One Last Attempt at Motorcycle Touring

{ 35 comments }

It took me about 45 minutes on the back of a bike to decide that motorcycle touring is the most dangerous, uncomfortable, and inconvenient form of travel there is. My knees burned, my frontal lobe was being squeezed by my helmet, and I was was learning that “bad ass” is not, in fact, a compliment, but a literal term for a troubling condition that affects motorcyclists.

(Do the Hells Angels carry rash cream in their saddle bags? How do they get by without donut cushions?)

If I wasn’t so stubborn and proud, if we hadn’t spent so much time and money on the plan, I would’ve hitched a ride home on the first air-conditioned, soft-seated bus (stopping first for some baby powder at the Seven-Eleven, of course). Instead, I decided to hang in there and keep trying.

We decided to make a few adjustments to our technique to see if that helped.

  • Travel in the morning before it gets hot
  • Stop every hour for a break
  • Travel only a short distance every day

We packed up our bags, strapped them to the bike, and set off early on a 100km journey towards a town called  Sangklaburi. The journey was called: One Last Attempt To Make This Adventure Work.

The road to Sangklaburi is immaculate, spacious, and mostly free of traffic. Because of the remote location and the lack of beaches, cocktail bars, and hookers (phew!), there is very little tourism in that direction. The road ends at the Myanmar border, which can only be crossed if you’re Burmese or Thai. For everyone else, the road is a cul de sac that runs along the western side of Thailand, cutting through tangled jungles dotted with caves, rivers, and multi-tier waterfalls. Tigers can be spotted if you’re lucky.

So we set off in the early morning when the rice fields were misty with fog and coloured by dawn. I hugged tight to Ivan, spooning him for warmth as our bike flew through the chilly air.

Every so often, a scooter loaded with bags of grain or pyramids of propane tanks would overtake us. On the bike, we travel slowly and carefully because there’s simply no need to rush, and because the best accident insurance is a simple mantra: do not crash.

We passed by curled-up dogs, who, disturbed by the sound of our engine, unfurled from their sleep to rise and stretch. Thais in fisherman’s pants swept driveways and tended to steaming pots of rice. They paused, mid stir, to smile or wave or offer a thumbs up.

An hour passed by without me noticing it, and then another. The sun melted the fog, and the heat on our backs was welcomed. When the leg and butt pain set in, we’d stop for lunch and some stretching.

Taking regular breaks almost completely eliminated the butt pain. I no longer had a troubling case of bad ass. And riding in the cool morning instead of the heat of the day made the journey not only bearable, but exhilarating.

At the end of the road, we found an idyllic little town set around an enormous dam. Sangkhlaburi is remote, so I was surprised to find a place full of rustic charm, artisan sophistication, and plenty of culture. The food was amazing, too. We found a groovy little hipster café with excellent cappuccinos and fast internet, and so we stayed for 10 days.

In our cheap little wooden bungalow, we drank beer and watched the sun set over the water. I pulled out a map of Thailand and began plotting the next part of our journey.

And now, several weeks later, we’re in northern Thailand and we’ve logged around 1600km on the bike.

One Last Attempt To Make This Adventure Work saved us.

Leave a Comment

  • D.J. - The World of Deej January 2, 2013, 1:34 pm

    Sounds like a fun adventure. Glad you gave it one more try, although I too am really scared to take on a motorcycle…

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche January 2, 2013, 5:21 pm

      Motorcycles have such a bad reputation. I keep telling myself that it’s the reckless nutjobs that drive up the grim stats. If you play it super careful, I think it’s fine. I haven’t felt unsafe once on the roads here.

      Reply
  • Abagail January 2, 2013, 5:18 pm

    Since your last post I’ve been wondering how you two were getting on. Glad you’re hanging in there! Take care of that bad ass. Ointment?

    Reply
  • Jaana Kulmala January 2, 2013, 6:25 pm

    Hi Torre!

    I’m glad to hear you did find touring fun after all!

    I think heat can really take the fun out of riding. As well as heavy rain. And cold. But gee… it’s still one of the best ways to travel :D

    LOL for the butt pain. It’s funny how it goes away after 800-1000 kms or so, but then, take a break long enough and you’ll have to start all over again!

    Have fun and ride safe!

    Cheers,
    Jaana

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche January 3, 2013, 1:31 am

      Thanks, Janna. No pain no gain, right? :) The pain is so minor these days that I’m almost falling asleep on the back of the bike. It’s surprisingly relaxing!

      Reply
  • Wanda St.Hilaire January 2, 2013, 9:42 pm

    Sounds like a blast!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche January 3, 2013, 1:32 am

      It is. It’s also pretty insane. I’m sure I’ll look back on this and wonder what the hell I was thinking.

      Reply
  • Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista January 2, 2013, 11:56 pm

    I’m so glad you found a way to make this work! I think it would be fun taking a road trip on a motorcycle but was really worried when I started reading this. Yah by the end all was saved. I’ll keep this in mind when planning our own little adventure!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche January 3, 2013, 1:34 am

      What’s your adventure, Debbie? Definitely try a motorbike if you get a chance. You don’t have to go far, or fast, but you absolutely *have* to feel the sensation of flying through air on a motorbike. It’s divine.

      Reply
  • Dee January 3, 2013, 2:10 am

    Torre – It is so good to read about your latest adventures. I am hooked in your first sentence!! You are a terrific writer – can’t wait to read the rest of your adventures. Keep it up – you rock! Hi to Ivan!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche January 3, 2013, 3:18 am

      Thank you, Dee! Your kind words back when I was writing my sailing blog were a part of what inspired me to write a book. xxoo

      Reply
  • Pernilla January 3, 2013, 3:33 am

    The moment we’re ready to quit is usually the moment right before a miracle happens. Glad to hear you guys didn’t give up!

    Reply
  • TammyOnTheMove January 3, 2013, 3:46 am

    Sounds fun – well perhaps not the fact that you need baby powder. :-)

    Reply
  • Ayngelina January 3, 2013, 3:38 pm

    You need those padded bicycle shorts :)

    Reply
  • Frank January 3, 2013, 4:48 pm

    So have you tried touring by scooter as well? I plan to travel around SE Asia for at least three months or so, and being used to two wheels it seems like the best way to see the country to me. Would you recommend a motorbike over a scooter?

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche January 4, 2013, 4:32 am

      Both options are fine, I’d say. A motorbike has more power to get you up the steeper hills, though we drive a 120cc scooter in Koh Tao and it gets us up the steepest hill we’ve been on: the one up to our bungalow. We did a 5 day tour in Laos on a scooter (more here: http://www.fearfuladventurer.com/archives/7082). It was totally fine.

      On another note, there are a lot of really amazing places to camp here, which I didn’t expect. I wish we had made room for camping gear. Having camping gear would also allow us to be more impulsive, and it would take away the stress of having to get from point A to point B before dark. Also: it gets cold here! Bring thermals. This morning I wore 2 layers of merino wool and I was still a little chilly.

      Reply
      • Claire May 29, 2014, 11:31 am

        So happy I stumbled across your blog, I look forward to reading about your other trips! I recently did an 8-day motorbike trip in Vietnam with some friends-from Hanoi up around the border of China. It was the most exhilarating and terrifying experience I’ve ever had and I am eager to get back on the road and explore Thailand (my current home). First on my list is Sangkhlaburi..I live just outside of Kanchanaburi city and am planning to take a bus to Thong Pha Phum tomorrow afternoon and hopefully rent a motorbike to take from there to Sangkhlaburi on saturday. I am curious about the camping and hope I can rent a tent from somewhere..it is hard to find any information online! I wanted to ask if you did any hiking in Thong Pha Phum or Sangkhlaburi? I am definitely a go-with-the-flow slow traveler..but seeing as I have to be back to work on Monday I’m trying to prepare as much as possible for my two days up there!

        Thank you :D
        Claire

        Reply
  • Victoria | Bridges and Balloons January 8, 2013, 4:49 pm

    I’m actually more afraid of cars than motorcycles, but Steve is convinced he’ll meet his death on one. Your journey sounds gorgeous. Perhaps I’ll convince him yet…

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche January 10, 2013, 5:50 am

      You’ll be fine! Just go slow and be extra careful. If you go slow, it’s not that different to riding a bike (less sweaty, obviously).

      Reply
  • DEK January 13, 2013, 1:16 am

    I admire you for hanging in and making it work. I gave up on my one attempt when I tried to tour a Greek island on a motor scooter, but found the noise of the machine too horrible an irritation. I was so used to the silence of walking that I felt the noise was both despoiling the countryside and keeping me estranged from the country I was passing through. Of course I could not travel fast or far, but the quality of the experience seemed worth it to me, though I realize others could see things differently and I was not averse to hitching a ride when the trip got too hot and tired.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche January 14, 2013, 12:19 pm

      That’s a nice reason to give up. Nothing beats walking for really absorbing your surroundings. Walk on, DEK.

      Reply
  • Izy Berry - The Wrong Way Home January 13, 2013, 6:31 pm

    Traveling by motorcycle is really fun and you should not give it up. Congrats for the 1600km. I hope you’ll double it :)

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche January 14, 2013, 12:18 pm

      I wouldn’t dream of giving up now. I love it! But we had to end the trip because of other commitments. :(

      Reply
  • karina January 15, 2013, 5:43 am

    When I first read the post, I immediately thought of Amelie, the French movie. .I always found the part with the scooter the most romantic and alluring. Glad you found a way to make it work. Maybe someday I will also get over how uncomfortable motorcycle seats are.

    Reply
  • nico January 15, 2013, 12:06 pm

    Congrats for figuring some many important things about how to ride more comfortably a bike in so little time!
    It literally took ages to us! (And still sometimes we can’t help leaving at 12…).
    By the way, we’ve almost met last week at a café, not to far from Chiang Mai, during one of your (and our) ass-resting break.

    Reply
  • Katie (@wandertooth) January 16, 2013, 8:21 pm

    Glad to hear it! And you continue to totally crack me up: “a troubling case of bad ass!” Can’t wait to hear more adventures!

    Reply
  • Daniel McBane January 28, 2013, 11:36 am

    I love cruising around rural areas of SE Asia on a motorcycle……for an hour or two. After that, my ass gets sore and I get that thing where my hands go numb and feel like they continue to vibrate long after I’m off the bike. Then I remember why cars were invented.

    Reply
  • Noei January 30, 2013, 6:33 am

    Sangklaburi route is hard to navigate for cars. It’s so hilly and curvy. I think you made a right choice for renting a bike. It’s such a classic, retro bike too!

    Ps. I’m from Kanchanaburi. Next time you stop by, we should have a drink(s)! Haha

    Reply
    • Claire May 29, 2014, 11:35 am

      Noei,

      I tried to go to your website shinytuktuk.com but the browser said it was unavailable. I also live in Kanchanaburi and would like to get in contact :)

      Claire

      Reply
  • kate Pettit April 10, 2013, 9:10 am

    Hi Torre,

    A friend put me onto your blog – very nice! My partner and I have decided to take an impulsive extended trip to SE Asia (Thailand, Mayalsia and Indonesia as we are from South Africa). We are planning to do a lot of WWOOFING while we are there, as financially we haven’t really planned for 4 months off work!

    Interested to hear you say there are lots of campsites – I also wouldn’t have assumed there were. What regions are you talking about specifically, because we will definately make room for camping gear if there are possibilities.

    Thanks in advance for your information!

    Peaceful travels and good vibrations!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche April 11, 2013, 9:46 am

      Hey Kate. Fun! You’re going to love it. We camped in the north, up along the Burmese border and north towards Chiang Mai. There are national parks along the way. Look them up on Google. The GT Rider maps are good, and all the national parks are marked up on them.

      Reply
  • Ruici April 21, 2013, 9:58 am

    Glad to read that this adventure went off well. I’m really keen to explore Thailand a bit more and was excited to come across your blog.

    I just came returned to Bangkok from a fantastic 8 day ride through Bali and am finally committing to buying a bike. I was wondering where you guys got your SR400, any tips would be helpful.

    Looking forward to your adventures.

    Reply
  • ChrisCavs - Part Time Vagabond December 23, 2013, 12:25 pm

    I just found your site and really enjoy your writing. As to the motorcycyle touring, I’m glad you wrote about your experience. A dream of mine is to learn to ride, fix up a bike, and tour around North America and Europe on one. It’s good to know that it’s a worthwhile adventure after all!

    Reply
  • Coby Smith May 28, 2014, 7:44 am

    Such a beautiful landscape. And with things the way they are in Thailand right now. Maybe more people will head to Myanmar.

    Reply