Touring Thailand


An Isaan Odyssey...

Prelude to the Adventure

Part 1

Originally the plan was to scout out Pranburi’s biker event in February, but an old friend from Bang Saphan – Ulrich, a wild and eccentric German biking buddy from down south was interested in going up into the Mekong river area of Isaan and touring along it. I checked the calendar of events and noted that on exactly the same day as Pranburi’s biker week there was one in Khon Kaen.

What the hell, I figured; I might as well check out the Isaan one last time.

The bike was in seemingly good order apart from a looming oil change everything seemed well, I dusted off the trusty saddlebags and prepped the kit. I’d be filming the entire journey on helmet cam and carry the all-seeing Lumix for photos and other video.

No laptop this time, I’d be saving on space and weight by using net cafes for processing the video data onto the external HDD.

The route would be a long one, from Prachuap Kiri Khan Province we’d be going around Bangkok, up to Saraburi, past Khorat (Nakhon Ratchisima), through Khon Kaen, past Udon Thani and then finally to Nong Khai. Once there it would be either west or east along the river highways.

Hopefully then there’d be enough time to scoot back down to Khon Kaen for the Biker Week there on the 20 th to 21 st Feb.

Ulrich was staying out in Cha-am and it was there I’d meet up with him.

To put it mildly, he makes even my quirky style look conservative. Germanic style with a towering, loping gait that’s all his own, although he didn’t smoke he certainly drinks enough to make up for it.

The weather was pretty hazy setting out but there were no problems and located Ulrich off to the side of the road on the pavement in Cha-am. With him was the Blue Wolf, a CBR 150 I’d sold him months ago.

Ulrich was of a rough and ragged disposition, volcanic blue eyes bleary and bloodshot.

Stage 1 - Leaving Prachaup

‘A hard day’s night’ would be the opener if the previous nights involved wine, women and song. Today was no exception; I’d have to take it easy as Ulrich was a complete stranger to the highways and traffic of Thailand north of Cha-am. Having gone over the route with him off we went.

The Adventure Begins...

Stage 1 leaving Prachuap

It had been a month or so since I’d last done any real touring and I was a bit skittish for some reason.

This along with worrying about Ulrich behind me might of been why I didn’t notice the 7 series BMW that nearly smash into me!

It was a near miss and I soon recovered and got into the riding groove. As it was still early the morning air made for a pleasant ride.

Deep down I knew that worrying too much about the rider behind me could be as dangerous as riding with your eyes closed especially with my bikes restrictive mirrors.

I’d intended to turn off at Highway 35 so to have a clear run to the highway 9 ring-road and save us some time.

However in my second blunder I missed it, getting confused with highway 32. This wasn’t a problem, I figured as we’d plenty of time and the road surely wouldn’t be too crazy going into Bangkok. My optimism faded as I weighed up the facts.

It was a Monday and millions of Thais would be streaming their way into the capital from all directions from the weekend.

Highway 4 aka Petchkasem being one of the main avenues of entry would be no different.

Stage 2 - To Saraburi

Sure enough as we moved onwards to the east the endless rows of traffic lights, the stream of cars and diesel spewing trucks and buses soon reached gridlock point. Ulrich’s usual flare and prowess at blasting ahead to gliss between traffic was of no use here. In fact he was very much a low traffic rider. Filter-streaming between stationary traffic unnerved him. I understood this as I was similar when I first got started in Bangkok years ago.

I was getting unnerved a touch also though and it wasn’t the traffic either. I nagging doubt soon formed and reinforced that the route would pass under the highway 9 without any means to join it. This may seem a little crazy but the map showed Petchkasem as a normal road now with no obvious intersections. If this were the case then we’d have to face the exquisite joys of an inner city transit, something that would surely prove to be Ulrich’s undoing and have him into the nearest 7/11 for Dutch courage!

It was plod and filter for what seemed like an age but the new CBRs first taste of city riding seemed to be ok, as long as the auxiliary fan was engaged she’d keep to the safe zone of the water gauge temp.

Having owned Ulrich’s CBR previously I knew it would have no problem either. Half an hour later this went on for. At one point I cross-filtered a bit faster through a narrow column of traffic, eager to get some air-cooling around me for a bit. After a minute I glance back, my buddy had vanished, unable to keep up!

Bloody hell he really is softly, softly when it comes to filtering! God help him if he had to ride and live in BKK!

I pulled over and, out of a sea of traffic came the brooding German spitting flames and howling like him namesake.

‘This isn’t funny! I could not see you!’ He exclaimed. Volcanic eyes bugged out as he raised his clear visor. He was unnerved alright.

Luckily, as if by providence, the turn-off onto the ring-highway was just ahead on the left.

Suppressing the desire to chastise his slow-coach filtering I pointed to the escape route.

‘Look!’ I shouted, pointing to the hallowed turn-off.

He nodded; the nightmare road could be left behind now. Had I not pulled over so suddenly I’d surely of overshot it, such was the traffic.

We took to Highway 9 like bullets and soon after made it our first stage check-point.

The journey to Saraburi was uneventful for the highway was a world away from Petchkasem. We soon reached Saraburi by late mid-day.



Since my last Riding this place had scarcely changed. The Hotel Babylon still stood gaudily high with the prices bill-boarded onto the side.

My travelling companion, despite being widely considered the master of kee-niowship, readily agreed to the 350 baht a night rooms. Yet I think my careful explaining of the horrors of the Timewarp Hotel nearby might have had something to do with it ;)

There was nothing else to do but wait out the balmy and sweltering day for the next day’s riding. Before I settled in, I recalled the oil-change was due on the CBR.

Figuring an oil change is an oil change I checked at the nearest bike dealership, in this case the Suzuki dealership...

‘Yes can change oil on CBR 400’ the dolly behind the counter chirped.

With those fateful words the Isaan Odyssey merged with an entirely different one as I rolled the Storm Child in and up the ramps and into a right royal cock-up.


The Most Expensive Oil Change in Saraburi...

It started simply enough, first off came the sump plug and out glugged litre after litre of black crude oil into the pan. Only 3000 kms was on the clock from the last oil change. Demanding beasts these CBRs!

In fact so much dirty oil poured out it nearly reached the brim of the drip tray!

Oil to the brim

One of the dolly birds behind the counter asks me to sit in the waiting room, I decline. One reason being I like to see things happen as they work, the other is I had a lingering intuitive fear that to not do so would be unwise.

Sure enough my biker-sense paid off as two one litre oil cartons were lined up next to it it.

I took one look at the oil rating and winced; SAE 40 was the cheapest stuff out there and nasty. Sure, it does the job for somchai's scooter pootling about town. But for a big cc, old engine that gets ridden long, hard and fast it was beyond the pale.

I knew it was time to phone a friend; in this case the all-knowing machine navigator Mr Kitt.

After burbling the script about the scene in thai he asks me what grade oil. I told him.

‘Mai dee, mai dee, MAI DEE!’ He chastised in his unique chinese-thai accent.

‘Use Mobil 1 premium, racing grade synthetic oil. Anee dee dee. ’ came a piece of Gnosis from the oracle of biking. The name was familiar but sounded pretty hi-tech for these parts.

I asked the mechy if he had any. ‘Mai mee.’ came the sad sounding reply. I'm not surprised. A can of superior suzuki oil appears from nowhere, it still looks less than what's needed.

It was time to invoke higher authority and the power of native tongue; I passed over the phone to the mechy and the master of large cc machinery met the apprentice of mechanics.

And so the quirky verbal duel began. Some more oil came out, it was a better than the other stuff with a higher rating, but not by much. I knew though that if the worst came to the worst I’d have to take my chances with a can or three of Suzuki’s finest.

By now the entire staff were turned out and looking on. Little brown and yellow faces poking out of hatchways and around doors along with cautious customers wondering by a mighty Honda machine was in their midst.

CBR in Suzuki

Passing the phone back to me the mech took off on his motorbike. Now on a mission for the sacred oil it was a waiting game. Mr Kitt rang back and we palavered talking about the upcoming Pranburi Biker Week and how I’d be unable to make it and so on.

For the Thais it was a talking game and one of interest.

A little Thai dude shuffled across the workshop with a calliper and began measuring the brake-disc wear. They’d both need replacing soon I reminded myself for the umpteenth time.

Chatting to the TMB clerk about this and that took up time and after what seemed like nearly half an hour the questing mechy came back with the hallowed oil.

I don’t know where I squirreled it from but it was the real deal at 1900 baht! As if on cue Mr Kitt rang up. Telling him the update he asked the price of the oil, telling him this he reckoned that it was a fair price. I did some research later, this stuff certainly does get the cutting edge spiel.

It took nearly the entire 4 litres to get it to a touch over the max level. I paid the money, wincing at how this cost over ten times what it’d normally cost on a CBR 150! Gotta pay for the real deal though, that’s how life usually works...

I got back to the Hotel Babylon and the brooding Ulrich was there. It was time for beers and sangsom and I opened the conversation...

‘Here, I’ve got a story about the most expensive oil change in town...’

End of Part 1

Watch-Rider's story continues in Part 2...

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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