I write this from a roadside restaurant somewhere south of Chacheungsao, about 35 kilometers north of Chon Buri. I’ve eaten dinner and now I am just taking refuge from the rain. When I pulled into this place on my new motorcycle, I was utterly soaked, having been caught on the road in the kind of rain only the tropics can produce.
See, my plan was to buy the motorcycle, find a place to stay in Chacheungsao (CCS; I don’t know if that’s the official designation for the town but I am not typing out Chacheungsao any more) then head to Chon Buri in the morning… but…
Awww..damn… they’re kicking me out of restaurant right now. They’re trying to close. Back out into the rain!!!
(three hours later)
I now sit comfortably in my palatial room at the SukjaiHotel Chon Buri. My body has been loosened up by a harrowing two and a half hour motorcycle ride. It’s been an evening I will surely never forget.
My teaching day ended at two PM today, but I had all kinds of other tasks like preparing my assembly speech, lesson planning, etc., that needed my attention, so when I bolted out the campus gate at 4 PM, so anxious and excited about leaving town and buying a motorcycle, I had neglected to do a couple basic things. Namely, plan my trip. One of the major bus terminals in BKK is half a block from my school, and a van to the town I needed to go to was leaving just minutes after I bought my ticket (which was all of $2). Off I went! I even got to ride shotgun up front with the driver!
See, I love travelling. I don’t mean just the international kind, but just heading out of town to see where my nose takes me. The Tour d’Joko series on YouTube has tried to portray that spirit in video. Now, I’ve got an entirely new country in which to continue my travels, and it was great to get that feeling I was doing it again. I love travelling, but I’m really bad at it.
At any point during the day today, I could have walked over to the office desktop computer, jumped on the internet and searched for a place to stay in CCS. This is what any prudent person would have done, but not me. I was travelling about 50 miles east of the middle of Bangkok to buy a motorbike from a guy I’d met through an online expat forum in which I participate. In the back of my head I was thinking this guy was going to welcome me to his town, show me around, be my buddy just because we happened to both be American teachers in Thailand. Maybe even put me up for the night.
He was gracious enough in our contacts leading up to the purchase. After a two and a half hour bus-van ride (these things take a while in Thailand), he got on my phone and gave directions to the motorcycle taxi guy. Turns out he lives in the middle of CCS, which he described as a sleepy town, but is nonetheless a provincial capital and kinda sprawling, as I found out first hand.
Of course, there were a few idiosynchracies about the bike that weren’t disclosed up front. For example, after you turn on the ignition, you have to take the key out and put it in your pocket. It won’t stay in the ignition; it will fall out. The bike started up easily enough; it had good compression. It was also a two stroke which means you need to constantly add oil to it and it uses special 95 octane gas, which the seller assured me I could buy at any gas station. It also means it’s quite fast for the CC’s. At Bt11K ($370), I wasn’t expecting perfection. A quick test drive (this thing has some PICKUP!) and I was sold.
Unfortunately, the seller didn’t offer to show me his town. He had friends of his own in town and we just made a business transaction. The bike has all it’s paperwork, it’s insurance and taxes are up to date and I was pleased enough with what I got. I didn’t make a new friend, but the world doesn’t revolve around Joko’s whims and needs.
So I asked about any hotels in town.
Oh wow… hmmm… He called a buddy, trying to remember where the “Latin Resort” was located, the only hotel in CCS that he could think of. He gave me fairly specific directions, but of course, I couldn’t find it.
I drove in circles, asked locals, found another hotel (which had no vacancies), all the time using up the quarter tank of special gas this bike takes. Then the rain started pouring down. Wearing glasses is great to ride a bike with in normal circumstances, it blocks the wind and bugs. In the rain, however, I’d need little windshield wipers . So I could barely see, I was running around in circles and running out of gas.
Aha! A gas station!
“Is there 95?” I asked in my horrible Thai.
“We have no 95!” the attendant responded.
“95 is where?” I ask, frustrated, but relieved to at least be under cover for a moment.
“A little bit that way at the next gas station,” I’m not exactly sure that is what he said, but I was able to guess the meaning.
I go to the next gas station a little bit that way.
Repeat dialog above. No 95 octane gas, but this time I get more detailed directions to the next gas station, which is about a kilometer away. I head off into the monsoon once again, praying I make it there.
It’s a Shell station. Hallelujah for big multinational corporations! They have 95 octane gasohol! The cute little gas station attendant girl even filled my tank for me.
Feeling fully armed with a full tank of gas, again I go circling CCS. I pull up to people just on the side of the road and ask, “Hotel?” At one point, I thought this nice couple was going to show me exactly where a hotel was as they indicated I should follow them on their motorbike. Instead, they just lead me to the next corner and tried to indicate with hand gestures where I might find hotels.
I got on the road they told me, and at least I felt a little more comfortable when I saw a sign that said ‘Bangkok: That WaY--->’ If worse came to worse, I knew the way home.
I spent 45 minutes doing this, but at least I was drying off as the rain had stopped. The I saw a sign that said: ‘Chon Buri: 38 km’… Well, that’s just a bit over 20 miles! Chon Buri is a coastal town. It’s bigger. It’s where I was going tomorrow anyways, and there’s bound to be hotels there! To heck with this ‘sleepy’ town! Why is it ‘sleepy’ towns offer so few places to sleep?
Cue thunder and lighting. The skies opened up again, and now, I’m on a highway between towns with no streetlights, poor road conditions and trucks and buses barreling up behind me at high speed. Ack!
Did I forget to mention that the previous owner had just replaced one of the pistons and warned me not to push the bike too hard while the piston was still breaking in?
Then, I found the little restaurant I began this story in. I pointed to pictures on the menu when ordering dinner and they brought me a tempura feast that would have served three people. I shared half of it with the mangy street dog whom I bribed with breaded shrimp to be my table companion for a while.
Even after an hour of sitting in this restaurant, the rain still hadn’t stopped. Back out onto the road, the kilometer signs to Chon Buri comfortably counting down. At about 25 km, the said I should turn left, so I did. I found myself approaching a toll booth. Oh.
I had stumbled on one of Thailand’s toll superhighways. Was I even allowed to take a motorcycle on one of these? I wasn’t sure. I proceeded thinking that they’d stop me at the toll booth if I weren’t allowed.
I was also a little worried about the police. This journey was taken entirely without a helmet, and they have a helmet law here. I also forgot to bring my International Drivers Permit with me.
I roll into the toll lane and keep rolling. It’s not manned at this location at 9:45 PM. No one is there to stop me as I zip onto the superhighway. The rain had stopped, and I really could have opened her up to see how fast she could go, but I was thinking about the piston. Still, now I was making great progress, cruising along at about 90 kph.
There were no other motorcycles on the road though. Not even big ones. Cars and trucks were passing me on the ample 8-lane freeway, but I was at least keeping up with the slowest traffic. But was I allowed? Aha! A rest stop up ahead. I'll ask there, and find a way off this road if I'm not supposed to be on it.
It was actually a little town entirely devoted to the superhighway. And after asking some youths hanging out in front of the 7/11 (by miming motorcycle, pointing to the highway and asking ‘okay?’), I learned that not only was I driving on this major thoroughfare illegally, but there was no way out of this little town except back onto the toll road! I was stuck!
Oh shit. I was going to get busted for sure. I even took a Bt500 note and folded it up inside the photocopy of my passport I keep in my wallet. The bribe for when I was going to get stopped was already prepared. I even took all the rest of my money except for another 1000 Baht and hid it in my backpack. I got paid in cash today for my first two weeks teaching plus another nice chunk as reimbursement for my hotel expenses when my contract was delayed. Point being, I had about $700 in my wallet; I wasn’t going to let a cop here get a glimpse of that.
Shitting bricks the whole way, I made it the next 25km to the Chon Buri exit (the ONLY exit I’d encountered) without getting pulled over.
I'm safe in Chon Buri now, looking forward to a weekend adventure.
And so that’s the story so far, and it is still only Friday Night. Well, there is the bit about the hotel room soap, but I think that is better shared on video, and I forgot the cable to get my video from camera to computer, so it’ll have to wait.
Tomorrow I hope to meet up with some friends who are coming down from BKK via van-bus in the morning. There is a beach here in Chon Buri. Being a major manufacturing town, it’s probably not water one wants to get into, but I look forward to at least seeing the sea again tomorrow.
And I can get where I want to go when I want to without thinking about bus fare because, I am, once again, motorized.