Thursday, March 29, 2012

Going Back to Thailand

people crossing the border with handcarts
We are heading back to Thailand, either to stay for a while, or to bullet through to Malaysia, depending on the whims of the Immigration officer we encounter on the Thai side of the border. Since Colin is a fan of Formula 1, and the second race of the season is 25 March in Sepang (outside of Kuala Lumpur), and tickets for the race are cheaper than probably anywhere else on the circuit, it would be nice if we could go. On the other hand, we did just spend 40 bucks each on 60-day Thai visas whilst we were in Phnom Penh, so using them only for the three days it would take for us to ride from the Cambodian border down to Malaysia hardly seems cost effective. So, if I can explain our plight once we get to Thai Immigration, and if they opt not to stamp our visas and instead just give us the standard 15-day freebie visitor's stamp, we will head to Malaysia to see the race and go back to Thailand later.

Fully expecting another production at the Cambodian border, we left Battambang at 8:30am and rode for the border crossing at Poipet, which is notorious for being corrupt and problematic. The ride was hot, as expected,and brief (under three hours). Getting out of Cambodia, however, was easy and free, which we did not expect. No one had a hand out asking, demanding, even implying that we needed to pay a dime to get out. It was a nice change. While Colin looked for the Customs office to stamp our bike Carnets, I shopped in a small store, trying to spend all the riel we had left (under 5 USD worth). I felt like a winning contestant on the Wheel of Fortune when they still had the showcase of prizes (Oooh, I would like a soda for 3,000 riel, no, make it two cans. And then I'd like the peanuts for 3,500. How much do I have left, Pat? Okay, then I'll take a gum for 1,500, and with the final 500, I'll take that in the form of a gift certificate!). Once the retail pressure was off and our documents were all stamped, we headed for the Thai side.

We rode through no man's land, the strip of land between Thailand and Cambodia, belonging to neither, where casinos draw the Thai citizens to gamble their hard-earned baht away (since gambling is illegal in Thailand), and then we came to the “Welcome to Thailand” sign. We parked the bikes and got in the line for Immigration, along with about 3,257 other people. Seriously. There were two lines just to enter the building, and the guard would only allow ten people from each line to go in at a time. We stood outside for two hours before we finally made it to the front of the line. Yay! It's our stand in line inside...for another hour. At least I had plenty of time to practice my special request before I got there. Eventually, we did make it to the red line on the floor in front of one of the officer's desks. I said “sawadee kha,” or hello, to the woman at the desk, presented my passport, turned to the page with my virginal Thai visa, and explained that we would basically be transiting Thailand right now, but we will return and would like to use our visas for our return. She looked at my passport, repeated what I had just requested, paused a moment, and said....YES! She said yes! When she finished with me, I thanked her very much. Colin stepped up to the desk, and she did the same for him.

Our next stop was at Thai Customs to handle the bike paperwork. We were a bit concerned that we might encounter a problem when re-entering Thailand since we had neglected to get a form before we left. It turned out to be a non-issue though, and the Customs officers could not have been more helpful. Everything was filled out, copied, signed on the proper lines, and we had our copies in hand and were through the gate in roughly 30 minutes. It was now after 2:30pm. We are going to the RACES!

But first, we have to get all the way through Thailand, and halfway down the length of Malaysia. Our goal for this day was to make it as far as Ayuthaya, another 160 miles away. The roads in Thailand are, overall, beautiful, so we rode as fast as we could. We did run into a rogue thunderstorm and rode through the rain for about 1.5 miles. On the other side of the rain, the sky was much more overcast and made for a cooler, more pleasant ride. The sun was finally setting around 6:30 pm, and we still had 31 miles and a fuel stop to go. Several miles outside of Ayuthaya, we made our fuel stop and continued on to the city. By the time we arrived and found a place to crash for the night, it was already dark. We dropped our bags on the floor, washed our faces, and then went out in search of some grub. Had it not been such a marathon trip, we would have walked to the most excellent night market that sets up each evening in Ayuthaya. As it was, neither of us had the energy to walk more than a couple of blocks, so we found a small bar and cafe, sat at one of the tables outside, and ordered what turned out to be some really delicious curries and a big Chang. We slept hard.

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