Making progress again!

Wow, the last week or so has been intense. From sitting in Thailand a week ago waiting to be allowed to enter Myanmar to waking up this morning in India. I entered India yesterday afternoon and I now have a few days here before heading into Nepal on Friday. I’ll tell you everything about India after I’m through, but first impressions are very positive.

Coming to India, I was expecting this
India traffic

But instead I found this

Anyway, since my last update I spent another few days in Thailand but then most of the time in Myanmar (which is also the reason why this blog post is so late, internet in Myanmar is not at all reliable enough to upload a blog post).

This is what I have been up to over the last week and a bit

Day 60 to 64 – riding the Mae Hong Son loop in Thailand: I’ll keep this one short because I have already told you plenty about the riding in Thailand, but the loop from Chiang Mai through the Mae Hong Son province has some of the best roads and scenery I have seen anywhere in the world! So I spent a few days up there, including stopping for two nights in Pai to socialise with some other travelers over a beer or two.

This is what the roads are like on the Mae Hong Son loop

Day 65 – finally crossing over into Myanmar: On Wednesday the 22nd of March, it was finally time to cross the border to Myanmar. All the permits and paperwork were in place as of that same Monday so after changing some money I head over to the border at Mae Sot on the Thai side. I was expecting smooth sailing through the Thai border check point and then hours of slow paperwork on the Myanmar side. Well. The opposite is what happened…

When I first entered Thailand many weeks earlier the laws on bringing foreign registered vehicles into Thailand had just been changed (meaning you need a completely different set of paperwork from what I had) but because I had organised all of my trip before the law changed and the law itself was brand new they were nice enough to let me through with the papers I had. They were not nearly as nice and understanding when I tried to exit the country. In the end it took me a solid couple of hours being bounced between different immigration and customs booths and eventually I had to fill out a complete set of the new paperwork, including retroactively filling out the import papers. All whilst standing outside in the 40 degree heat with all my riding gear on. Then I got to the Myanmar side, met my guide (more about that shortly) and everything was done in 10 minutes.

So. Yeah. About obtaining permission to bring a foreign motorbike through Myanmar. Well, as you might have figured already you don’t just rock up at the border and roll through. No, you need to get a tour organised by a licensed tour agency, with a detailed day-by-day itinerary and a tour guide to follow you around for your whole visit. That maybe doesn’t sound too hard. But that’s not all. In addition to the tour guide, an officer from the Ministry of Tourism also has to come along for the whole trip (to do all the paperwork at the borders and various checkpoints). And once that’s all organised those guys need a car and a driver, and in my case the guide also had a guide trainee with him. So all in all I had an entourage of four people for the full six days in Myanmar.

Say hello to me and my entourage in Myanmar

And this is their van, which I followed through the whole country

Days 66 & 67 – making our way up towards Bagan: The main attraction on the agenda in Myanmar was Bagan, where we had planned it such that we would get there in time to catch the sunset and have the whole morning the following day to explore. So the first few days were primarily spent on the road, doing 7-8 hours per day and only briefly stopping to see various things along the way. And here in Myanmar, I finally got some of the dirt roads I had pictured in my head when I planned the trip!

This is what I was looking for the entire time

One of the highlights was going up to the Golden Rock, a Buddhist temple on the top of a mountain which is said to contain a lock of hair from Buddha himself. And regardless what you believe about that, the view from up there was spectacular.

Checking out the Golden Rock

Another highlight was passing through Naypyidaw, the newly built capital of Myanmar a few hours north of the old capital (and economic centre) Yangon. Naypyidaw is everything you could ever imagine a brand new capital city built by a military dictator would be, and more. The city basically contains all ministries and other government administration and lots of military bases but only has a population of around 100,000 people. My favourite detail was the main road through the city.

Main road through Naypyidaw, 14 lanes altogether – 7 each direction, no traffic

Day 68 – exploring Bagan: Now I appreciate that at this point the blog might seem like a 50% motorbike – 50% temple blog, but I just have to write a few paragraphs and show a couple of photos from Bagan. From here on, there should be much fewer temples. I promise.

Anyway, Bagan is a vast complex of Buddhist temples built around the 10th to 13th century and it is absolutely spectacular. It’s situated in the dry lands in central Myanmar so you get this amazing landscape dotted with low green trees where it feels like brick temples almost organically have grown up from the rust coloured sand.

Bagan looks like this, but much more

Good thing is you can take the bike to explore most of the templesP1010403

Big white temple, the name of which I could never pronounce and have now forgotten

Days 69 & 70 – going off the beaten track towards the Indian border: The roads got much smaller as we made it from Bagan towards the Indian border in the northwest of the country, so after Bagan we had some really long days on the road. And the temperature still hit 40 degrees every afternoon, as it has since I left Bangkok…

Roads got much narrower after Bagan

As did the bridges, not to mention woodier

Vacation from the vacation from the vacation

After spending a week in Bangkok on a bit of a vacation from the vacation, I still had a 10 days or so before I could enter Myanmar. The border crossing (near the town of Mae Sot) is just 6 hours northwest of Bangkok so getting there would only take one of those days. Hence, the only reasonable thing was to head up to northern Thailand to get a bit of a vacation from the bustling city of Bangkok.

Updating the blog from Mae Kampong

So here I am, in the mountains just outside Chiang Mai, enjoying the slow pace of the Thai countryside as well as some of the most spectacular roads in Southeast Asia. To the extent that I am now actually heading out on a completely pointless (from a making progress perspective) but supposedly gorgeous 4 day loop around the Mea Hong Son province before coming back here to Chiang Mai on Monday.

The loop I am taking the next 3-4 days: Chiang Mai to Chiang Mai

But anyway, since leaving Bangkok I have managed to do a thing or two worth writing down.

Day 54 – exploring temples and ruins in Ayutthaya: After making the incredibly questionable decision the day before to leave Bangkok around 5pm on a Friday (mainly because I lost track of weekdays long ago) and consequently being stuck in the very rushest of rush hours for an eternity I decided to stay the whole day in Ayutthaya just to recover.

Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand (or Siam, as it was called back then) from the 14th to the 18th century and still has many buildings and ruins remaining of various palaces and temples from that time. So I got up in the morning, put on my walking shoes and went out to explore as much as I could squeeze into a day.

Walking through Ayutthaya

And checking out some old temples

Day 55 & 56 – making my way to Chiang Mai: Now this will sound much stupider than it is… Or actually. That’s not right. It is probably exactly as stupid as it sounds: I had no idea Thailand would be so hot!? Going through the lowlands in central Thailand the temperature hit 40 degrees every day (which is just not nice, at all). So instead of torturing myself with blasting the 6-7 hours up from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai in one day I took it easy over two days to avoid the hottest hours of the day as best as I could.

Day 57 – leaving Chiang Mai for the mountains: After spending one night in Chiang Mai itself to get organised, it was time to head out into the mountains to just relax in the cool and fresh mountain climate for a couple of days. And because I have amazing friends in Thailand to help me organise things (thanks Siriphan and Nong!) I was going to stay at a homestay with a Thai family in Mae Kampong, some 50km east of the city.

As I was packing the bike outside the hotel in Chiang Mai, I met this really nice couple who were staying at the same hotel and were also exploring Chiang Mai and the surroundings on a motorbike. After talking for a while about my trip we exchange phone numbers and agree to try and go for a ride together later in the week (which was really exciting because riding together with other people is surprisingly social even though you cannot really talk to each other whilst riding).

Anyway, I eventually got out of Chiang Mai and made it to Mae Kampong and for the first time in weeks I got to enjoy some spectacular mountain roads. And as a bonus, climbing from around 300m above sea level to almost 1,300m took the temperature down from close to 40 degrees to a delightful 23-24 degrees.

Riding up the mountain roads towards Mae Kampong

Day 58 – relaxing in the mountains: Mae Kampong turned out to be gorgeous, and the climate was so pleasant after more than a week in 35+ degrees. I haven’t slept so well in weeks! After finally making it out of bed I went out for a stroll in the village and a little hike up to a nearby waterfall, although with very frequent stops for coffee and fresh fruit.

Walking around in downtown Mae Kampong

And checking out the local waterfall

I ended the day just relaxing on the balcony, starting to write this blog post and organising my remaining days in Thailand.

Day 59 – going for a ride and making friends: As I was cruising around Mae Kampong, I also managed to keep in touch with Ed (fellow biker I met in Chiang Mai). He had another friend who lives in Chiang Mai and they had planned to get together for a ride on the day I was leaving Mae Kampong and asked if I wanted to join. Naturally, I did!

We met up in the morning just west of Chiang Mai and then had an amazing day riding around Chiang Mai, stopping here and there to check out waterfalls, have lunch, check out the Chiang Mai dam and finally have a few well deserved beers in the evening. It was really nice to meet some fellow bikers (which might sound a bit odd given the roads have been full of motorbikes all through Asia, but there is a huge difference when you meet people who are passionate and ride for fun on big bikes) and ride some fantastic roads together.


Enjoying the ride!


Stopping for lunch somewhere on the road

Checking out the Chiang Mai dam


A week in Bangkok

As I am writing this blog post, I just left Bangkok for a quick stop in Ayutthaya before I go further north in Thailand to Chiang Mai and beyond. I ended up spending a full week in Bangkok, but it was well worth it and very productive overall.

My main trip objectives in Bangkok were:

  • Getting the bike serviced
  • Stocking up on spare parts and tires for the next stage of the trip
  • Sorting out my permit for Myanmar (which was revoked a few weeks before, very frustrating)

In addition, I had a number of civilisation therapy objectives:

  • Eat a steak
  • Have a decent cocktail (more specifically a Negroni)
  • Catch a movie at the cinema
  • Meet up with some old friends from when I lived in Bangkok in 2012
  • Enjoy Bangkok’s amazing food scene in general

Day 48 – Settling in to Bangkok life: I actually arrived early evening on Saturday (day 47) and after checking in to my hotel I went straight for that steak. And I had said steak  with an old friend  so knocked two items off the list within hours of arriving to Bangkok. Great progress, so I rewarded myself with a bit of a sleep in on Sunday morning and then went about walking around my old neighbourhoods. A very nice and relaxed day, not much to report other than managing to tick that cocktail  off the list in the evening.

My old neighbourhood in Sukhumvit from above

And walking around on street level

Day 49 to 53 – Running errands and having amazing food: I ended up spending the whole week, Monday to Friday in Bangkok. But rather than running through the week day by day I thought I might try a different approach and organise this blog post according to my to do list.

First off, taking care of the bike turned out to be really easy. I had already organised to drop it off at Britbike (the local Triumph dealer in Bangkok) on Monday morning and the manager Asawin and his guys did an amazing job with it! Not only did they service and patch up the bike  in no time, they also gave it the most thorough clean it has ever received and managed to get me exactly the tires I wanted  for the next stage of the trip.

Dropping off a dirty, tired bike at Britbike on Monday morning

Two days later, picked it up again looking brand new!

Now all I needed to do was to figure out how to pack everything onto the bike in a somewhat secure and effective manner. Easier said than done. After a few tries with complicated approaches (almost to the point of wearing the spare tires like hula hoops) I decided that I’ll probably just stack it high and see what happens.

Stacking it high it is. And obviously I’ll be wearing the helmet so it’s not even that high 🙂


I was lucky the bike points on my list went so smoothly, because the Myanmar permit part really didn’t. Basically to enter Myanmar with a foreign registered vehicle you need a detailed day-by-day itinerary put together by a government licensed tour agency sent to the Ministry of Tourism in advance for approval. Obviously I knew this from researching the trip to begin with and I was already working with a really helpful travel agent to arrange that. Unfortunately, my permit was revoked at some point when I was in Indonesia and nobody could tell me why.

Not much I could do about that until I got to Bangkok, where Myanmar has an embassy. So I head there on Tuesday morning. After waiting in line, then being pointed to a different line and finally getting to talk to someone who wanted to help me I leave the embassy with… almost nothing! They explain that the embassy has no control over the permits issued by the Ministry of Tourism, and have no way of helping me with that. But in the end I manage to get a phone number to someone in the Ministry.

Straight back to the hotel to grab a phone and see if I can sort this out (at this point I am also researching ways to ship the bike past Myanmar straight to India…). I call. Someone picks up. And after being bounced around for a while I get to a gentleman who speaks good English and has seen my original application.

So what happened? Well. Since I applied for the permit, the specific border crossing I was going to take from Thailand to Myanmar has been closed for foreigners. And rather than pointing that out and ask me to change my itinerary to enter at a different border crossing they just revoked the whole thing. Anyhow, that is what it is and he explains that if I just submit a new application entering at the Myawaddy border crossing there should be no problem getting that approved. Although the processing time is 10 working days… so that’s another one week delay in the schedule. Anyway, I get in touch with my agent in Myanmar again and we put together a new itinerary and submit a new application  by Thursday morning. So now the plan is to enter Myanmar on Wednesday March 22nd.


Luckily, neither the bike or Myanmar errands took up very much time during the days (most of the time I was just waiting) so I had plenty of time to enjoy the much anticipated civilisation therapy. I went to the movies , but then focused most of my attention on enjoying Bangkok’s spectacular food scene. And it is spectacular. And it spans the entire spectrum, from street food to some of the best fine dining restaurants in the world. Naturally I wanted to sample the whole spectrum so when I arrived I called Gaggan (ranked #1 restaurant in Asia for three years straight and featured in an episode of Chef’s table on Netflix – check it out!) and managed to get a table on Wednesday night.

Amazing street food

And fancy restaurant food

And finally enough hip cafés that I could get a decent brunch

Gaggan was absolutely amazing, very interesting experimental take on Indian cuisine, and very well worth the visit. Among the highlights were a tiny waffle sandwich with goat brain filling and a tomato matcha soup.

And because I stayed the whole week I also took the time to do some general caring for all my gear and equipment, essentially making my hotel room into a workshop for a few days. I even managed to rationalise away some things, roughly equaling the weight of my new tires so I could leave Bangkok more or less weight neutral.

Unpacking EVERYTHING in my room

Cleaning all my tools and equipment

It’s all land from here on

For those of you who were holding your breath since the last blog post: the bike did arrive in Penang, Malaysia the day after. And since then I have made it to Bangkok where I am working my way through a long to do list of various things that need solving for the second half or so of the trip. Will tell you all about that in my next blog post once I am done here in Bangkok.

I’m about 10,000km in now, out of ~24,000km total. But because I am done with Indonesia (which takes ages to cross due to a combinations of poor roads, crazy traffic and all the ferries between the islands) I am actually more than half way in terms of estimated driving time. But I’m not going to celebrate until I am half way in distance terms, which will be somewhere in eastern India.

But enough about that, let’s start when I picked up my bike in Penang in Malaysia (where I did in fact celebrate a little bit that it’s all land from there on).

Day 44 – arriving in Malaysia: Technically I already arrived in Penang, Malaysia the night before but today is when the bike is scheduled to arrive in Penang. I stay in George Town on Penang island close to the office of the shipping company I am using (Mr. Lim at Cakra shipping), so in the morning I walk over to the office around 10am to check on how and when I will get the bike back.

I make my way to the office, find Mr. Lim and then everything just happens. I jump on the back of Mr. Lim’s motorbike and then he takes me around all morning. To customs to do the first round of import paperwork for the bike. To a local canteen for tea break. To the harbour to find the boat. And there it is, the bike, safe and sound just like I left it. We wait for the crew to unload a few tonnes of sweet potato before they can get the crane to my bike and lift it off the boat. Then Mr. Lim takes me back to the harbour entrance, does the last check with customs for me and then I am all good to go.

Bike arrived together with tonnes of sweet potato

So I head back to George Town and spend the afternoon exploring the old (and UNESCO listed) colonial town centre. It’s really nice! Penang was one of the main trading outposts of the British empire in the region next to Singapore, and it still has lots of very well maintained buildings from that time. And being one of the main cultural destinations in Malaysia it also has great food and cafes, which I made sure to take advantage of in celebrating the last water crossing of the trip.

Checking out some old colonial buildings in Penang

Celebrating that it’s all land from here onwards

Day 45 – leaving Malaysia for Thailand: After a slow morning in Penang packing up my things and preparing my Pakistan visa application (which the plan is to do during my stay in Thailand) I hit the road around lunch time and make it up to the border in a couple of hours.

After having spent more than a month crossing Indonesia on roads of very varying quality it is an absolute pleasure to find myself on wide, well maintained highways with at least two lanes in each direction and very limited traffic through all of Malaysia. So I set the cruise control to 110km/h and just sit back and relax for the 200km or so between Penang and the Thai border.

Day 46 & 47 – making my way up to Bangkok: For the first time in weeks, I have a somewhat modest 6 hours per day schedule to cover the almost 1,000km up to Bangkok. It is such a pleasure to ride on big, good roads with very little traffic after more than a month in Indonesia. Along the way I stay in Songkhla and Chumphon, both towns along the Gulf of Thailand coast. And because I had such a relaxing schedule I took the time to stroll around in the mornings, have a slow breakfast and then make numerous coffee stops along the way.

The roads in Thailand

On Saturday afternoon I made it to Bangkok, which was always supposed to be the major pit stop of the trip. Like I said I have a long to do list here, including things like getting the bike serviced, organising my permits for Myanmar and catching up with some old friends. I will update you on how all of that went when I am done here in a couple of days.

Finally made it to Bangkok!