For the New Year’s holiday, I travelled north to the rural town of Phi Chit. I like Phi Chit, it’s a warm and sleepy sort of town way up in Rice Country where the people are relaxed but the living ain’t easy. But, it’s also 500Km away from the equally warm but far less sleepy district of Lak Si, the place that I call ‘home’ when I’m here in Thailand. I really ought to have taken the VIP bus with its reclining seats, air conditioning and flat screen TV, but because I’m me, I decided to ride there instead. For a small Scooter, the Tiger Retro coped unreasonably well with the journey, but the rider failed miserably. I hate to admit it, but my joints aren’t as supple as they used to be and the ergonomics of the diminutive Tiger puts my feet far too close to my arse for comfort. I should really take a daily dose of cod liver oil, or something else that’s supposed to combat arthritis, but I don’t, and my recovery times are starting to increase, dramatically. I must be crazy for not taking the bus, or the train, or maybe I’m just too broke or mean to buy a more appropriate style of motorcycle. To be honest, I think that in a secret non kinky kind of way, I actually enjoy the being alive feeling that the pain induces. Anyway, as soon as I’d returned to Bangkok in early January, I decided to turn around and ride up to Chiang Mai for the 2014 Horizons Unlimited travellers meeting.
Chiang Mai is around 800Km to the north of Bangkok, but taking the scenic route stretches that to just over a thousand. I could’ve booked a $20 flight with Air Asia, just like my more sensible better-half, but I didn’t. I just changed the oil in the Tiger, rubbed some liniment into my wounded hips and knees, fastened the bamboo baskets to the rear carrier, and starting riding north.
I’ll spare you the drama, of which there was thankfully very little, but two days after leaving Bangkok I arrived at Rider’s Corner in Chiang Mai with an urgent need for cold beer and a pair of replacement metal hips. I tell you, Tiger’s can do some serious damage to an old man like me.
Of all the Horizons Unlimited meetings that I’ve attended, Chiang Mai‘s probably my favourite gathering. The people tend to be locals, riders with some serious knowledge on the best local riding trails or serious travellers who are partway through their own amazing journeys. And, I don’t mind telling you, both groups certainly have a penchant for drinking beer and chewing that overland fat.
Wandering around the Rider’s Corner car park, not really to inspect the metal, but more as a form of exercise designed to keep my seizing joints in motion, I spotted a familiar looking motorcycle. At first glance I’d thought that it was ‘Dorothy’: Nathan Millward’s Australian Postal Bike that he famously rode back to England, but I was wrong. It was a Postal Bike fitted with a similar looking Honda XR fuel tank, but this one belonged to Robin Thomas, an Australian making his overland way to absolutely nowhere in particular. I have to admit, I do like that sort of journey. You’re a free spirit with no fixed destination or timetable, so you’re always on time and you never get lost.
The most travelled motorcycle in attendance was a 750cc Africa Twin from Russia, via almost everywhere. It’s difficult to say where he’d been, or more economically where he hadn’t been, but I can say without fear of contradiction that it was widest motorcycle that I’ve ever seen. Its ample rear end features prominently in the second photograph above ... The wide one to the right.
The best thing about the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Chiang Mai is the beer fuelled camaraderie and Rider’s Corner’s amazing food, but the worst thing is the end of it all. It’s always sad to say goodbye to friends, but when you’re looking at another thousand kilometres on a Tiger Retro it brings additional tears to the eye.
In 2013, I’d returned to Bangkok in one long and very painful journey, a metric Iron Butt, but lessons had been learnt the hard way and this time it would be slightly more sedate. With the baskets filled with bags of tasty pork scratchings, a story that’s far too long to tell here, I rose early and started riding south. For some reason I never get punctures when I’m heading north, but I seem to make up for it when I’m heading south. The photograph above was the second puncture of the day. Luckily I’d wobbled to a halt right next to a tyre fitting shop, but unluckily, it was closed. Doubly unlucky, the local dogs were very much attracted by the smell of pork scratchings and did their very best to hamper my already unprofessional tyre changing skills.
Thankfully, the other two punctures both happened within short pushing distances of a tyre fitter and on both occasions my energy was saved. Next year I’ll go back to the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Chiang Mai, but I fear that the Tiger Retro won’t be joining me. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the cute little thing, but unless my legs shrink in the next twelve months, I’ll be looking for a slightly taller ride..... or an air ticket. Mai pen rai kap