Now available as an E-Book!

Now available as an E-Book!
Save money and a tree- get the downloadable PDF version of "Southeast Asia on 2 Wheels!"

Previews from the book "Southeast Asia on 2 Wheels."

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135 full-color pages of photos, stories, anecdotes, illustrations, journal pages maps and more!In addition to the four major sections on Yunnan, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand I have included some back story on both my first (and unsuccessful) attempt to motorcycle through China as well as how the planning for the trip came together.I have chosen the very best of the more than 4,000 photos from the trip as well as the most humorous, moving and fascinating of the several hundred anecdotes for Southeast Asia on 2 Wheels.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The End of the Road.


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On my bike in downtown Thailand

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Bangkok, Thailand

Friends, family and supporters, today marked the official end of the "Iron Horse Journey" which began nearly 2 years ago on a sunny table at the Borders Books Cafe in the watertower district of Chicago. At roughly 5:00 PM Thai time, I sold my trusty horse, Rocinante to a tuk-tuk driver for a mere $150 USD. Battered, beaten and irreparably Chinese, the bike carried me faithfully to the very end, even with a dead battery. Washed up, he still had the proud, shiny look of a store bike, but I knew he had been bleeding oil from his engine case secretly in the night, when he thought I couldn't hear him. Brave, noble Rocinante - farewell old friend!

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18,013.9 was the final KM count on the odometer when I parted with the bike on the touristy "Khao San Road." I bought the bike with 6,800 KM on the odometer, meaning that I drove 11,213.9 KM, or 6,968 US Miles total on the drive. I have driven 2.5 the width of the USA, and although I am very tired, it feels great!

Broke down by numbers:

Batteries: ............................................ 2
Tires: ....................................................1, 1 innertube
Oil Changes:........................................ 6-7
Chains:................................................. 1
Miles per day:..................................... 77.5 (approx)
Accidents:.............................................1 (Cambodia. Scars are cool.)
Countries..............................................4
No. of times dogs peed on bike:.........Unknown
Beer consumed by volume.................36 Gal.
Gas Consumed (estimated)................166 Gal. / 630 Lt. (14 Lt tank with range of 250 KM)
Chickens dodged...................................1,435
Cows dodged.........................................547
Bugs eaten.............................................92
Bee stings..............................................1


Now, I can officially put the doubts of fellow bikers to rest:
A Chinese, 150cc Dirt Bike WAS good enough for the job. Case Closed.

No regrets! Time of my life! Hard, difficult, beautiful, mind-blowing, unforgettable experience. Highly recommend you get started on your trans-world motorcycle ride.

As for me, I will be going to Japan to get a J.O.B. and to pursue some more freightening adventures like: learning to cook and practicing Thai Massage - with my new license that I got in Bangkok. I will also be working on a photo-book of the ride with pages from my journal, my writings, pictures, drawings etc that cover the other 99% of the trip I couldn't fit into this blog. I will make limited prints for family and friends who are interested. I have 5 DVDs full of photos and video to go through first. And before that I need to buy a sweater because it is winter in Japan.

I plan to post more photos etc. from the ride that I didn't get around to posting earlier when I get settled.

Thank you friends and family for your awesome emails, phone calls and support.

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Chrison2wheels.com Shatters Web Traffic Record

(BANGKOK)

At roughly 7:00PM on Wednesday December 17, "chrison2wheels.com" became the 18,357,398th most viewed website on the internet, placing it in the "Top 19,000,000 Websites on the Internet."

"I attribute this high ranking to our policy of sporadically posting new content, then not updating for weeks at a time" site founder, Chris Maupin said.

You can check your blog or favorite website's ranking at alexa.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Man - Long Time, No Blog!

Chumphon, Thailand

As you may have seen, Thailand is a bit of a mess lately with the whole 'overthrowing the government' business going on. I will try to paraphrase what happened and then start blogging again from this moment forward.

After Bangkok, I made my way south to several great cities - Petchaburi with its wonderful mountaintop stupas and charming river festival, then Prachaub Khiri Khan which had wonderful seaside appeal, and finally to Chumphon where I fell in love with the nearby town of Sawi (where I wish to buy a home someday - to get away to). Then I crossed by ferry to the Island of Koh Samui where I met up with Hiromi. That's when the fun (and the trouble) really began!

At Koh Samui we:
* Rode elephants and saw coconut retrieving monkeys.
* Stayed in a 5-star resort
* Saw a thai boxing match - including two viscious 11 year olds!
* Got tons of Thai massages
* Learned how to cook Thai food

We also:
* Got rained on constantly
* Got stranded because of a government overthrow
* Got ripped off sometimes.

I will spare all the details, but let me just say it has taken tons of phone calls, emails and sweat and toil to finally get Hiromi on a flight OUT of Thailand! So..

Now I will briefly visit the Myanmar border to renew my visa (but I will not enter into Myanmar!). Then, I'll go north toward Bangkok to take a massage education course and get a license! Why not - it's only 5 days and I can make money later with it. We'll see where it goes. Then it's on to Laos to sell the bike, and probably bring the journey to a close.

I will post more pics soon!

Monday, 10 November 2008

Good-Bye City- For Now.

I have accomplished precious little in this mammoth metropolis. I have only stopped through for a couple days in Bangkok. I will move south tomorrow snaking my way down to Koh Samui for a rendezvous with my sweetheart. Then, after she returns to Japan, I will move back north en route to cross back into Laos to sell the bike. I will visit Bangkok right and proper on the way - and have one last hoorah in Thailand.

The electric starter isn't working on the bike as of yesterday. Other electricals work fine (horn, headlight, etc.) Any ideas? Kick start still works - but man, that looks lame.


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Saturday, 8 November 2008

Thailand!

After a road from hell and beaurocratic nightmare at the border, Rocinante and I are now safely on the Thai side. They drive on the left here... oh boy.


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Friday, 7 November 2008

Another MILEstone

Odometer passed 13,800 today meaning that I have traveled some 7,000 kilometers or 4,350 miles on this trip. The bike, although less pretty, is strong as ever.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Tuol Sleng (S-21) Prison and the Khmer Rouge

Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Tuol Sleng Prison

UPDATE: March, 30, 2009. Former operator of Tuol Sleng Prison, "Comrade Duch" goes on trial for war crimes in Phnom Penh.



I took a visit to the infamous Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh. Originally a high school, the Khmer Rouge (under the leadership of the despot Salath Sar, AKA Pol Pot) converted it into a one of the worst torture centers of modern times. Between 1975 and 1979, thousands of men, women and even children were rounded up and brought to Tuol Sleng prison where they underwent cruelty beyond description.


Dictator Pol Pot (Salath Sar)

Crimes warranting a visit to Tuol Sleng ranged from political dissidence against the KR to simply 'being educated' or 'literate.' Pol Pot envisioned a Cambodia of the "Year Zero" in which all modern knowledge, all education, all technological advancement was erased, and the people would all be starting from "zero." Friends and neighbors turned on each other and a dark paranoia settled over the country. As the years passed, Pol Pot became more and more suspicious of his populace and the torture at Tuol Sleng reached a fevered pitch. It is estimated that over 17,000 persons (including 9 westerners) were imprisoned, tortured and then later dragged to the "killing fields" south of town where they were executed. Mass graves are still being uncovered around the country.


Victims of S-21 Prison

History repeats itself.

Although Tuol Sleng appears much cruder than our 21st century Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo) Delta Camp prison, there are ghastly comparisons to be drawn between the Khmer Rouge's actions and our own. Water-boarding was a favorite torture technique of the KR. And like the U.S. the KR harvested little useful information from their torture (or should I say "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.")


A Cambodian Artist's depiction on water-boarding used by the KR


The Last Straw.

Pol Pot and the KR, possibly over-estimating their power and abilities, began to antagonize their neighboring Vietnam (who had recently rid itself of US military forces and enjoyed support from the USSR). Regular border incursions and attacks on nearby Vietnamese villages as well as the tales of the horrors taking place in Cambodia finally awakened the ire of the Vietnamese leadership. It was communist Vietnam that finally put an end to Pol Pot's reign and genocide in the year 1979.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

After a whopping 350 km one day and another 130 km today, I have finally made it down to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. It is a busy, bustling city with head-spinning traffic and polished storefronts. While the city has plenty in the way of creature comforts and cosmopolitan appeal, its tourist offerings are of the more ghastly sort. Tomorrow I will visit the infamous "S21" prison which was the scene of unimaginable torture and cruelty during the reign of the "Khmer Rouge" in the 1960s and '70s. Then, I will take in the "Killing Fields" - the mass grave where some 17,000 Cambodians (and 9 westerners) were brutally executed by Pol Pot's regime. Then, I think I will have to watch a disney movie or something else to lighten my mood. I'm deeply interested in seeing these things, yet I am sure it will be overwhelming.

Today, I will keep it light and easy. A cold beer and a view of the Mekong River should make for a good start. Photos to come soon.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Cambodia

Stung Treng, Cambodia.

I crossed from Laos to Cambodia yesterday evening. I've seen parking lots with tighter security than that 'border crossing.' I knew when I saw one border guard sleeping shirtless in a hammock and another dozing off in a folding chair that this was going to be easy.

Here's a funny fact - the border people will ONLY take US dollars for visas - they won't even take their own currency. The ATMs all dispense US cash too.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Laos, Miles Covered.

Pakse, Lao P.D.R.

Here is an overview of my ride through Laos so far.




1. Boten. Crossed the border, entering Laos.
2. Nam Tha. Taught a free English class and got invited to a village party.
3. Oudomxai. Met the BMW motorcycling couple from the UK.
4. Muang Kuah. Chartered a riverboat to carry self and bike (and 7 others) to Luang Prabang. A dazzling eight-hour float down the ancient Nam Ou river.
5. Luang Prabang. Beautiful, breath-taking historical city and UNESCO world-heritage site.
6. Phonsavahn. Learned about America's Vietnam War legacy and witnessed the ancient 'Plain of Jars.'
7. Vang Vieng. Innertubed down the 'party town's' river. The ride in - one of the best.
8. Vientiane. Dusty, dirty, lonely capital of Laos. Rather not go back.
9. Pak Ngeum. Drank in the kindness and hospitality of a local Lao family - sharing in their daily life.
10. Tha Khaek. A lovely little spot on the Mekong River - enjoyed the local street food and
views of Thailand across the stream.
11. Savannakhet. A brutal ride in oppressive heat and sun. A mirror of Tha Khaek - a jewel
on the Mekong. Invited to a Lao barbecue where I learned to play Lao games.
12. Pakse. Where I write this post. Larger than Savannakhet and full of great temples and river views.
13. Cambodia. Ready to tackle the border again!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Rules of the Road

Pakse, Lao P.D.R.

Whenever I tell someone that I am traveling by motorcycle, they invariably reply with "isn't that dangerous?" or "aren't you scared?" Most people believe that motorcycling is inherently risky or dangerous. The truth is, it doesn't have to be.

Here is my personal set of "Road Rules" for motorcycling.

1. Ride in the Daytime. I don't ride at night unless it is absolutely necessary.

2. No Rain, No Ice, No Bad Weather. If it rains, I find an overhang and pull over. Always.

3. Helmet. Always. There is never a good reason to ride without one. Ever.

4. Be Visible. Use headlights at dusk - even if you can still see. Wear bright colors, make sure all running lights are working.

5. Don't Prove a Point. If someone is driving faster than you, let them pass. Don't try to prove you are right by cutting people off. I'd rather be shamed and alive than proud and dead.

6. Don't be in a Hurry to Die. Hot-rodding, wheelies, reckless passing, and other cavalier driving stunts are for movie stars. You already look cool enough with a motorcycle - no need to show off.

7. One Beer is Too Many. If you plan on drinking, then walk there - take a cab etc. If you drive there and then drink, lock up the bike and get it tomorrow or walk it home. There's too much to risk.

8. When in Rome. It doesn't matter how people drive back home, it matters how they drive where you are! In Asia, bigger vehicles always have the right of way. It doesn't matter who got to the light first. Watch others and what they do and copy them. Again, doesn't matter if you are right when you are dead.

9. What's the Rush? If you drive 65 miles an hour instead of 60, you will might get there about 6 minutes faster. Is getting somewhere a couple of minutes earlier really worth the risk? Obey speed limits and don't overheat your engine. When in the city, play it cool and relax - there is plenty of time to get wherever you are going.

10. Happy Vehicle = Happy Ride. Safe tires, good chain, working lights. Fix it before you get on the road.

11. Whatever It Is, Stop to Do It. iPods, cell phones, water bottles, chin straps. Whatever it is that needs adjusting, pull over and stop to fix it. You can never afford to only have one hand on the rack.

In the end, I stick with the mantra "life is already dangerous enough, why make it more so!?" With a little common sense, there is no reason why motorcycling has to be categorically dangerous.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Easy Riding!

Tha Khaek, Laos PDR

With great enthusiasm and motivation I left lonely Vientiane yesterday, fully intent on getting a good 250 km under my belt for the day. No further than 17 km later, Rocinante (the bike) began to choke and sputter. Bad fuel filter. I stopped in a small rural town to mend it, and get some water at a local convenience store. One thing led to another and soon I found that I was spending the entire day with a really wonderful Lao family. We played with their kids, did some chores, and even cooked a great dinner together. I especially enjoyed just sitting around and watching the grass grow while drinking the milk out of a fresh coconut (which I helped pull off the tree.) I stayed the night in their home / store and woke up refreshed this morning.

Setting off in the early sun, I noticed something very odd about the road I was traveling. I checked the compass which confirmed my suspicions- this road was straight! Hell's bells! I hadn't seen a straight road since I left the US. Hour after hour, mile after mile, the road shot straight out east, flat as the floor across a sun-baked savannah. I passed some 250km and would have done more if an aching sunburn hadn't reminded me to stop. So, stop I did, in the small city of Tha Khaek, just 100 km from Savannakhet which will mark my last leg of Laos before Cambodia. Best part of all - it's only 3:00pm! Looks like another lazy afternoon of watching the dust blow with the locals.

Bike nerd stuff: valve tapping noise may be the result of poor-grade gasoline. In China, various types of gas are available at every station (#0, #90, #93 octanes etc.) In Laos however, if gas is available at all, it is simply "unleaded" which I suspect is a low octane, low grade gas. In cars, low octane fuels can result in tapping or 'pinging' so I imagine the same must be true of bikes. Fuel filter replacement stopped the power loss and cutting-in-and-out that was happening yesterday. Air filter might need to be replaced as well... come to think of it, after all the dust and diesel I've choked on, my air filter might need replacing!

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Time to Move On...

Vientiane, Laos PDR

I have spent a few days now in Vientiane. It is a rather nice city - still retaining some of its French colonial charms. However, there is something rather empty about it as well. It really is 'just a city.' When compared to Nam Tha, Luang Prabang (any comparison to Luang Prabang is probably unfair), Phonsavahn or Vang Vieng, the capital seems to come up short.

So be it! I guess that just means its time to saddle up and move on.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Odometer: 10,000 Km.

Vang Vienne, Laos PDR



I bought the bike at 6,800 km, and now it reads over 10,847. Therefore, I have traveled some 4,047 km or 2,514 miles so far! How is that possible in such a small space between China and Laos? It's because there isn't a single straight road in Asia. Mountains, mountains and more mountains.
Ride to Vang Vienne was spectacular. Here is a tease.



Moving on to the capital now.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Luang Prabang By Boat.

Luang Prabang, Luang Prabang Province, Laos


boats like these provide transport up and down the Nam Ou river

Traveled from Oudomxai to the river port town of Muang Khou by motorcycle. Roads were good 75% of the way, with patches of flood devastation and occasional landslide damage. From Muang Khou we (Andrew, the cyclist from New Zealand and 5 other travelers and myself) chartered a boat to take us to Luang Prabang.


top: the scenic Nam Ou river, bottom: Easy boys! That's my lady you have in your hands!

Getting the motorcycle on the boat was...something else. So far, Luang Prabang is amazing!


the sun sets on the river near Luang Prabang

Motorcycle seems to have developed a 'valve chatter' problem and is going to need some attention while I am in town.

Monday, 6 October 2008

School's In!

(Luang) Nam Tha, Northern Laos


a student looks into a classroom at the village school


I made my way to the south end of town today where I found the local "village secondary school." I wanted to volunteer to teach English and this seemed like the right place to try it. I was only on campus for about 10 minutes before I got what I was looking for!



students welcome their teacher as he enters the room

The school was a combination of simple concrete buildings with open windows and wooden 'crate' buildings - homemade affairs with untreated wood plank making up the floors, walls and everything else. The school was obviously poverty stricken - however this did not seem to affect the students' morale. Every student dressed in white shirts with black slacks for boys or black skirts for the girls. They all stood and saluted the teacher when he entered or left the room and they listened carefully and wrote lots of notes.

I met a Math and English teacher named "Ben" (he has a rather long Laoatian name.) He invited me to be a guest teacher for his class. I had lots of fun making them repeat things and role-play in front of their peers. They may be from a totally different culture, but being an embarassed and self-conscious teenager seems to be universal. Before long, students from nearby classrooms were lining up at the windows to watch.




Ben stands just outside a local village


After class, Ben took me to a string of villages in the area. When I say village, I mean village! Thatch-roof buildings, no electricity, no running water. Chickens and hogs ran about. Children played completely naked in the roads. To get there, the bike and I had to cross an Indiana Jones-style rope bridge! We entered the house of some Kmong (spelling?) people.

Ben saved the best for last. After waiting out a brief rain, he took me to a farther village where the staff of the school were having a party to celebrate "October 7th" - which evidently is a holiday for Laos. Every adult in the room insisted on shaking my hand and pouring a shot of "Lao-Lao" (local whiskey) for me. Then I was made to dance with the locals - which was a lot of fun. Finally I was sat in front of the village chief! (Yeah, I didn't know there really were such people either.) He seemed pleased that a foreigner had joined the party. The high school students, who were also attending, were a blend of curious and mortified by my presence. ha!


village chief (center) enjoys the party

In all of this, I couldn't help but be deeply impressed by the Laos people. Few people have suffered as much at the hands of America as Laos - yet never have I received such a heartfelt welcome.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Success! Crossing the Laos Border by Motorcycle.

Nam Tha, Northern Laos.

Depsite the protests and whining of the Chinese border guards, I was able to bring the motorcycle out of China and into Laos without a problem. On the Laos side, they didn't seem to care about the motorcycle and didn't feel the need to fill out any kind of paperwork. On the China side, they only charged me about USD $1.

So far, Laos is a laid-back, and very beautiful place. I plan to write more and put up photos - but in the meantime, check out my HELMET CAM video. I made my own helmet camera mount - seems to be working well so far. I plan on staying in this town for a couple of days and seeing the country side before heading south to Luang Phrabang.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Arrived: Mengla - Approaching Laos Border.


Mengla, Xishuangbanna County, Yunnan Province, China

Arrived in the city of Mengla which Lonely Planet describes as '...a dire little town...' - seems ok to me. Quiet, palm trees everywhere. Easy-going locals - what is so dire? I will try to get my things ready and acquire any gear I need here before approaching the Laos border either tomorrow or the day after. Last night's stay in a traditional 'Dai' ethnic hut was really rather nice. A table of Chinese persuaded me to drink 3 beers with them - they were a loud and raucous bunch.

The ride to Mengla was rather nice - the landscape looks more and more 'Mekong river delta' with every passing mile. Rice fields, thatch houses and bullet-shaped mountains towering about.

Above is a map of what I have covered so far, by bike and otherwise - as well as my future route.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Fellow Riders: Steer Clear of Myanmar Border.

JingHong City, Xishuanbanna Region, Yunna China.

Worst roads yet - Menghai to DaLuo. Mud traps everywhere and ruts up to a meter in depth. Advice: stay out of "DaLuo." It took me 2 hours of police interrogation to get out of there!

Good news:

* Police were exceedingly kind and treated me very well.
* They realized I didn't have a license or proper ownership, and they didn't care.
* They offered to let me stay in the town because it was getting dark (but I got the hell out of there.)
* They returned bike keys to me and wished me luck

The silver lining here is that it was the 'worst case scenario' or riding in China - the police knowing you don't have a license - and despite that they let me go. They seemed satisfied with the IDL. They were much more concerned with what I had 'seen' and what I had taken pictures of. Also, they were worried I had entered illegally from Myanmar. Yeah right, like I'd even be able to get into Myanmar!

I'll write more on the story later because it's rather funny now. The ride home in the dark wasn't as funny...

Friday, 26 September 2008

Jinghong - Stranger in a Strange land.

Arrived, through a downpour and mudslide battered roads, at the Mekohng river crossing - the city of Jinghong. Beautiful palm-lined streets, Thai architecture and balmy, tropical weather. Bike and rider were covered in mud and soaked.

I will write more later - suffice it to say now that I am at the southernmost province in Yunan. Only miles from the border of Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar. All signs are bilingual here - with Myanmar writing!

Chris

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Making Progress Toward the South

Woke up and made some solid miles south toward JingHong. I have stopped in the town of... actually I don't know the name. A very nice hotel room is about $10 USD here. As I make my way south, the land and people seem to become more and more reminiscent of Vietnam or SE Asia.

FOR BIKE NERDS:

The Zhongshen 150 has drum breaks front and back (yeah, I know..). Continuous downhill driving and constant tight turns had taken their toll on some already worn breaks. I took the bike to a local bike shop here and had the boys do their magic. In less than 30 minutes they:

1. pulled both front and back wheels
2. removed gunk from front break line
3. removed shoes from rear drum
4. replaced with NEW break shoes
5. reassembled front and rear drums
6. reinstalled front and rear wheels
7. adusted all cables etc.

Total cost to me: about $4 USD. Wow.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

"Ecape from Kunming" and "Into the Jungle."

Near YuanJiang, Yunnan Province, China

I woke up early yesterday morning, hoping to avoid the police. Then, not 5 blocks from the hostel, a street cop flagged me down. "Damn.. game over.." I thought to myself. I tried my usual hit-them-with-fast-English-to-scare-them routine, but he spoke a little English. Here was the conversation.

OFFICER: "Your is registration bike."
ME: Damn. He's good..
"Here you go officer."
OFFICER: "This is expire. You will get a new one."
ME: "Ok."
OFFICER: "Have a nice day."

And that was it. The dreaded run-in with the law was over in about 30 seconds and I was back on my way. Phew.

On the way out I was caught in the middle of a caravan of PLA soldiers in big green military trucks. They got such a laugh out of seeing me riding between them.

The road was in good condition most of the way - sealed asphalt with a smooth surface. However, the route consists of a hairpin turn about every 100 feet and thusly can only be traveled at about 20 miles and hour. The going is slow. I pushed it too far again last night and was on the road past sundown. The going got really slow then.

I saw more stars than I have ever seen in my life. 1000s.

Finally, a group of "police" manning a post by the side of the road (more like four 20-somethings in T-shirts and shorts smoking and playing cards) asked me to sit with them and smoke a cigarette. They directed me to a 'hotel' just 5 km down the road. I found said hotel to be more like a 'garage' for humans. Concrete, filthy - like a state-park cabin. Never been so glad to have a bed.

Only made it about 50km today to the town of __Jiang. I found a nice hotel here, and decided it was time to take a half-day and clean up. Tomorrow I will press on for the Xishuanbanna region.

Already the terrain is transformed - more SE asia than China - palms, exotic peoples, sod houses. So much diversity in one province.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Dali to Kunming - The Long and Winding Road..


450+ KM. 11 Hours. Too long.

Got out of Dali old town yesterday morning around 10:00AM. This leg was particularly long because of a lack of accomodation between the two points. (many hotels are not allowed to house foreigners) Roads were easy breezy about 80% of the way. Wide, paved, asphalt - smooth with not a lot of hairpin turns. Dropped some altitude and breathing was easier.

Road turned to hell about 60 km outside of Kunming. Patches of dirt and rock with enormous ruts (up to 18" in some places!), mud, lumbering dump trucks panting out their black plumes of soot. Then, I lost the race against the sun and it was 'night driving.' Night driving is one of my "don'ts" in motorcycling. I would describe the night traffic in Kunming as a 'free-for-all' or 'road circus.' Finally I got to my favorite hostel, the hump. Treated myself to a huge single room, with a bathroom etc - $20 USD. Big spender.

No more long rides like that. Next is either elephant reserve or Yuanyang rice terraces.

Rocinante (my bike) handled the worst like it was nothing.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Shangrila, Deqing and Tibetan Villages

Shangrila, Yunan Province, China

Despite only being about 200 miles apart, it takes a good seven hours to reach the city of Shangrila from Dali. Harrowing hairpin turns around blind mountain corners and a steady climb from 6,500 to 9,800 feet make the journey rough going. Once I arrived here I quickly set about renting a motorcycle - a street-legal "dirt bike" and shot out west. A cluster of ethnic Tibetan villages fills a grassland plane between the mountains. In the summer and fall a shallow lake appears.






Yaks, pigs, horses, cows, donkeys and sheep constantly wander across the roads. The Tibetan farmers build large wooden racks to dry their harvested rice crops on. The racks fill the flood plane like organic solar panels. As I coursed through rough, muddy and sometimes non-existant gravel paths I was met with smiling farmers and snickering women. A small child called out to me "hello?"

The next day, I rented the bike for three days and headed north toward Deqin, the last developed town before the Tibetan border. Along the way I met, by total coincidence, a motorcycling friend from the internet: Loh, Kaiwen (Singapore). We happily shared the road together and took on the endless mountain passes. Two-thirds the way there (70 miles out), the road seemed to disappear just over a smooth hump. We stopped the bikes at the top to take in the awe-inspiring scene: A sloping grassy plain that dropped off into a deep gorge surrounding an enormous, glacier capped alp. So beautiful it was nearly frightening.




Just outside of Deqin a sign read ELEVATION: 4,290 Meters (14,070 Feet). We could feel it - every breath was a struggle and the bikes also seemed tired. Loh and I discussed the various perils we had encountered riding in China on the rooftop of our hostel. Tibetan trumpets called out eerie low hums and high-pitched wails through the chilly full-moon night.




Loh continued his ride north alone and I set off to hike the nearby glacier. I thought I should see one while they still exist. After arriving at the park, I parked the rental bike and began the 2-hour hike up the mountain to the glacier's foot. I considered turning back no less than 1,000 times. Short of breath, exhausted, every step seemed impossible - just not enough oxygen. But I pressed on and somehow made it to the glacier. A hot day suddenly turned chilly in the presence of all that ice. Hard, cold, brutal, jagged ice. Stunning.


I returned to Shangrila to sort out the motorcycle question. I decided not to buy the rental bike. It was in short, a piece of junk. I fruitlessly searched high and low for a similar dirt bike but to no avail. No sooner had I left the bus station to buy a ticket for Kunming when I saw it. Perfect condition, low miles, proper license plates. I approached the owner and made an offer. A few phone calls later and I have about 10 Tibetan friends and a motorcycle. I have christened this one "Rocinante" - the name of Don Quixote's horse. Thanks Brian for the idea!

Enjoy the photos. Next it's Dali, then Kunming then the drive south toward Laos.

Oh, while driving back to Shangrila, a bull tried to ram me. Did he think I was going to steal his harem?

Back in the Saddle

Shangrila, Yunan Province, China



He's Baaaack. This time I mean business!

I purchased a trail bike today - in superior condition for a very low price. This is the right machine for the job. High suspension, big wheels, knobby tires - finally a machine that can handle the worst of China's roads.

I completed a 400+ km roundtrip ride from Shangrila (which I am using as a base) and Deqin, which is the last town of any size before the Tibetan border. The bike handled the hairpin mountain curves and cobble-stoned, heavily rutted paths with ease. Now, I'm ready to do this right.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Venturing on to Dali and "Shangri-La."

Yes, it is THE Shangri-la. From what everyone says it lives up to the legends. It is in the northernmost corner of Yunan and borders Tibet. Shangri-la is said to be the most Tibetan place outside of Tibet. To travel to Lhasa however would be another 600+ miles and far from my route. I will spend some days up north and look forward to renting a motorcycle there.

Toying with the idea of buying another bike on my return to Kunming and making the drive to Laos. The coming trip north should offer the most stunning photos yet.

Enjoyed smoking the local tobacco today. Angelhair thin strands - tastes awful.

Oh, and I cut off all of my hair today. My head looks like sand-paper. Also, they shaved off my beard. I will try not to cry.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Kunming, Yunan.

Arrived by "Hard Sleeper" train (11 hours) in Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunan. Just got here so not much to write about yet. Looking to meet up with a fellow motorcycler I met through "Couchsurfing.com." He may have some interesting information. We'll see. I like this city already - something different about it.

Chris

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

The Joys of Outdoor Tattooing and Dental Surgery

GUIYANG CITY, GUIZHOU PROVINCE

Feeling rested after my 11-hour bus ride from Changsha the night before, I set off to see what Guiyang has to offer. My couchsurfing.com host, Melissa, and I soon stumble onto a grizzly avenue hosting some of true free-market capitalism's more macabre offerings.








Exiting the busy clothes and shopping market we find ourselves on a quiet canal-side street. A row of greasy and blackened stalls pigeon-holed into the wall opposite the canal are filled with used tools, vices, cables and the like. The shop tenders themselves are easily lost amongst the stacks of dusty and worn equipment. A woman cooks some Chinese fare on an open fire. Two chickens walk about untethered. Then, across the street, against the canal railing, two men are sitting on small folding chairs under a parasol. Melissa and I hear a constant hum - high pitched like an electric razor. From a motorcycle battery on the ground, two wires lead up to a naked dirty and naked hand holding the buzzing tattoo gun. The patient looks off into the distance as the gun hammers the ink into his flesh. Along the canal we can count at least 10 of these 'street parlors.'




















As I watch the artist dip the same needle into different colors of ink from a filthy tray on the street I can't help but wonder if either of them know the risks. In a small case next to the chairs are some different bottles of ink and some graphite stenciling paper. No sign of other needles, gauze, iodine or anything else representing safe practice. We watch with a sense of horror and intrigue. I was more shocked by the fact that none of this seemed even slightly dangerous to anyone but us. The most expensive tattoo available cost $10 USD.

Passing several of these HIV sharing parties, I find l'Creme du Squalor! In a scene from a health department horror flick, we meet our first 'street dentist.' No medical equipment, no gloves - just a man, a small wooden case and some crude metal instruments which would seem more at home in the tool shops across the street than in a dental hygenist's hands.


Holding a man in a headlock, the 'doctor' dipped his tools into some small unmarked viles in his case. He smiled sadistically at us as his 'patient' spat out a noxious compound that smelled vaguely like amonia. In his case: a preserved human mandible, a small box of human teeth, several glass viles of different powders and clear fluids and metal cookie tin. The back-alley doc slowly opened the tin to reveal to us what might be the most terrifying thing I've ever seen: a dark, rusty, 4" section of a common hacksaw blade. I still don't know what use a dentist would have for this implement.

The good doctor turns to me with an expression that seems to invite me for a 'tooth cleaning.' Thanks but no thanks.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Being a Poseur at Hunan International Economic University

Changsha City, Hunan Province.

Staying with couchsurfing.com contact, Tony. From the minute I arrived at Changsha train station, Tony and his friends have been excellent hosts.

Whether I intended to or not, I have become a de facto albeit temporary student of the university here. I've sat in on three classes so far - a Korean class and two English classes. The teachers seem happy to have a foreigner in their class and there has been a lot of support from both staff and students. I will continue with my usual philosophy of "do it until you get caught."

I think I will stay here a few more days - if not just to revel in college life. Being here promotes an urge to seek a master's degree... but in what?! Something to think about.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Communist Art. Big. Boxy. Concrete.

This post is dedicated to a good family friend, Jan - the sister of my step father. Thanks for your support Jan!


Sylvia Kratzer, the German teacher at Nanchang Univ. took me to the "Bayi Square." Bayi, which appears as the Chinese Characters: "/\ -" means "8.1" or "August 1st" which is signifacant to Modern Chinese History and the Communist Party of China. It was on 8.1.1927 that the "Nanchang Uprising" sealed the defeat of the Kuomintang (nationalists) by the communists. The "People's Liberation Army" was said to be founded on this day. You can see the characters in gold on the flag monument at Bayi square.

The square itself is quite large, with a large concrete and stone obelisk-like monument at the far end. The momument is a classic piece of drab, blocky, communist art. A fitting memento to the birthing of a blocky, drab and cumbersome political movement. Across the street stands a massive former communist building, replete with red star and god trim. The building is now ironically used an electronics market.


The irony of the scene is not lost on me. Here, on this square, one sees the dead, lifeless tombstones of a dated ideology surrounded by those living icons of a different ideology: a KFC, a Wal-Mart Supercenter and the Electronics Market. In this light, I muse over a new interpretation of the soldiers' pained expressions carved in the flag monument's sides: the CCP's new struggle to hold their position in a changing economic and political landscape.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Huangshan Pics



Misty, foggy, and finally rainy - the photos of Huangshan were a bit lackluster, even if the moutains themselves were not. Incredible granite peaks of various forms and a heart-stopping vista of the valleys and lands far below.

It began to rain very heavily and suddenly as I approached the summit. Scary! I had to hide in a small cave in the rocks like a drowned rat. Although funny now, at the time I was scared shitless- being way up high and watching sheets of water flood the paths and routes back to the bottom.

I walked several kilometers down the mountain to the main gate at the bottom - still feeling the aches and pains of that long march. Have to get into better shape!

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Slow Life in Nanchang


I am wrapping up my last full day living on the campus of "Nanchang University." I've been staying here free and in great comfort and company courtesy of local couchsurfing member Sylvia Kratzer--the local German instructor here at the college. She set me up with an empty apartment all to myself as some of the other teachers are still away on vacation. Highlights so far have included drinking beers on the roof of a 21-floor highrise in the middle of the night (what a view!), a trip to the German import store "Metro" (Think something like "Das Wal-Marten) and some easy and comfortable days spent chilling with expats from Germany, the US and Barundi!

Tomorrow I will continue my push west to the city of Changsha where I will meet with Couchsurfing member "Liqing Tang." He seems like a lot of fun from his emails. It will be interesting to see the birthplace and stomping grounds of the late Chairman Mao ZeDong.

Personal Thoughts as of Late: The China we hear about in western media and the real China that people live and work in are very different. We've been too simple and too lazy in our (mis)understanding of them. Hardly what I'd call an "Oppressive Authoritarian Regime" - I think our views of them haven't evolved enough since the era of the USSR. As for their transgressions - they are grim, yet so were ours (US) when we were growing.

Will write more!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Over as soon as it began..

Believe it or not - I have some shocking news. I have decided to delete the "motorcycle" from this "motorcycle adventure." That's right, I am getting rid of the bike today (if I can.)

I took this ride because I wanted a freeing and liberating experience. In China, it is neither free nor liberating to do this. Here are the reasons why I have made this decision:

1. It is illegal. I am not a Chinese resident.
2. It is a constant stress worrying about running into cops - cops are everywhere.
3. 400 miles in, it is clear to me that the roads I have to use-national roads- are so poor, so dangerous that it just isn't worth it.
4. It took 7 hours to go about 200 miles. My visa will expire before I can reach Yunan.
5. This bike just isn't sturdy enough for this kind of punishment. 2 days ago, there was a road that was just golf-ball sized loose rocks. This bike - cute as it is - was never meant for that kind of abuse.
6. It is all exhaustion and no fun. This isn't like riding in Korea or the US.

Anyway, I will continue my travels - I will just do it with buses and trains like a normal human. In Laos, Cambodia etc., I will rent a motorcycle to take fun rides, because tourists can do that. They have shoppes for this purpose.

I realize this news may be kind of shocking, but yesterday I thought long and hard about it. I wanted adventure, not misery. I think I'd rather just enjoy traveling the world, and not worrying about it. Hope you understand.

I will continue to use this as my travel blog. Then, when I rent bikes in SE Asia, I will post pics of riding there. In the future I will continue to use this blog for my motorcycle trips.

Huangshan

Made it to Huangshan. 400 miles in.

Roads were even worse than previous day. Just terrible.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Objective 2 Accomplished!




It was almost too easy.










First we looked at the 'motorcycle market' that I discovered through the internet. It looks like whatever party was going on there is pretty much over. A few nice Qingqi and Jianshe new bikes for about Y7,000 (USD $1,000.) Not bad, but no plates and no registration. That would take a week and create new hassles costs and problems.

Turns out the guy I am staying with had a friend with a pretty new bike he wanted to sell. We set up a meeting. An impromptu market place formed as not one but 4 guys came with their bikes to sell! I tested each. The Chinese bikes handled badly, including the nearly new one. Less than impressed. Then, one guy had a Chinese body with a Suzuki engine in it - handled perfectly. He didn't want to sell it, but after some convincing and arm-twisting I got it from him for a pricey Y6,500 (USD $900.) I don't mind paying it as it's already registered and has a dependable Japanese engine in it. Also had tons of locks and an alarm to boot!

Last night, to thank them, I took Mac and his wife and their Chinese friend "James" out for a great dinner at a restaurant they loved. This very large, reservation-only dinner for 4 cost me a grand total of about... $22 USD. We talked about all sorts of things and I found my Chinese hosts to not only be very aware of world events but quite opinionated. I learned so much just listening to them go on and on about their lives and the world they live in. I'm beginning to think our interpretation of them in western media is a bit askew.

Well, if the weather permits, I may try to hit my first destination tomorrow!

Signing off. Chris

Friday, 15 August 2008

Inside!

(scene from lake Taihu near the place I am staying.)


I am writing this from inside China - Wuxi city. Objective 1 accomplished. Today, the couple I am staying with will take me to 2 motorcycle markets. Also, he has a friend with a newer bike and all paperwork - I may buy this from him. Will write again when Objective 2 is accomplished - procuring a bike.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Up, Up and... DELAY!

Well Crap. I missed my flight out of Chicago today - so I have to wait until tomorrow morning (8/14). What a crock. So, now I have to kill 20 hours in Shiller Park, IL until my flight leaves tomorrow morning at 8:30AM. This is an odious beginning to a grand (mis)adventure.

Chris

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Trip Prep Underway

The Journey Begins on August 12th, 2008!

Some Things that need to be done before lift-off:
  • Secure a Chinese Visa. Praying that I can get a 60 day visa not a 30.
  • Shots for Hepatitis A & B. Don't' want to spend my trip in a toilet.
  • Working out a network of people to stay with. Couchsurfing.com!

Some Major Things Already Taken Care of:

  • Airfare to Shanghai
  • International License (No Good in China, but better than nothing)
  • Tons of Money
  • Border research and due diligence
  • Up-to-Date Passport
  • Personal Documentation

Old Bike Sold. Preparing for Big Ride!

My time here in Korea is coming to a close. I will return to the U.S. briefly to see a good friend get married (and you thought I was adventurous,) see the family etc. Then, On August 12th, I will fly to Shanghai to begin my ride across asia!

Bike Sold
Sold Vagabond II, my Korean Daelim Daystar 125cc to a U.S.A.F. soldier for $700. Not too bad when you consider I bought it for $800. Being on foot sucks, though!

Article to Be Published
A travel article I wrote about my ride across Korea on Bike will be published in the August edition of the expat magazine Eloquence here in Korea. I will have a 2-page spread featuring my 825 word article and photos from the trip. This is my first published and paid for article!

Featured in Column in Korea Herald
My political writings were featured in the popular column Kaleidescope in the daily national newspaper, the Korea Herald last week. Thank you Kim Seong-Kon!

Preparing for Ride
The Big Ride is coming - August 12th. I will start near Shanghai, China where I will buy a local motorcycle and ride it west into Yunnan Province. Then, I will take it through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and hopefully Australia. Now I am busy preparing - have to get some vaccinations, get some visas and work out some details here and there. Can't wait!

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Weekend in Kanghwa

6.6.2008

Approx 300 km Total.

Click here for Photos!

To celebrate my love's arrival in Korea, we took a two-day sojourn to Kanghwa-do. Kanghwa-do is about 30 miles out, and its the north-westernmost part of South Korea. It is separated from North Korea by a small channel.

The weather was nothing short of miserable the first day. We stayed in and waited it out. Saturday however, turned out to be an excellent day for riding. Although still cloudy the sun had cleared most of the fog and left us with the best of both worlds: cool and enjoyable with good visibility.

On saturday, we made a full circle of the island. The highlights were the rice paddies in the northern half. As the sun came out they began to steam. Quite beautiful and awe-inspiring. Check out the slide show!

Soon I will need to sell the Daelim to prepare for my big ride across asia. More on that later.

Chris

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Korea Cross Country

See Photos from the Ride!



At 9:00 AM on May 3rd, 2008, I began what would be the greatest ride of my life (so far.) I traveled down the Korean peninsula from my home in Ansan (30 miles from N Korean border) to Jindo, the southernmost landlocked tip of South Korea. Here is the trip and its highlights divided by days:

5.3.2008 Saturday

See Photos from the Ride!



Traveled south and encountered crystal clear mountain resevoirs and gorgeous plains. Met a Canadian biker named Greg and his Honda 750 in Chungcheon-Buk-Do. We toured a temple set back in the western mountains before parting ways. I traveled on toward Hampyeon but ended up having to press on to "Muan City" in the dead of night. Azure skies, warm and no wind.

5.4.2008 Sunday

See Photos from the Ride!



Ventured on in early morning to the charming city of Mokpo. Crowded streets and precariously stacked houses sprawl across low mountains and hills in this port city. Saw a great statue of I-Sun-Shin, the great Korean Naval warrior of the 15th century atop Mt. Yudal. Went on to Jindo and took in killer vistas and anamatronic dinosaurs. Weather turned to absolute shit and I had to make a run for Haenam where I was taken in by a sweet little family. We passed the time until a break in the rain. I made it to Gangjin before weather forced me to stay the night.

5.5.2008 Monday

See Photos from the Ride!



Crisp, clear morning. No clouds. Left Gangjin and met a group of crotch rocket jocks before leaving town. Excellent scenery as I made my way to the Haenam-Gun peninsula. Wind picked up as I reached the southern coast. Rocky crags and smashing waves. The wind at sea level was almost unbarable. Excellent mountains and rolling hills gave splendid views of far expanding plains below. Mom and pop restaurant in farmers town told me to not pass up 'Boseong' and its tea terraces before heading home. I obliged. Boseong proved to be the highlight of the entire trip. enormous mountains, hairpin turns and spaghetti roads offered picturesque views of endless terraced tea fields. I bought some premium green tea at a local shop and began a race against daylight along route 1. Route 1 offered the best mountian passes of all! Darkness won out and I had to stay in Nonsan.

5.6.2008 Tuesday

See Photos from the Ride!

Started early at 8AM and began a sprint back to Ansan. I had to start work at 2PM! I made it back by noon, took a shower and then showed off my new sunburns to the crew at school.

Miles traveled: 780
Pictures taken: 400
Beers drunk: 4
Heart-stopping views: Countless

See Photos from the Ride!

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Kanghwa

I had been itching to get close to the DMZ and a nice break in the weather made Saturday April 12th seem like the perfect day.

The dull plains and reclaimed marshes of Ansan / Gyunggido gave way to large rolling mountains and hills. Pronounced hills jutted up suddenly out of the rice fields like marooned and landlocked islands. The green mountainsides and winding roads only got better as I reached the river-like swath of ocean that cut across the island. I was so close!

The DMZ was a heartbreakingly close 5 miles away, but I knew that I was running out of time. I had to be back in Ansan by 6:00 to keep a promise. I settled for roaming around the area just across the 'river.' I found mountains cleaved by road, and miles of fortified fence. Guardposts and checkpoints were everywhere. Foolishly I had left my license, passport and other documents at home. I had to avoid the cops and MPs - I'd really have been screwed if I were caught.

The highlights were an ancient rampart which afforded stunning views of the sea and surrounding mountains, and cruising the beautiful roads tucked behind the mountains on the other side of the highway.

The ride back saw miles and miles of traffic at a standstill. I was able to cut through it all on the shoulder. The bike however, needs some work before our next ride. I'll be spending my time remounting the rear sprocket, backing out the axel and maybe replacing that damn clutch.

See pics of the ride here.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Drive South to Pyeong-Taek, Asan and Dangjin


Here are some photos from my drive south on Sunday to Pyeong-Taek, Asan and Dangjin.

click to see.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

A Ride into Korea's Interior Reveals Simpler Life

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I had been wanting to travel to the lake Northwest of Wonju city for some time. I chose a route through Suwon City Eastbound for the Yeoju area hoping I could scope out the lake and river area as well as make some observations about speed, comfort and mileage for my future journey across Asia. Due to a linguistic failure on my part, I missed the lake by about 20 miles and instead found a river swell area to the South.

The route took me through Suwon City which turned out to be a heavily congested knot of highways and expressways. It was slow going to just get through the city. I did however snap some video of HwaSeong Fortress and that was worth it. Once out of Suwon I traveled through Yongin and Ichon en route to the river near Yeoju. Along the way, somewhere outside of Yongin, I stumbled across a farming village. Despite some modern cars and farming equip, this low-walled village was an erie picture of an Aggrarian Korea of yester-century. The highlight was a seemingly untouched farmhouse replete with sod walls and timber roof in traditional Korean style. I got out of there quickly as the locals seemed to be suspicious of me.



The river itself was nice and an easy ride up local highway 333 provided some lovely views of the distant mountains. But strangest find on this day-journey was waiting for me in a somewhat more modern farming community just off of 333. It was here that I stumbled across six concrete military machine gun posts. They appeared rather recent - certainly not of Korean war days. But oddly, they were facing the South as far as I could tell. Of course I had to enter them and look inside! Check out the photos below. Note the re-bar machine gun mounts and sandbag fortifications around the bunkers.


The ride home turned ugly in Suwon as the temperature dropped and it began to rain.

Miles traveled: 85

Sunday, 2 March 2008

The Journey Begins

The planning stages of my trans-continental ride are underway. Come back soon for more!