|Final Statistics: Alex & Maz||Total distance: 93,550km|
|Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ||Now settled in Sydney, Australia|
|Final Statistics: Martin||Total distance: 79,698km|
|Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia||Now settled in Bristol, UK|
Mud Sweat and Beers
Thailand, Country 19, Diary entry 31st May-8th June 2006, Total distance in Thailand (first pass!): 4099 KM, (second pass!): 3005 KM, (Total): 7104 KM
After a whirlwind stop in England to let people know I am still alive I left again to join up with the team. After unknowingly taking on the role of townís personal postal service, packed with spare parts for this, new wires for that and of course the crown jewels of the cake world, one of Nannies fruit Dundee creations. After my disastrous flight home, where upon I forgot to pick up my laptop from the x-ray machine and was misfortunate enough to sit next to a distant relation to jaba the hut, I hoped for a stress free, relaxed flight to Bangkok.
In our normal manner the details of my reunion with the guys, were clear as mud, and expected a challenge Anika style race to find them in such a huge city. On arrival I headed through the crowds of short skirted Thai girls, with welcoming smiles on their faces selling taxis, instead I kept the British end up, walked out side into the rain and waited for a lone taxi. Not a smart idea if anybody knows what monsoon rain is like. Joining me there was a young German guy on an adventure to the Ko San road district, where basically any weirdness goes. So of we jumped into a local taxi, and after the traditional battle of rip off tourist prices to using the official meter, we left the airport with him swearing none stop in Thai. Tip number 2 for travellers in Thailand, never pi$$ off a taxi driver, it was like being in the navigator seat in an WRC rally section, the driver was shifting through gears at lightning speed, faster and faster, then hard break pumps. Hard left, right 90, we sped down the highway, and maintained the same pace into the side streets. In front was one on many hump back bridges, ďheís going to slow downÖisnít heĒ came, sheepishly from the guy in the back wedged into his seat. I was just finishing, ummm, when we hit the brow of the bump, if words could have passed my lips, over the fear I would have shouted yeeehaa, like the boys in dukes of hazard. Alton towers havenít got anything on a speeding Thai taxi for thrills
Then it came, our saviour, the text detailing the location of Alex and Mazís hotel. It read Emporium Suites, Sukhumvit, to which I hurried to interrupt the drivers continual swearing. A nod was the answer I received and now convinced he knew where I was to end up, I sat back and enjoyed the light show, any faster and we would be going back in time. I started to wonder, Emporium Suites, it sounds very eloquent, like one of those places with peacocks in the gardens and wine pouring like rivers through the 2000 year old marble stairways. This is Bangkok, what was I thinking, every lap bar, brothel , guest house calls themselves the grosvenor and paradise suits, well , thatís what a ĎFRIENDí told me. Down the road we went, looking at the shanty shops lining the road, looking for the token red light and a decayed sign reading Emporium Suites. With a huge screech of the brakes, and after pealing my forehead from the dash board, I saw it, a 50 floor high rise tower lighting up the sky. Christ am I under dressed, and how on earth are we staying here. All was to be revealed.
Mazley came and met me in the hall and took me to the suite. The Lavish oak door swung open into a lavish apartment, classically done in a fresh contemporary design, huge bed with an even bigger TV at the end. No surprise to find Alex sitting there in between 2 laptops, cables, blank cds and other spy equipment, swearing in frustration, Nothing changes. Squashed into the small sofa was Rob, a company colleague of Alex, he got up, waded his way through the sea of bags and debris on the floor to shake hands. I was later to understand this hotel mystery. The suite was actually Robís who was over on a little bit of business, and had graciously offered to help the guys out and let them bunk in his room. Anybody who knows Alex and Maz will know the black magic they yield, some how they had managed to persuade Rob, not only to let them stay, but to give up his bed for the sofa, to hand deliver breakfast in bed, smoke outside in the rain and to take every available clear space with their kit. I thought that the coup de gras was the eating of his Pringles, but, some of you might think this was a step too far. Rob youíre a gentleman in my eyes and it was really appreciated by the guys, especially sorting out a laptop replacement in their moment of need, a favour that they hope can be paid back some day. Not wanting to take advantage, Maz had booked me in the hotel down the road called the ĎHoney potí. It was not to disappoint, completely surrounded by ladies clubs, bars, massage and cheap pool rooms. Past the kitchen, up the dark stairs, into a clean and simple room. The real give away was the angled mirror above the bed, nice!
After a great meal and a few drinks with some locals we all limped back to our respective suites. The next day we headed off to do a bit of sight seeing, mainly at the Royal Grand Palace. It is a truly impressive site and one that will amaze even the most Ďpalaced outí traveller. The detail and sheer scale of each monument is breath taking. Itís an amazing thing to be reminded of just what wonderful things humans can do when they put there minds to noble causes, as its easy to dwell in our media overloaded world on the negative human traits. Thailand was in full swing monsoon season, with 30 degree heat interlaced with torrent rain storms on a continual basis, this mixed with late nights led to me being graced with a shocking cold.
So wandering around the greatest sight in Thailand blowing my nose like a professional trumpet player raised a few looks from the local faithful. It was busier than normal in the city as the Thaiís were preparing to celebrate the Kings 60 year anniversary. Flags, royal insignias, posters of the king were plastered every where. Shops, street lights, taxiís and people all donned the yellow colour of the king.
I had always believed croons and wanna be class jumpers, were devoted royalists, keeping to queen and family fixed on their pedestal. Thailand is light years ahead of anywhere I have seen, in the devotee race. From rich to poor, old to young, city to countryside the masses were in unanimous support of the king.
The stage was set for a big night; we had managed to persuade Mazley to stay at the hotel, while we went on a research mission into Bangkokís night life. Our guide for the evening was Rob, a veteran to these streets. Pat pong our destination, one of many Ďareasí with such sites. We hit the street and were instantly herded into a dark room with a make shift dance floor and bar in the middle. Every girl in the bar then jumps next to you, explaining how thirsty she is and how pretty my eyes wereÖ Thanks very much I said, and went to the bar and asked for a glass of tap water for the parched young lady over there. Clearly chivalry was not respected here, as she soon moved off to the next punter who walked in through the door. We drank our beers, that should have been Verve Clique considering the price, and headed back to the street of touts. Itís amazing; because of competition and the clear class of most of these areas patrons, the touts have resorted to having a flyer with karma sutra style pictures detailing what their shows are like.
After a few hours of wandering bar to bar and being amazed at the sheer openness of what we had seen we headed back. It was an experience and world I had no knowledge of, mum!! And it left quite an impression. It's not for me to judge or tell others how to live or what is right or wrong, but the girls where treated like cattle, had no passion to be there or for the punters whose laps they were sprawled across. No feeling, no desire, no curiosity, must equal no connection. Iím old fashioned, meet an amazing girl, fall in love, Iím sure it makes for a better experience. Clearly from the size, number and scale of the sex business in Bangkok, that my voice is different to the masses. I wonder if Martin and his friend thought the same on their nights through the bars.
The day had come for the Towns mobile spy bus to leave luxury and give Rob his apartment back. We were heading to join a company Alex had contacted to do a week 4x4 through the Thai jungle. I was surprised that Martin had not changed his mind and joined the trip. Itís been hard to find any real 4x4 routes in the whole of their trip and this was a clear chance to get stuck in. We arrived at the 4x4 Jungle Trekker Holidays workshop early doors and looking a lot worse for wear. This was the first time I saw the monsters. The two fully equipped Toyota Hilux trucks that would accompany Tinfish for the trip.
These trucks were not just stacked with kit but were raised so high that it made the cruiser look like a toy car, this along with the tractor type mud tyres put the vehicles nearer the ceiling than it should. I looked at Towns and said ďboyís toysĒ, we had done a fair amount of 4x4 tracks by now and reasonably experienced, so we agreed that these trucks were really just over the top. All packed we left in convoy for the Burmese border, Richard and Tuey in one truck, taking up the vanguard. Youtth and Ae leading the pack and the three of us wedged into the cruiser. Itís along drive out of the city and it was going to take a few hours; we stopped off at the river Kwai Bridge along the way. There is a certain irony that you can now drive along a motorway straight to the bridge which once was so remote and took so many lives. The world has changed and will continue to.
We stayed that night in a small little complex on the edge of a lake that sits on the border with Myanmar. Itís a man made lake due to a number of large hydro electric dams in the area powering Thailandís ever growing cities. Thailand is a very easy country to travel around, with motorways, petrol stations and ATMís on every corner. Compared to its neighbours its years ahead in its development, with the standard of living in general being high. The roads are full of new cars and every house boasts a TV and karaoke machine, while across its borders, 1000ís live in bamboo huts.
With engines roaring like lions the trucks started to tear up the tarmac, firstly heading to the store for provisions. Sitting there noting the differences between our truck and the two monsters owned by Richard And Youthh our guides for this trip, a roaring engine was heard in the wind, and then slowly paraded down the street, strolling down like a new king. It pulled up next to the two monster trucks and laughed, he was bigger and he knew it. Bigger tyres, higher lift and less weight, its easy to get truck envy in Thailand, they truly are into these trucks and serious 4x4ing.
Still with our heads high we left the town and the hard road for the red mud of the jungle. Richard and Youthh donning big smiles on their faces like kids about to play in the sandpits and keeping Heineken brewery share price healthy with beer in hand. We headed off towards the park entrance through villages and across rivers, with waters reaching well over the door seals. Awesome we thought, just what the doctor ordered. We arrived at this remote hill station with a few locals milling around to find the gates closed, great just our luck we thought, but after a few words we were in. Not needing to be asked twice we ploughed into the mud tracks. Skidding, sliding, slipping we tore through the tracks. The mud was thick and sodden and made it difficult to get traction, which was compounded by the fact the cruisers tyres were in desperate need of replacement and had little tread left. The day was great fun with the need for a number of technical alterations to the track to allow the amazingly heavy cruiser to get through. After a number of laughs, swearing and scary winching moments we immerged out of the jungle. We agreed that, those tracks were no doubt the most extreme the cruiser in its current capacity could take. The cruiser, different to the trucks with us, has been designed and kitted out to be an Over Lander not a mud hopper, itís all a compromise; no one vehicle can be excellent at all.
The next rainy morning we rose from our tents and jumped into the chariots, looking forward to the days events. It had rained hard all night and I started to wonder the affect this might have, but I simply thought more mud equals more fun. We drove up the tracks, dodging the fallen trees and plunging into waist high pools of liquid mud. The two monster trucks were bouncing through the rutted track with little hassle, but Tinfish was beginning to struggle, it just didnít have the clearance and started to sit on her diffs. No matter how good your skill, or your knowledge if the ruts are deeper than your clearance you end up sitting there wheels spinning, no surprise just reality. So out we jumped winching kit in hand, straight into the mud, like a well oiled team we pulled the truck back on to clear ground. Watching Youthh truck taking the lead over the next stretch, we watched aghast as his truck launched into the air and then almost disappear into the mud, as if swallowed by the earth.
At this point Alex and Maz were concerned about their truck, not only did it have to carry them for another 8 months but also experience has shown them this kind of driving breaks things and costs a fortune to get fixed, a fortune they donít have. Knowing this we cautiously carried on, but no surprise to anyone, we grounded almost instantly and there we stayed. By now, we were an experienced winch team, and jumped into action, mud everywhere and tensions rising we dragged the truck up the hill, hour after hour we fought to drag the truck along the track. We reached the top believing that we had conquered the challenge only to see the pits and ruts ahead. No question, we canít get across there, or weíll break something. So we licked our wounds, grabbed the kit and abandoned the truck in the jungle for the night. After watching the two mud hoppers tear through it, bouncing, jumping and grumbling across, I wondered how the hell tracks get so deep, destroyed and impassable. The answer was simple.
At the end of the tracks was a ranger station which was to be our base for the night. On our arrival, our dreams of a remote quiet jungle were dashed to be greeted by over 30 monster trucks and 50 drunken singing Thai motor heads. They were the Black Bison 4x4 off road club of Bangkok, one of many clubs in the large Thai sport. The guys had got to the track before us and tore it to bits, which I suppose is their aim and their fun.
Not sure why but where ever I go, the weird seem to find me, every group or meeting the one weird character seems to home in on me and want to talk. So here the only gay in the jungle for 100 miles decided to shake my hand and not let go. I know this trick so I started shaking, he carried on and after nearly 30 seconds I started to turn and walk, but my hand was still being held by him and he started to walk with me! Umm how do I get out of this without upsetting 50 madmen in the middle of the jungle, not an easy conundrum. But salvation came in the form of rain, and my quick romance was over. Tents out and being food for the local insect population we talked the night out and retired to bed.
The next morning, was an abrupt wakening at 6:30 by the sound of half the club leaving and tearing up the now impassable track. Engines revving in the red and tyres burning trying to get a small bit of traction on the liquid mud slick. Hour after hour we watched them tear through the track, keeping in the back of my mind that we had to get up there some how too. We walked, past the broken and destroyed Black Bison trucks that littered the way, being welded and beaten back into working order. We then arrived back at the cruiser, happy to see that itís in one piece and then thinking of the daunting prospect of having to get the truck down the tracks we dragged it up. So after hours of winching, mud, sweat and beers we passed the deep rut section and stood back and watched the bison group speed pass. An impressive sight 20 huge trucks covered in liquid mud driving past with little Thai men smiling out the window. Itís true what women say, boys never grow up.
We made it back to Youthhís farm for the night and had another wonderful meal cooked by Tuey and Ae and chilled out talking about our days challenges. The next morning we decided enough was enough and took easier tracks to Mai Kamin waterfall. These roads were heading back to Bangkok and back to the repair shop for the cruiser, with a need to repair and replace the side steps that were removed by the mud over the last few days activities. It really was a great adventure and an experience that canít be found anywhere else, so my thanks go to the 4x4 Jungle Trekker Holidays team.
Jungle Trekker Holidays were really pleased to help our expedition and very kindly made an excellent donation of 150ukp to our charity CARE International. With every kind donation like this from the great people we meet on the road, slowly but surely we are creeping ever closer to our 25,000ukp target, so a BIG thank you goes out to all at Jungle Trekker Holidays for your generous donation.
We were planning to head on to Pattaya, but with the need to get the truck fixed and collect the plethora of Towns broken equipment also being fixed in the city we stayed with Richard and Tuey who very kindly let us stay at their stunning house for 2 more nights. It felt like we have been amongst the towers of Bangkok for too long and it was now time to leave. With our goodbyes we headed to the coast and the south, with the dream of sun. We had not managed to meet up with Martin, but it sounded like he had his hands full with a cheeky dive bunny on Koh Tao, we never found out his name.
I never realised and I know that friends and readers could never know what itís actually like on this trip. The one thing that hits you is that itís not a holiday, not a break and certainly not relaxing. Itís an adventure that takes time to plan, organise and put into action. Itís an awesome one off experience that can be found in no other manner; I know Martin and Alex & Maz have very different reasons for the trip and manner in which they complete it. Either way the group spends very little time with back packers or on the classic tourist routes. It can be a lonely existence sometimes and frustrating, with constant pressures of Ďwhatís nextí and the web site. It would be no lie to say that Alex and Maz spend at least 4 hours a day on web, pictures or planning every single day of the trip. I write this not to bring any sympathy, but rather a realistic expectation and respect for the little things.
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|Comment from Scooter & family|
|Well, Max if its the little things that matter thanks for the web site so that we can join in too, like wise Alex, Maz and Martin|
|30 Jul 2006 @ 21:11:10|