A Travel in T(ha)ime

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Coming from East Myanmar, entering Thailand felt like a travel in time: Finding perfect-tarmac roads, highways, huge gas stations, Seven-Eleven supermarkets and bigger cities was something new after crossing the hilly areas of Myanmar, where population is less dense, and road conditions were challenging at times.

Within the next few days, the major part of our previous group was reaching Chiang Mai, the biggest city in North Thailand and also a tourist destination due to its old town, markets and nature surroundings. We ended up all at the same guest house owned by a funny and helpful Dutch guy, and most of us had some cleaning and work to do on the bikes.

Motorcycle culture is bigger in Thailand and so it should be rather easy to find spare parts and proper workshops. In search of a new steering head bearing for my bike and a place to fit it, I met Bobby, a gentle expat from the UK. He worked at a shop called “Tony’s Big Bikes”, and readily offered me a little garage in the backside area of their rental place.

Together with Daryl, who was helping me with fixing the bike, we started dismounting the front of the BMW. Bobby and Num, the owner of the rental place, were standing next to us, interested in the Modern Classic. Having lived in Japan and learned at Honda, Num seemed to be a talented mechanic. Even if they had rather simple tools at the workshop, he offered some valued help in building a tool to expel the old bearings. When Daryl and I came back from lunch, Num had already set the new bearings — genuine parts from a Suzuki that was using the same dimension. A job that I would have taken much longer for! Apart from — or in synthesis with — those skills, he is an admirably happy character: Num was laughing a lot, especially when things got more tricky. Having fit the parts, he would start teasing me: Japanese parts in a German motorbike! Haha.

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Pushing out the old bearings with a custom tool

When fixing a motorcycle, you tend to come to a point of getting stuck, be it for not having the right tool or part, bolts or bearings not coming out, you name it. At these points, the only way is to pause and work out a creative solution. With the front wheel out, I took the opportunity to tighten the spokes. One seemed to be corroded in the thread, and… it snapped. “Oh no, he broke a spoke!” Bobby commented laughingly in his British accent. It was a hot and humid afternoon and only slowly I realised that this could be a problem: An 18-inch wheel with straight spokes is not common at all, I hadn’t brought any spare spokes and it might be close to impossible to find one around here. If I had to order them, I might be stranded in Chiang Mai for a week or two. Num was investigating the parts and while I was playing scenarios in ordering original spokes from back home, he would find a Honda model that has an 18-inch rear wheel and arranged a spoke, customised in another workshop, in order to fit my rim. In that moment, I realised that I had been lucky to end up at this very workshop. When he got the spoke back, he fit it with ease. This also meant there’s another Japanese part in my bike — to Num’s great amusement.

The way that Num worked out solutions made me think of one of my favourite books, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, that — coincidentally — first had been recommended to me when in Chiang Mai three years ago. Since I read it, here’s a quote that stayed in my mind:

“The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself. The machine that appears to be “out there” and the person that appears to be “in here” are not two separate things. They grow toward Quality or fall away from Quality together.”

— Robert M. Pirsig

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Adjusting the steering head at Num’s workshop. They didn’t have a torque wrench, but, as they said, you “tend to get a feeling for that”.
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Work finished: Group picture with Daryl and Num

After a couple of days in Chiang Mai, some more work on Daryl’s fork, and some must-do sightseeing, we continued on to the “Mae-Hong-Son Loop”, a spectacular road through the foresty hills of Northern Thailand. The first stop was Pai, a lovely town in this area and a bit of a smaller, more laid-back and alternative version of Chiang Mai.

Three years ago, I have already been to this area, at that time renting a scooter. This time, doing the same route from Chiang Mai to Pai (and its reputed 762 bends) with a big and — first of all — my own motorbike, was fun.

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Enjoying the many bends of the Mae Hong Son Loop

In Pai, one thing that must be done is to take a stroll along it’s Walking Street Market, where food stalls are joining all kinds of other shops. I recognised a bookshop where I had been at my last visit and bought “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, the book I took the above quote from. It is the first book I read about motorcycle traveling and maybe was the first inspiration for going on this trip, now ultimately bringing me back to the same place.

On a side note, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” is a great read that I would recommend to anyone broadly interested in philosophy: Using motorcycle traveling as a frame story, it is actually talking about life in general, creating a symbiosis between the ever-present technical world and Eastern Philosophy.

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The Buddha statue that is overlooking Pai. Visitors are coming here every evening for the sunset
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Starting around dusk, food stalls and road shops are set up on Pai’s market street

Continuing on the Mae Hong Son Loop, the road kept winding through a green scenery. The next stopovers were Mae Hong Son itself, and the Doi Inthanon National Park. With the bridges, caves, waterfalls and temples, there is a lot to see.

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Winding and scenic: The road between Chiang Mai and Pai
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Pai Memorial Bridge feat. Candida, who joined me for the greater part of the loop
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Wat Phrathat Doi Kongmu, the temple overlooking the city of Mae Hong Son

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Cascading waterfalls: Mae Ya Waterfall is a spectacular one around Chiang Mai
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Into the Green: the tropical forests in their full variety
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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a spectacular temple on the hill next to Chiang Mai
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Sunday Market in the Old Town of Chiang Mai attracts many people due to its variety of food, handicraft and music

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