30 December, 2007


I clipped just the one car on the way out of Kathmandu. I remained upright and I think I must have caused more damage to the car, scraping a pot-rack along its rear wing. But the driver didn't seem in any hurry to stop, no-one had been hurt so I didn't stop either.

I rode through perfect scenery on bumpy, narrow but well-sealed roads to Pokhara, another in a series of Jim's recommendations. I was looking at the surrounding hills on a quiet stretch, and looked up into the clouds - but those weren't clouds - those were Himalayas! Towering massively above the clouds surrounding the green mountains to the north, were snow-capped peaks impossibly high up in the sky. Absolutely amazing.

I couldn't find the Hearts and Tears Motorcycle Club but found a little workshop, Raju's Bullet Surgery, where a European was waving gently at me. Tony introduced himself and the others around including Raju, all were Nepali. It seemed there was a bit of a party going on here which I was fully expected to join. All very informal, food appeared, some odd Indo-Scots concoction was produced and imbibed and soon my bike was being shoved into the garage and I was walking off to spend the night in Tony's spare room! And so it was Christmas Day. Nobody noticed much, apart from some banners inviting people to spend their money on Christmas dinners at various restaurants. Everything else was open and I found a fine hotel with cable movie channels, hot showers and even a view over the loch and up to the Himalayas. What a fantastic place!

And then everyone seemed to go on strike. The petrol stations went on strike to protest the fuel shortages, thus making sure there was no petrol at all. The taxi drivers went on strike because they'd no petrol, and nobody seemed quite sure why the students went on strike, especially since it was the holidays, but maybe they just wanted to show solidarity with whoever else was on strike. Then the Maoists, a political group now, and no longer guerrillas, were setting fire to tyres and trying to close off some roads. Again, nobody was sure quite why, it's just what the Maoists do whenever they're annoyed about something. So there are far worse places to get stuck, and it is something of a relief to find that it isn't anything I've done or not done.

I'll sit here until after the New Year, I think. I am reliably informed that Zeebrugge is only 6 weeks away by 2-stroke 135cc Yamaha - admittedly ridden by a madman, but still possible. I've now found many of the ex-patriot motorcyclists here who seem happily unable to drag themselves away. They bomb around contentedly, mainly on Bullets having pretty much a ball. Not worrying about anyone or bothering anyone, some have found jobs, others are spending whatever savings they brought from home, others still I'm not quite sure about yet. But they're all good fun and welcoming to me.

Don is an Australian who bought his Bullet a year ago and will try to get it back to Australia once he has owned it for the year his Government demand before they'll let it in. Tony has adopted some Nepali children and is spending his pension getting them educated. John has found work with an adventure holiday company (or may be setting his own up, I'm not so sure), Rick has set up his own motorbike training and hire business - mainly with Bullets, Peter is a retired Dutch Airforce fighter pilot with a wee gaggle of interesting Bullet projects. They and several carefree Nepalis are a close knit bunch who look out for one another and empathise with the challenges of Bullet ownership over some teas at Raju's Bullet Surgery which becomes a bit of a speakeasy after closing time. These Bullets are motorbikes with ancient technology, lots of character and high maintenance schedules.

I'd always wanted to try para-gliding and the opportunity presented itself here. Not overly expensive, you get strapped to an expert pilot and run off the side of a mountain. I fully expected to be scared witless but was pleasantly surprised to find there wasn't anything much to be scared of. There isn't any drop, as the wind takes you up as you run out. The canopy is fully open before you run anywhere, so there's no fear of it not opening, and you sit immediately in a wee seat with your feet dangling. There's silence, peace, raptor birds and other para-gliders flying around nearby. The closest thing to proper flying I suppose you can get. There's even a place in Edinburgh that teaches it. Where do I sign?

A family from the South of England had sent their dad, Alex, up for a birthday treat. His wife Claire and daughters Ellie and Sophie declined the opportunity. A Swiss girl, Carolyn who had a strong Mancunian accent was also trying it out. Our pilots did a few aerobatics before we landed and that was mad, circling fast enough to be above the canopy, I was sure I could feel the G-forces! When we all got to the bottom we were full of excitement. We chatted as we walked along the path back to Pokhara and it turned out that Alex and Claire had once owned an R65. Alex got a little second treat when we got back to the hotel and I gave him the keys to mine. He didn't go far, but I hope it was just as he remembered it.

One evening, Don and I were sitting in the Busy Bee Cafe around the open fire. Nepalis haven't quite got the concept of chimneys and shutting doors, so that they tend more to sit around open fires with the clear sky above them. This is chilly, but fine by me in the main, as long as you can get near the fire. This night was quiet, Don was having a pizza, I'd already eaten. As we chatted I felt a tickle on my lower right calf. I bent down to brush away whatever it was and felt a large lump. But the lump didn't brush away and instead progressed itself further up my leg, tickling as it went. I stood up quickly, knocking over my chair and startling one or two onlookers. Shaking my leg like a demented Elvis, I tried to get whatever it was to fall out of my trousers. Still it progressed further upwards! In some fear of being bitten, I undid my trousers in the hope of letting whatever it was out the top. Don got up and began helpfully inspecting around. Others must have thought I was daft! I certainly felt very daft! Don found nothing and must have begun questioning my sanity when I felt whatever it was on my back now and inside my sweatshirt! I whipped this over my head and you can imagine my relief and surprise when a fair sized rat bounced over towards the counter. The waiters at the bar, suddenly realising what was going on began stamping and the poor beast was quickly despatched off to Nirvana. I returned myself to a more dignified state of dress and the giggling began.

New Year was busy. All the Europeans seemed to have come down from the treks in the hills to celebrate. I hadn't felt too well but I dutifully put on my kilt and went out to find Don and John. We visited one or two places and back in the Busy Bee, a lady sitting next to me introduced herself as Jo. It turned out she worked in TV and when I asked whether she knew Jim, the Tiger rider I'd met in Darwin, I was amazed to find that she knew him well and had even worked with him. Small planet. Jim had recommended my visiting Pokhara in the first place.

Pokhara is a great place to chill and read. There were mad things going on both in Pakistan and in Kenya, my two routes home. I was resting, waiting and deciding what best to do. I read loads and thought it best, guven such wonderful surroundings, to wait and see. If I'm only six weeks from home, then I have some time to spare. I worked out that the Kenya route would take eleven weeks if all went well so I discounted that. But I still needed a Pakistani visa as well as an Iranian one.

Margot and Mirjam, two Dutch girls (Dutchesses?) intended on travelling to India together to buy themselves two Royal Enfield Bullets. Mad. Margot has the most excellent infectious laugh and was all ready to go to India. Mirjam had cycled here to Nepal (cyclingdutchgirl.waarbenjij.nu - instructions in Dutch but written in English) via Tibet from Holland over a nine month period, but she didn't have an Indian visa and needed to return to Kathmandu to get one. Mirjam has about as much luck with public transport as I have so we all hatched a plan which would take us via the Chitwan Nature Reserve, a place Don knew well. He and Margot could explore there while Mirjam and I went up to the big city to get our visas. Don doesn't get out of Pokhara often enough for his own tastes and felt he could do with the break. We'd have a couple of extra days to spare also when we got back. The run up to KTM was uneventful,the bike performing faultlessly two-up and the Himalayan scenery as you can only imagine. Only one small mini-bus connected with the bike at low speed causing a minor panic but no damage. Although the process of getting the visas was time-consuming (both) and frustrating (Indian) we managed. One thing particularly annoying was that the Pakistanis understandably wanted a "letter of introduction" from the British Embassy. This was quickly enough produced, but cost more than the price of the Pakistani visa itself! A three line note stating my name and simply asking that I be given every assistance. A few days later we were on our way back to Chitwan.

Unfortunately the rough roads persuaded the protective rubber boot to part from the swing-arm and expose the universal joint to the elements as well as spilling its oil everywhere. Four oily hands, and four hours later, Mirjam and I were back on the road and heading in the right direction. A ride through one bit of road in the dark was a particular adventure. Trucks with no lights overtaking others on blind bends made for interesting avoidance techniques. When we got back to Chitwan we just had time to go canoeing on the river, then have a quick trek through the jungle before taking a short elephant safari. Animals react entirely differently to humans when they are on the back of an elephant. They must think it's just a severely deformed elephant because they don't seem scared enough to run away. Some took no notice at all.

Don and I said goodbye to the girls at the Indian border and headed back up to Pokhara via the Tensin Road. This has to be one of the most squiggly and picturesque roads in the world. It took us four hours to complete only 100miles! Average speed was down to about 25mph (40kph). I had left some of my stuff back in Pokhara and wanted to sort out the bike a bit, since it had taken a bit of a hammering on the pot-holed roads. The horn, indicators and break lights weren't working, the fork seals were leaking all over the brake caliper, there was even more welding to be done on the pannier racks and the tappets were making too much noise. Raju very kindly helped me sort it all out in just a day. The horn problem, which had been annoying me since Indonesia, turned out on closer inspection to be one corroded spade connector to the fuse-box. This was easily re-soldered and now the horn is useful again! Just what I'll need for India!

Mirjam and Margot were heading for Delhi to buy their Bullets. I could easily have stayed in Pokhara for much longer but I needed some kind of reason to leave and head West. I told myself I could 'help' these two in their purchases, or maybe even convince them not to be so daft! Two chickens were sacrificed to the barbeque at Raju's on the evening before I left these kind and friendly people. Don had been particularly kind and helpful and Raju had refused lots of payment he rightly deserved.

As I was mending my bike that final day, Tony, the kindly gent who had accommodated me on Christmas Eve turned up only too briefly. I had somehow missed him throughout the rest of my stay and had wanted to thank him. He didn't know I was leaving the next day and he disappeared again without my having the chance. If you're reading this Tony, THANKS A LOT, and I'll hope to see you in Scotland!

The Tansen Road was even better on the way down and with a fully functioning motorcycle. The road along the bottom of Nepal to the Western border with India was good, although it did run out altogether for short stretches, always without any warning. But I made good enough time and got to the border in the early afternoon of the third day.

25 December, 2007

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fridge. (With Bullets Flying Everywhere!)

The whole flying thing went without a hitch. I was a bit nervous about it all, only because I'd read on Horizons Unlimited that Kittima was inconsistent in her performance. Well, she was perfect with me and all worked out very well. I was also a little bit wary because the Customs people had come all the wqay to Bangkok airport (they must have been flying up anyway) with the form they hadn't given me at the Thai border and waited for me on the specified day - they sent me an e-mail, which I got too late but to which I responded apologetically. I got no response. If they had huffed, then I suppose they could have made things difficult for me at the airport, but it seems they decided not to.

In all I had been in Bangkok for two weeks. I had tried hard to do the tourist thing but found the heat just draining and the few forays I had into it sapped all energy and left me bathed in sweat and craving the cool. There was a second hand bookshop not far from the hostel and they gave partial refunds on books taken back, so I read a lot as I lay in the cool under the fan in my room.

The room itself was only about 3GBP per night and the hostel staff were very friendly and welcoming. The food there was the best I could find too so I didn't have to go far for anything. There were runs around to organise the flights and getting things organised with the BMW shop for a crate, but other than that, sitting on the bike in that traffic and heat was just uncomfortable. Actually the traffic wasn't all that bad, and there were some interesting vehicles around. But the heat . . .

Bangkok was also full of some fairly odd-looking tourists doing predictably uninteresting (for me) tourist things which mainly involved making lots more noise than seemed necessary in bars after drinking more than they could comfortably handle. During the elections, however, alcohol was not on sale for three days, and things noticeably quietened down. There were people of all European nationalities and some looked distinctly strange - many like they'd just stepped off the set of either the latest Pirates of the Caribbean or Star Trek film. Anything goes in Bangkok! I got chatting one evening to just one other lone-traveller but otherwise confined myself to conversing with the hostel staff who were able to fill me in on how things were locally.

At last I had to put the bike into the crate. With no spare bodies at BMW I was left to do this alone, which suited me fine despite the heat. Then it had to go to the airport, and I got on the same flight the next day.

Not knowing how things might go, and arranging my flight separately from the bike's, I thought it prudent to have a flexible flying arrangement in case the bike didn't make the plane. This was recommended - by the hyper-helpful Alana at Charlie Reid's Kirkcaldy - to be Business Class. Wow. I may have made a serious financial error for my future here. Bearing in mind that this was public transport, I really enjoyed the flight! At 60GBP more than the Economy price, I reckoned it was a reasonable Christmas present to myself. I got an enormous seat that did everything but swivel and shake. I was comfortably far away from my neighbour, but not unsociably so, and only one wee boy decided this would be a great time to scream and bawl. But even he quietened half way through the flight, leaving me in peace to watch the film I'd chosen. This may be the way of flying anywhere for me from now on, if I ever need to - and if I can afford it.

Arriving in Kathmandu on a Saturday, I was disappointed to find that I wouldn't be retrieving my bike from Customs. Saturday is a public holiday in Nepal, so I would just have to come back tomorrow. They teasingly let me see it, but they wouldn't allow me even to open the crate.

I took a taxi to the nearest hotel which was very luxurious and expensive. Continuing the "oh well, it's Christmas" theme, I checked in and soaked up the coolness.

After an excellent sleep under warm covers and a filling buffet breakfast, it was time to take on the challenge of Nepali Customs. This was time consuming but friendly although my lack of the Nepali language and their lack of English added some fun to the process. One or two "Agents" cheekily tried to make out they had done me enough favours to deserve some sort of payment, but these were half-hearted efforts since it was quite plain they'd done nothing at all. One even tried to stop me leaving claiming that I had to pay him first, but he was chased off by the Customs officer with whom I'd been dealing all morning. Two hours and I was back on the road, riding around the Kathmandu Ring-Road.

One of the safety precautions when bikes fly is that you have to drain the petrol tank. I had drained it down to reserve which meant I'd have to find some fuel within about 20miles or I'd be pushing. Riding around the ring road was when the Bullets first started to fly. Well, 'fly' might be a bit generous here as these were Indian Enfield 350cc 'Bullet' motorbikes. With their designs firmly in the 1950's, they aren't the quickest. There are lots of other motorbikes made under Japanese licence in India, and these seemed more popular, here in Kathmandu at least.

I hadn't seen any petrol stations. At last I saw some pumps, not with the usual amount of advertising I'd associate with these establishments. Two young lads were hovering and I asked them if I could have some fuel, please. "Maybe later," was the unexpected response. It turned out that there were some fuel restrictions in the region, and I'd have to wait until either later that day, but more probably tomorrow for the pumps to, well, pump.

This was new. After some 'discussion' (mainly sign language) one of the lads ran off promising half a litre of fuel - "no money!", he insisted. I didn't want to take his fuel, just for him to give me some idea where I might find some for myself. But he began draining his little bike's tank into a water bottle and came running back as I was about ready to go. He directed me as best he could to where there might be fuel after insisting that I took the offered half-litre. And he would not accept payment!

I rode off, feeling happily secure in the comfort of being back in the 'developing world' where complete strangers, who appear to have nothing at all will somehow insist on giving visitors what little it is they do have, just to make you feel welcome.

I found the place he'd directed me to but there was no fuel there, maybe tomorrow, at 7am. Come early. Then the owner turned up on a smart Bullet. "I have none today to offer, but follow me and I will show you where they will distribute in a few hours." Ashok showed me down the road to a long line of motorbikes, which I joined. It was 2pm. "They will probably begin distribution at 4pm, if they do not fill your tank, come back to me in the morning and I will fill it," he said, and rode off.

I settled down with my book, but not for too long. I soon had a wee crowd, the English speakers asking and translating for those with none. "How many cc's?" "How much did you pay?" "What is the mileage?" "How many km's per litre?" "So few!?" "So old!?" I showed the map of the world where I've been recording the route in blue highlighter pen. "We are so proud of your discipline and your determination." I hadn't thought of there being too much 'discipline' involved in going out to play on your bike, but . . .

They wanted to get me to the front of the queue, but I couldn't do that. In the end, as a privileged tourist, I wasn't rationed as the others were. My tank was filled right up, although the line was drawn at putting any in my five litre can.

Too late to move on, I found another hotel where the security guard looked cold. I offered my warm over-trousers for the night and he gratefully accepted.

To my overwhelmingly happy surprise, a supermarket nearby was selling Walker's Oatcakes, as well as some decent-looking cheese! Christmas was going to be much merrier than I'd ever dared hope!

Of course, in the morning the Security Guard had gone home, taking my trousers with him! My fault, as he had assumed they were a gift forever. He wouldn't be back until nightfall, the reception lady told me, but they would try to find him. Resolved to a third night in Kathmandu, I'd just selected a walking tour around the neighbourhood when there was a knock on the door and the guard appeared smiling and with trousers presented! I had a mild disappointment that now I supposed I'd better make some progress. Kathmandu is fascinating, so I'll have to come back here some other time.

09 December, 2007

Kuala Lumpur to Singapore to Bangkok

So I was all ready to go, bike packed up, goodbyes said, a pannier full of freshly laundered clothes. All well. Stuart headed off to work at some unhealthy hour of the early Monday morning but the bike was all ready. I said goodbye to Suit Yoo, jumped on the bike and pressed the starter, "click". Not playing. But it was easy to push start on the slight incline outside. Still, it was a long way to Bangkok and I didn't know what was wrong. Always better to break down near a good workshop, rather than way out in the country where the added expense of a pick-up truck is required. I rolled back into KL BMW to see Garry and Jeffery. Same story as before, help yourself to tools, and here's a wee space for you to work in. Perfect. It surely had to be the starter motor itself. Removal of that was fairly easy, and there was an old R80G/S sitting around with a gearbox problem nearby so I quickly swapped its starter into mine. Started first time.

In Scotland, what you do in this situation is take the starter to Forth Auto Electrics in Dunfermline where Craig will recondition it and give you it back in a couple of days with a 50GBP bill. BMW don't do this. If a BMW component has broken down, they can only replace it with a brand new BMW component. 350GBP and a three week wait while we get one from Germany, thank you very much. This is one of the disadvantages. However, Garry of course knew that reconditioning was possible and also just the man to get it done. There was a truck heading back to Sunny's that very afternoon if I'd like a lift with the bike. More perfection.

Two days later I was refitting the reconditioned starter motor. But the solenoid went red hot and it still wouldn't start! What had they done!? I whipped it back out and examined it but could see nothing wrong. Sunny Jr. had a quick glance. "They put the solenoid on the wrong way round - you wouldn't have the part numbers facing inwards." Sharp lad. Turned that round, put the motor back in and 'brrrroom'. But the main problem seemed to be that the Earth connection to the gearbox had stripped its thread, so the connection wasn't just as tight as it should be. This was made obvious by an entertaining display of sparks at the gearbox whenever the starter button was pushed. So I need to keep a close eye on this connection. I can start the bike just by pressing the connection tightly to the bike by hand, but the alternator won't charge the battery as we trundle along unless the Earth connection is tight. And there isn't another connecting point within reach of the cable. Get a longer cable?

Anyway, it was getting close to St Andrew's Night and I was back in the centre of KL not far from the Green Man. I was in my usual hotel and they were giving me a kindly (or was it sympathetic?) discount. I knew the shopkeepers nearby and was even getting discounts from some of them for being a 'regular customer'. The Indian restaurant where I ate most evenings were very friendly now, and I was getting to know their names. I reckoned I'd stay for St Andrew's and then head off. I was already late and what difference a few more days.

I wasn't feeling too great so I didn't get dressed up for the 30th. I wandered along to the Green Man where some few oil-working Scots were gathering for haggis. There was a big official do somewhere else in the city, but these guys thought that was much too formal and organised, "led by toffs from Edinburgh" said one scathing Glaswegian. The haggis was delicious and the mince and tatties were an unexpected wee treat. But so much did these people disdain organisation, that it was a bit of a haphazard shambles and, though Dougie the co-owner did his best, the entertainment was unrehearsed and soon people were drifting out onto the balcony away from the 'din'. Eventually I wandered off with a tin of Irn Bru to the internet Cafe and listened to Tom Morton on Radio Scotland on-line. I e-mailed him a wee note, since I knew him to be a motorcyclist and he was running a wee competition. He was kind enough to respond some time later, by leaving a message on this very blog. Fine chap!

So, all ready to go again but just before that, Linda, one of very few lady taxi drivers, had offered to show me round those sights of KL that I hadn't seen. I was disappointed not to have seen as much as I might have liked due to all these breakdowns, so this was a fair opportunity. She was very funny and we got on well. Those are the steps I had to climb next this giant golden lad.
That evening, back in the cool of the iCaff, a message from William. He'd made it to Singapore but had been having the same engine problems as before since only 18 hours out of Bali. My earlier breakdown on the way up to Ipoh could have been mended easily and in no time if I'd had those tools I'd left behind in Bali and he'd found. And I'd quite like to see Melacca, and old Portuguese town on the Malaysian coast south of KL. It would be foolish to go north when those tools were only a day's ride to the south. They'd be very handy for the next leg home.

A motorway, an iPod, heat, peace. Singapore is bigger than I thought. I had imagined a city clinging to a wee island like Gibraltar or Ceuta. The island's actually quite big and there are lots of smaller islands. I rode around for ages looking for this marina that William mentioned. In common with so many other cities, there are very few informative signposts for self-driving visitors. I suppose it must be assumed that visitors will get taxis. A huge "Marina Walk" was a massive complex. But here was no marina. I was at a dock where pleasure boats left from when a man in a kilt came strolling towards me.

"A Scotsman, not in too much of a hurry, I hope?" I said by way of introduction.
"Not too much, why?" he asked. He was off for a belated St Andrew's bash aboard one of the boats. I got clear directions. "Mind and don't slip and fall in the Eightsome Reel!" They even asked me along, and I was tempted, but I had the bike and needed to find William and these tools.

The Marina was on a wee island where the policy was "NO MOTORBIKES!" I can never understand this sort of discriminatory nonsense, or how people are allowed to get away with it. A lady told me to park the bike over there, unpack it and get a taxi to the marina, some few kilometres away. "But I've just ridden this thing 56,000km (36,000miles) across the planet to get here, and this is the first place on earth I'm not allowed!?" I asked, incredulous. (In fact there was that motorway in Indonesia, but I was betting she wouldn't have known about that!)
"It's company policy, sir. Only residents of the island who have registered their motorcycles are allowed to ride them on the island." The lady said flatly.
"But I only want to visit my friend on his boat for one night, and then I'll leave you in peace. I've been travelling for 15 months to get here, all the way from Scotland and these few last kilometres are out of bounds!?" Laying it on thick!
"I'm afraid it's company policy, sir." But she could see the ludicrous nature of her stance.

We went through the daft pantomime of my asking just which member of the Hitler/Mussolini/Franco family ran this fascist, illegally discriminating company that would part any human from their personal belongings without very good reason? But her stock response was always the same. I wasn't getting round this, though I could see that she was clearly on my side, and probably wanted me to. Neither, however, was I leaving the bike out in the open, miles from where I was staying.

Then I had a wee brain-wave and explained to the lady that I had a very different policy, conflicting with her company's. My policy stated that I could not be parted from the bike for periods of longer than three minutes without it being under some sort of lock and key. What would we do about that? Would she seriously have a person ride all this way on a motorbike not to get to see his long lost best pal and experience the luxurious welcome of his yacht (she couldn't possibly have seen Quickstep!) at the end, for the want of a mere few kilometres? This, at last, my completely uncomprehending frustration, made her giggle. A quick mobile phone call to Mr Hitler's underling later and I was allowed through, "only for one night, but if you want to stay longer we won't mind," she smiled. I thanked her profusely, we laughed, each knowing it was all nonsense and that it wasn't our fault. "Watch out for the guards" she warned as I rode off waving. Eh?

No sooner had she spoken than there were guard huts, barriers (none down!) and guys, some with dogs, jumping out from everywhere with their hands in the air trying to stop me! I was playing at Steve McQueen in "The Great Escape" as I swerved to avoid them, smiling and waving cheerfully as I rode through. No doubt they'd phone in about this two wheeled invader and get told the story. They were all over the place and after stopping to explain to the first ones over the noise of a yapping, slabbering mutt, I was just too tired to go on explaining any more, in broken English, everything repeated four times, in this heat!
"Captain William Turner!" I bellowed as scarily as I could while rapping on the side of Quickstep, after checking he was on board having a nap. He soon appeared looking a wee bit dazed. It was good to see him and the boat again and I was quite disappointed that I couldn't stay longer. His new crew, Tina, a highly capable Norwegian ('Scandahooligan' William said!) who regularly sails her own boat from Bergen to Shetland, also appeared and we all went off for food. A fine evening of reminiscing was had between the three of us, with me offering to help crew Tina's boat across the North Sea, and visit William when he eventually ties up in Povoa de Varzim, just north of Porto, some time late next year.

They were busy organising their Indian visas in the morning so I left them to get on with that after sharing a hearty breakfast. Somehow the Singaporean border guards had not issued me with the correct bits of paper on entry and there was an unnecessary carry on going out. I have to say I was surprised to have found the Singaporeans, not impolite, but not overly helpful either. I'd stopped at several places to ask for directions the day before and had universally been told they didn't know - including taxi drivers - until I met my bekilted compatriot. Ordinarily I've found that if the first I ask doesn't know, they will almost immediately go off and find someone else who does. Not so on Singapore - different, odd.

I stopped the next two nights in Melacca. The Portuguese ran this place from 1511. Sometime later it was taken from them by the Dutch and then from them by the British. But still today the Portuguese cultural influence remains, with a Portuguese 'enclave' still clinging on, speaking a curious dialect. Very interesting place to which I'll have to return one day.

I by-passed KL and went straight for Ipoh to find my pal Foo. He made me a coffee in his shop and we chatted comfortably for a long while, customers coming and going. We arranged to take his girls "to the Mall" later. They were full of fun as they bounced around happily and called me "uncle" - more of a courtesy from one generation to the one above in Malaysia. Not even my true nephews and nieces do that, so this was a bit of a treat. At the Mall they did something with different coloured sand, card and sticky bits of the card to make these brilliant pictures. Like colouring-in with sand. You had to be very careful with the sand, and I was cheerfully amazed to see no mess underneath the wee basins where the children worked away happily.

After dropping the girls off at school next morning, Foo and I had a great breakfast together and I was sad that I couldn't stay any longer to enjoy more of his family's company. But he has his own business to run, I have to get somewhere cool before too much longer, and I've no idea how long it'll take to organise the flying-over-Burma thing. (The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as well Aung Sang Soo Kui say we've to call it 'Burma', not 'Myanmar' because this is the name given by the militaristic, undemocratic, idiotic nutcases running the place into the ground now.)

With no bother and on excellent roads, I was in Thailand by the late afternoon. Here the roads were suddenly less good, and the weather was very wet. It was the King's birthday and Thais absolutely love their King, who has been King here for over 60 years and seems pretty good at the job. Where else would so many people be wearing t-shirts celebrating anyone's 80th birthday? "80th birthday celebrations - long live the King!" And they are highly protective of him and even his image. His picture is on the banknotes and they will be seriously annoyed if anyone stands on one of those. The King also loves sailing but some prominent Thai writer got arrested not so long ago for jokingly calling him "the Skipper"! I'll be respectful!

Thailand reminds me a lot of Ethiopia. It has never been colonised, and has kept itself independently together for over 1000 years. Another place with its own time, I've jumped over 1000 years from Indonesia! Here it is the year 2550, since the Buddha died all that time ago. They still use the same number of months, however, and the daily clock works just as places further away from the Equator. The Ethiopian idea would work here if they wanted it to. They have their own very individual language, and while English is the second national language, few speak it very well.

All isn't sweetness and light however, with a separatist group in the south of the country there are heavily armed soldiers everywhere. Big machine guns on top of HumVees and lots of checkpoints. I also saw soldiers patrolling the streets in YaLa where I stopped for the first night. I've not seen that since I stayed in Belfast - with Foo!

The mountains near the border could hide armies though. Very scenic, but wet and rainy which didn't make for great progress. However I was lucky because an e-mail from Foo told me it didn't stop raining for three days in Ipoh after I left. And when it rains around here, it really rains. At one point I rode right into a wee shelter by the side of the road, I think meant for picnickers. It overlooked this big loch.After getting out of the mountains the rain suddenly stopped. Eventually the soldiers disappeared as well, as I got further north. The road smoothed out and I rolled into Bangkok in the dark and got immediately lost. Jim from Darwin (now in Argentina) had recommended a great hostel in the centre of town where I could hide the bike and relax. When I found it I parked up happily and relaxed for a whole day. On the Monday I had to organise the Indian Visa, find a crate and see if there wasn't anyone who could organise the flights quicker than the nine days I was being told it would take. Someone out by the airport said they could do it in 3 days.

The crate wasn't much of problem, Mr Sitti at Bangkok BMW had a pile of them. The Indian visa would take five days anyway, but on the Tuesday when I went to talk to the 3 day lady, she said she'd made a mistake. The nine day lady, Kittima opened on the Tuesday and we met at her office. She thinks it'll take less time than nine days but there's still nothing I can be doing to speed anything up in the meantime. The main problem was that I was not given (and didn't ask for) the correct form at the border. There they stamped my Carnet which is not recognised by Thai Customs. A trip to Thai Customs HQ confirmed that the Carnet was recognised - but not by the Airport Customs people, only the overland Border Customs people. Where I'd crossed the border was three days and 1500km (950miles) back. Customs HQ phoned the border. Someone was flying up, and would bring the book, make me out a form, I could sign it in their presence and all would be well. The book would come to the airport in two days. "But don't hold your breath'" confided one official. I took this to mean that the book may not appear at all. I had a day in hand to sort myself out, and so I thought I'd take things back into my own control.

The Cambodian Border is 240km (150miles) away from the Thai capital city and would make a fine day's round trip run. I could get there, go into Cambodia, re-import into Thailand, get the form I needed and back to Bangkok before nightfall, if I left early enough in the morning. Or I could try.

As the sun rose I rode out of the city and towards the East. After a quiet, straightforward and well-signposted run, just as I approached the border I was stopped by some shouting, waving youths. I needed to buy my visa at the Cambodian Consulate here, on the Thai side, before crossing. 1200Baht (about 20GBP). I then began the procedure of leaving Thailand. All needed fully explained to each individual border guard in broken English. Each shook his head. "There will be trouble on the Cambodian side" was the general agreement. But I could try, and they promised the correct form if I could get back before their shift finished at 6pm. It was 11.30am.

This was risky. I could end up in no man's land with neither side letting me in. I wasn't too sure how this might go. But I was here now! Carnet stamped, passport stamped, out you go, and I was cast into 'no man's land', a strange place full of casinoes and other semi-legal, duty-free daftness. People milled about not looking too much like casino customers. Backpackers scurried by on foot from one side to the other. I pottered slowly along trying to take it all in. Patience and smiling.

I parked the bike up and went into the Cambodian Immigration Office. Here there was a totally impatient and very unsmiling English guy hanging half way through the window of the desk. "No!! You stamp here, not there!!" He was screaming. "Here!" Entirely uncool, this man had clearly lost the plot. "But why have I to stand over there!?" he was raging, but took his passport and stood back a bit. I got the impression that the border guard had intended that he stand in the corner, facing the wall! The next person went up. Stamp, stamp, off you go. The English guy was straight back to the window "you MUST stamp MY passport I was first!!" I thought he might cry. What a tantrum for a grown man. Everyone else was really embarrassed and looked away or at the floor. One friendly local with good English near the man said, "please calm down, you could get into serious trouble" in a very quiet voice. "I have been through this border three times, thank you very much," said the huffy wee man.

I'd been mildly amused at first at this odd stranger 'losing the rag', but it was getting very embarrassing. He really wasn't doing himself any favours at all. I wondered if he was maybe not too well. Then I had a fear that my British Passport might put me in with him. I joined a different queue, I didn't need this to be happening.

There is a strong tradition here in Asia about 'face', or the loss of it, which is a bit like making a fool of yourself. Losing one's temper is a sure way to lose face. Few people like to be told how to do the jobs they're being paid to do. Least of all, I suspect, Immigration Officers. This guy was just crackers. I saw the border guard take the man's passport, look at it briefly and then casually toss it over his shoulder. The guy was really raging now and I honestly thought they would just have to arrest him. He was screaming on about how "that passport was not [his] property but that of Her Majesy Queen Elizabeth blah, blah, blah . . ." Yes, technically, I suppose, correct but it is his responsibility to take care of it. He wasn't doing that! And nobody was listening to him, even if they could understand what he was babbling (and almost bubbling) on about. He was like the stereotypical spoiled child not getting his own way. Ordinarily, I might have tried to calm him down as perhaps the only other fluent English speaker in the room, but the last thing I needed was to be considered anything to do with this man. It looked to me as if, lacking any English, the Immigration Officer was trying to show him who was actually in charge here. Eventually he quieted, powerless, raging. He stood back and others shuffled forwards. I don't think he was even embarrassed at himself, just still angry. I felt sorry for him. Imagine having to live with a temper like that.

Luckily, before I got anywhere too near, the man's passport re-appeared at the window, he grabbed it, checked it and stomped out muttering to himself. Happy travels!

I smiled at the border guard. Couldn't care less where he stamps it. Stamp, stamp, I was out. I got the bike and rode through the border and round a roundabout. There was no tar on the road, just some stones packed in to the mud. But the roundabout was highly decorated and there were some fine statues. Customs was just the other side of the road and I drove up to import the bike. This could take time, and cost a bit of money but it would be worth it to know it was done and I could go back into Thailand and get the correct form. They'd also get a bit of a shock if immediately after importing, I went straight to ask where to export it! It all seemed such a huge nonsensical waste of time. But beaurocratic procedures must be seen to be followed so I went into the office. It was empty. The whole block was empty. The guards outside made the internationally recognised sign for 'eating'. It was lunchtime. Only one official was to be seen, snoring away under a newspaper, his flip-flops looking as if they might fall off.

Cambodia doesn't recognise Carnets either but I had a feeling I might need something to show the Thais. Then I couldn't recall anyone ever asking about that. They asked about the stamp in my passport, but no country had ever asked to see that the bike had been properly stamped out of the previous one.

I went to the 'out' queue of Cambodian Immigration, a much smaller one. Stamp, stamp, out you go. I'd been in Cambodia for about seven minutes.

The Thais made me fill out some forms, and I was away back towards Bangkok within two hours. Should get back before dark.

So three 'firsts', I'd been to Cambodia, but I don't think that counts as a country visited. I once heard that defined as one in which you spend at least one night. A fair definition I think.

Then on the way back - I've been getting lots of waves and thumbs up from people in other vehicles, obviously approving of something or other. Well, this one of them actually opened the car window and offered me a beer! We co-ordinated and I got the beer as we cruised along the motorway - it was pretty cold too! They were delighted. I know it's very, very wrong to drink and drive but it would've been fairly rude not to. It was only a wee tin, and it was very refreshing! I was listening to Aberfeldy at the time on the iPod. All very jolly.

The third thing wasn't nearly as much fun. But it may amuse you. I was coming up behind a pick-up truck full of uncomfortable-looking pigs clearly on their unhappy last trip to the slaughterhouse. Just as I drew up behind, one of them, without any warning or even asking to go, just opened up its bladder - I crouched as best I could behind the screen and saved myself. A wee bit got on my arm but it washed off later. The lady on the moped near me was much less fortunate - she'd no screen, but at least she had a visor!

As the sun dipped I was riding back through Bangkok looking for my digs. I was tired, having been in the sun for over 12 hours, but it had been a successful day.

I delivered all the paperwork to the shippers the following morning and on the way back, consulting the streetmap on the petrol tank and negotiating a quiet one-way street, there came lollopping towards me a very urban looking elephant, being ridden the wrong way and blending well into its surroundings of grey. I only saw it at the very last minute! I think I'll invent a big yellow high-visibility bib for them to wear.

I have new tyres and am waiting for some wee bits coming from Motorworks. Other than that, I'm reading, waiting and touristing with the rest. Should fly out on Friday, or maybe Thursday.

Oh - Stuart "interviewed" me somehow (very technological). This is now available with me over-using the word "fantastic". It was all done in just one take!! So if for some obscure reason you're missing my dulcet tones . . ! Click over on the right - "interview in the Highlander Bar". You get to hear Stuart too of course - sounding far more perfessnial! Enjoy?