Now I want you to brace yourself. There is bad news…and it involves photos. There are no more photos after this blog. So try to enjoy them as much as you can. It is hard to define whether this is worse for me or for you. On the one hand I’ve had the pleasure of each experience, and have seen things so amazing I would like to capture them on SD card. Conversely however, my memory is shit so these mental images won’t be with me for long. I certainly don’t possess the literary skills to convey how fantastical such events were to you. So whilst you don’t get the low-quality eye-candy you’ve become accustomed to, you don’t really know what you’ve been missing either.
Once we had our Thai tourist visa in our hot and humid little hands, we left early the next day. Our overall feeling was of trepidation mixed with a little bit of grim determination. The border was probably not going to be easy. We checked out of Malaysia easily enough after we spoke with a masked man with a large automatic weapon. So then we hit the Thailand frontier. We parked the bike and filled in the immigration card. The immigration lady had clearly sat on a cactus earlier that day. She was rude, dismissive and unhelpful. She stamped our passports. Welcome to Thailand!
Next up was the bike. I spoke to a woman in the office and showed her the carnet. I was barely more interesting than her mobile phone and she dismissed me back outside with my paperwork. We looked around for someone who actually gave a fuck. Once again, we were tempted to just get on the bike and ride through. We agreed to try one more place and this time we found a booth that said Foreign Vehicle Registration. Bingo! So we showed them the carnet and they plodded slowly through it. The woman had never done one before and her two colleagues helped her using other people’s older carnets as a guide. We chatted with them about the terrible storms washing over Queensland and the SES slogging away on the news. Meanwhile Nickiy spotted the memo we had been dreading. This was plastered on the outside of the booth in English. This said that any foreign vehicle (not including those from approved neighbouring countries) must have a Thai vehicle entry permit and must be accompanied by a guide during their travel within Thailand. This edict did not come from immigration nor customs. This came from the land transit people and is mainly to curb the Chinabago tourists coming in to the north. No one really cares about it except, of course, the tour agencies who profit from the guides that shadow your every move. In this instance the customs team stamped the carnet correctly and we entered the country legally. We were through and this was a great relief! Oh, but then there was a customs checkpoint ahead. We held our breath and got through that. Then a police checkpoint. Stop breathing…….and breathe again. Then another checkpoint. Stop breathing. Now breathe.
The open road slid under our wheels. But we had one more problem. The smart traveller website identifies dangerous country areas with colours on a map. Yellow is “be careful”, orange is “reconsider travel” and red is “do not travel”. The southern-most area of Thailand had been marked as red for many years, and we were now in it. Predictably enough we had also been through it before. We had a good idea what the worry was about and we just needed to get through it as quickly as possible. It wasn’t the local danger we feared so much as the lack of travel insurance if anything happened to us in the ‘red zone’. When we crossed the imaginary line back into ‘safe Thailand’ we slowed down and found a shack to have a much needed coffee. Our day had gone better than we’d hoped and we now could travel freely within Thailand for 60 days!
First stop was the friendly town of Trang. Here Stein got his own place to stay as we gathered our thoughts about what to do now we were in the country. It had been very tempting to have planned this bit beforehand, but to avoid cursing the journey, we had resisted. Most people come to Thailand for the beaches and we allowed ourselves to be pulled to the coast. We got ourselves a little hut and relaxed with the inquisitive local children for a few days. And of course the children weren’t the only monkeys on the beach.