Friday, March 30, 2012

South East Asia

Been thinking for some time if I should write up this ride or not… you see it was on a scooter…Smile

I seem to be visiting or passing by parts of Asia every year however with the exception of Japan have not got around to doing much riding.

There are 3 rides I have been thinking of in the region. The highly rated riding in the Genting and Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. The Mae Hong Son loop in Thailand, said to be one of the greatest motorcycle rides anywhere. And following Bued river near Baguio Philippines riding the famous Kennon road.

The weather is one non negotiable factor when seeking to ride in Asia as when it rains, it really rains, and riding a motorcycle is not advisable. Some time ago I had the chance to do a ride kinda on a short stopover in the Bataan region of Philippines tracing the infamous death march route to the Mt Samat memorial.

From where I was Bangkok, it is a quick and cheap to most anywhere in Asia. I flew to Clark, the alternative airport to Manila, which with something like 22 million people I did not fancy trying to ride a motorcycle in. The ease to obtain a rental bike and make tracks from Clark cannot be over emphasized. There are 3 bike rental shops located shortly outside the airport and after picking a machine I presented my license for photocopy, signed a copy of agreement, picked out a helmet and was on the road within about 10 minutes! I chose a Suzuki 125cc scooter for this ride having not reserved anything my choices were limited but there are full size bikes also available.

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Signage can be limited so you may wish to bring your GPS with you, I already had mine on me for other travel. Heading south the roads are in fairly good condition for the most but then bumpy in a few parts and with loose gravel or sand placed unexpectedly – you really don’t need or get an opportunity to go faster then 60k so the scooter was fine for this section.

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From Olopongo I followed the bay and the riding is superb on smooth hotmix though rain forest – here I wound the scooter up to about 90kph – about it’s maximum speed. It handled that fine but not exactly made for carving tight corners. You pass many signs for beach resorts and indeed at times can have views down to the many sandy beaches that dot that bay area. These views to the sea was a recurring theme as I rode elevated but never that far from the ocean.

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There are many restricted areas still in the Philippines and you come across a road block of two. The military guards are curious but mostly friendly, they ask where you are going and seemed pleased when I said my destination and waved me on. The road the GPS suggested was once actually a restricted area but I was advised the right road to take with no problems. In Thailand the language barrier introduces a layer of misunderstanding which can be taken the wrong way. No such issues in Philippines, people were very helpful and seemed genuinely pleased that I was visiting their country, asking how I was enjoying things and offering suggestions for other nice places to ride. Tourists are literally everywhere in Thailand but not so here. Nobody, myself included, was going through the motions and I liked that a lot.

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The road is like above for most of the journey over the mountains – very nice.

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Some of the Bataan mountain road is new hotmix and some is older concrete. These concrete sections varied in quality and some of them were a bit bumpy for a scooter with smaller than full size wheels. However it was not as bumpy as some roads around Australia, if I had a full size bike it would have been fine. Most of the road was beautifully surveyed – not unpredictable like bumpy service roads in the snowy mountains and whilst I probably would not want to be going to faster I would definitely like to re ride this on a better machine to enjoy the corners.

(Unfortunately I stuffed up and lost 1/2 of the photos I took. I was using my iphone and somehow managed to loose the photos between then and now)

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All along the road are markers of the death march, one of the many terrible things that occurred in the 2nd world war. It would be nice to think we have learned since then, sadly many people still think they are superior beings to others because of race or religion.

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The climb to the war memorial at Mt Samat is quite steep with many switch backs. The cross is 30 stories high and you can ascend inside via a tiny elevator to take in the views from the top, if you are scared of heights probably give this a miss!

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Proves that bikers are bikers no matter what machinery - everyone wants a custom ride. Check the single sided swing arm, no mean feat.

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This is how I navigated, stuck the gps onto speedo via suction cup and just used when needed.

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Well I enjoyed this ride far more than I imagined – and will certainly return another time. The local helmet laws seem flexible, actually below is more than most were wearing but I would strongly suggest taking your own as rental helmets were not very nice and all lacked vents which made them hot.

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Doing this trip by two wheels was I feel the only way to dilute the real experience. Moving through the many traffic jams in small towns with ease, joining the throng of scooters at an intersection to then ride away together from the diesel belching Jeepney’s wind on your face to arrive somewhere same as a local lowered any barriers.

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Traffic is on right hand side same as Euro/USA and you seem to be able to turn right at a red light which was weird for me but I recall some states in USA had this from memory also. Was very hot so if riding in heat then do not forget to hydrate with lots of water. I was focused on the ride and took too long before I stopped to take on fluids thus I ending up dehydrated which made me very fatigued. I should know better living in the sub tropics but very easy to get this wrong as when riding you have the breeze whisk away moisture and don’t realise till too late.  Also the sun is fierce, even with sunblock so if riding without your regular gear there then a long sleeve shirt and gloves might be worth considering to avoid sun.