A Sojourn In South-East Asia

Writing about experiences of a ride a few months after it happened is always a tough ask, especially since one would have gotten into the daily rut of things and meeting deadlines – personal and professional. Unless riding is a profession, each of us riders who ride for pleasure go through this cycle of pre-ride excitement, ride exuberance and post ride depression. So while tackling the post ride depression phase, trying to write about the South East Asia ride brings those feelings to the fore. I have been trying to get out and ride overland to Europe for some time now. Getting a group together to do the China part has been a sore point for me. So while waiting for things to fall in place, I got an opportunity to be part of a group that wanted to cover a section of South East Asia. I put my Europe plans on the backburner and jumped at this. I’ll take the opportunity here to thank the team without whom the ride wouldn’t have been possible in the first place. Also would leave them to talk about their experiences rather than me try and talk about it.

The plan was to go through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia with Vietnam if time and permits worked out. The group was to start riding from Guwahati in north-east India and finish the ride in Bangkok. However, I was not keen to get my bike transported and hence chose to go from Mangalore in South India to Guwahati and then join the gang for the further ride. We co-ordinated our schedules to be at the India-Myanmar border at the same time to ensure we crossed over together.

India Innings

My route was supposed to be Mangalore-Mumbai (get some work done on the bike)-Udaipur-Chittorgadh-Kota-Shivpuri-Jhansi-Kanpur-Lucknow-Gorakhpur-Gopalganj-Muzaffarpur-Darbhanga-Kishanganj-Siliguri-Guwahati. Mangalore-Mumbai has become a regular ride route for me and it went by without any hiccups. After a fond farewell from my adopted club, Udupi United Riders (URU) with founder Mohd Suhail Muneer and the rest of the gang, it was smooth going till Mumbai. I also managed to catch up with a few riders along the way who loaded me with a lot of  good wishes and questions about the ride! It’s always nice to meet friends along the ride and spend time with them. 

I reached Mumbai and sent my bike (Sunshine) straight to its doctor (Chotu bhai). The idea was to prepare it for the long journey and it was readied accordingly. Once that was done and a series of farewell sessions by the Touring Buddies, I was off. The aim was to cover close to 3000 kms in 5 days with a rest/service day in Guwahati before the cross border ride commenced. Any ride that goes as per plan is not an adventure and this ride was not one without adventure. The weather played a major role and after being on track for 2 days, I started falling behind. Since I was running late, I asked the guys to move ahead with the assurance that I’ll catch up somewhere before the border. About 200 kms from Guwahati disaster struck and Sunshine broke its chassis. To cut a long story short, I got it fixed and moved ahead. Eventually I caught up with two of the team in Dimapur. It was a good night and we were hosted by the Naga Chiefs (a club in Dimapur). It was a fantastic evening and it helped relax the stress of the last few days including the chassis issue. The other three guys caught up with us the next day and the group was complete. So we were six of us riding together for the first time – we had not even met earlier – and here we were off to on a real overland ride to

Myanmar Musings

Moreh is a dreamy little border town straight out of a cowboy Western movie except there were no horses. The aim was to get across Moreh without having to spend extra days here and we managed that. I had been having some more bike problems and somehow we sorted it overnight at Moreh. Being part of a team/gang means leaving our individual prejudices behind and helping sort any issue that might be holding the team back. Akarsh, inspite of being a hard core Royal Enfield hater, helped me sort my fuel tank issue and we were off to cross over into a foreign land on our own bikes. The Myanmar travel agent team was on hand to help with the paper work once we had finished the immigration and customs formalities (including Carnet stamping) on the India side. It was a smooth process and the hard work of the 30 days prior to the ride bore fruit.

Once into Myanmar, the agent took over and got the paper work sorted while we indulged in banter and photography to while away time. Once the paperwork was done, we went off in search of lunch and started on our first Myanmar beer. The overall feel and ambience of the place is slow, relaxed and welcoming. People are polite, friendly and sharing in nature. It’s just that you need a translator to help communicate. We quickly realised the utility of a guide cum English speaking translator in the team without whom travelling would be handicapped. Our route through Myanmar was to Moreh-Kale Moh-Moneywa-Mandalay-Inle-Namsong-Kengtong-Chang Rai via Mae Sae border into Thailand. Inle Lake, also known as Inle Sap was a surprise location and one I would love to visit again. It’s one of the biggest fresh water lakes in the world and is at an altitude of 2900 ft. The entire area is protected and entry/exit is regulated with an entry fee. There is a completely different feel to the place with the pleasant weather and well-kept surroundings. The lake has its own economy with tourism related activities. It contains a number of endemic species with over twenty species of snails and nine species of fish that are not found elsewhere in the world. It hosts approximately 20,000 brown and black head migratory seagulls in November, December and January.

Laos Land

Laos is a small country and one of the must-visit places Vientiane is the capital and the largets city in Laos,  Our aim was to ride to Vientiane and spend a couple of days hanging around there. It used to be a French colony post WWII and has a very relaxed, calm feel. The ride to the city was quite uneventful and we made it there with no hiccups.

The city is settled on the banks of the Mekong River and is quite well laid out. We decided to be stay at hostels and got a decent place to stay. 

Akarsh and I picked up a couple of bicycles and roamed around the city visiting important locations like the Art museum and historic places. The switch to non-motorised mode of transport did us some good. There was an evening market that’s set up every day along the banks of the river and dismantled at the end of the night. These are on makeshift tents but very well structured and sturdy. The market has everything one can think of including food, clothes, fancy items, art, musicians etc. It was interesting to roam around, meet people, interact and generally be in sync with the surroundings. After exploring Vientiane for a couple of days we moved on to Savanakhet and then on to the Laos-Cambodia border.

Cambodia Capers

The Laos exit was quite peaceful but the Cambodia entry got us into some trouble. By the time we rode from Savanakhet and reached the border it was almost evening. The Laos guards warned us to check with the Cambodia immigration if we would be allowed in and then the drama started. We were told to go back to Laos and come back the next morning as we had missed the time to cross over, which was utter rubbish.

The immigration official on duty who would be stamping our passports and the de-facto boss was drunk. He wouldn’t listen to any of our talk and refused to entertain us.

 After a good 30 minutes, he agreed to let us in provided we bribe him. By that time, we had already exhausted our patience and decided not to bribe him. But we had luck on our side as his shift was to end soon and the next officer let us in without a bribe or a fuss. We quickly got our stamps and raced to get a place to stay as it was already dark.

We were clear that we did not want to do too much night riding. However, that wasn’t to be on this evening. The road from the border to the nearest town over 60 kms was absolutely pothole-ridden and not in any shape to ride in the dark or ride fast. We also didn’t want to run into something on the road and end up having to manage a situation. But eventually we reached Stung Trung and found a place to stay. Our aim was to reach Siam Reap which we did the next morning. 

Siam Reap is the base from where all visitors go to see the Angkor Wat temples. We did too as it’s probably the most famous landmark in Cambodia. Angkor Wat is a cluster of temples which was first built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Yasodharapura, the capital of the Khmer Empire. It is the world’s largest religious monument and one of the most visited religious sites in the world.

Unlike his predecessors who belonged to lineage of kings who practiced ‘Shaivism’ and thus their supreme God was Lord Shiva, Suryavarman II broke ranks with them and built this temple that is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. We hired a guide and went around for a tour of the temple complex. It is interesting to know the history and understand how human wishes play a role in what they create to make them immortal.

According to the guide, the king built the temple and believed that if he finished it in his lifetime, he would be immortalised and be worshipped as God. Unfortunately that wasn’t to be and he died before the temple could be completed. His successor, having the same belief did not finish this temple and started one of his own thereby staking a claim to attain immortality of his own! Having done the touristy part, we were back to hanging around and having a good time in Siam Reap. The next big task on hand was to get to Thailand and we had to clear the hurdle of securing visa on arrival as well.

Thailand Times

Having enjoyed our stay in Siam Reap, we pushed on to the last country on our list. Along the way, we took the decision to drop Vietnam from the itinerary due to scheduling, permits and other issues but we intend to go there later. The focus now was to get to Bangkok riding along the south of Thailand. We had to cross over at Aranyaprathet. The Cambodia exit was smooth with no hassles unlike the entry and we were on to Thai customs, immigration and visa on arrival.

Took us a bit of back and forth on the form filling but we were done soon as we had spent enough time earlier getting photocopies etc. Being prepared helps! Visas done, we got through customs soon and we were back on the road onwards to Bangkok.

Being back in Thailand where English was understood made a lot of difference. More eating options along the roads along with fuel etc. felt good. The highways are better laid out and it was interesting to see multiple types of bikes and cars on the roads. This was in stark contrast to Cambodia and what a difference it was! Bangkok was to be our final destination and the bikes were to be shipped out of there. We had factored a dedicated container for the six bikes and the others had booked their flights out already. We reached Bangkok in two days and the next day sorted out our bike shipping. Once that was done, we were quite relieved. We then focussed on spending some time in and around Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket before taking flights back home. The ride had come to an end and we were glad that it had gone off without any major issue or mishap. We bid goodbyes with plans to ride overland together again soon.

Carnet – WIAA, Mumbai – 50,000 INR per bike; No Deposit

IDP – INR 500/- WIAA Mumbai

Personal InsuranceWorldnomads 

Motorcycle Insurance – at the borders

Visas – All visas in India and one Thai visa on arrival

Shipping – 75,000 Bhat for container and additional expenses for release in Mumbai

Myanmar Agency – Burma Senses

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