Touring Thailand

 

An Isaan Odyssey...

Part 4

Leaving Nong Khai

Khon Kaen to Nong Khai

I was up and at it early doors (0630), I had the eager fever to get the fck out of Nongy and riding. I’d nearly finished my packing when I heard movements from next door; Ulrich was up and about too! Perhaps I’d been a bit too harsh in expecting him to be wasted. A part of me even felt he’d be as up for the adventure as I was.

My door was open and Ulrich popped, or should I say, fell around the doorway on shaky legs and staggered a bit into the room. How wrong I was, he was wasted alright. Probably still fuelled by the night before.

‘Rawargh! I was drunken last night, still drinking until they closed the door...’ He droaned on. He was in no state to ride and we both knew it.

But it wasn’t my place to control another rider’s free-will either.

Either he took the risk and followed or he used his brain and waited. Choosing caution over crazy saying he’d be staying another day at the town.

He knew I was in no mood to babysit him and wait around, besides which, on a piss-heads whims he might start all over again.

Besides which he’d also been less than enthusiastic at wanting to go to the Biker Week in Khon Kaen.

If it wasn’t now it would be later.

I wished him well and he clumped back into his room.

I loaded the bike up swiftly. A part of me expected Ulrich to come charging down the stairs saying he’d changed his mind.

I throttled it away and bore away eastwards on the Mekong Highway!

To the Edge of Isaan!

The Highway 212 follows the river almost perfectly and carries on past Nakhon Phanom. But it’s at Nakhon Phanom where I’ll be interested in going to. A fine place by the Mekong River it was (by its namesake) a large city worth exploring.

John Galt the bane of the internet buzzcock Stickman Bangkok dwells in Nakhon Phanom.

Known as John Galt aka Man of Galt aka Keith Summers he’s a controversial entity in the game of life in Thailand. With luck I’d run into him whilst there...

I’ve also set myself a speed challenge to reach the city in less than 3 hours. This is not wild-crazy, nor is it careful. The middle ground you might say, with leanings towards furious gallop! LOL

Some people think I’m a little bit speed-crazy and out-there, but for me it’s testing yourself and pushing the adventuring envelope. Besides which who wants to just go along life at a boring pace all the time. Not me baby. You’ve got to rev-up the rocket-thrusters now and again, blow the cobwebs away and ride!

Whether it’s some hot babe in a bar, or a 100 HP sportsbike on a racetrack, you take her for a wild ride and keep it to the limit!

It’s great setting off early, you really feel like the day is being put to good use rather than wasting it away in bed.

Leaving town

Speed speak:

Cushion – 50 to 80 kph

Debatable – 80 to 110 kph

Live – 120 – 160 kph

Edge – 160 to 199 kph

Death-Watch – 200 to 270 kph

Ghost-Watch – 280kph+++

The Abyss! 320 kph++++

This morning, roaring out of Nong Khai was no different.

I took it steady at first, leaving a settlement, town or city first thing at speed is dicey. Many folk are to-ing and fro-ing from homes to work and the journey could end in tears before it’s even started.

I hit the first fuel station and am out of there in a flash. I’m well outside the ‘zones of congestion’ and stretch her legs...

Straight roads, cruisin’ traffic and WR flying towards ‘em. Go get ‘em WR!

I take her beyond the ‘cushion’ of 80 - 100 kph and well into the ‘live-wire’ band of speed in the 120-150 kph region. I even went beyond that and into the ‘edge-rider’ speed category (151-199 kph) and once into the ‘Death-Watch’ speeds of 200 kph++

It’s worth saying that the traffic in the Isaan fringes is very easy-going compared to around Bangkok. It travels slower, is less edgy but still a bit ‘care-free’ with regards to pulling out in front of you.

I carry on, letting the fates and my ridermanship decide on the lottery of traffic as I ride.

The roads are in fine form for the first hour or so. Yet I make a near un-forgivable error on a sharp turn here.

The road banks to the left and although I powered-down for it, the camber ‘dipped-in’ towards the centre line taking me dangerously close to the middle line. Any faster and Somchai’s pick-up would of met the Storm-Child and Watch Ryder head-on!

This disaster avoided I cooled my speed-fever a fraction. I’d keep the power on for the straights and bends, but allow for dip-ins and keep the lean-on and revs higher.

Some cheeky and crazy overtakes followed, then an even crazier pick-up shows off his ‘moves’

Crazy overtake

As the sun passed higher I felt the burn hitting my leathers. Usually at high speed I hardly feel the heat that much. Recently the hot season’s heat was beyond the pale and I knew that today was going to be a scorcher!

I pulled over for a quick bite to eat at a 7/11. Ham and Cheese toastie with liquid refreshment, a trio of thai bozo’s (troublemaking sorts, trust me these guys were lousy) lounged about outside, up to no good. There was an uneasy silence while I stood at my machine and ate, I ignored them as I finished my snack and got out of there. Some say that most thai folk are incapable of riding a heavy sportsbike. While that theory has some merit I certainly wouldn’t want to put it to the test!

Traffic was getting lighter though, and there were times when I felt like the road was my own private racetrack, which I certainly took advantage of.

Indeed this area, being so far away, is possibly one of Thailand’s best kept secrets for highway riding.

I kept the pace at the edge of the debatable band, with nuances and changes accordingly. Make no mistake I was going for a sub-three hour time. I’d set myself a challenge and was going to keep it!

No pick-ups behind me trying to blow their engines in keeping up, it was a cool blast in the fast-lane.

With no Ulrich behind me to worry about, I could focus every facet of my being on speed, the road and my surroundings as I kept on edge riding.

Beyond every corner was a rise and fall of the land with forest, wood or copse. Beyond every tree was a potential track, at every potential track was a potential machine, beast or person who could step out and spell disaster!

I passed them by without incident or evasion, and then the whole cycle repeated itself.

Beyond every rise was another corner... The dangerzone of risk versus reward.

A deadly unwritten equation that has both bedevilled and enlightened man from the first chariot machines of old to horseback riders and then onto modern machine carriages and bike in modern day. The speeds and devices may have shifted. But the hazards are same nonetheless. You hit one and its game over, time to check out in a destructive fashion.

I was fortunate, I didn’t have to risk my luck and skill at accident evasion although once a beast of the field lumber out, but I locked-on early and gauged for it. As it was on the other side the danger was slight, but present.

I slowed down three times for fuel top-ups and for two checkpoints. Stopped at one then away once he saw I was farang.

The long roads continued their allure, great long runs of highway off to the horizon. Overtaking began to take on a surreal aspect now. With clear runs to the next set of vehicles ahead you could see to the vanishing point a distant dot of oncoming traffic change form. You allowed for it as you either picked up speed, slowed down, moved over or a combination of moves as you planned to overcome the next line of traffic and so on.

After 2 hours of hard riding the heat really was pounding down. I stopped a couple of times to get some pics.

Far Highway in Isaan

I’d reached the mid-point of the leg and was happy with the progress I was making. 130 – 140 kph and all was well. At this rate I’d be in Nakhon Phanom in no time at all.

I took the corners with more edge now, leaning a bit more than I should have but ripping through the distance with ease at 130 kph on a half to ¾ lean between traffic.

A straight period of riding later I casually glanced down to my instruments. Not good, my water temperature was at 3/4. Any more heat and It’d be in the nightmare zone. Too long in the nightmare zone and the head gasket would either blow or the engine otherwise seize up. I wasn’t about to risk that, not even for setting a wild and rapid record. I eased back gently to 100 kph and flicked on the auxiliary fan. This helped bring the level down a fraction, but power response from the throttle was less than enthusiastic. The revs weren’t falling though so I knew there was enough fuel. Benzene 91 was in the tank which wasn’t a brilliant fuel for edge riding with. To be on the safe side I kept her slow for about ten minutes then I took her up to 140 kph again. No problems now, still plenty of punch in her. My enthusiasm for edge riding was spoiled though and I didn’t have the heart for another session of ‘wire-riding’. I eased back again and cruised into Nakhon Phanom after a total journey time of 2 hours 40 minutes. Not bad going if I say so myself :)

End of Part 4

Watch-Rider's story continues in Part 5...

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

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