600km on a Vespa – a test of patience, fortitude, and the posterior

“You’re gonna do WHAT?!”

I recounted my plan again, of riding my Vespa Primavera 150S, almost 600km to Danok, Hatyai, and Songkhla in Thailand, in just nine days.

My friend, a seasoned rider, shook his head, covered his face with both his hands and let out a soft, almost pleading “Bro…”

To give some perspective, he rides a 900cc Triumph Tiger that clocks 210kph without even trying. My Vespa on the other hand, has a 150cc engine and struggles to crack 110kph. Going downhill.

For a second, I considered, but only just, that maybe, this hare-brained scheme, hatched over an evening of tomfoolery among five friends, might not be such a good idea after all.

But at 9am on Dec 16, the three of us were hoovering up the asphalt at a breakneck and blistering speed of 70kph, headed for Tanjung Malim. We were so fast, my hair was on fire. Initially,  there was supposed to have been five bikes, but two dropped out. Apparently, my two friends were smarter.

So, it was just me and a fellow Vespa rider, Captain MK Ganesan, and Pravin Menon on his apocalypse-ready Kawasaki KLX250. Pravin, being a rider with the most hours on two wheels, was naturally lead. I was tail-end Charlie.

By the time we reached Sungai Perak, our tanks were practically on fumes. The skies had opened up earlier when we hit Ipoh Utara, but the sun was out when we rolled out of the Petronas gas station in Sungai Perak. The rays of sunshine proved fleeting, and we were once again wet and cold to our second ‘makan’ stop in Taiping, for the town’s world-famous banana fritters at PSL Goreng Pisang. I decided to save the Hainanese Chicken Chop at Yut Sun for another ride.

From Taiping, we rode north in the wet for Butterworth, our final stop on our first leg. The plan was to continue the next morning before daybreak for the Malaysian-Thai border in Bukit Kayu Hitam, in the northern Malaysian state of Kedah, in time to beat the huddled masses being disgorged endlessly from the bowels of express buses lining up at the checkpoint.

We reached Changlun in Kedah in three-and-a half hours and pulled up at one of the many kiosks that line the main drag to the border. Here, we sorted out the entry permits for our bikes with the help of some enterprising ladies.

With our Customs and vehicle entry forms filled out, we made our way to the Petron station, our last fuel stop in Malaysia, to top off our tanks. Captain Ganesan and I each carried 2.5-litre jerrycans to extend our range since there were concerns that Thai gas – mixed with ethanol and known locally as ‘gasohol’ – would not be agreeable to our Vespa’s innards. The problem was more acute for Pravin, since the mixture was highly corrosive to the KLX’s plastic components. He wasn’t taking any chances and had brought along a 6-litre jerrycan.

From there, it was a 20-minute blast to the border checkpoint. Pravin had told us to be prepared to wait for two to four hours if the tour buses got there before we did. It was already 15 minutes past 9am. We were slightly behind our set TOT (time over target), but I was optimistic.

Passing the Malaysian border security checkpoint was a breeze. The cops let us through with a wave and a smile, right on through to the Malaysian Immigration booths. Passports duly stamped, we gunned the engines and blasted through no-man’s-land into the Thai side.

When we turned the corner however, our hearts sank …

Editor’s note: Perhaps this hare-brained scheme – to ride from Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, to Songkhla in Thailand – hatched over an evening of tomfoolery among five friends, might not be such a good idea after all, as Haris Hussain reveals in the first of a four-part series.

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