Monday, 29 March 2010

Missing in Action

Most of my friends are well aware of my on-going bike issues in SE Asia. To not clutter up this blog with stories of breakdowns and repairs I’ll be following this with an update dedicated to my misbehaving Beamer.

Malaysia - 1st Act.…

Crossing the border at Sadao I headed down the A-road running next to the highway to Georgetown on Penang island and stopped at the Banana Hostel.

Peninsular Malaysia’s 20 million population is made up of Malays, Chinese, Indians and the indigenous Orang Asli, meaning Original People. While the muslim faith is the predominate force the society is also made up of Christians, Buddhists, Taosists and Hindu’s. Modern day Malaysians live in a very tolerant multi-cultural society, a far cry from the 1969 interracial riots between the Malays and Chinese which caused hundreds of deaths particularly around Kuala Lumper.

First impressions of Malaysia are of really friendly and hospitable people and excellent roads on par with any European country.


Georgetown was the first place in Malaysia to be colonised by the British. Now a bustling city the place is a cross roads for SE Asian culture, seen in the varied cuisine of china, India and the spices of Thailand.

Time to head South…….

Cameron Highlands…

It was nice to get the cool air of the mountains at 1500 metres the highlands are a nice change from the heat of lowland Malaysia.

On arrival I met a great bunch of people that would become the drinking crowd for the next 4 or 5 days while relaxing in the cool air of the mountains.

The Cameron Highlands is a photographers dream, with rolling hills covered in tea plantations, strawberry farms and the beautiful mossy forest, a 65 million year old water logged forest covered in vivid green moss.

Kuala Lumper…..

The Malaysians embrace all things modern, from magnificent Petronas Towers, formerly the tallest man made structure on earth, to the telecoms tower the 4th largest in the world. KL is awash with steel and glass.

A few days later after a visit to Thaipusam, an Indian festival held at the Batu Caves, I decided to head off to Tasik Chini via Tama Negara National Park.

After a great 4 days I arrived at the isolated lake of Tasik Chini.

Tasik Chini….

Tasik Chini is a lovely lake just inland from the East coast surrounded by lush jungle with a small village and Ranjan Jones’s Guesthouse on it’s shores. It was a great place to spend a week and just relax and catch up on some blogging, with very few tourists there was little destractions.

Ranjan a 65 year old Indian guy, runs day treks into the jungle and is a font of all knowledge about the plants and animals living there.

Rajan spoke of his concerns about the damaged caused by palm oil plantations, logging and the toothless environmental groups incapable of fighting a government backed large-scale de-forestation initiative.

Palm oil is the major product driving the Malaysian economy, so much so that it recently bought 2 submarines from France, paid for with palm oil.
The central part of the country is one huge plantation which has decimated the local flora and forna due to the loss of habitat.
As well as sucking the nutrients from the ground, palm oil requires well drained soil, the opposite of the heavily waterlogged forest, leaving large areas incapable of supporting a complex forest environment.
Malaysia seems to be marching down the palm oil route with blinkered eyes ignoring what this could spell for the country in the long term.

Back to KL…….


While hanging around the guesthouse I spotted a poster on the wall looking for foreigners to act as extras in a TV series being filmed half an hour outside of KL. Having time, I thought ‘what the hell’, it would be a new experience and might be a bit of laugh.

Setting the scene…..

The 8 part mini series called Akina Balu, centres around a group of British prisoners in a Japanese prison of war camp in Malaysia during World War II.
The days filming centred around the forced labour scenes that would be cut and added to several of the episodes during editing. Apart from the 4 British actors, brought out from the UK, all the other actors consisted of locals playing the camp guards and Russian and European backpackers playing the camp inmates.

Having only one camera for filming each scene, the programme had to be shot from several angles causing some hilarious continuity faux pas with extras standing in different positions for each shot, holding pick axes from one angle and shovels from another. Think of a B-move version of Chuck Norris’s Missing in Action films and you begin to get the picture.

As the only English extra I was asked to do a voice over for a torture scene, my voice would be immortalised in screams of ’Katong, Katong!’. Hilarious.

Towards the end of the days filming I found out that my acting debut had been scripted to end in a blaze of glory.
Buoyed by the arrival of American planes overhead I was gunned down making a break for freedom. With an exploding squib strapped to my back and remote control button in my hand it had been a really fun scene to do.

It was now time to head down to see Nerissa a friend I‘d previously worked with in London, now living in Singapore. Due to more bike troubles it would have to be by bus…..


I’d heard stories of the strict nature of the Singaporean government with fines for littering, Jay-walking and the banning of chewing gum.
I have to admit that I really liked Singapore, it was a great break from the travel. It’s just like any European city but cleaner, with one of the lowest crime rates in the world. It’s probably the first place I visited on the trip that I would actually consider living and working.

It had been great to spend 2 weeks visiting friends but it was time to head back to Malaysia and then on towards Indonesia.
I’d like to say a big thanks to Nerissa and Nez for putting me up, introducing me to all their friends, the delights of chilli crab and generally making sure I had a great time during my stay. If you ever get over to London my door is always open.

Malaysia - 2nd Act….

While in KL I bumped into Elvis, a fellow biker from Norway. He’d been travelling with a few other bikers I’d met on my travels, Carlos in Ko Phangan, Morgan and George in Lahore and Duncan in Lahore and KL. It really is a small world.
Elvis headed off to Penang while I hung around for a couple of more days for the bike to be ready.


On my first day back I rode round the island to visit a couple of guys. Bram and Neil had asked me to pick up some throttle rockers for them in Singapore. I’d like to say thanks to you both for helping me out when I was having issues with the bike and taking me for a few beers when I was most in need. Keep riding and good luck with wherever you guys end up settling.

A big group of overland bikers where starting to amassing in Penang. As well as Elvis on a KTM there was Nicole a lovely Swiss girl on a KTM Adventure and a Ester and Marcus a nice couple from Switzerland on XT 660’s.

Sadly due to a broken bike Elvis would have to join us in a couple of weeks and Nicole was heading for the classic SE Asian loop of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.
The 3 remaining bikers booked our passage to Medan and did all the necessary paper work to load the bikes onto a fruit boat. We would be joining the bikes in a couple of days and starting a new chapter in the wild and mystical Sumatra…..

Next stop Indonesia….

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Bangkok Breakdown


Arriving in Thailand from Bangladesh is a culture shock in itself, jolting me back to a world of modernity. Bangkok is a gleaming modern metropolis with every convenience a European city has to offer, certainly a change from the rawness of Bangladesh.

Before I could re-discover the city I’d previously visited 8 years ago, the priority was to spring the bike from her imprisonment in the customs compound. After messing around for 5 hours it became blatantly clear that the person responsible for providing me with a Thai Carnet had gone home for the evening so it was off to find a hotel for the night, I would have to return the following morning and continue the battle with Thai Customs frustrating bureaucracy.

4 more hours of shuffling paper, fee payments and furious stamping led me to the hanger to pick up the bike and strip away the packaging. I was finally re-united with the old girl and off we sped on what I though would be a short 40k hop to the centre of Bangkok…..

After about 15k’s the bike cut out on me on the motorway and I cruised to a stop at the side of the road, thus compounding the problem I already had with the major oil leak from Bangladesh.

The problem must be the fuel getting to engine, I still had 4 litres of reserve left in the tank.

First priority was to get off the motorway, so I locked up the bike and flagged down a taxi. I’d previously been given a number for a BMW mechanic in Bangkok by an American guy living in Kathmandu, it’s always good to go with a recommendation.

The taxi driver took the directions over the phone, when we pulled up outside the mechanic was already waiting with a truck to go and retrieve the bike.
We set off hoping the bike hadn’t been towed by the police….

Thankfully she was still there and within 40 minutes we were back at the shop and the guys could start work…..

I finally arrived at the hotel I’d booked, 2 days after arriving in Thailand, it had certainly been an interesting and challenging 5 days…..

I’d decided from the off I was going to rest up in Bangkok and spend some time eating the king of cuisines, having a few drinks and generally relaxing by the roof top pool. I would maybe take a quick look down Kao San Road, the backpacker ghetto in the North of the city, just round the corner from the mechanics workshop.


A week later I picked up the bike.
I’d also, bought a new front tyre, had the oil leak fixed, changed the break fluid and had a general service. The culprit of the breakdown had been a bust fuel pump, now replaced.

It was time to head South to meet up with Ollie and Jenny on Kao Samui for our Christmas get together, it would be a 2 day ride….

After stopping off half way down at Cha Am, an nice little seaside town known for it’s seafood, I caught the last ferry from the mainland and arrived at Buda Beach on Ko Samui and a warm welcome from Ol and Jenny. I hadn’t seen them for 3 months, the last time being Islamabad in Pakistan.

After 3 days of relaxation, golf and watching England achieve an unlikely drawn against South Africa in the cricket, I was happy to be heading off to Ko Phangan and backpacker land. While pleasant, I found Ko Samui too built up for me, it was now the domain of big hotels and the 2 week package holiday crowd.

O and J would make the 30 minute crossing by speedboat where as I would have to head back to the mainland and then catch another ferry out to the island.

Ko Phangan, time to really relax……

Arriving on the Islands

The 3 of others spend at lovely slightly drunken, in my and Ollies case, day at an Italian restaurant,drink bottomless jugs of red wine and gorging ourselves on a tradition Italian Christmas meal.
It was only a matter of a few days before the English and Australian contingent would be turning up……

Christmas Day

Ko Phangan was first colonised by the Chinese to grow palms and supply the south with much needed coconuts, so important in Thai cuisine. Prior to this the island was the domain of pirates. As if to emphasise the point Haad Salad, meaning pirates beach, was located just to the South of where we were staying.

Ko Phangan

We spent the following 3 weeks hanging out on the beach, drinking and eating with a big night out in Haad Yai for new years eve, where we all became victims of the infamous Thai Whiskey buckets.


Take one half bottle of Sam Song, a can of coke and a red bull. Stick them in a bucket with ice and add several straws.

Paul and me had insist, on the night, that there was little alcohol in the buckets, something we rescinded the next day as our heads pounded in the midday sun. A very funny evening but whiskey buckets were now off the agenda for everyone.

New Year Frivolities

It was a relaxing time and certainly something I’d needed after being on the road since Kathmandu.
It was time to move on as people filtered off to catch their planes home. I was now itching to get back on the bike and pick up with the traveling again.

I would just like to say a big thanks to Jules, Liza, Nige, Paul and Jen for making the effort to come out to visit the 3 of us. It was lovely to see some familiar faces, you guys certainly made my time on the island memorable.

Good Times

With my visa running out, I took the ferry to the mainland and headed South towards the border. I would be a day over my visa it would cost me a fine of 500 Bhat (£10) not such a big deal.

While going through customs the officer pointed out that I was 9 days over my carnet, I hadn’t realised that there was a month time limited for the bike. Fortunately it was only a 100 Bhat a day fine. Unfortunately, I only had 600 bhat on me, I played the stupid tourist card (very useful in times of problems). The customs officer was great, he only took 500Bhat off me for my overstay period and waved me on my way.

Malaysia here i come…….