Thailand

Picture of Cathy with the Temple of Dawn rising above and behind her.It’s funny when we think of things and countries we have experienced over the time so far.

Each country adds a new layer of meaning to the journey in some ways and in other ways each country is the same as the previous. We say the same, as we have the same things to go through. The first job is always to find somewhere to sleep! Many people have asked about this aspect and they have difficulties with the concept that we never really know where we are going to sleep on most given days. We do always manage to find somewhere even if it was a Kosovon brothel.

We step off the plane into the warmth of the Bangkok evening and it is lovely to feel the heat again.

In Nepal when the temperatures were in the low 20s it had us reaching for  our fleeces; the idea of 10 degrees or 15 degrees (even less at times in England) has both of us shivering with just the thought! We think we shall be found huddled together under several duvets for most of the early weeks back on our return (in the middle of summer!)

The warmth is luxurious in the Thai evening. It radiates a sense of well-being throughout your body as it seeps in and eases the tiredness which always seems to be induced by flying.

We pass through the immigration desks and look for the Money Changers and after several attempts and several different counters – with Bernard getting more and more frustrated – we have to give up.

None of the Bureau De Changes have an exchange rate for the Nepal Rupee!

Not so bad you might think but we have 23,000 of them in a nice neat bundle with an exchange rate of about 110 to the pound! Bernard curses the staff at Kathmandu who said there was an exchange ‘upstairs’ after we had passed through all the security checks, been stamped out of Nepal and then discovered the exchanges were all ‘downstairs’ and we could not go back. Even then we hadn’t really worried as International flights go between Nepal and Thailand constantly and we hadn’t even considered not being able to change it at Bangkok! There is some vague hope we may be able to change them at a Bank and so we leave this problem for a future date.

A Hotel is rapidly found – after some nifty negotiations – through one of the many ‘Agents’ at the airport and we find ourselves in a Taxi and heading for Bangkok proper at 120kph. As we fly through the traffic Bernard mutters we have not travelled this fast since the Turkish police radar gunned us on the way back to Istanbul after the Iranian Visa fiasco!

He is mesmerised by all the road lights and white lines which he describes keeping the carefully regulated traffic apart. He comments surely so many road lights are not needed and perhaps half of them would be enough? Traffic lights appear and he notices all these changes which months ago he would not even have registered while also commenting on the drivers staying in their lanes and of the judicious use of indicators to let people know which way they are going. “It’s like being at home” he comments “They even drive on the same side and in the same way, it’s easy street” he exclaims.

Picture of the hotel 'apartment'.We check into the hotel and it seems opulent after Nepal.

It has constant hot water and electricity; not a power cut in sight. The TV has more than two channels and we have a radio which receives more than static; English pop songs cascade out of the speakers as we traverse the airwaves and listen as we investigate the apartment. Bernard hunts in vain for the emergency candles before he gives up and accepts the facts. Thailand is not Nepal!

We have spent many weeks with candles and power cuts for 18 hours a day and have adapted to not having everything at the press of a button (on demand). It feels strange at first and it takes us a few days to get used to it.

We shower and spend ages under the powerful jets which nearly punch holes in your skin – like thousands of little needles hitting you. The water never runs out no matter how long you are under it and it never seems to run cold.

Picture of part of the crowd who gathered to watch Bertha coming back to life.Over the next few days we enter the normal routine (as it is normal now) of dealing with agents and customs to reclaim Bertha from the dark warehouse she is locked away in somewhere. Three days later she arrives in the car park of the agent in the back of a truck and the next two hours are spent with Bernard attracting a large crowd as he puts her back together.

After many handshakes all around we set off for the 20 minute ride back to the hotel in the centre of Bangkok and as we are trying to find the hotel we get stopped by a traffic officer.

It seems we had gone down a bus lane from what we can gather and he asks for Bernard’s International Driving license which he then will not give back until we hand over 400 Baht (about 8 pounds). We wait for the paperwork to start for the offence and it soon becomes apparent there is no paperwork! Welcome to Thailand! The funny thing is when we hand over this ‘off-the-record’ fine he then stops six lanes of traffic so  we can turn around to go the opposite direction!

Being philosophical certainly helps when you come across situations like this. We just shrug our shoulders now and get on with it.

Over the next few days we sent home the parcel which had given us so many problems in Nepal; which travelled with Bertha in the crate to Thailand.

People have often asked us why we do not buy all the beautiful things we have come across while on the road and it is true we would love to buy some of the items. The primary problem we have is it is very difficult for us to actually find space on the bike to carry anything but essentials. The second difficulty involves the cost of postage. The parcel we sent from Bangkok cost 20£ per kilo and it weighed six kilo! So it is we have to limit ourselves otherwise the budget would be shot to pieces!

Picture of the carrier frame for the panniers which had snapped.While in Bangkok we took the time to have part of the bike frame welded which had snapped and was held together by a spanner which Bernard had cable tied across the break. This was done next door to the hotel where workmen were constructing a building and one of the hotel staff went with him to explain what needed to be done. Within minutes the part was welded (although a different part was to crack twice more later on in the journey on the same side).

We toured the city and took in the Golden Buddha, Golden Mount, The Emerald Buddha and the definitive structure of The Temple of Dawn.

All the time Bertha stayed in the garage of the hotel and we used public transport. This mostly involved using the water taxis which ply the canals along with the brightly coloured ‘tut tuts’ (taxis); all seeming to sound like formula one racing cars despite only being powered by small motorcycle engines!

Picture of - left to right - Gwen and Vicj, Hazel and John, Cathy and Bernard.While at the hotel we met up with Hazel, John, Gwen and Vick; ex-pat couples living in Turkey. We spent many hours talking to them about life there as we shared our experiences of the same country. They were in Thailand for several weeks and they talked us through all the different sites they had experienced. The Hotel itself ran tours (very expensively) to all the usual tourist sights (Bridge over the River Kwai along with the Tiger Temple) but they told us they always felt rushed and we had also found to see these things properly you needed about three days rather than one! So it was we decided to pack up and head North to see the famous bridge itself, visit the tiger temple and then to the memorial of the Death Railway at Hell Fire Pass.

On the day of departure we repack the bike from a (Bernard) destroyed apartment and head off into the traffic.

Within 20 minutes of setting off we are stopped by the police (again). Two days we have ridden the bike in Thailand and we are stopped twice – things are not looking good! The first officer speaks no English and we have no idea what we have done – Bernard is convinced he has done nothing wrong. Officer one radios officer two who turns up and has learned his English during the Vietnam War from American Soldiers on leave. He draws pictures on his hands which seems to indicate that we are in a lane we should not be (of the three available).

Bernard tries to explain he was in correct lane but when the officer jumped out to stop the car in front, he went around the car rather than stop in the middle of three lanes – in other words it was stupid on a three lane highway to stop a car in the middle lane!

He is having none of it and, surprise, he wants Bernard’s International License. We know where this is going as, once again, to get it back he wants 1000 Baht (about 20£). Much huffing and puffing comes through the intercom as we ponder whether we should force his hand and insist on the paperwork. It seems if we go official we have to find the police station (which could be anywhere and time is marching on) to reclaim the license back. In the end Bernard handed over the ‘unofficial fine’, got his license back and, again, being philosophical we put it down to a ‘toll’ for using the road (and we have paid many tolls to get to Thailand so far).

Three hours later we arrive in Kanchanburi as we have drifted along at only 40 mph. As the countryside went past we talked about how we have realised time and distance has lost all meaning to us. Time itself has slowed down and we do not rush anywhere now. It has dawned on us that the journey has stopped being a journey and has become more of a life-style now. We talk through our six months on the road and how we have everything we need on the bike and we wonder at the house full of ‘items’ we have at home; half of which we cannot recall.

Picture of the bridge taken from the bankside.Before we knew it the famous Bridge over the River Kwai is in front of us. We stop to ponder at finding ourselves here at this iconic structure made famous by the film of the same name. We slowly trundled past and set off searching for somewhere to sleep for the night, finding a lovely riverside ‘resort’ which is a fraction of the price of Bangkok (the cost of one bent Thai policeman!) The restaurant is set on a pontoon on the river Kwai and the bridge is a short walk away. It seems strange to be sitting here with the feel of the pontoon moving underneath us and the water rustling past.

The staff are lovely and take some time to comprehend we have driven here by motorcycle. Many people we have met assume we have flown in to Bangkok direct from England. This has been true on many occasions recently. It seems the further we are away from home the more people assume this. Their faces display incredulity when we explain, “No, we have driven here”.

Picture of the engines strapped onto the back of the river boats.The next day we hop into a high powered river boat which has an enormous diesel engine strapped onto it with an eight foot long prop behind which churns the water to white foam such is the power and speed we move up the river at. The boat is like a missile as we move through the water and when we hit the wash of other boats we nearly take off. It was exhilarating! The boat man is excellent and seemed to understand instantly a little more time was needed for me to get on and off the low-hulled boat; never easy even if you can see when you are stepping down into it from a height.

We slow dramatically as we approach the bridge and pass underneath it with descriptions and camera clicking filling the air. The railway line itself is actually 415 kilometres long and employed forced labour in its construction with scant regard for human life, of which, the bridge itself is probably the most famous (recognisable) image for many people. For every railway sleeper along the 415 kilometre length which was laid by the Allied Prisoners and South East Asian people one life was lost. There are 120,000 sleepers. We’ll leave you to ponder this number.

Picture of the entrance to the Chang Kai Cemetery.Visiting the Chang Kai cemetery of some of the men who had died on the Death Railway in Kanchanburi province was an extremely moving experience. All the graves of the men who died in 1943 and 1944 showed they were in their early 20s from the UK and The Netherlands.


Bernard had to stop reading the plaques of the immaculately maintained graves with their different plants between each plot as his voice went too husky. Men from every part of the UK which we know so well and so we walked in silence for a little while before he described the large Sword which forms the basis of the cross at the head of the cemetery.

Picture of a plaque showing the resting place of an unknown soldier.We walked through the War Museum (ignoring all the ‘Do Not Touch’ signs) with its hundreds of photographs taken of the camps and the building of the railway. The amount of cruelty and torture which came across in the reading of the information and in the descriptions of the pictures was beyond imagining. How things like this happen is still beyond our comprehension. It was a very sad experience which left us moved for days later (and even now as we write this entry).

Picture of a Red Poppy which was fastened to the bridge by an unknown visitor.After a fantastically fast boat trip back to the resort, we walked into town and crossed the famous bridge by foot while dodging the trains which still run on the lines. We had to jump onto viewing platforms to allow the trains past and you could hear the hundreds of camera shutters clicking away inches from you.

I bought a necklace and wrist bracelet of Burmese jade and a bracelet for Bernard to remember our trip to the Kwai. It’s funny really that while we were in Nepal Bernard described all the ageing hippies festooned with bangles and necklaces and ethnic clothing. Now he wears three bracelets and the only thing missing is long hair. Actually, hair would be a good start but then again, some things even this trip cannot manage!

As we sat in the evening having our meal I made a comment to him that he was very good to me as he passed a serviette.

Bernard responded ” I only passed a serviette, I didn’t pay off the mortgage!”

I replied “No, you brought me half-way around the world on a motorcycle.”

His response was typical.

“But I was coming anyway and, besides, I had a spare seat.”

Typical of him, very typical.

Picture of the tourist train crossing the bridge.The next day we set off early to catch the tourist train across the bridge as we had passed underneath it, walked across it and now we wanted to ride the train as this was the purpose of all the suffering; for trains to cross. It took fifteen minutes for the journey across and back before walking to the bike and then spending 20 minutes talking to all the people who were standing by Bertha looking at her!

We soon drove the 40kms to The Tiger Temple as I had so wanted to stroke a tiger! Bernard didn’t want to, he reminded me several times, as we sat waiting for the temple to officially open while he  tried to eat noodles with chop-sticks (yes they did go everywhere) before he finally gave up and loudly slurped his way through the staple diet of Thailand (noodle soup).

Thailand is the first country on this journey where disabled people have no concessions regarding entry fees. Every attraction in Bangkok was full fee for me and the same was true today; even though all of the attractions are Buddhist in nature. It struck me as strange that a religion which eschews personal possessions and materialism should be this way.

As we stand waiting to buy entry tickets Bernard tells me there are tiger temple polo shirts for sale and while the girl on the entrance will not sell the 20£ entrance (each) tickets until 12 she happily takes the 20£ (each) it costs for two polo shirts. She looks bored according to Bernard and definitely does not come across as very ‘Buddha-happy’ (as Bernard commented handing over the money).

At the allotted time we clutch our tickets and Bernard nervously guides me to the barrier where we have to sign in and he asks do we sign in in case a tiger eats you (?) but the joke is lost on the Thai attendant. The attendant checks you are appropriately dressed (no skirts, bare arms or bare legs and no reds or oranges in terms of colour) before you are allowed inside.

We cross rugged ground and by the time we get to the Buddhist Pagoda everybody else has taken their pictures and gone.

Picture of the pagoda and the monk can just be seen sitting on the left.Nobody was allowed up onto the wooden floor of the structure but a praying Buddhist monk noticed me and gestured I should come forward (past the sign which says “No Ladies”) to where he was praying.

He indicated I should kneel down and his hands encircled mine as he lit three incense sticks. I nearly set my hair on fire as my hands are guided to where they should be pushed into the soil and he asks “Madame no sight?” Bernard tells me he is shaking his head in “No” and he describes the emotions which flickered across the monk’s face (understanding and sadness seemed to be the best description). He reached for my fingers and moulds my hands into prayer fashion, then places my palms onto the floor and says “bow”. All in all this was conducted three times before he led me to another gold covered Buddha statue (with eyes painted black) holding a large bowl out before it in which coins and notes can be seen.

The monk says “Make offering” and Bernard places a 20 Baht note into the vessel as the monk asks “Madame put in?” We realise he did not see Bernard put the money in but we nod yes and he seems happy as we are ushered back across the floor to our waiting shoes and boots. As we retreat he starts to brush and clean the floor where we have stood.

As we wander through the reserve we pass deer, water buffalo and horses all wandering around freely until we catch up with a crowd of people in a clearing which has about 30 tigers in it (there are 38 tigers on the reserve and they are successfully breeding). The tigers are all with handlers and are of all ages and sizes.

Picture of one of the tigers front on as it dozes in the sun.They are restrained on long chains and play happily in the sun with their cubs, or sleep dozily, alone, in the heat of the day. We join the lines and have pictures taken with a large Tiger and the handler has not let anybody actually touch the Tiger but he gently took my hand and stroked it along the Tiger’s back. It felt smooth and silky although a little coarser than a domestic cat. My heart was pounding with excitement as my fingers traced the Tiger’s spine and I could feel it’s breathing through the fur as its chest rose up and down in its doziness due to the heat of the day.

The same tiger loses patience several people later and gets up as everybody is ushered back out of the way and the handler tries to re-settle the animal down. He tries everything to no avail until he starts to stroke the Tiger’s testicles with his fingers and the muffled laughter of Bernard started everybody with his comments “No, no, not the testicles!” At this point, for some reason, the tiger did settle down again?

Staff appear and ask if anybody wants to feed the cubs and I propelled Bernard off to make sure I was involved as there are only four people allowed per hour.

Picture of two of the cubs playing 'king of the castle on tyres suspended on ropesBernard, at this point, spoke to the staff saying “I don’t want to play with the cubs but Cathy does and so I assume we will only pay for one?” The staff realised I was blind and happily agreed leading us off to where the youngsters were penned and then we walked along as they were led to the ‘cub’s gymnasium’.

Here I had the most memorable experience of the day playing with the silky smooth coated animals and feeding the 12 week old tigers (about the size of a medium dog but with enormous paws and very sharp claws). I have the scars to prove it as one of them wrapped their front paws around my arms as I bottle fed it and its nails dug in!

As we left them sleeping in the gymnasium with its ropes, tyres and bales of straw for climbing we encountered another photo session where the staff took pity on Bernard as he seldom appears in photos with me.

Picture of Bernard and Cathy with a sleeping tiger.They took his camera off him and in a very careful way (unlike other people who were rushed a little) they took multiple pictures of the two of us until they were happy they had got the right one. Bernard tells me it is a great picture and captures everything beautifully. He says it is a picture he will have done to the size of a poster and framed; it is one of ‘those’ pictures he assures me.

On our journey back to the bridge on the bike I talked excitedly all the way about the day and it was a real highlight of being in Thailand.

Pulling up at the bridge we parked Bertha and as we were standing talking about the Tiger Temple a man approached us. He asks in his broken English where we have come from and all the usual questions about the bike (how much, how fast, how many kilometres per litre) and then he realises I am blind. He disappears for a couple of minutes and then comes back and places two small carved elephants in my hand “A gift for you” he mumbles before retreating to his wares spread out on the ground by the bridge.

Picture of Cathy and Bertha taken at the bridge just before being approached by the craftsman who gave us the elephant carvings as gifts.I was really touched by his act and we went over to him, and kneeling down on the ground we talked about his carving of wood. He showed me beautifully carved woodwork and lattice-like work onto hide which was enormously elaborate and so skilled. As he talked Bernard described the fact that, for some reason, he was getting upset and his eyes were ‘man-like and misty’ and so we thanked him again and left him to ply his trade with the tourists of the Kwai.

The Australian War Graves Commission in cooperation with the Thai Government run the memorial at Hell Fire Pass which was our next destination. Entrance is free and we wandered through the information boards which told the story of Hell Fire Pass itself. There was little physically left behind by the men who constructed this section of the Thai-Burma railway; they owned few possessions (if any) when they arrived.

We set off following the route map to walk the Hell Fire Pass section of the Thai-Burma Railway. Clutching our walkie-talkies (radio checks every 20 mins for safety) the manager had asked us if we knew how to use a walkie-talkie. Bernard had relied he had a set on the bike (which the manager had seen us arrive on). He had joked that Bernard did look like he was the sort of person who would have a set with him! He said since we had come so far by road we could, obviously, read a map and so he cut us lose to go and explore the railway cuttings and track. We left through the front door and promptly went the wrong way before Bernard, probably blushing, turned around and retraced our route to get to the correct place!

Picture taken on the floor of Hellfire pass looking through the cutting.We spent a very sobering afternoon wandering through the cuttings made by allied prisoners of war and about 100,000 South East Asian people, including whole families who died in the construction of the railway – a fact we did not know. The Audio guide consisted of the spoken testimony of the Australian allied survivors who made it through this tragic period in history – telling their tale with humility and humour despite the terrible sufferings they endured. On our sombre return to the beginning we bought the CD which tells the tale of Hellfire Pass and all that occurred there.

Perhaps the experiences of the Australians (and all the other people who struggled, lived and died together) is best summed up by a poem written by an Australian named Duncan Butler who served with the 2/12th Field Ambulance.

The poem is as follows:

I’ve travelled down some lonely roads
Both crooked tracks and straight
An’ I’ve learned life’s noblest creed
Summed up in one word “Mate”.

I’m thinking back across the years
A thing I do of late
An’ this word sticks between my ears
You’ve got to have a mate.

Picture of one of the 120,000 railway sleepers. Each one cost a life.Someone who’ll take you as you are
Regardless of your state
An’ stand as firm as Ayers Rock
Because ‘e is your mate.

Me mind goes back to 43
To slavery and ‘ate
When one man’s chance to stay alive
Depended on ‘is mate.

With bamboo for a billie-can
An’ bamboo for a plate
A bamboo paradise for bugs
Was bed for me and me mate.

You’d slip and slither through the mud
An’ curse your rotten fate
But then you’d hear a quiet word:
“Don’t drop your bundle mate”.

An’ though it’s all so long ago
This truth I ‘ave to state:
A man don’t know what lonely means
Till ‘e ‘as lost ‘is mate.

If there’s a life that follers this
If there’s a “Golden Gate”
The welcome that I want to hear
Is just “Good on ya mate”.

And so to all who ask us why
We keep these special dates
Like Anzac day, I answer: “Why”
We’re thinking of our mates.

An’ when I’ve left the driver’s seat
And handed in me plates
I’ll tell old Peter at the door:
“I’ve come to join me MATES”.

Picture of Bernard inbetween the railway tracks of the Thai-Burma railway at Hellfire Pass.I loved this poem very much and this is why we have reproduced it here. The thing is within the poem Duncan includes the lines “Why…….do we keep these special dates” and it is important to realise history is a teacher of us all. It is a method by which we should not repeat, unthinkingly, the same errors of the past. As a person once told me “The difference between the fool and the intelligent person is that one only makes the mistake once”.

The day’s flash past as we visit and wander through the North of Thailand and soon it is time to fire up Bertha and so we leave Kanchanaburi and set our compass for the south of the country.

Picture of one of the Thai pick-up trucks loaded with bales of straw.The heat rises as we cover miles with thick jungle either side of us and pick-up trucks sometimes loaded two-story high with produce travel the roads, often in danger of falling over on corners! We cover 200 miles and it is so good to have decent road surfaces and not having to avoid mad truck drivers and potholes all at the same time. We had an email from our friend Ian from Nepal who tells us of a young Brit biker air-ambulanced home from India and we ponder our good fortune of escaping unscathed as our tyres whistle over good tarmac; watching neatly ordered traffic traversing the roads.

We stop for the night and hand over 11£ for a hotel room and we eat a Penang Curry which would strip the paint off doors and we laughed as the tears run down our face, gulping water by the bucket; it doesn’t matter people tell you it makes it worse, pass me the glass please!

We set off the next day and pull into a petrol station where attendants blow whistles to direct cars to pumps and off pumps. We eat sandwiches and  watch and listen to the hilarious sounds of all the whistles – we are sure they must have a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) in whistle blowing in Thailand as we can identify at least six different whistles – each obviously indicating something although we cannot fathom it out at all. We set off and drive in gorgeous heat for about 20 minutes before my hand feels the top of the pannier and I discover no long cane.

Now many things run through my head like “Has it fell off?” or “Has it been eaten by the white stick monster?” but then I have to admit to myself I think I have left it at the last garage. I have actually been trying to lose the thing since we left England but Bernard keeps noticing. When I tell him I also point out I have a spare anyway. He ponders for a few minutes and then the bike slows and we swing a big circle to go back. We find the offending item still where I left against the wall where we had sat and like a very good white stick it had not moved without a command. The thing is that we had passed through two police check points when we discovered the missing cane. Thus the same police watched us pass them three times that day on our bike and they must have been wondering what was going on?

The roads continue straight for miles with few corners and pick-up trucks blast pass us constantly as we meander through the dense jungles and smooth roads. Virtually everybody drives 3 and 4 litre pick-ups and with petrol at under 6£ for 21 litres (our tank range) we can understand how they can afford it compared to the 1£ at litre in England.

Picture of Burma (Mayanmar) taken from Thailand.Heat and sweat build as we pass through small towns and villages on the road from Prachuap Khiri Khan to Ranong and we pass through small hamlets several hundred yards long before entering jungle both sides for miles. We turn right at Chumporn and the road turns West towards the Burmese Border (Now officially The Union Of Myanmar). Burma is the main reason we could not drive through from Nepal as they do not allow independent road travel for foreigners. Recently when the country was devastated in the cyclone in 2008 (Cyclone Nargis) which killed tens of thousands of people there were even difficulties for the aid agencies to gain access so we had little – if any – chance at all. The road towards Myanmar twists and turns and in 30 degree heat it saps your strength.

Picture of the road sign Bernard hated in Thailand indicating keep left.Little buzz bikes (small capacity motorcycles) hug a narrow lane on the left and road signs indicate bikes (cycling and motorcycles) should stay in this lane; which is about three foot wide.

Now Bertha’s girth is about 36 inches and she really does not fit into the lane very well! There is no way Bertha can be ridden two-up in this little lane at anything like a reasonable speed and car drivers toot us to move over constantly. We drift in and out of the lane as necessary to let people past but otherwise we take a chance and stay on the main road.

The car drivers of Thailand are just not used to seeing a 1000cc motorcycle in their mirrors and they want Bernard to slow down and pull over rather than overtake them – if that makes sense?

The cars all have black tinted windows which they wind down as we overtake them to have a better look at Bertha passing them on the right rather than on the left (which Bernard refused to do).

We stop on a hill towards Ranong and a man has taken his bird for a walk – complete with bird cage. He has his lunch in the open pagoda while the bird chirps happily (we think) at the chance to meet its jungle cousins who all respond enthusiastically; until we turn up. It did feel like we had invaded his little bit of tranquility as we clumped up to the pagoda and Bernard lit a cigarette. The bird stopped singing. It was when it started coughing on the Thai cigarettes that Bernard said “Perhaps I should have lit a Marlboro? It might be better for the bird?” It may have been a coincidence but within five minutes our friend was gone; after strapping the bird cage into the front seat with the seat belt. It’s nice to meet a considerate pet owner as, after all, the bird would get a hell of a headache if he stomped on the brakes and a loose bird cage can make a mess of your windshield.

Soon we are dropping down the hill into Ranong and we find a Hotel which welcomes us dripping with sweat into the immaculate foyer. The price is high and the receptionist justifies it by the fact they have a ‘free’ swimming pool and Spa. Bernard put his nose to his arm pits and sniffed loudly telling me what he was doing. “Are you trying to tell me something?” he asked the young receptionist who laughed getting the joke but it is still the same price.

Picture of Bernard sitting behind Bertha in the pushbike lane as he called it.We thank her for her time and trouble and wander back to the bike with a view to continuing the hotel hunt. Staff chase us out and convince us to come and look at the room but Bernard asks the critical question before we go back in.

“Do you have white wine?”

They assured us they did and so slightly mollified we followed them back in and in the end we did stay for the night.

The evening meal was hysterical as a large menu is produced and we tried unsuccessfully to order three separate meals and each one was unavailable. In the end we did find something to eat (on page four of the menu). Total catastrophe was averted by Bernard when we were told there was no white whine in the hotel!

He pointed to the menu which said, on numerous occasions ‘in white wine sauce’.

“No wine?” he asks innocently and I know where this is going.

“White wine sauce with no white wine?”

“Yes”

“You are clever people aren’t you to be able to do that”

“Yes”

“Are you sure there is no white wine?”

“Yes”

“Is yes the only word you know in English?”

“Yes”

“Ok son, me and you to the bar”.

He disappeared for about five minutes plundering the bar in fill view of all the staff and guests and, lo-and-behold, at the back of the chiller there was a single bottle of wine. It was soon liberated from its enforced exile from THE CATHY and a very nice Australian it was as well. It was so nice I took it to bed with me.

The next morning we found a BMW GS motorcycle with a petrol tank big enough to go to the moon on it! It was huge. In one of our interviews before leaving England we had been asked about were we worried about running out of petrol on the journey? We had pointed out there are few places in the world where 200 miles will not find you some petrol. It really was the most enormous petrol tank Bernard had even seen on a motorcycle “Would have been better to buy two five litre cans, strap them on, and save the money” he muttered as he walked away.

It took us three days altogether to get to Phuket, a popular tourist resort destroyed in the 2004 Tsunami which devastated whole swathes of the region. It has been (more-or-less) completely rebuilt now in the area we stayed. To be honest though we did not see very much of Phuket as we stayed in the bungalow/chalet and wrote the Nepal update which took three days of constant work. Sometimes the updates take so much work and effort but we are consoled by the fact they act as good preparation for the coming book on our return and they do keep people informed of the journey.

After writing all day we retreated to the beach to clear our heads and to eat evening meals and we know many people would trade places with us as we sit here in the warmth of the Thai evenings watching the sun go down. On one evening Bernard guides me to where several men have been lighting Thai Lanterns and sending them high into the air as a good luck symbol and he buys one for me. We light it and hold it until it fills with hot air like a hot air balloon and when we release it it glides straight up into the sky and burns for a long time as it joins the many others floating on the night air.

We leave Phuket and head for the the road to Malaysia which we reach a day later at a place called Sadeo. The Thai border guards point to a narrow bike lane with high raised kerb stones on both sides and a large queue of 50cc bikes follow us as Bernard paddles Bertha’s girth along this tiny space. Before we know it Bernard sees “Welcome to Malaysia” and he stops the bike dead as he mutters “This isn’t right”.

We park the bike and spend the next hour chasing through the various windows on the Thai side of the border in 100 plus heat before Bernard (and the Thai paper machine) pronounces everything signed off.

We cross the space of no-man’s land between Thailand and Malaysia to begin the entrance to our 17th country.

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