Cape York & into Asia via Timor-Leste, Indonesia, etc

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by The Bigfella, Nov 10, 2011.

  1. AusStealth

    AusStealth Bohican

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    Don't underestimate the pollution. Thailand currently only generates PM10 particle figures, but I suspect from other figures I've seen that the PM2.5 levels are horrendous in the whole region and seriously life threatening.
  2. The Bigfella

    The Bigfella Big Adventurer

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    Someone commented the other day that Thailand isn't updating the figures at present.
  3. AusStealth

    AusStealth Bohican

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    I think that was me. They are updating again, but 'Thainess' means they are selective (and creative) in their figures.

    Across the Laos border in China this is the nearest reporting station.

    Jinghong Jiangbei, Xishuangbanna AQI: Jinghong Jiangbei, Xishuangbanna Real-time Air Quality Index (AQI).
    142 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups
    Updated on Friday 18:00

    Current Last 2 days
    PM2.5 AQI 142 142

    http://aqicn.org/city/china/xishuangbannazhou/jinghongshijiangbei/

    A mate in Chiang Mai reports the viz at around 800 metres this afternoon.
  4. The Bigfella

    The Bigfella Big Adventurer

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    Shit... 800 metres. I think Auke and I will be on planes out of there once we drop the gear.

    Here's the view from Phongsaly, about 8:45am

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    That's from 500 metres above the stupa at the bottom of the shot. No de-hazing. I guessed it was aroun 3 - 4 km as we drove out. I think it was worse in the city because of all the wood-fired cooking. We were both breathing easier up at the stupa... which is a fair bit higher than the town.

    In Oudomxay this evening. The sun was actually a giant dull red orb to the naked eye. This was up at the stupa here... but only just above it because there's an airport off to the left. Not much traffic at it.

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    Neither of us are enjoying the headaches or swollen, itchy eyes.
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  5. The Bigfella

    The Bigfella Big Adventurer

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    I'm back in Thailand, at Chiang Kong, on the banks of the Mekong. Curtains drawn back, waiting for the sunrise over the river. It's just the lights of Huay Xay at present.

    On the way from Oudomxay yesterday, we went the extra 20km to revisit Boten, the border town to China to see how much it's changed. I visited in August 2012, on the Super Enduro, when it was pretty much a ghost town. I got to the 4km mileage market in 2014, when the 570 EXC seized. Much has changed. Laos had shut it down when it was developing into a Casino / bright lights town. It's now being developed again into a more family / shopping oriented location. I'll do up some stills later. Here's a quick fly over and let's call it a look into China. The gold pagoda-like building is part of the Laos border post, then we get to China.

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  6. The Bigfella

    The Bigfella Big Adventurer

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    We made it back to Chiang Mai yesterday afternoon. The haze across the Mekong at Chiang Kong, where we spent the night, was 'orrible. We caught up with an American friend there, and his wife... for coffee, which became beers, which became dinner at our guesthouse on the banks of the 'Kong. He did backpacking duty over this way in the mid 60's... finished up with 3 months in hospital and a free pass home in about May '68... before returning via the Pacific and settling in Thailand. He tells me the grenade in one of my photos is the same as what sent him home. Ex WW2 stuff. The NVA had the pineapple style, the US ones were smooth-skinned but more deadly. He and his wife do a lot of back country riding over here.

    We diverted via the Golden Triangle, which is developing a bit of a crassness to it these days. I flew past both the Myanmar and Laos casino sites and discovered that the camera hadn't engaged when I thought I'd pressed the button. I just did a quick loop on the remaining battery... short of both casinos. This starts on the Thai side, clips the green point of Myanmar over the small river, crosses the Mekong to Laos and then returns to the Thai side. I have actuall de-hazed it a bit so that you can see something. The smoke is diabolical.

  7. The Bigfella

    The Bigfella Big Adventurer

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    I'm going to be able to use the smoke as an excuse to stay inside and process some photos and videos. My flight back to Oz is in three weeks... and, ahem, I've got a 2 week visa on arrival, due to arriving by land.... so I'll either extend it or do a one day excursion into Myanmar from Mae Sai.

    My computer is working overtime though... I've been asked for some more footage for a video production and a documentary. I'm working those damn Dropbox servers to death at present.... Should point out, there's no money involved. I'd prefer to see the footage get out there and hopefully encourage people to ride.

    Got some feedback that my short video over the site of the US Air Force disaster in March '68 has been sent on to some interesting people.... the author of a book on the battle thought it was terrific and it's been sent through to the POW-MIA organisation in the US, who are currently interviewing survivors of the battle, and they'll use it in those interviews, I'm told. There's still quite a number of MIA to be recovered.
  8. The Bigfella

    The Bigfella Big Adventurer

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    We'd been thinking the election this weekend might have been one of the reasons for the high troop visibility. It seems it was more than that. Just saw this posted elsewhere by someone in the know.

    "During this past week were two more events. A shooting of cars on the highway near Phou Khoune, Luang Prabang turn off (Hwy 13) that resulted in a couple of deaths. Police then had a shoot out with baddies, supposedly dressed Moslem style, at Nam Chat (Hwy 7, approx 70-80km west of Phonsavanh). Four captured and one baddie killed."

    We went along that highway a few weeks back. We started to really notice the army presence when we got to Pak Mong, then through to Oudomxay, Boten and across to Huay Xay. I was keeping myself amused checking out all the different footwear. It was interesting to see that a lot of the armed guys weren't wearing any uniform... which makes it a bit hard for the casual visitor to determine the good guys from the baddies. I didn't really go for photos of the guys not wearing uniforms, just in case...

    Some were in party mode, it seems

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  9. The Bigfella

    The Bigfella Big Adventurer

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    I've sorted out a little bit of that footage over the former US Air Force bombing guidance site at Phou Pha Thi, in NE Laos. I'd uploaded it yesterday without posting it... didn't like it... went back today and hacked it down in size and rendered it a bit higher. The dry season is "challenging".

    Auke's made the point "most people wouldn't have a clue what this is" when I mention this site... and he's right, as usual, so, some background.

    The US Air Force's TACAN site (and other bits of gear) was bombing guidance equipment installed on a very isolated mountain in NE Laos and was a crucial component in the air war against North Vietnam. It shouldn't have been there, of course, given the Geneva Accord of 1962.... but it was, as were the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), who also weren't supposed to be there. It was located only 25 miles from the Pathet Lao (communist) HQ, about the same distance from the North Vietnamese border... and crucially, was just 165 miles from Hanoi. The closer to the target for this guidance system, the better.

    Overall, this site guided 25% of bombing missions over North Vietnam... allowing the dropping of bombs in all weather, by remote control... and in the last couple of months before the site fell on March 11, 1968, it was guiding over 50% of missions. When if fell, it cost the USA 55 dead - 13 American and 42 Thai / Hmong. It was the US Air Force's largest loss of ground troops during the Vietnam (and wider Indochina) War. 12 of the Americans were MIA. In a string of MIA recovery operations since 1994, 3 have been retrieved, including the base commander's body. It was lost due to appalling command decisions. The Major running the site (from Thailand) went over a General's head to try and save the operators... and managed to overturn the stupidity of the Ambassador and General... but the rescue mission arrived a day too late.

    Some of my drone footage of Phou Pha Thi has already gone through to the US MIA HQ back in the USA and I'm told is to be used in a current round of survivor interviews. I wish I'd been able to get more... but the 500 metre ceiling from takeoff point nobbled me there. I was also flying over a mile away... and didn't have the best flying conditions.

    The second scene... with the map and the Google Earth image. That map was the NVA's attack map. They had the defences well mapped and they attacked up the cliff face.

    At about the 1:25 mark, it seems I got lucky. I was pretty close to what seems to be an army base.... and someone came out. Glad he didn't have a shottie in his hands.

    Incidentally, the last scene in that video also needs some explanation. It's a CIA-commissioned painting of an action that occurred before the site was lost. The CIA's intelligence on NVA and Pathet Lao knowledge of the site was excellent. The NVA constructed a road to bring equipment in to attack the site... and the USAF air raids in defence of the site peaked at 45 missions one day. The Ambassador (Sullivan) who meddled in ops prevented decent defences... but that's another story.

    On January 12, 1968, four antique Soviet planes, An-2 biplanes (I've posted photos of one from Dubai at one stage)... attacked the site. Four came in, two peeled off and launched the only ever North Vietnamese Air Force attack on ground troops of the war (or so I'm told) - using 57mm wing-mounted rockets and dropping 120mm mortar bombs through a hole in the floor. A CIA chopper was inbound on a supply mission... an un-armed civilian version of the Huey. The pilot saw the bi-planes (and the base had radioed a message along the lines of "we're being attacked by f......g WW1 planes"). Ground fire shot one down, the faster chopper overhauled another and a crew member shot it down with small arms fire. The remaining two scarpered.

  10. goodcat

    goodcat Changing latitudes, altitudes and attitudes

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    Great footage and landscape as well as the story to go with it.
    But all I could think about was how great those dirt roads would be to bike on :jack
  11. davesupreme

    davesupreme grand poobah

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    can you imagine if we had that drone and a GPS in 1968 ?

    great stuff, as usual!!....
  12. The Bigfella

    The Bigfella Big Adventurer

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    Thanks guys. Yes the roads are interesting, but we saw a hell of a lot that's changing. Some of the roads I've done on this trip were dirt when I did them in 2012... now they are tar. There's massive amounts of dirt being moved every day in Laos as roads are improved. It isn't great for the dirt bike riders, but life is hell in some of those dusty villages.

    Re technology, back in the day. I recall reading the story of Hamburger Hill (in Vietnam) and watching some footage on it. It marked a change in strategy for the west, from manpower to firepower. Reading a bit more about this TACAN site and the Ho Chi Minh Trail, after the capture of the site and Lima Site 85, that area contained the greatest concentration of troops in SE Asia. I believe the North Vietnamese commander, Giap, later said that if the US had sent ground troops into Laos - even in relatively small numbers, the north would have lost the war. But enough of the war for a while. How about some smiling ladies?

    I think I mentioned earlier, there's cultural sensitivities about photographs in the Hill Tribes... stealing the soul and all that. I don't take close-ups without asking. I got lucky, so to speak, heading down from Phongsaly. I'd stopped a few times, with more knockbacks than results, but found a group of people headed to a community meeting. Auke and I talked about it later. It was one of those things where if you were trying to do a trip like this by bus.... you'd miss it. No chance of stopping. Travelling by bike is the ultimate. Time to stop and smell the roses? Well, stop. The luck? I asked the guys at the meeting if I could come in and take some photos.... Smiles and yes.... something that the ladies then complied with.

    These ladies are Akha. An animist society with strong spirit beliefs. They prefer to move their villages every couple of years, but the government is trying to pin them down. Some of their practices have been modified in recent years. Up until about 20 years ago, if you were born a twin here, you and the other twin would have been killed at birth.

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  13. goodcat

    goodcat Changing latitudes, altitudes and attitudes

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    Great pics
    I actually have one of those head dresses from the hill tribe when I was there.
    Very nice people to be around
    But I don't remember any amounts of bad smog like you're experiencing....and that was only 3yrs ago I was there.
    Where is all the pollution coming from and how are you doing with it? Health wise I mean Bf
  14. The Bigfella

    The Bigfella Big Adventurer

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    The smog is seasonal. Has been marginally better the last couple of days, but I do have sore eyes.... and I'm largely indoors at present.

    The smoke is from slash and burn farming techniques. There's been a massive increase in demand for corn for ethanol production... all petrol in Thailand now contains ethanol... and so they are clearing large amounts of land to produce it. Ironically, the smoke is because of renewable energy. There's been similar problems further south (Sumatra) and east (Borneo / Sarawak) I believe, in relation to clearing land for palm oil production. There's lots of peat swamps that have been burning there... very smoky, very nasty.

    Pressure is building on the countries where the burning is going on. We saw plenty of it, btw.

    Did I post this pic? The morning view across the Mekong the other day.

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    I noticed a similar moon last night, in Chiang Mai.

    This is what causes it... saw plenty of these small fires

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    ... and some big ones, up in the steep mountains. Possible that these are lightning strikes, as there's a lot of dead foliage (as can be seen in the last video I posted).... but somehow, I suspect it's slash and burn

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    Left of centre... big fire burning. Saw several others up there. Note the construction workers camp to the right.... tarp over a pole

    Bonus hill tribe pics I found while looking for the fire. This girl was in Sam Neua (the former Pather Lao HQ) where there's a Hill Tribes boarding school

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  15. goodcat

    goodcat Changing latitudes, altitudes and attitudes

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    Thanks for explaining Bf
  16. The Bigfella

    The Bigfella Big Adventurer

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    Holy crap, that smoke was bad yesterday. I stepped out in the afternoon, to go get breakfast... stepped straight back in and got out my dust mask. Rode out to Mae Rim for a beer or two with some fellow riders last night... had a funny voice by the time I got there (about a 20 minute ride). Ugly. I heard that the smoke level was in the 400 range, but didn't see it online myself. Same person told me the safe limit is regarded as 40 in the Netherlands.

    Here's another drone video. It's at a place that was called The Alamo by the Americans during the Second Indochina War. It was an airstrip, originally built by the French, then taken over by the CIA / Air America during the secret war. It was one of the most important of the Lima Sites... and was Lima Site 36. It was the refueling base for flights into LS 85, the TACAN / TSQ-81 base. To get here, we drove northeast from Luang Prabang for a day to a place formerly called Vieng Thong. It's now known as Muang Hiam. We did the delightful ridge road that I rode on the 570 EXC in May '14, then turned right once we hit the potholed, but sealed Route 1C. I'll post up some photos of that soon, but first, Lima Site 36. We treated that as a separate day ride, the next day.

    Unlike Lima Sites 20A and 85, LS-36 is one where tourism is encouraged. It's hard to understand the logic behind what's encouraged and what's not. LS-20A, Long Chieng / Long Cheng / Long Tien.... or any other spelling variant you may want to use, is closed to outsiders again. That's apparently due to the shootings / bombings, but may have been fueled for years by a desire to not give any air to the mention of Vang Pao, the general who led the fight against the Pathet Lao. LS-85 has no such issue... and there's no shootings / bombings going on there. The sensitivity is an unknown, but for anyone considering going there, do so with the understanding that some riders have been warned off, another was detained... and no-one has had a welcome mat put out for them. We weren't stopped, but we didn't go up to them and ask permission either.

    btw... another shooting occurred on Wednesday night this week. This was on the main road between Vientiane and Luang Prabang.... a major tourist road. The US Embassy has banned their staff from using it and has issued warnings.

    The target was a Chinese tourist bus and 6 on board were injured. A Lao pickup driver behind the bus was killed.

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    ... but back to LS-36. There's even a tourist sign in Muang Hiam, pointing the way. With no mount for the GPS, I whacked it into the tank bag and pulled it out a few times to check the turnoffs. There's only a couple and its 27 km or so to the village near the old strip. Auke followed me in the Hilux, not knowing if he'd get through. We'd been told the road was really bad and that he probably wouldn't. As it turned out, it was a doddle... a 3 or 4 out of 10. A bit of bulldust, a bit of slippery stuff, lots of bumps and a few ruts and things.

    I was gapping Auke, but not by much... and I stopped to take photos, letting him catch up. I was riding with the DSLR around my neck, which I don't often do, normally just using the point and shoot. The combination of the DSLR, the drone backpack... and the lack of my Giant Loop bag under the drone pack to take the weight, didn't work well... it wasn't long term sustainable, but that's life. This was a day trip, after all.

    We stopped in Ban Na Kout, about 3km from the old airstrip and asked a guy if someone could show us to the howitzer. I had a photo of it, to make things easier. Showed him the photo on the iPad... he called the kids and we were off.... me on the bike, Auke and 9 kids in the 4 x 4.

    A friend had been to this site a couple of times and the second time, tried to find the howitzer on his own. He got a bit spooked and gave up when he realised he didn't know which side of the guide markers he should be on. There's one in the photo below, in the left, lower foreground.

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    We've got the GPS co-ords for the howitzer now... but they aren't for handing out. Anyone going there should do what we did... hire a local. We gave the kids double what we could have because we ended up on site for a lot longer than expected after a US MIA team flew in... we gave them 100,000 (about US$12) and I also gave the kid who packed the drone for me another 10,000. They were ecstatic.

    There's not much point flying the drone in there, so we sent it up back on the strip. I'd forgotten the iPad cable for the first time ever... and because it was a day trip... it was back in town at the hotel. I flew using the smartphone... so didn't have much visibility. Not long after launching, the kids started yabbering. There was a chopper coming in. I got out of the air in a hurry, but there wasn't much more to see.



    I'm guessing that not many American soldiers have landed on this strip since it was lost for the final time on March 1, '69.... and even back then, the personnel who did come in were 'sheep dipped' (nominally civilian). Ironic that they should be flying in on a Russian chopper... this one's an Mi-17

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    I had a chat to one of the American soldiers with the MIA team. No go for a look. Doing some investigating, we believe it's a chopper that may have fallen off a ridge, back in the day. They are recovering the remains of the pilot now.
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  17. The Bigfella

    The Bigfella Big Adventurer

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    Just as a matter of interest.... the caps on these mortar rounds? I'm presuming that they are still live. Anyone know? The grenade looks a bit nasty

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    The locals are quite aware of the issues here. The area's NOT cleared of UXO, beyond visual surface clearance. These have been left near the howitzer to impress the rare visitors, like us...

    The village is littered with old bombs, a bit of a helicopter, etc. They had a disaster there 8 years ago... a bomb went off in the village and ten people were killed, with many more injured. Other casualties have occurred with agriculture, etc. It isn't the sort of place to drive in a tent peg, or to light a camp fire.
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  18. The Bigfella

    The Bigfella Big Adventurer

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    A couple of photos of LS-36 back in the day.

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    There's a couple of Jolly Greens, a Caribou, another chopper and more there. The apparent rubbish is old fuel drums

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  19. The Bigfella

    The Bigfella Big Adventurer

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    Auke, with the assistance of a friend who was Air America / Bird Aviation, back in the day, thinks he knows which aircraft the MIA team was recovering crew from.

    The TACAN site at LS-36 became pretty important after the fall of LS-85, but it didn't last much longer itself.

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    Below is an extract of the report by Sgt. Donald Deidrich who might have been on the helicopter to LS 36 and the TACAN but who stayed behind in Udon Thani

    The US had several TACAN (radar) stations in Laos during the IndoChina war and one of these was located about 1.5 km. to the east of LS 36 and was built in 1968. The unit needed from time time maintenance and repairs and generally the technicians were flown from the Udon Thani RTAFB to the TACAN sites in Laos. In January 1969, 3 men were sent from the 1st Mobile Communications Group (1st Mob) in the Philippines to the Udon Thani RTAFB in Thailand consisting of Sgt. Juan A. Maldonado (team chief), Sgt. Bill Chambers III and Sgt. Donald Deidrich. The team were to train some personnel of the 1973 Communication Squadron based at the Udon Thani RTAFB and repair the TACAN at LS-36 but when they arrived in Thailand they found that another man, in country, from the 1st Mob. had repaired the TACAN at LS-36.

    While in Udon Thani one of the Jolly Green Giants of the 20th SOS Pony Express left for LS 36 with 5 crew members, 3 passengers and 10 barrels of diesel fuel. They arrived at LS-36 and found that Gene Hughey who was in charge of LS 36 for Air America was on a mission and they would have to wait for the return of the Huey UH-1. It was decided to fly the CH-3 to the TACAN site even-though there was a restriction on landing anything bigger than a UH-1 at the site as the heli-pad was very small and the winds were unpredictable. During the landing the chopper rolled forward and went over the edge of the hill (almost a cliff ) tipped over and exploded. Three people were thrown/jumped clear and all three were injured and evacuated back to Udon Thani and then to the Philippines but the fate of the rest of the crew and passengers was not known.


    Note LR: Between January 1 and May 15, 1969, some 34 Lima Sites including LS 36 fell in the hands of the Pathet Lao and this may be the reason why at that time no efforts were made to recover the remains.

    ...........

    Here's a couple more photos from around Ban Na Kout, the village near the strip. This one shows a bit of the progression in building materials... some old fuel drum ends, mixed with more modern sheeting, a traditional timber building with thatch roof, another with some modern cladding.... and finally, modern bricks being used.

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    Plenty of bombs still in the village, presumable made safe, given the explosion in 2008 that killed ten and injured many more

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    This piece looked more like a helicopter tail boom to me. Bombie containers in the foreground

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    Fuel drums doing duty now as a rabbit hutch

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    One of the Tai Phuan women, who I bought some weaving from, showing her traditional tight hair bun, which she checked before allowing me to take the photo

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    Sharpening fence posts

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    When we were heading back, I split off from Auke - happily leaving him with the drone - and went to explore some other villages in the area. The bridges weren't the best

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    You can get too blase about them. I hit one at about 40kph and then had a think about the nature of hospitals in the region and slowed down for them after that.

    A 600 year old temple... bombed to smithereens in '66

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  20. The Bigfella

    The Bigfella Big Adventurer

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    Thailand wouldn't let me leave today. I'd hired a Suzuki VStrom and tried for a day pass to Burma at Mae Sai. Nope, too many land border crossings this trip. Photos later, as I'm travelling light.

    Had lunch at Cabbages and Condoms. Now in the Rim Kok Resort, with a woman at my feet.

    Big WHEEE earlier. Hit an oil slick. Saw it in time to get ready and stayed upright.