. A real proper scam they pull on *everybody* that passes through.


I think it evens says $30USD right on the visa itself...SMH

But at that point, we didn't care. We were too crushed by our two-week limitation imposed by Thai customs. Whatever.

I glanced at the new visa glued inside our passport, stating that we are allowed to stay for 30 days. *sigh* Unfortunately our bikes are only allowed out of Thailand for 14 days. :(

Anyway, the real hard part was now here. Step 4: Getting our motorcycles imported into Cambodia.

We gathered all of our vehicle papers and the Thai exportation letter to bring to the customs office. Filled out the importation form and made sure everything was sorted and in order and handed the neat pile to the Cambodian official working behind the counter. He didn't even look up at us or come out to look at the bikes. Just glanced at the papers and waved us through. No fees. No questions about where we were going. No additional paperwork.

What? Just like that? All that worry and we were just let in like that?
 
Okay! Suddenly our moods lifted and we felt much better. Especially riding quickly away with O'Smach getting further and further away in our mirrors. We were in a brand new country! We're excited, once again! Such a roller-coaster of emotions...


Putting some distance between us and the border, just in case they realized they were supposed to give us more of a hassle getting in

Oh yeah, they drive on the right-hand-side in Cambodia. So much switching in the last year, our brains are getting a bit frazzled.

But still, being in a new country is always exciting because we're interested in seeing what will be different than the place we just left.


One thing remained the same. We still can't read the squiggly Cambodian script (Khmer). It looked exactly like Thai script to us...

So we continue to be illiterate in Cambodia.


12 kms into Cambodia and I still can't believe how easily we got in

I guess sometimes it pays to do your research. Next time, we'll have to tell the Thai customs guys we are going ALL OVER CAMBODIA AND SE ASIA! Give us the 30 days!
 

We pass by what looks to be the official vehicle of rural Cambodia. So many of these on the road


It's just basically a trailer attached to an engine. 100% function, 0% form


Neda stops to readjust the plastic bottles inside her seat cushion. It's not really working out well for her...

Thankfully, Siem Reap is only two and a half hours away from the border. And we take lots of photo stops.
 

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