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Welcome to Laos

I’m going to try to get caught up with some old blog posts.  I’m really just going to show some pictures and share some of the reflections I have now.. Unfortunately a blog is much better if done real time.. but I was too busy to update as I was riding too much.  Usually I take notes about each day, so I’m using those notes to reconstruct events as they may have happened.

Laos!!!!

After spending so much time in Thailand, I am quite nervous to check out a new country.  Though it is more of an excited nervousness than a scared nervousness.  After all, this is South East Asia… and everything is relaxed here.

I’m riding with John and Kelly (John from UK, Kelly from Australia).  They’re on a mammoth GS with a reinforced frame.  The bike is nice and shiney new, even though it is a 1150.  We arrive at the border during lunch time and the station is abandoned.  We take the opportunity to go and get lunch ourselves and have a final spicy dish from Thailand.

The officials arrive at the border and everything goes smoothly.  They check out my temporary import permit and stamp my passport without causing any problems or charging any fees.  We lined up for the ferry and paid 200 baht ($6.6 USD)  for the crossing.

This is my first overland border crossing in South East Asia and things are looking very different.  There was no chaos.. no one trying to exchange money or offer hotel “tips”… no helpers.  If the rest of the trip is going to be like this, I am in for a treat.

All smiles at the Thai Border with Laos

Loaded fuel trucks load the ferry to cross the Mekong

I'm loaded up and ready to cross Mekong

First glimps of the Lao People's Democratic Republic

The Laos side of the border crossing wasn’t as friendly.  There was no unofficial chaos like in Latin America, but I got a wiff of some official corruption as the fees were higher here than at other borders that John and Kelly crossed into Laos.

We had to pay 40,000 Laos Kip ($5) for bike paperwork, 20,000 kip($2.50) for bike “entry”, and 5000($0.62) kip to get our passport stamped.  The only fee that John had seen before was 20,000 Laos Kip for paperwork for the bike.  I also had to purchase insurance for the bike to legally drive in Laos.

I’ll let the photo captions take over….

HOT HOT HOT. This dish was almost too spicy for me. It is Larb. Check out the wikipedia page for more info about Laos Cuisine

Tractor full of brooms. Life is very different here in Laos.

Laos "communism" at its best.

Lots of contradictive scenes, just on the opposite side of the Thai border.

Tractor Cruisers

One of the few nice roads outside of the main highway 13.

I met Katrin at the cave. Her and her brother let me join their boat to explore a very long cave. She's here in SE Asia doing bomb disposal for the Swiss military. I tried hard not to make any comments about The Hurt Locker or knives. It was a fun AM!

One of Katrin's photos.

The amazing invisible line that creates borders never ceases to amaze me.  Well, in this case, there is a river, the Mekong.  As soon as you cross the border, you know that you are in a different country.  Laos is a communist country by label, but I didn’t really expect much of a difference.  The red flag sporting the hammer and sikle is everywhere usually accompanying the Laos Flag.  I haven’t seen any recognizable national chains, but I haven’t been to any big cities yet.  So far in my few days of driving around, it seems like there aren’t any.

There are villages after villages.  Cows are grazing on the side of the road next to the kids who are playing in the street.  I really have to watch my speed to make sure that I can always come to a complete stop because there always seems to be something or someone in the way.  Scooters outnumber 4 wheeled vehicles probably 30 to 1.  Surprisingly, most of the vehicles I have seen are newish Toyota pickup trucks.

The people here are easily as friendly and curious as the Thai.  The language spoken here is Laos but it is similar enough to Thai that I just speak DaveThai at them and they seem to know what I mean after about the same number of attempts as it takes back in Thailand.  I understand that Loas is an older and more orignal form of Thai.

For the first couple of days, I was in Central Loas.  Here there are mountains that seem to spring out of nowhere.  They go straight up into the sky to a point.  Laos is amazing.  I’m pretty sure I could spend a lifetime exploring this country.

Singapore Signs

As part of my travels, I see many odd and interesting signs.  Singapore is the king of the obvious and strange when it comes to signs.

Don't shoplift!! Sersiously!!! I'm Pointing at you!!!!!

Don't shoplift!! Sersiously!!! I'm Pointing at you!!!!!

Ahhhh!!!!! Barrier of D E A T H!!!!

Ahhhh!!!!! Barrier of D E A T H!!!!

I'd love to see these signs in the US

I'd love to see these signs in the US

Restricted areas are very serious here. They'll point at you and you have to put your arms up.

Restricted areas are very serious here. They'll point at you and you have to put your arms up.

Danger in 4 languages

Danger in 4 languages

Just a normal bus. If you couldn't tell, buses are long

Just a normal bus. If you couldn't tell, buses are long

Forceful with CAPS but cute with cartoon

Forceful with CAPS but cute with cartoon

From inside of a bus. The steps wouldn't have enough room to stand and read the sign at the same time

From inside of a bus. The steps wouldn't have enough room to stand and read the sign at the same time

Keep it clean!

Keep it clean!

Carefully read the rules for the Taxi. They're pretty good

Carefully read the rules for the Taxi. They're pretty good

Not a warning sign, but I still like it.

Not a warning sign, but I still like it.

Durians and flammable gases.... Very similar

Durians and flamable gases.... Very similiar

Very respectful and safe - Work in progress

Very respectful and safe - Work in progress

No Feeding!!!!!

No Feeding!!!!!

Don't spend too much time reading signs either or you'll get plowed over by the escalator

Don't spend too much time reading signs either or you'll get plowed over by the escalator

Singapore Dream Revisited

Goh & Samantha - Singapore Dream

Goh & Samantha - Singapore Dream

My friends Goh and Samantha stayed at my house while they were on their RTW trip last year. We met in Ushuaia, the tip of South America, during Christmas of 2008. They stayed at my house and my good friends Gary and Heather’s house in Austin while they did some badly needed maintenance on their Africa Twin. I told them that one day I’d come and visit them, which I’m sure they heard many times… but sure enough, I showed up!

They were excellent hosts and really made my trip to Singapore special.

Singapore is a hypermodern city. It is the future. Everything is perfectly clean and orderly. As opposed to the rest of the places I’ve visited in Asia, traffic rules are obeyed. This stretches well beyond speedlimits, but pedestrian traffic. Everyone even waits to cross the road! Crosswalks in Bangkok are a joke!

Their transit system is superior. The public housing system is completely orthaganol to the one in the USA. Public housing in the USA is something that most citizens are afraid to visit. The public housing in Singapore were spotless, crime free, and actually nice. I don’t know what Singapore is doing right and what we’re doing wrong, but we have alot to learn from them with regards to public housing.

Sooo tasty.

Soo tasty.

Food. Food!!! FOOD!!!!!!! The food in Singapore did not let me down. It reminded me of home in that there is no “Singaporean food”, but real singaporean food is collection of the foods of the people who live there. Like at home, we’d sit and discuss, “Which type of food do we want tonight?” In the USA, it is Mexican, Southern, Italian, or French. In Singapore it is Chinese (all types too), Indian, Malaysian (often “Muslim food”), or Western food. I tried all types of cuisines and felt like I was traveling all over Asia and even back home when eating Western Food. I was shocked by how good the western food was in Singapore. I had a really good steak there on my second visit!

Second visit? More on that later.

Samantha took me all over Singapore and was an excellent tour guide while I tortured her by making her speak English constantly. I met up with tons of G&S’s friends and biker buddies. They’re really lucky to have such good friends. I can see why even though they’ve traveled all over the world and seen so many things that they want to return to their little island of Singapore. It is only little in size, but big in friends and culture.

Legendary Singapore ZOO!

Legendary Singapore ZOO!

The worst part about Singapore. Durian fruits are everywhere!!

The worst part about Singapore. Durian fruits are everywhere!! That is a posed smile. They're a nasty and foul fruit.

James treated us to easily the best meal of my trip and one of the best meals of my life. It was a seafood feast ranging from Chili Crab to fried calamari. The 4th frame is from another night out with the biker crew

James (who drove to the base of Mt. Everest on his GS!!) treated us to easily the best meal of my trip and one of the best meals of my life. It was a seafood feast ranging from Chili Crab to fried calamari. The 4th frame is from another night out with the biker crew

Look at all those container ships

Look at all those container ships

Goh Invited me as his guest to his friend's wedding. It was an amazing time that featured shark fin soup. A very special treat... full of crab meat too!

Goh Invited me as his guest to his friend's wedding. It was an amazing time that featured shark fin soup. A very special treat... full of crab meat too!

Fun night out in Singapore

Fun night out in Singapore

Fun night out in Singapore

Fun night out in Singapore

Fun night out in Singapore

Fun night out in Singapore

I returned to Singapore for a second time when my little sister visited me from the USA.  She first flew into Bangkok then we took the train to Chiang Mai.  We then flew to Singapore.  Here’s Singapore part II!

Lauren flew from the USA to visit me!! I've been bad at staying on top of photography, so this is our only picture together during the trip. It was great to see you LMG!

Lauren flew from the USA to visit me!! I've been bad at staying on top of photography, so this is our only picture together during the trip. It was great to see you LMG!

Bone goodness.

My birthday feast of Sup Tulang. Tasty marrow and a tiny bit of meat with a HUGE mess

My birthday feast of Sup Tulang. Tasty marrow and a tiny bit of meat with a HUGE mess. Everything was orange even the next day. Happy 32!!

Shipping from Bangkok to Amsterdam — Part III/III

Shipping is never easy.  There are always surprises even when you use forwarding services who are supposed to “take care of things” for you.  I arrived in Amsterdam from somewhere to a couple of days before the bike to a week and a couple of days because of the “Thai New Year Celebration” that lasts almost a week.  Basically the deal was that if my wire transfer landed in Bangkok on before Monday, then they would be able to ship my bike on Tuesday.  If it arrived later than that, then it would be delayed a week until after the Thai New Year celebration.

I’m used to waiting for the bike.  So the week delay isn’t such a big deal, but this time I got lucky!  My banker (and cousin) made the wire transfer fast and TAC Thailand had the money in time.  Unlike in the USA where they will ship your goods before payment, they refused to do such a thing.  I guess I’m not “known”.

I got the news that my money came in the same day that I arrived in Amsterdam.  My good friend Theo, who I rode with almost my entire last trip drove an hour and a half from Germany to Amsterdam to pick me up at the airport.  I almost didn’t recognize him because he was waring a different shirt than the 4 that I knew him for the 4 months that we traveled together in South and Central America.  It was great to meet up with Theo again!!

Back to the shipping saga…

Yesterday I called KLM, the air line who was actually carrying the cargo from Bangkok to Europe.  They told me that TAC did not specify a freight forwarder and they do not allow the customer to access the freight and clear customs themselves.  KLM then chose to use their “house forwarder”, SDV.

I called SDV and reached the exports department at SDV said that in order for me to clear customs that I need a carnet,  I need to permanently import the bike into Netherlands (AND PAY VAT), or the bike needs to leave Netherlands via the same entry port if I wish to use a temporary import permit.

I do not have a carnet and I prefer to not get one as I understood that I did not need one for any of the countries that I visit.  Plus it costs a few hundred dollars from the Canadian Automobile Association.  I paniced.  I emailed everyone I knew and posted on both Horizons unlimited forum and their mailing lists.  The responses that I got back were the same: Customs doesn’t know what they’re talking about and SDV is just echoing what Schiphol customs tells them.

Fortunately, I have a few friends in Amsterdam who I contacted and rushed to the rescue.  Stefan, one of the infamous “Dutch Dangleberries” (as seen on the sticker on my truck) made many phone calls and eventually sorted everything out for me.   He called the main number for the Dutch Customs and heard what we were expecting… no problem to temporary import the vehicle.  He then arranged the main customs office to contact the Schiphol office and fighting ensued.   SDV was then contacted with the information that I did not need to import the bike or have a carnet.

The process was as follows near AMS airport:

  • Bring my passport, vehicle title, insurance to the SDV office/warehouse near the Shiphol airport
  • Get a document from the guy working the import and take to customs to get a stamp
  • Wait in line at customs and get the stamp.. very fast!
  • After customs, return to SDV
  • Pay 150 euro for handling fees (SDV let me pay by credit card and the price seemed reasonable, IMO)
  • PICK UP MOTORCYCLE!!!!! from the warehouse next door

Start to finish-- shipping from Thailand to Europe only took 2 weeks of time with a couple of emails getting quotes

Theo helped me unpack the bike and document the experience.  It reminded me how great it was to travel with him… we’re both photography obsessed!

The bike went together very quickly and I was soon riding my DRZ 400 for the first time in Europe!!!  Wooo!!

SDV did me alright and moved things along quickly once we were all on the same page for customs. Thanks guys! I'd use them again.

Everything went smoothly at SDV once Stefan sorted out the customs issue.

Theo also helped out by lining up Motorcycle Tourist insurance for me for all of Europe at ADAC.  The cost was a bit steep at 200something euro, but we picked up the insurance within 10 minutes of arriving at the ADAC– the automobile club for Germany, like AAA.  It is my understanding that you can just go to any office and bring in your passport and drivers license and they will issue you insurance.

Total cost: $2,644 USD + 150 Euro It may have been expensive.. but it may not be much more than shipping ocean cargo when considering all the ancillary costs such as charges on the receiving side, costs waiting around for the shipment to happen, and potential for delay.  I could have also saved about $400 if I made the crate smaller.  Maybe the NEXT time I’ll do it right.  So it goes….

I now have a bike on a 3rd continent!! woo!!

The next few blog posts are going to be me catching up in Laos and Cambodia.  I have the pictures sorted, but I need to get a little bit of text written.  This blogging stuff is hard work!

Shipping from Bangkok to Amsterdam Part II

My DRZ ready for shipping to Amsterdam in Europe

All wrapped up and ready to go. A happy packed DRZ

Oh my! The updates just keep coming.

Compared to the confusion from the day before with the crate measurement + payment issues, today went perfectly!  Everyone in the warehouse was happy to see me because of all the free gas I gave them yesterday.

The guy who did the measuring and delivered the crate was extremely professional and showed up only 30 minutes late. He arrived at the Trans Air Cargo warehouse by the Bangkok airort with a premium quality crate. The thing was a work of art! Unfortunately, we over measured fairly significantly because I did not account for the compression of the suspension. Fortunately the length and width were good.

I didn’t snap a photo before they plastic wrapped the bike, but you can see that to crate the bike I:

  • Removed front wheel
  • Used ratcheted straps to compress the front and rear as well as hold the bike to the base of the pallet.  They had nylon strapping available
  • Put the side panniers on each of the sides of the bike
  • took front wheel and put it on one side of the bike
  • through the middle section where the front wheel used to live, I put my big red top bag
  • riding gear on top of seat
  • Helmet (warehouse folks freaked out when I told them that it cost $450 USD!) bubble wrapped and placed on non-wheel side of bike

Everything fit quite well without a serious game of 3d Tetris.

N&T Packing services at the TAC Warehouse in Bangkok

N&T Packing services at the TAC Warehouse in Bangkok

We're both ready to get out of BKK!

We're both ready to move on from Thailand! I love it here but there is more world to see!!

For those shipping their motorcycles and need crating work:

N&T Packing Services Co., LTD
084-765-5670

I highly recommend them!

Shipping from Bangkok to Amsterdam Part I

My last shipment from the USA to Bangkok went horribly.  I have notes from it and still need to do a write up.  Mostly so I can show other people who NOT to ship a bike and who not to use.

After my last time by going by sea, this time I’m using air freight.  So far it is going a little better, but we’ll not know until I actually get my bike in Amsterdam.  I’ve been working with TAC.  I found them online at random but apparently it is the only place listed on Horizons Unlimited so alot of bikers use them.  My experience with presales is OK.  The lady I’m working with, Kittima, writes English very well and speaks well enough to talk on the phone.  All the quotes seem to charge about the same per KG or volume, but can differ slightly in the paperwork prices.  TAC was a little bit higher in paperwork, but since I have 2 other friends who are shipping bikes with them now, I decided to go with them.

Last Friday, I was told to bring my bike to the airport warehouse for crating.  So today I braved the 1.25 hour drive through crazy Bangkok traffic to get there.  Unfortunately there was a huge miscommunication and all they wanted to do was measure my bike for crating.  I thought that my bike would on a plane tomorrow!  Good thing I didn’t buy my ticket yet.

The warehouse was great.  I know I’m supposed to have am empty tank every time I transport the bike. Usually I just try to keep it low and say it is empty.  But this time I have a transparent tank, so there was no way of hiding the fuel when it was sloshing around in plain sight.

I get to the warehouse and the guys at the warehouse talk to me and I try to talk to them back in ThaiDave (which is nearly useless).  I communicate to them that all the content of my tank are for sale at a steal of a deal of 10 Baht per liter when regular price is 35 or so.  A parking lot formed around my motorcycle inside the warehouse.  All the warehouse guys were crowded around me as I broke out my 2 siphon tubes.

While it was once only goods destined for faraway places, the warehouse was now full of scooters and gas containers

While it was once only goods destined for faraway places, the warehouse was now full of scooters and gas containers

Eventually the crate measuring guy showed up and I had to shew everyone away for a bit even though there was still fuel remaining in the tank.  One guy tried to get the gas out a little faster by blowing into the tank.

One of the warehouse guys is blowing into the tank to make the gas flow faster

One of the warehouse guys is blowing into the tank to make the gas flow faster

The crating guy and I measured the bike.  I took of the front fender, the mirrors, and the front wheel to reduce the volume as much as possible.  We started negotiating the crate price.  He started at 7,500 baht ($247 USD) and I counted to 6,000 baht ($198 USD).  I countered too high.  He took 6,000 baht.  Oh well, I should have tried 5000.  It still seems like a good deal to me.  The wood they use is all new and has the treated/fumigated stamp necessary for shipping.

The next hurdle is paying.  I wrongly assumed that I could pay by bank transfer before picking up the bike like in the USA.  Here in Thailand, they want money before service.  She’s trying to get me to show up at her office with the approximately $2,000 USD (in baht!) that I need to get the bike air freighted to Amsterdam.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do.  I might have the cash but I really wanted to save it for an emergency.  I’m not sure if this qualifies.  It’ll just mean that I spend more time in Thailand.  Now that’d be painful.

I’m still planning on catching up with the entries that I have half-done.  I did some great riding through Laos and Cambodia that I want to write about.  I just need time!

I spent quite a bit of time the last few months working.  You can check out the sites I did for Phil over in Chiang Mai.  He has a Biker Bar called Rider’s Corner, and is selling a GPS MAP for Laos.  If you want some web work done, don’t hesitate to contact me.  I’m desperate for work!  I’d like to not go home broke.