Double knee implant, multiple surgery survivor Swedish-Finnish Koistinen-Lindgren motorcycled recently from Bangkok all the way to the northern Golden Triangle. Seven days. Twenty riders, two service vehicles, and one ambulance.
Septuagenarian Johnny, the oldest participant on the smallest bike, a single cylinder 350 cc. All the other vehicles had bigger engines – 500 cc Royal Enfield “Bullets” and the “twins” 650 GT’s and Interceptors. All of them are Made in India.
“Get Your Motor Running…” The open road, the wind and the blue skies. Foggy mountain tops, occasional warm tropical rain showers and shifting lush, verdant landscapes.
Cornucopia of sultry scents and smells. Highways, byways and endless northern mountain curves. The bikers, we love them and call them the “twisties”. Johnny elaborates: “After all my operations and revisions in Finland, Sweden and Thailand; orthopedic surgeries all because of that damn, horrific ski jumping accident in Finland back in the 60s.
Finally I am rehabilitated. I can’t run, I can’t dance. But I can walk forwards and backwards and I can ride a bike.
So, I got to get out of Bangkok! Discover mountain provinces I have yet not seen. Thailand has 77 and I’m and I’m 70 – plus. Tempus Fugit!
“Please allow me to introduce myself…” like Sir Mick Jagger sang in the 70s. Jagger, still fit as a fiddle. Today he is 78 and runs backwards every day to stay in shape for the coming European summer, stadium concerts.
As my passport states: Johannes Lindgren aka John K. Lindgren C’est moi! I was born in Suomi-Finland Virdois (Virrat in Finnish). Finland is officially bilingual Finnish and Swedish. Like Canada. You know Justin! Not Bieber. But, Justin Trudeau! And we play ice hockey.
Back to where I am currently, Thailand. Here, where I am a long time resident and consider myself a Bangkokian. “Bangkok-Wallah” to my Indian friends.
After years as motoring/lifestyle editor and when print media was dying Johnny decided to kickstart the old www.carsanook.com youtube channel, which expanded into motorcar and motorcycle reviews on YouTube together with videographer, off-road, trail biker Kari Rajartalo, a taciturn Finn from the vast Finnish Lapland, Kemijärvi town north of the polar circle.
Year 2021 Covid 19. Annus Horribilis. September and Madame Sue Bunnag, my wife, surprised me with a spanking new blue Royal Enfield Meteor 350 Supernova motorcycle on my 72nd anniversary. I had fallen in love with the easy-peasy single cylinder retro cruiser during a previous BikeSanooK YouTube review.
Following year Khun Kasem, Royal Enfield Marketing Manager Thailand, called me for the =RE= Grand Thailand Tour 2022. “Would You like to join? And then… You think you can manage at your age?”. WHAT?? Age discrimination!! I thought and I said “YES, of course! Bring it on.” I had already been riding long distances. Three times to our Dacha in northern Kamphaeng Phet province 380 km from Bangkok. Including three days of challenging, steep potholed filled mountain roads in Chiang Mai highlands in Dec 2021.
Royal Enfield Grand Thailand Tour 2022. Seven days of pure motorcycle riding 1,600 km from Chao Phraya river in Bangkok to the banks of the mighty, mystic Mekong river opposite People’s Democratic Republic of Laos.
Ladies and Gentlemen. Start your engines…
Day 1. Bangkok – Phetchabun. Departure 08:00 on a balmy February, Monday morning from riverside Bangkok, Phra Arthit road in the famous backpacker Khao San neighbourhood.
Our official escorts two big, white Honda 900 cc police motorcycles. Vrooom! The rumbling sound of twenty bikes. We are off. Round Victory Monument, Phaloyotin, Viphavadee road, Rangsit, Saraburi. A couple of refueling stops. Coffee & water for the riders at the PTT filling stations. A long line of Royal Enfield motorcycles on the move.
This is the longest daily ride. 420 kilometers from Bangkok to the hills and mountains of Phetchabun, “The Switzerland of Thailand” We are climbing up to cooler elevations, more bends. Left and right. “The twisties” as we motorcyclists like to call mountain roads.
We arrive at Khao Kho mountain. What a breathtaking vista! Twentyfour white sturdy, towering wind turbines, endless strawberry fields and cabbage plantations on the hill slopes at Khao Kho.
The General Electric turbines supply 140 million units of power, or about twenty percent of the total provincial demand. Muu Ka-Tah (pan pork) al-fresco dinner and delectable big, juicy strawberries for dessert. In the night. Trying to sleep I hear the swoosh swoosh, swoosh of the heavy, long turbine blades.
Day 2. Early morning wake up call. Cold shower. Bloody refreshing! Outside our camp the smell of Khao Tomm Thai rice soup and instant, sweet coffee fills the air. Start your engines. Flag-off! The Marshal raising his hand. Gravel!!! Careful with the front brake! Focus! We have two marshals in high visibility vests in the lead on their sturdy, powerful 650 cc Royal Enfield Interceptors. One more marshal called the “sweeper” at the back followed the service vans and the ambulance.
* The Marshal’s duty is to ensure the safety of the group to which they are assigned.
En Route to Uttaradit 308 km. The Thai highlands. This is what motorcycling should be. Serpentine roads. Misty mountains and cool winds. But, after a rough night in my blue tent, fresh, strong morning coffee is needed. No sugar! Headache remedy, par excellence. Everyone craves for COFFEE! And suddenly covered in the light morning mist on top of the mountain Pino Latte Hotel & Resort, Phetchabun with a trendy high ceiling coffee shop and a panorama view. Perfect hot cappuccino/espresso break with balcony. “Don’t forget the water!” says “AK” the assistant tour leader from the Royal Enfield factory in Chennai, India. We call him “AK-47”. Time 20 minutes! Still 200 km to Uttaradit town on the banks of the Nan river.
Arrival at dusk in light rain. ARAYA hotel 3-star rating. Dull grey, parking lot view, but a hot shower and a real bed. Heaven after an uncomfortable night in a tent. Dinner at Lan Pho Cafe. Garden restaurant with rustic but dated goofy wooden design. A variety of dishes, fish & chicken/pork mostly spicy and sour. But a surprise in the refrigerator German Warsteiner beer. For dessert with ice cream! Back to the hotel a shower and sleep!
Day 3. Uttradit – Nan endless cornering. Now the real twisties. Up & down. Distance 240 km. First stop the Sirikit Dam, an embankment dam on the Nan River, a tributary of the Chao Phraya waterway. The reservoir and power station opened in 1974. One of the 14 dams in Thailand with a storage capacity 9,510 million cubic meters of water. Onwards to the ferry crossing at Ban Pak Nai sleepy, fishing village. The man-made lake is one of the largest in northern Thailand. The rickety ferryboat looks like an African barge I saw in rural Zambia. It carries two cars or pickups, motorbikes and passengers. No time schedule for the ferry. Just tell the locals. “FERRYYY” and wait. The crossing takes about 20 min.
Late afternoon ride on leafy one lane forest roads. Refueling stop. Full tank, please (Temm Tann, Kap) Gasohol 91 at yet another PTT filling station with clean restrooms and the AMAZON Coffee shop and 7-Eleven on the side. “Amazon is spreading like wildfire,” says one of the riders, Khun Eek, dressed in black riding the =RE= Bullet 500 cc with panniers.
Our caravan arrives in Nan. Late afternoon. Beautiful soft light. Straight to Wat Phumin Nan’s most famous wat (temple) is renowned for its cruciform ubosot which was constructed in 1596 and restored during the reign of Chao Ananta Vora Ritthi Det (1867-1875).
We check in at the Impress Nan. Upscale resort & convention hotel 128 rooms. Late 90s design with a large circular shaped swimming pool. Deep enough for five of us to do high daring somersaults over and over, again. Al fresco poolside dinner. Dessert, fruit platter and… No worries. There’s a 7-Eleven next to the parking lot. Thank you very much!
Day 4. Nan – Pua 140 km. The famous Nan bends and twisties. Tons of picture postcard panorama views.
Next, we arrive at the tiny village of Bo Kluea located in a quiet valley close to the Lao border – remote and picturesque. “Bo Kluea” means salt well, also as the name of the village which is located around two natural saltwater wells used for centuries. Next to the salt pits, right along the small river the ubiquotius coffee and souvenir shops. Here I buy a small bag of salt (NaCl) for my wife.
From Bo Klua we hit road #1256 to Pua. This is a 50 km stretch full of tight turns. Up the hilltops and down the valleys. On and on it goes. The blacktop, the tarmac offers us a smooth texture and clear road markings.
More turns now we’re on Highway Road # 1081. One of the most epic and photographed roads in Northern Thailand. Especially the number “three” slope because it’s curved like the number “3” and visible on the mountain side.
This is Nan province, Thailand encompassing numerous national parks, waterfalls, limestone mountains and Cumulus clouds in the blue sky. Endless ascents and descents and of course, a smorgasbord of tropical scents and smells. Sniff, sniff the pine trees up on the hills and the organic stench of manure in the valleys and fried pork in the villages.
From Bo Klua to Pua. Onwards. The line of Royal Enfield twenty motorbike caravan reaches Pua Town and Green Hill Resort. Two and half stars. WiFi, A/C and a balcony. Park the bike unpack. Hot shower and off to dinner in two vans. Krua Linda (Linda’s kitchen) Thai omelette, one of the best I’ve tasted. Looking like a cake, very flully, so delectable. Back to the hotel Hit the sack. What else do a bunch of tired bikers need? Head on the hotel pillow and I realize that forgot my own private home-pillow? By the way if you ever go to Pua, try the Krua Linda restaurant. And bring your own pillow!
Day 5. Pua to Chiang Khong 238 km. On the road, again. National road #1148 yet road another super scenic route with tons of curves left and right. A must-ride-and-see experience for motorcycle aficionados and experienced novices. Here we use low gears, again. Downshifting, engine braking in the steep hairpin turns. And shifting up as the next mountain approaches.
Lunch on the hillside Phu Lang Cottage resort. Timber and stone architecture with water buffalo skulls and horns on the walls. Northern Thai spicy cuisine and sticky rice. Khun recommends “Lek” Red Bull. I chose to rehydrate without chemicals. One liter (1,000 ml) of pure Singha Water.
Next 1715 view point on highway # 1148. Claimed to be the best motorcycle route in Thailand. The highest point 1,750 meters above the sea level. Big photo opportunity. FaceBook and Instagram. Pixels flying into cyberspace. This is part of the amazing Phu Khao Sky Road. Like a snake on top the of the mountains with verdant, lush vegetation on both sides.
Onwards down from mountains. Keep riding! Last leg to the Mekong river. Boring ride in drizzle rain all the way to Chiang Khong. Road work, gravel and detours. Potholes and more detours. Our two female passengers Khun Amittada and Khun Narumon must be tired riding pillion (billion?!). Passenger, pillion as the Brits and Indians say.
Our hotel Fortune Riverview Hotel, four-star luxury. Swimming pool & spa. All rooms with balcony and Mekong view across to the seemingly quiet Lao People’s Democratic Republic.
A sumptuous hotel buffet dinner. After dinner four of the younger riders decide to check out the Chiang Khong night night life. Discotheque? I chose the bed, headphone and YouTube documentaries about Laos, the landlocked socialist country that I can see from my balcony.
Day 6. Chiang Khong – Chiang Rai. 210 km. Riverside route. Check the bikes and check-out from the hotel. Golden Triangle next. What’s in a name? Some say CIA coined the term “Golden Triangle” many decades ago when opium business was booming. Others say “Golden” because only gold was used in the transactions, no banknotes! These days the trade is methamphetamine (yaba) with clandestine jungle meth labs in Myanmar hinterlands.
This riverside geographic triangle encompasses three countries: Thailand, Laos and Myanmar formerly known as Burma. We pass the Opium museum on the way to our riverside luncheon. Photos taken, food eaten and views seen. Start your engines.
Couple of hours ride. Time for a tea break! Choui Fong Tea Plantation & Tea Cafe. Garden in Maechan, Chiang Rai. Rolling green hills with Assam, Green, Oolong and Black tea farms surrounding us as we arrive. Altitude 500 to 1,200 meters above sea level. In the Tea Cafe no tea for Johnny! But strong black, hot tea. Yes. No milk!
Final attraction on the Royal Enfield Grand Thailand Tour. Wat Rong Khun “The White Temple of Chiang Rai”. A kooky, mesmerizing almost surrealistic private Buddhist temple with murals depicting Mickey Mouse, Kung Fu Panda. Including a peace sign and fire arms. A most unforgettable temple! Entrance fee 100 THB.
Back on our steeds. Chiang Rai Town.Intersections, traffic lights and u-turns. We park or bikes at Phufa Waree Resort Chiang Rai. Here all our motorcycles are loaded on to two ten-wheel trucks bound for BKK, as we get ready for our farewell party.
At the event Royal Enfield Thailand presents us with with certificates to celebrate our Grand Thailand Tour completion. Certificates received, mouthwatering Eastern and Western dishes arrive. Speeches were delivered and we carried on partying into the night with free-flow of draft beer.
Next morning. DEP to Chiang Rai airport. Suvarnabhumi Bangkok by Vietjet. Afternoon we pick up our motorcycles at the BKK international Airport parking.
We all bid farewell. Sawadee Kap, Good-bye, See you, again. Safe ride!
Author’s note: John K. Lindgren participated in the Royal Enfield Grand Tour of Thailand 2022 as paying guest.
Cost 15,000 THB Inclusive: accommodation, meals and flight Chiang Rai-Bangkok. Exclusive: Fuel and personal expenses