ULTIMOTO ADVENTURES - LUXURY GUIDED BIKE TOURS IN ASIA
IN THE PRESS
► Text only...
EASY RIDER FEELING ON HOT MOTORBIKES
- A MAGICAL JOURNEY ACROSS THAILAND -
Travel-Feature by Nathalie Gütermann*
Who doesn't dream about getting away from it all, letting the spirit flow and emerging into a world full of freedom, nature and adventure? An adventure on two wheels beyond all convention. Create your own personal “Road Movie” in Thailand, the land of smiles and simply rush away……3000 km from the north (Chiang Mai) to the south (Phuket).
I am not talking about the typical Thai mopeds which can be hired for a few Thai Baht almost everywhere. I am also not talking about heavy Harleys but about powerful, all terrain BMW motor bikes, the new “R 1200 GS” or "F 650 GS”. 25 years ago BMW started its GS model range and with it the huge success story of the big flat twin (Boxer) engine, for many the travel bike par excellence.
The ‘Ultimoto Adventures Company' (formerly known as Discovery Moto Tours) is the ultimate insider recommendation for motor bike lovers, suitable for all age groups, for all fitness levels, for singles and couples, for men and women, for experienced bike freaks and absolute beginners, like me! Yes, I have to admit. I'm a 100% newcomer to biking even as pillion rider.
Never ever did I fancy the idea of mounting a motorbike until I coincidentally met the smart Briton James Shayler (40) a well-traveled bon vivant, owner of this interesting adventure company and himself the best ambassador for the exclusive explorer trips that he is organizing together with a friend ‘for the fun of it'.
“Originally I was looking for a good excuse to combine business and pleasure” he reveals to me with a smile. “I have been an entrepreneur for 15 years and earned well but at some stage I wanted to escape the daily grind. I had the desire to travel, to explore the beautiful parts of the world and to find new friends on the way”...
A LUXURY GUIDED ADVENTURE
James Shayler is living his dream now and is successful with his adventure tours. The tall, white-haired man by no means look like an ‘Asphalt Cowboy' who is celebrating a successful off-road trip with plenty of Thai Whisky and vanishing into the Spartan simplicity of a bamboo hut for the night. The same is true of his customers.
Already the information on the website and online brochure carries the message: this is no trip for softies and chill bikers, neither is it a showy speed trip for machos. In fact the participants are experiencing a ‘Luxury Guided Adventure' including licensed Thai tour guides who enjoyed proper training. With the establishment of 'Ultimoto Adventures' in Bangkok/Phuket and the UK, James has discovered a small but very exclusive lifestyle niche catering perfectly to an up-market clientele with a thirst for adventure and plenty of wanderlust.
“I have to admit I didn't want to ramble around the world as a backpacker" James continues. "Our program includes first class accommodation in 4 – 5 star hotels, excellent food in selected restaurants, fascinating excursions and above all breathtaking routes that you will not find in any travel guide. Our motorbike trips in Thailand are simply unbeatable!”
So, no excuse! Even though I have never sat on a bike before I allow myself to be lulled into the ‘Easy Rider Feeling' and book the ‘Grand Thai Luxury Tour'. As I have been living on the island of Koh Samui for the last 3 years I always wanted to travel through my favorite country, quench my thirst for knowledge and live my personal dream of fulfillment. Apparently Thailand has a reputation for being a biker's paradise. Spectacular canyons, countless wild single trails, colorful markets, gigantic temple complexes and nature undiluted. This trip looks increasingly promising to me.
Why not meet this unexpected challenge and dare to try something knew with like-minded people; define the way itself as the destination?
Carpe Diem – Seize the day! It is time to start an exiting exploration trip that will keep us totally enthralled for the next 14 days from morning till evening.
We start our motorbike trip in the north. Exactly 2937km are lying ahead of us. From Chiang Mai the center of wood and handicrafts via Mae Hong Son, Mae Sariang and Mae Sot to Burma (Myanmar). Then on to Sukothai, Kanchanaburi, Hua Hin and the island of Koh Lanta to finish the trip in the far south in Phuket.
CHIANG MAI & SURROUNDINGS
Already the start is lovely. The luxurious 'Ayatana Hamlet & Spa Resort' in Chiang Mai, built in Lanna style, is an enchanting, small boutique hotel with only 36 cozy rooms.
We have a dinner reserevation for 10 people at the pool for 7pm. Aside from myself, promoter James, and the two Thai tour guides Harry and Nat, three biker couples from the UK signed up for the trip with DMT. Through an English motorbike magazine and word of mouth recommendation they heard about this very special tour operator that does not normally advertise beyond Europe.
There is a lot of anticipation in the air between the participants and also a lot of expectation. After all the ‘all-inclusive' package does not come cheap and everybody expects value for their ‘trip of a lifetime'.
“Very good, we are all about the same age – a nice group”. These are my thoughts after I am introduced to the other participants. For the next 14 days we have to get on with each other somehow. Everybody is between 40 and 45 years old and all of them are definitely experienced bikers with high demands.
Carol and Neil, owners of a successful print shop, are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary and treating themselves to something very special with this trip. John, music producer, former drummer of famous rock groups like Uriah Heep and Nazareth, wants to show Thailand to his girl friend Carina. And Andrew, financial director of a renowned London real estate company, is indulging in a holiday from his exhausting job in a way he and his wife Helen love most: mounting a cool bike and getting some fresh air in their faces …..
As different as the three couples from the UK might be, the people around the table have a common bond: a passion for hot motorbikes! Before long I will also discover what the others have already been motivated and inspired by for years.
Riding a bike is like a love affair: passionate, classy, cool, very sexy and there are always new surprises around the next bend.
The first point on our tour program is the so-called “Mae Wang Loop”. The 253km track towards Chiang Rai starts in Sanpathong, 18km southwest of Chiang Mai. Fear is creeping up on me in view of the highly polished motocross bikes. All of the participants have chosen the biggest of the BMWs, the R 1200 GS!
My God…….don't lose your nerve........
Immediately I am identified as greenhorn, but now it is too late to back pedal - I have to stick it out. Everything will be fine, I am trying to reassure myself. As pillion rider I am at least protected by the luggage boxes on the sides. Pale-faced I climb onto the gigantic machine – double my own size. General smiles all around me.......
With ease James swings all of his 1.94m into the saddle in front of me. The passionate sportsman and horse lover who, at home in Cheltenham, loved to hold the reigns in his firm grip, is obviously also fond of mechanical horse power. After an initial slow warm up he accelerates to 120 km/h. Fortunately this is only a little test.
As a longtime, experienced biker he is the front runner of our group, equipped with GPS – a satellite navigation system – headphones and microphone that allows him to stay in permanent contact with the tour guide in the rear, as well as with the accompanying jeep, which carries the ample luggage of all participants, and a trailer with a spare bike for emergencies.
After only a short while the whole team is communicating with hand signals and is perfectly attuned to each other. The first day reminds me of a day of skiing headed by a professional ski teacher. The difference is that our lead guide is not wearing a red overall but a cool blue-beige BMW outfit with extensive leather applications. We start out on a ‘blue slope' in the skiing sense, which is the easy one with well-constructed roads and an even surface.
I relax. It is wonderful to gaze into the sky, to roll towards the setting sun, to feel the warm wind on my skin and to enjoy the feeling of pure bliss. We keep on going for hours: body, spirit and bike become one.
In fact riding a motorbike has meditative elements! Nothing disturbs the idyll: no mobile phones, no screaming kids, no barking dogs, no bothersome fellow men. It gives you time to reflect, to leave old worries behind, to recharge your batteries, to simply concentrate fully on yourself.
The roads along the Mae Wang River are clearly laid out and only later do they lead into the mountains of the region. I am a bit surprised because here in the north it does not look like the exotic Thailand renowned for its dense rainforests that is more familiar to me, but am reminded rather of Mediterranean landscapes. Our route is lined with innumerable broad-leaved trees and pines smelling strongly of eucalyptus.
Back in Chiang Mai one should not miss out on a special highlight - a visit to the famous temple of “Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep”. It is located on top of a holy mountain at an altitude of about 1,500m and is accessible via a 300m long flight of stairs. Stone snakes (Nagas) studded with innumerable sparkling glass ornaments wind their way up along the stairs to the inner temple yard. Only visitors with appropriate clothing are admitted here.
The temple is said to have been founded in 1383. In the middle is the sacred square cloister area, where visitors can see the Lanna-style, copper-plated chedi topped by a five-tiered gold umbrella. It is considered one of the holiest areas in Thailand and monks are kept busy blessing the devout with holy water. Within the Wat are many more pagodas, statues, bells and shrines, such as the legendary “White Elephant shrine”. The lookout area is on the other side from the entrance gate and viewers can gaze down at the city of Chiang Mai and the surrounding mountains. For further information, please click link.
If you still have time head just east of town to Bo Sang and Sankamphaeng Village, which have become famous for their fine products - umbrellas, Thai silk and cotton. Nowadays this route is dotted with manufacturing centers for silverware, wood carving, ceramics, weaving and embroidery as well. Finally, also wander around the famous Night Market located in the heart of the city.
The first day winds down in the romantic restaurant 'Mi Casa', the recommendation of an insider and only a few minutes away from our hotel on Suthep Road. The owner, Chef Kike Garcia from Spain and his wife Annie Ting from Hong Kong receive their guests, as the name suggests, in their own private country house. We dine in the comfortably furnished living room equipped with bookcases, wooden floor and a beautiful garden terrace under flowering trees. They serve first class Mediterranean cuisine and above all brilliant Spanish red wine: a rarity in this area. ‘Mi Casa' just received an award from the lifestyle magazine Thailand Tatler in the section ‘Best Restaurants 2007'.
CHIANG MAI - MAE HONG SON
The next day we really start the first leg of our journey from Chiang Mai via Pai to Mae Hong Son. I had been mentally prepared by the team for the “Road of 1000 bends” that lay ahead of us. Actually there are 1,864!!! Now the real adventure starts both for me and our group.
We have to cross a mayor mountain range with a spectacular number of curves on two wheels........
A short way out of Chiang Mai the highway heads for the heavens. Here the forest becomes junglier and the road begins a roller coaster of big ups and little downs. I really start wondering if I will survive the day!
Our heavy BMW leans gracefully to the side while we negotiate the first hairpin bend. This is the motor sport enthusiast's term for these extremely tight bends with an angle of 180 degrees. Again I have to fight against a panic attack when the serpentines seriously start and it seems that our now horizontal power bike is scraping the asphalt. But after a while I get used to the rhythm of my driver and I start having real fun.
The road mutates into a ‘black slope' today; it feels like giant slalom. It has an extraordinary allure to watch the drivers one after the other swishing down the curves with a lot of power, concentration and charm – right, left, right, left.
All of a sudden we are overtaken by another BMW. Not one of our team so James accelerates and a thrilling chase ensues. It is more than obvious that both drivers are enjoying themselves tremendously. No risk, no fun. After a while both of them have showed enough of their skills. Thumbs up and ‘good-bye.'
Next a stopover at a sight seeing platform with an awesome view. We are 1600m above sea level. Women of the ‘Lisu Hill Tribe' try to sell hand-made bags and, through rotting teeth, play the recorder (a special flute) for us. It is a rather sad performance. The ‘Discovery Moto Team' hands out tips and offers a few soft drinks and chocolate bars, which are accepted thankfully.
The northwestern part of Thailand once formed the center of the Lanna kingdom and was strongly influenced by Burma. Fertile valleys, lush jungle and a multitude of hill tribe villages dominate this region.
Our lunch near the charming artist village of Pai is a real highlight. When we walk into the 'Belle Villa' hotel I can not believe my eyes. Right in the middle of nowhere is this beautiful boutique resort with manicured gardens, an English lawn, romantic wooden swings and little houses on stilts.
Nestled in a deep valley hemmed in by high mountain ranges that run unbroken from north to south, Mae Hong Son has long been isolated from the outside world. Of the approximately 12,681 square kilometers of national forest reserves, 88 % is thought to be pristine virgin forest. Every district in Mae Hong Son Province shares a common border with the Union of Burma, approximately 483 kilometers in total length. Today, Mae Hong Son is one of the dream destinations for visitors who are attracted by its cultural and natural wonders, such as forest parks, hot springs, waterfalls and caves covered with beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
In the evening I take a stroll around the market in Mae Hong Son and buy a t-shirt with the logo: ‘I survived 1864 bends'.
At the ‘Cross Road' - a funny mixture of an American saloon and an English pub, I meet up with the rest of our team. Everybody at the table feels the same about what they have accomplished today.
The next day we start on foot – only 15 minutes away from our Hotel 'Imperial Tara Mae Hong Son'. As we are floating down the Mae Pai River on a long-tail fishing boat I feel like I am on a movie set. In view of the wildly romantic landscape along the river, perfect for river rafting, I am reminded of ‘African Queen,' the old movie with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. Mae Pai itself is the longest river of Mae Hong Son, originating from mountain ranges in Laos.
One of the attractions is a visit to the Padaung hill tribe. They are also called ‘longnecks' and are famous for their giraffe women. To look at them is both fascinating and shocking at the same time. While still in childhood heavy metal rings are fastened round the young girls necks in a beauty ritual. Until they are 16 years old they receive an additional ring every year. These ornaments look like separate rings but are really a continuous coil of brass that can weigh anywhere from five to twenty-two kilograms and measure up to 30 cm in length. Once fixed the longneck woman has to live with this piece of metal for the rest of her life. To remove the full coil of brass would cause the collapse or even fracture of the woman's neck.
It is a myth that the brass rings have elongated the neck of the wearer. The reality is, that the appearance of a longer neck is an optical illusion. Over the years the weight of the brass rings has pushed down and deformed the collar bone plus the upper ribs to such an extent that the collar bone appears to be part of the neck. Despite the obvious discomfort and the daily task of cleaning the brass ring coil, plus other handicaps, like having to use a straw to drink, the Paduang hill tribe women say that they are used to their custom and are happy to continue the tribe's tradition.
Of the 7000 members of the Palong hill tribe in Burma, about 300 fled to Thailand, about twenty years ago, to escape the Burmese repression. With the help of the Thai government, they set up the Paduang (Palong) refugee village in this small valley of Mae Hong Son province, only reachable by boat.
It is pretty here – and very clean. The giraffe women offer their hand-made goods at simple tables covered with fashion jewelry, wood-carvings, hand woven shawls and postcards. With interest I have a look at the school, a tiny straw hut with a few chairs, and I am totally surprised when several young girls answer my questions in good English. Here of all places: in the middle of nowhere. The answer to the mystery is an English missionary teaching English here and showing the locals how to deal smartly with the few tourists.
The area around Mae Hong Son is well suited to the training of elephants. Former governors of Chiang Mai used to organize the round-ups of wild elephants, which were then trained before being sent to the capital for work. For everybody who is interested there is the opportunity for a jungle trek on the back of one of these noble animals before we proceed to Mae Sariang at an altitude of 2000m.
MAE HONG SON - MAE SARIANG
We have a stopover for a scenic picnic in the country-side and for a short visit to Khun Yuam. In a small war museum by the wayside we view Japanese war memorabilia and weapons from World-War II; a sad foretaste of the town of Kanchanaburi with its famous bridge over the river Kwai and the history of the Japanese invasion of Asia between1894 and 1945.
A short film about the tragic love story between a Thai woman and a wounded Japanese soldier tugs at the heartstrings. The old lady and her sons are still living in this small village.
The weather continues to be just one day of sunshine after another with a bit of haze.
A hundred and sixty-three km later we reach Mae Sariang. Our accommodation is the ‘Riverside Guest House'. We are given simple rooms with grand terraces facing the river. The evening ends in a very relaxed way with Singha beer and some games of billiards. Funny biker stories keep us entertained and laughing until the early morning.
MAE SARINAG - MAE SOT
Despite the stunning beauty of the landscape I feel slightly queasy the next morning when we leave for Mae Sot. All of a sudden I hear a mighty ‘bang' while we are right in the middle of another section of serpentines. James, my companion and driver, winces with as much terror as I do after a big black bird hit his helmet with full force and obscured his view for seconds. My heart is beating wildly when I think about the possible consequences of this incident. Fortunately James is mastering the situation competently and does not loose his rhythm.
This is only one of many possible accidents that could happen while riding a bike. The specialty in Thailand are social gatherings of cows or sheep on the road right after narrow curves. Each of the drivers has to fight at some point. John almost runs over a cobra and a dog ran straight into Andrew's bike.
The general rule is never brake hard, always wear the helmet, boots and gloves, and always have a first-aid kit handy. We do not know yet that we will need it a few days later while crossing over to Koh Lanta. More about this later... Rain gear has to be on hand as well. Wearing a safety helmet is obligatory and alcohol is strictly forbidden during the daytime.
Covering an area of 721 square kilometers the Salawin National Park is on the Thai-Burmese border about 164 kilometers south of Mae Hong Son. A tiny road winds up a mountain chain full of pot holes and loose pebbles. Don't slip now!
Our destination is the authentic little village of Mae San Laep at the legendary Salawin (or Salween) River. We enjoy the spectacular view across the river landscape that is literally breathing history. At a length of 2,800 kilometers, the Salawin is second only to the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. The river rises in Eastern Tibet and ends in Myanmar (Burma), forming a natural border. Scenery along the banks is captivating, with forest and mountains and dotted with small hamlets. The people here look very different from those in other Thai towns I've visited. Shan, Karen, Indian, Thai and Burmese people live up here together in peace.
The biggest refugee camp in the country is located in Mae Sot. Seventy thousand people live here, most in basic bamboo huts roofed with dry leaves. Barbed wire surrounds the vast camp that stretches for several kilometers along the highway. The ‘Discovery Moto Tours' team has a nice idea and buys note books, colored crayons and sweets for the little ones. When I open my bag with the ‘treasures' hundreds of little dirty hands reach out towards me.
I feel like crying when I consider that our short stopover here is like a godsend for these children. Even though there is some support from the authorities these are ‘children in distress' who have little food not to mention an education: the only way to get out of this miserable situation. As I have been personally involved with the UNESCO program ‘Education for children in need' for more than 10 years I am interested in having a better look, but time is short; we have to move on…
At some point we leave the hairpin curves behind us and my breathless tension subsides. The road gets wider until we reach a perfectly straight stretch. Cotton fields border our route while we go off-road onto some of the numerous dirt roads. I cannot forget the sad eyes of the children in the camp and their parents, whose situation was no better. Ongoing warfare in Burma between government forces and rebels means that the camp's residents have a doubtful future and will never have a real home.
In the border town of Mae Sot the majority of the Burmese refugees work in more than 200 textile factories. Most of the workers do not have proper papers. Because they are illegal immigrants the Thai factory owners pay them less than the 150 Baht (3 Euro) daily minimum wage fixed by the government. An insider tells me that the police do not protect them from exploitation because they are illegal.
During our motorbike trip in the north we passed many police road blocks where they checked trucks for human trafficking, but whenever we appeared on our heavy bikes the eyes of the quite often extremely young policemen lit up a the sight of the impressive BMW motorbikes. “They are farangs, no problem.” Laughing and joking they always waved us through the checkpoints.
MAE SOT - MYAWADDY (BURMA)
Tourists have the option to walk from Mae Sot over into the Burmese town of Myawaddy for 500 Baht (about 10 €) and on their way back they receive a new 30 day tourist visa on entry to Thailand. We have time, the border is not closing until 5pm. Across the so called ‘Friendship Bridge' over the ‘Moi River' we stroll into a different country...
Funny bicycle rickshaws take us to white-golden temples. Burmese Buddha images tend to be very striking with pure white skin; some statues are made of white marble and are very pretty. One of few attractions here is the main market. It is very colorful, very lively, rather dirty and the fish paste gives off horrible smells. “I love Thailand”, I think spontaneously and our Burmese travel guide seems to be able to read my mind: “On the other side at least they have good food and there is no war”.
Except on the border I don't see any police around. In the distance some people without a passport use the inner tube of a truck tire to paddle from Burma over to Thailand. It is questionable whether their flight from the brutal military junta will lead them to happiness.
Thanks to our tour operator everything runs smoothly. Even though we keep strictly within the legal border procedures I am happy to feel home soil under my feet again. A hot shower in our hotel 'Centara Mae Sot Hill Resort' never felt so good!
It is really quite special to live in the most exquisite hotels in the region and to eat the best food available. We spend the evening in a veritable jungle restaurant, the 'Khaomaokhaofang': a kind of tree house surrounded by lush forest and ponds with water lilies, waterfalls and lianas. Wonderfully romantic. I would not object to Tarzan appearing and whisking me away on the spot.
MAE SOT - SUKHOTHAI
Day no. 6: It is raining. Oh well. The whole biker team is of course equipped with ‘rain gear', except me: this naive beginner does not have anything suitable. Why would I in the land of smiles and sun?
Even though it is a tempting offer I am too proud to sit down in the accompanying jeep. That means climbing into the wet saddle of the bike and off we go in the direction of Sukhothai, famous for its ancient stone temples built in Khmer style. Within minutes I am soaking wet and the rain gets stronger and stronger.
The rain is pelting down hard onto our protective front shields. Why are there no wipers on crash helmets?
We all know about Murphy's law and when it rains it pours, so the next incident is not surprising. My companion tries to make a phone call but his expensive brand new mobile from the United States is not working any more, the humidity has destroyed it, a short-circuit in his allegedly waterproof biker jacket. Shortly afterwards we experience the next shock. For once we stop at a very small gas station only to find out that it ran out of stock and there is no gasoline to buy in the whole village.
I cannot help myself, I have to laugh. Of course I do not want to upset anybody but it is quite a ridiculous sight when five impressive heavy bikes drive up to a lonely petrol station with roaring engines totally in vain.
Of course a ‘luxury guided tour' does not leave its customers out in the rain. With the help of the reliable GPS navigation system and the perfect radio connection with the two Thai guides Harry and Nat there is a solution to everything. A main road with big service stations is nearby and just within reach with the last fuel. For our group however it would be also very beneficial to have some rest to refill the human fuel tanks. A thunder storm is looming, the sky is pitch black and the weather conditions are deteriorating by the minute.
Now the time has come for me to escape into the comfortably dry jeep with Harry...
This is still the calm before the storm; shortly we will learn from the media that we are experiencing the precursors of cyclone ‘Nargis', which two days later will destroy large sections of the province of Tak, which we just crossed, as well as other parts of Burma and bring dreadful desperation to the population. With hindsight I have to say that our group was very lucky but this does not alleviate the horror of this devastating disaster.
After 169 km, wet as drowned rats, we reach the old Siamese capital now known as Sukothai. We stay at the 'Heritage Resort', which has received several awards for its architecture, and we are finally able to enjoy our well-earned rest. This brand new British Airways Hotel is located close to the historical park with its famous ruins, which have been part of the UNESCO cultural world heritage since 1991.
Sukhothai means "Rising of Happiness". In the mid-13th Century the Thais emerged from the break-up of the vast Khmer empire and embarked on a golden age of art and peaceful times. By the late 14th Century, political power shifted to the up-and-coming Ayuthaya, which reigned for the following four centuries.
The central sites lie in parkland with trees and ancient moats. The early Sukhothai people had great religious fervor and built dozens of temples that now survive as ruins. Several temples with Khmer-style towers immediately remind me of my visit to the famous ‘Angkor Wat' in Cambodia earlier this year.
The temple ‘Wat Si Chum,' a marble monument housing a monumental Buddha statue, is well worth seeing. Just the seat of the holy figure ‘Phra Achana' has a width of 11.3m and is 15m high. For a photo I pose next to the huge Buddha hand which is totally covered in gold leaf, and it is 10 times taller than me!
SUKHOTHAI - KANCHANABURI
The next day we visit Kanchanaburi, famous for its ‘Bridge over the River Kwai', and a lot of war memorabilia from World-War II and the Japanese invasion of Asia.
In 1943, approximately 60,000 POWs (prisoners of war) and 20,000 Asian laborers worked on a railway under the Imperial Japanese Army in order to construct part of the 415 km long Burma-Thailand railway. It was intended to move men and supplies to the Burmese front where the Japanese were fighting the British. Their goal was to complete the railroad in fourteen months, which would be an extraordinary achievement using modern tools and techniques. Back then all the heavy work was done either by elephant or manually, which meant an enormous amount of grueling labor - hacking through dense jungle with bare hands and, worse, breaking through rocky cliffs and hills with sledgehammers.
The prisoners lived in squalor on a near starvation diet. They were subjected to captor brutality and thus thousands perished. The men worked from dawn until after dark and often had to trudge many kilometers through the jungle to return to base camp.
About 100,000 POWs died of the harsh living and weather conditions and many epidemics of cholera etc. The Second World War saw some of the worst atrocities committed in Thailand by Japanese soldiers. Nothing can dilute the tragedy of the River Kwai. The extremely sad but unfortunately true story of the ‘Railway of Death' was made into a movie by Hollywood later and won several Oscars.
While visiting an interactive museum and the two war cemeteries in Kanchanaburi where about 16.000 allied POWs were laid to rest, mostly British, Dutch and Australian, it is difficult to imagine the pain and agony of this time.
Few people know that this provincial town is not only known for its historical and political significance but also for its gemstones, especially for deposits of blue sapphires. I personally like the much cheaper but very decorative Black Onyx gem stone usually set in white gold and silver.
While in the vicinity one should not miss the opportunity to visit the monastery ‘Wat Pa Luangta Bua'. Buddhist monks live alongside Asian tigers there. The so-called ‘Tiger Temple' keeps and cares for numerous animals, most notably the tigers, which can be stroked by visitors. Once a day, the tigers are led on leashes to their own quarry where they can roam around, with tourists able to watch from around 10m away. However, it is a controversial subject as there have been complaints to welfare organizations urging changes to the conditions in which the animals are kept. The temple charges 300 Baht for entry, more for photos, and averages around 300-400 visitors per day.
Our group stays in the very recommendable luxurious hotel, the 'Felix River Kwai Resort'. The ‘Keeree Tara Restaurant' is also very impressive with its magnificent view over the river Kwai and floating house-boats. The romantic terraced restaurant is built in the ostentatious Greek temple style, exceptional for Thailand , however the service and the quality of the food leave a lot to be desired. Anyway the setting alone merits a visit.
KANCHANABURI - HUA HIN - CHUMPON
After a few days in the remote mountain areas we reach the towns of Hua Hin and Chumpon also known as ‘Gateways to southern Thailand'. We pass lowlands with orchards, rice fields and countless palm groves. My personal highlights are the deserted wild beaches in this area...
...and the small and very charming 'Tusita Resort' with only 17 intimate rooms, numerous ponds and chic wooden bungalows on stilts.
Finally, I recommend viewing a coconut plantation. Coconut production isn't difficult but time is essentially. It takes approximately 10 years before you can start to harvest coconuts. Afterwards it takes another 3 days for the entire production process, from peeling and cleaving to burning, milling and packing.
In Asia, owners of plantations usually use monkeys to climb the trees and that is fun to watch. Coconuts are used for household cooking ingredients such as coconut milk and are processed into cooking oil, bio-diesel oil, soaps or cosmetic products - an industry that has now become a major business in Thailand.
CHUMPON - KOH LANTA ISLAND
In the province of Krabi we have to load our motorbikes onto a ferry which is supposed to carry us to the picturesque island of Koh Lanta. The whole team is very disappointed because of the rainy weather and the forecast for the next days does not look much better. But we all grin and bear it!!
For all bikers present the approach to the slippery boat ramp is a real challenge. I shoot some photos of James because the tall man on his colossal bike seems to look like Goliath, while David is the Thai on his moped driving next to him.
But then, all of a sudden, calamity strikes right in front of my camera lens. A young man and his son on their bike start wavering violently. Out of control the moped bangs hard onto the wet rusty ferry ramp and crashes down on the little boy. The child is crying miserably, his face covered in blood.
Quick action is essential as several gaping wounds on his head need urgent cleaning, the risk of infection is imminent. Fortunately all DMT's motorbikes are equipped with first-aid kits. With pure mineral water and disinfectant spray I carefully try to stop the bleeding. The poor boy is trembling and sobbing, his face contorted with pain while his shocked father is attending to his own injured knees. Our whole team is in full activity, all biker women try to comfort little 'Tiu' but somehow this day is ruined.
Koh Lanta Island consists of Lanta Noi in the north, which has not been touched by tourism yet, and Lanta Yay in the south. A dream island par excellence; maybe a bit like Koh Samui 15 years ago. We arrive at the 5 star resort 'Pimalai' on Koh Lanta, which is doubtless the most beautiful and elegant hotel I have seen for some while. I am happy to sip a ‘Mango Bellini' in the ‘Hill Club' high up on the mountain with a glorious view over the bay, which is brightly lit for the evening. The beaches in the area are long and covered with fine sand but Koh Lanta is most famous for its gorgeous sunsets and the hippy-style beach bars.
Our evening at the ‘Why Not' bar is unforgettable. A lot of drinks, a lot of laughter and we all have ‘the time of our lives' sitting on bamboo mats in a straw hut while an excellent local Reggae Band is playing ‘Don't worry, be happy'......
On our final part of the trip towards Phuket we happen to meet the accident boy again. His wounds are only poorly bandaged. Obviously the father did not have enough money for proper treatment in hospital. The boy with the sad eyes is waving at me and conquers my heart with his smile. Everything is going to be all right!
KOH LANTA - PHUKET
On the last day the weather finally clears up and the sun is back. At 8:30am our biker gang meets at the ‘Royal Marina,' the official yacht marina in Phuket. After the Tsunami catastrophe Thailand 's biggest island basks peacefully in the sun in the Andaman Sea as if nothing has ever happened.The DMT management has hired a racy speed boat for us to visit ‘Phang Na Bay', home of the famous ‘James Bond Island.'
We jump into the warm blue ocean and wash off the road dust of the last two weeks. Swimming, snorkeling and sun bathing make a wonderful day, finished in style at the ‘Black Ginger Restaurant' of the 'Indigo Pearl' design hotel.
Everybody around the table agrees that this ‘Ultimoto Adventure' has been an unforgettable lifestyle experience and that we all want more of it....
It offers all bikers the opportunity to explore remote areas on well-researched routes and to experience the country and its people from a completely different angle. Giraffe women and tiger temples, unique mountain scenery or seascapes, awesome experiences quickly forge a common bond between the bikers.
To do this trip without experienced scouts would be unthinkable!
One thing is for sure, I will join in when it is time again to mount a bike and explore the world on two wheels. It does not matter I was only a pillion rider.
What does that proverb say again?
“The path of 1000 km to happiness starts with a single step”
Detailed travel information:
Please contact Nathalie on firstname.lastname@example.org and she will get a 'special arrangement' for you...!