Friday, 5 May 2017

Sorry, cannot.


Upon arrival at the border we were met by two border guards who looked carefully at our bike ownership papers before conferring between themselves. After a brief discussion one turned to us and said 'Sorry, cannot. You cannot go to Laos'. Slightly confused as we knew Malaysian plated bikes could enter Laos, they pointed to our bikes and said 'No bikes less than 250cc. New law. Cannot.' 

Apparently a mere ten days before our arrival an old law banning bikes under 250cc, the result of a feud between Thailand and Laos immigration, had been reinstated and was being strictly enforced. We had a back and forth discussion but it soon became clear that they would not let us cross. Sitting on the grass outside the border office, a little stunned that our plans had been derailed, we did some asking around online and found that it was unlikely that we'd be allowed to cross at any of the closest crossings either. Our only possibility, and a very slim one at that, was the furthest away crossing to the south. Given that it was several days ride to get there, we decided our best course of action was to return to Malaysia in the limited days we had left. At least this would allow us to confront our paperwork issues at the same border crossing that allowed us to enter in the first place. Feeling more than a little dejected we about-turned and began to ride south.

It's really hard to keep your morale high when travelling as we do. When I tell people about all the amazing experiences we've had it's easy for people to think that every minute of a trip like this is incredible, but it's not. It's hard work moving continuously, being in a new place virtually every night and having to work out where everything is. Setbacks like this really dull the mood for a period and this was no exception. 

We rode south, still not entirely sure we wouldn't change our mind and try and cross in the south. Near nightfall we found ourselves in Phayao and found a little guesthouse by the lake. A pretty little town right by the water, we found a nice night market where we ate Takoyaki balls and pork satay. We also found a post office where we sent home a parcel of some thing we'd been unable to resist buying in the market a couple of days earlier. 

The next night found us in a motel full of local workers in Chai Nat where we unwisely bought far too much food in the local market and couldn't finish even half of it. At this point we were just riding all day for as long as we could bear before stopping for the night. Realising that this wasn't fun and that we shouldn't continue like this we made a conscious effort to get our adventure back on course.
























Having missing it on our earlier visit to Bangkok we detoured slightly through some pretty countryside to visit the Jesada Tecknik museum, a private collection of all manner of vehicles including the Great Yarmouth Routemaster bus we'd seen ferrying mourners to the palace on our previous visit to the city. A fascinating place with plenty of cars and motorbikes we'd never seen before, nor even heard of, we spent a few hours wandering around.

At an outlying site Evan squeezed through a barrier into an area that was fenced off to go and look at an enormous earth-moving truck. Suddenly he started flapping his arms around as if trying to fight something off. Curious, I went to see what was bothering him only to find a small, very angry bird about the size of a small chicken was flapping and scratching at his face, repeatedly jumping up and aiming for his face. Funny at first, it clearly wasn't going to give up, so he looked somewhat relieved when a man appeared from out of nowhere and grabbed the bird, restraining it while it continued to squawk. With no common language it was hard to know what he said to us, but I think the gist of it was that the bird had a nest under the truck and was protecting it. We beat a hasty retreat.

Despite looking extensively online, we've not been  able to identify the bird despite both of use having a feeling we've seen it in a kids story book at some point. It was black and white with long legs like a wader, a short stocky body and a long, pointy beak. Unfortunately I was too busy laughing to think about taking a photo of it.






















Having read about the street art in Ratchaburi, we were disappointed to arrive there to find that the murals along the waterfront had fallen victim to a redevelopment plan that was in full swing. Recently covered over with fresh concrete as part of the construction of a new promenade, few traces remained. We weren't disappointed further down the road though with a visit to an old factory covered in graffiti in Hua Hin before continuing onwards back to Prachuap Kiri Khan.
























From this point south the quality of driving on the roads deteriorated sharply. Maybe being a little tired from riding long days didn't help, but for the last few days we spent in Thailand every day we made it to our destination I felt relieved and somewhat lucky. We witnessed several crashes, one involving a large truck that I can't imagine didn't result in fatalities. Further along the same road we passed a three car pile up where one of the trucks involved was carrying macaques tethered to the bars on the back.

Later on while riding through roadworks for miles a large truck literally pushed Evan off the side of the road. Luckily for him the drop was only a couple of feet which he tackled Great Escape style, landing somehow on his wheels before rejoining the road further ahead. In other places along that road the consequences of that would have been unimaginable.

After pleasant enough stops in Surat Thani and Songkhla we at last found ourselves nearing the border with a mixture of anxiety at having to negotiate our paperwork issues and possible fines, and relief at finally being able to get the hell out of Thailand.










Upon arrival at the border we were surprised to find it was fairly busy. The way it works there is that you ride through to the other side first and then go back and deal with all the paperwork on foot. This was good because that meant our bikes would already be on the Malaysian side, making it harder for Thai border officers to hold them ransom.

Walking up to the import permit cancellation desk we found the window closed. Abruptly it opened and we were greeted by an officer holding his lunch in one hand, clearly keen that we move along as soon as possible. I handed in my paperwork and he went to close the window. Evan stopped him and tried to explain that he didn't have his paper to return, to which the guard waved his hand dismissively and said 'Go to Malaysia'. We didn't wait to be told twice. One 10,000 baht fine avoided.

At the passport stamping-out window we quietly merged into a group of white western coach passengers who were queuing and held our breath. Without a word our exit stamps were given, our passports returned and no questions asked about the absent TM2 forms as obviously they didn't realise we were on bikes. Literally skipping, we returned to our bikes, jumped on and rode away as quickly as we could. Finally luck was on our side!

****

I cannot recall ever having been so eager to leave a country as I was Thailand. I know from what I have written in my last few posts that it probably doesn't sound too bad, but that's because I've tried to focus on the positive experiences we had. However, underlying and infused into all these experiences was a very real dislike aimed at us by the local people we met. This wasn't in just a couple of areas, it was pretty much everywhere we went. That's not to say we didn't meet some friendly people too of course, but when we did it stood out as the exception rather than the norm.

We were met with hostility and downright rudeness on so many occasions that we came to expect it and eventually accepted it as standard. On more than one occasion we were deliberately ignored by waiting staff in cafes and restaurants despite politely asking to be served. I understand that Thailand has been ravaged by disrespectful tourists for a very long time now, but what it has become is not acceptable and has to change. It seems changes are afoot; stricter rules on visa runs to prevent foreigners living in the country for long periods have been recently introduced. Something clearly has to change and until it does I have absolutely no desire to return there.


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