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."

.

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.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Excerpts: Southern China

Stairway to Heaven. The ride south toward Jinghong proves to be one of unexpected beauty. Like an old winter coat, the terrain sloughs off the rugged mountains for tamer hillsides and jungle patches. Cedars turn to palms and thicket to grass. In the buttery afternoon sun, the road snakes through stair-stepped rice terraces—gold and green broken only by silver streams.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

How Does Motorcycling in Southeast Asia Work?

If you are thinking about motorcycling through this part of the world, you might have some basic questions like: "what do I do if the bike breaks down?" or "will I be able to get spare parts?" or "how do I wash my clothes?"  I will try to answer some of those questions here:

Repairs, Maintenance, and Spare Parts


I was worried about this, but it ended up not being a problem.  The bike will break down, but the good news is that since most people in this part of the world travel by motorcycle, there are tons of little repair shops everywhere and they are usually pretty good.  They can fix tires, replace chains, fix electrical problems etc.  They also usually carry a wide assortment of filters, hoses and the like. 

Sometimes, you might have a breakdown that requires a spare part that can't be found in the country you are in (Laos, Cambodia...)  Usually, if the part isn't inside the engine, the handyman might just make one for you.  I had a wreck and destroyed one of the handlebar clamps as well as the plate that holds the wheel lock nut on my rear frame.  The guy at the shop just made one out of scrap metal and it worked great.

Costs of Repairs

Very cheap.  I got brake pads (parts & labor) for something like $5 USD.  Chains might cost you about $20, but you won't go through too many of those (be sure to buy rubber O-ring chains.)  I think tires were about $20.  Electrical, alignments and those types of services are usually less than $10.  In short, it's cheap so carry cash.

Personal Daily Life


Small towns in SE Asia & China have lots of repair shops and restaurants
 Usually your day will look something like this:  Start riding in the morning, stop along the way for gas and a bite to eat, get into a town and set up 'base.'  Find a guesthouse, inn, hostel or cheap hotel and take a shower.  Buy a box of laundry detergent, ($1) and wash your cargo pants and rugged shirts in the bathtub.  Lay them out to dry in the sun.  Hose off your Crocs shoes and leave those out as well.  Use your 2nd set of clothes, (I carried about 3 sets) go out into town, chat up the girls, get something to eat and a beer.  Wake up the next morning, your clothes are dry.  Hit the road again...

Security

Stay connected to your family and friends back home.  There is email all throughout China and SE Asia (sometimes in smaller Chinese towns, access is tough though.)  Bring a good bike lock from home.  The ones you will find in China are cheap and rust VERY quickly and fall apart.  ASK your guesthouse if they will let you park it in a gated area - usually they will.  Sometimes they even let me park it in the kitchen!  Keep it locked:  Loop the chain through the back frame, not the tire, and lock it to something iron or concrete.  Make sure you bike is too much of a pain in the ass to steal!  Keep your goods near you - especially your passport and important papers.  That being said, I never once had a problem.

What to Take with You on the Road

Riders thinking about motorcycling China & SE Asia often ask me what they should bring with them on the road.  So, here is a basic list of items to have with you.  Keep in mind, you can buy almost all of it when you get there.  Don't fly this crap with you on the airplane - they will think you're a terrorist!

(For Southeast Asia)

For You:
  • Mosquito repellant
  • Crocs shoes (fake) - they are great for muddy southeast Asia.  The holes let them drain water and you can wash them and dry them in the sun.  Finally, they protect your feet.
  • Sunscreen (Bring a good one from home SPF45)
  • Army-surplus style fatigue pants or really durable cargo pants.
  • Good army-style socks.
A toolkit for the Bike:
  • Electrical tape
  • Multi-purpose tool (all-in-one)
  • Extra electrical wire
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Zip-ties (might bring from home)
  • Bunjee net (bring from home) - or at least some bunjee cords (buy in China)
Remember, you can buy almost all of this stuff on the road while you are travelling - that's where all of this crap was made in the first place!  I will talk more about repairs in the next post.

Top 5 Favorite Motorcycling Spots in China

#5 Deqen

The road from Dali to Deqen is long, brutal and requires constant attention.  As a rider, this 7-hour slog was one of the toughest of my career.  Constant winding roads, hairpin turns, hazards around every bend - oh, and there's the thinning oxygen to contend with.  14,000 ft. altitude, beautiful scenery and the chance to get as close as you can to Tibet (it's only about 40 km from Deqen.)

Located in the northwestern corner of Yunnan, next to the Tibetan border.




#2 Dali


Ancient walled city, tons of flat, open roads to cruise at your leisure, stona pagodas, and a nice mix of Chinese, Tibetan and other minority culture in this hamlet.  The city is a nice base to jump off from.  If you don't have your own bike, consider renting one in the city.  They have a nice selection of 125cc and 150cc bikes as well as scooters and bicycles for the healthy-minded.  As an aside, there is a ton of marijuanna, opium and other drugs in this city.  Basically, the cops look the other way, but just the same, travel smart.

Be sure to check out all the neat farm towns like this one.  In the fall, they make noodles and hang them out in the sun.
Located in Yunnan, in the northern half of the province.  Backpackers often like to check out nearby Lijiang.

#3 Shangri-la

Need I say more?  Shangri-la!  It's a real place and it's worth checking out.  Highlights are Somtang Monastery - it's a lot like the Potala in Lhasa, Tibet except much more accessible to you and your bike.  You can eat yak meat and drink butter tea in this city.  The hilly, mountainous roads around the city are perfect for trailbikes.  You can rent motorcycles at the guesthouses in town.  I bought the motorcycle I did my ride with in this city for $600. 

Be sure to take a jacket - or buy one in town.  Tons of little junk and provision shops for cheap wares.



#2 Southern Yunnan

Breath-taking rice patty terraces, sunsets and jungle-atmosphere.  The culture in the towns south of Kunming quickly take on a Southeast Asian flavor.  The rice terraces are best in the evening.  I recommend driving out of Kunming in the morning and then getting a slow lunch on the road while making your way into the rice patty areas in YuanYang







#1 XishuangBanna

So much to do in this area of southern Yunnan.  It borders Laos, Myanmar & Vietnam.  Get ready for entering a completely different world.  Not only do you have the culture, people and flavors of Southeast Asia, you have the rare "Dai" minority group.  Their food is very unique and their culture is fascinating.  You will see people from tribes that number only in the 10s of thousands.  In downtown JingHong, there is a Dai-style hut you can stay in (guesthouse) with woven bamboo floors and palm frond walls. 

From here you can enter Laos.  I strongly advise you to avoid travelling out to the Myanmar border.  I got into big trouble there!

Monday, 26 July 2010

A Dusty ol' Piece of Writing - Gangjin, Summer of 2008 - Enjoy

By now it had stopped raining all across Korea except for an area of a sole square meter which happened to be right in front of me.



No matter how fast I drove or which direction I turned, a fountain of filthy road water bloomed before me.

Flashback. One month ago, on my way to work a car pulls out in front of me and I jam the bike’s front end squarely into its passenger door. Removing the cosmetic front fender seemed reasonable to me—and why not? Doing this fits squarely into my personal philosophy of logical minimalism and reductionism. I have no place for excess fiberglass.

Now as I drive through a watery curtain of misery, I realize that this ‘cosmetic’ fender serves a very real function—to prevent water and debris from being picked up by the wheel and then flung up into the air in front of the rider. The more you know.

The misery is as ironic and poetic as it is tangible. I wipe the cold road water from my foggy visor (thank god I sprung for the $3 face guard!) A blurry green metal sign whizzes by in the inky night. Damn, missed it. “WONK!!” a huge tanker truck blasts its horn to warn me that I’m crowding his lane. This is getting ugly and fast. Goddamn this cold and dark. Up ahead, I see another flash of highway green: “Gangjin 14km.” If it’s big enough to warrant a sign, it’s big enough to have a motel.

I pull into the parking lot of the “Garfield (love) Motel” looking like a drowned rat. I cringe at the feeling of sopping shoes and muddy jeans clinging to my feet and ankles. I’m not all motorcycle adventure just yet. Misery.

Gangjin is a pound-sign of a town—just a tic-tac-toe board of sleepy streets with a sprinkling of the usual pubs and shops. The kind of places that are open or closed subject to the owner’s mood for that day. The neon lights of the motels are all that puncture the dark, wet sky.

An old maid appears behind the child-sized check-in window. The lobby is clean and modern. A lot of fake black marble and stainless steel d├ęcor. There’s something very well-maintained and new about the place.

“35,000 won please.” She says before inquiring about something else I can’t understand. “Room for two?” she asks from rote.

“No, just one,” I answer.

For a moment, she just looked up into space and pondered the implications of this response. Then she hands over a welcome bag filled containing some condoms, lubes and other sundries along with a key.

If I could only say in Korean “No, no lady, it’s not what you think.” But let’s face it—there’s porn on the TV and I’ve had a long day—so it probably is going to be like that.

I lay out my socks and shoes to dry by the door, but I don’t count on them being dry by morning. I open the window but it’s of little use with 90% humidity and a cold draft.

The room itself proves to be the best I’ve encountered yet. Immaculately clean and decorated like a 1980’s junk bond trader’s Miami sex pad. It’s like they knew I was coming. As if this wasn’t delightful enough, there’s a 40” plasma TV and a computer with internet access. Not bad for 35,000.

After a quick walk to the family mart down the street, I return with all I need to remove the misery of the day’s ride: Pringles, a tall HITE beer, and some Beef Jerky. With the buzz slowly sweeping over me, I gazed out the window to the world outside. A sleepless pink sky laid like a heavy burlap blanket over a chicken-scratch city. City lights like pin-pricks screaming, muffled through the madness. Water-logged, insomniac misery. “Fuck tonight,” I think.

. . . . . .


Sharp white light bounces off every surface in the room. A razor crisp mountain air slices through the room. The comforter over my thighs is warm and glowing white a blinding white. Am I dreaming about a fabric softener commercial? The shoes and pants—they look dry! The air is crystal clear and the room is ablaze with morning sun.

There is a peace, a resolution in the air. What was unfinished last night is now resolved. All is settled, all is right. Outside the open window, two stories down, I hear an old man clapping his hands behind him and chatting with a passing delivery biker. Birds chirp and flutter about. The window with its sighing curtains frames deep sapphire skies and glistening mountains. I can see for miles.

I’m smiling harder than I have in a very long time. I sing an old favorite song in the shower.

If you find yourself caught in love,
say a prayer to the man above..

The cool mountain air dances with the hot mist while I think about the dangers of forgetting times like these. How many times did I nearly give up when the sky was pink and sleepless. There’s a present danger in not waiting until the morning. Enough of that—it’s only 8:30 in the morning and I can see that today is a day made for riding. Time to saddle up!

Gangjin is already alive and going when I hit the narrow streets outside the motel. On this corner two old men’s gold teeth flash while they shoot the breeze in front of a truck, pregnant with sun-rimmed melons. 5,000 Won each. Two red delivery bikes buzz past me and amble through the market like scared fawns. Everywhere, there is an expectation in the air—a message written between the atoms: Today is the day!

The ride out of the hamlet was like a summer morning’s breakfast where all is outlined with white. Like so many paintings I tried to paint back in school, only to find that titanium oxide white just can’t do what the sun can. How can you paint air that feels like sweet butter? Or mountains that look like cantaloupe tastes? With my never ceasing mind, I muse about art as recreation. We must do it—yet we are doomed to fail at it. There are no words, or brushes—no musical instrument that can love and burn you the way the sun can, or chill and thrill you the way the wind can. But we have to try.

I passed the edge of town and rolled like a dime on its edge through the glittering fields and craggy mountains that held Gangjin in the palms.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Reminiscing: Motorcycling Around in South Korea

South Korea will always have a special place in my heart.  I have nothing but good things to say about the little Daelim 125 that I had when I lived there.  Here are some cool vids from YouTube of other Daelim enthusiasts out there.



Friday, 8 January 2010

"The Return: Riding Western China" by Crazy Parker

.

If you haven't already, you will want to check out "The Return: Riding Western China" by Carl Parker (a.k.a. CrazyCarl of MyChinaMoto.com)  Just take one look at the rack on this bike and you can see Carl is h.a.r.d.c.o.r.e.

Carl's DVD is an in-depth journey through Western China - covering a lot of the turf I did in the first part of my ride.  He films himself, through the highs and lows of the harsh and rugged (yet beautiful) terrain of Yunnan and Western China.   A must have!

.