Waiting in the sweltering early afternoon sun to enter Thailand, we finally got to the head of the queue, solemnly gave our application form and passport, were stamped into Thailand and waved away. The next obstacle had our hearts thumping in our chests. We had to clear customs.
There was a small group of officials smoking and chatting on small wooden stools by the side of the clearance gate. We approached them looking as relaxed, simple and amiable as possible, not like two people who had been stressing about a lack of permit for the last 48 hours. We probably looked a little deranged and the chief gave us a sharp look but motioned his head towards a door on the other side of the gate. We went in and were met by the loveliest young woman who simply said “Motorbike? Great!” and took our vehicle registration and insurance, duly filled out a little customs declaration form for us, printed it and smiled and wished us a great ride in Thailand.
We stood there dumbfounded after she placed the forms in our hands, Simon had the wherewithal to thank her and escort Alex back to the bike. We both stayed completely calm, not even acknowledging through voice of the luck we’d had. We started the bikes, carefully rode them through the narrow clearance gates and then a little more quickly out towards the highway, only then we screamed our good fortune to each other and in what had become tradition, said in unison:
“Welcome to THAILAND!! Country number 26!!!! We did it!”
So we made it to Thailand, not only without a guide but without being asked for a permit. We were so elated after stressing about the new laws for the last month that we hadn’t quite planned where to stay for the night. After a late lunch of chicken and liver noodle soup, sunset began drawing in and we reached a small town called Nakhon Si Thammarat which we weren’t expecting much from. It ended up being a charming little town with a beautiful, pure white, huge Stupa along the main drag and even had a clean and air conditioned mall! We looked for a hotel for the night, swearing we’d celebrate our good fortune in Thailand. The stress of the day and the heat of the ride exhausted us and we slept like babies.
The next day we had to make it as close to Bangkok as possible in order to make up the mileage as we were a little behind schedule. From the map, it looked promising- Highway the whole way up the peninsula! However, it turns out that the Thai approach to major roadworks is to rip up the entirety of the highway at once instead of in sectioned and rotated schedules. No sooner were we happily riding along a clear and good dual carriageway that it suddenly swerved and was routed into the opposite direction and became a blocked single lane highway. This carried on for 40km before opening back onto the dual carriageway, where we opened up the bikes to shake off the trucks only for the scenario to repeat 10km later. This went on for hundreds of kilometres and at one point we were forced to go across the roadworks in order to access a petrol station. No one seemed to mind us bumping and crunching over the scattered gravel and mud.
Finally the road works ran out (or they’d run out of machines to spare- every section had an army of bulldozers and rollers) and we finally managed to make some headway. We rode past a number of huge sitting Buddhas by the side of the road which gleamed gold in the setting sun. It was quite a sight when they would glint from the midst of the greenery in the middle of nowhere. Before long we reached Petchaburi where we stayed for the night, preferring to tackle Bangkok in daylight!
Leaving for Bangkok with an early 7am departure, we still managed to hit traffic on the ring road. We couldn’t figure out why it was taking so long to progress only to witness not only one but three separate pile ups in only the ring road. Worse still, the three lanes marked on the road were, in reality, filled with four lanes of jostling traffic. The tiny, gritty separating gap from the central reservation was occasionally used by brave motorbikes, rolling steadily forwards, the three other lanes used by normal traffic and the emergency shoulder used by all the impatient idiots who thought they’d save time undercutting everyone.
Sadly for them, and the rest, the emergency lane was living up to its name with ambulances, mangled cars and the occasional small bumper crash argument. By 11am we made it to Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok. This was the old capital of Siam and now consists of an historical park one can visit which is full of temples, monasteries and monuments and is set within parkland. It made for a beautiful ride as we forgot the traffic woes behind us.
From Ayutthaya, we had a long ride all the way to Mae Sot where we would meet fellow bikers who were crossing Myanmar with us on an organised group. The road was surprisingly clear and fast moving after the nightmare of Bangkok and we made good progress. It was a wide, tree-lined highway with few trucks (always a winner) all was going well until the temperature gauge dropped from 27 degrees to 18 degrees in only a few short minutes. The air become weird, with a thick haze suddenly about us, the sunshine had dimmed and it was as if all colour had been drained from the world. It was pretty eerie and stranger still when the wind picked up at a ferocious speed all of a sudden. We pulled over at a petrol station to discuss the funny weather when the sky broke open with an almighty lightening bolt and simultaneous crack just the other side of the road. It was the opening sequence for some extremely heavy rains which pelted anyone silly enough to still be on the highway – alternating between actual strikes of lightening and showers. Anxious to set off and make Mae Sot before sundown, we shot back onto the road as soon as the last drops of rain disappeared – which was as sudden as their appearance.
Just as we hit the final stretch to Mae Sot, the light began to wane. Unfortunately, the road would usually be beautiful, winding through rounded mountains covered in trees but it was undergoing a serious renovation so most of it was offroad roadwork with the occasional struggling truck on the uphills. Eventually, night fell and we rode the final few kilometres to Mae Sot. With 700km covered everyday for the last three days in Thailand, we were pretty exhausted but we were excited for our next adventure – Myanmar in the morning! This would also be our first time with a group of riders, we were looking forward to hearing their adventures.
Thailand was beautiful and it deserved a longer stay and more appreciative ride but sadly, we’d been convinced by the new law and planned our whole trip to be as short as possible. We’d definitely come back to ride, but clearly not with our own bikes next time.