Running on vapour, Thailand trek almost ended before it even began

As far as road trips go, this one is for the books.

I almost ran out of gas near Bestari Jaya, just 52km from my starting point while ironically hauling five empty jerrycans, suffered a puncture in Koh Lanta, Thailand, and saw a fellow rider’s 12-year-old tyre being ripped to shreds.

Best of all, I found God in Hatyai.

Our latest trek up north was fuelled in part by the fact that my regular ride buddies Ahmad Razlan Alias had just taken delivery of his new Kawasaki Versys 650, while Pravin Menon had somehow transformed his innocuous, innocent little Vespa into a post-apocalyptic, Doomsday-ready war machine, complete with crash bars, side-mounted jerrycans, another rear-mounted external fuel tank with the legend ‘Bazooka’ embossed on it, and a tailpipe that belches out angry blue flames – the kind you typically find in a fighter aircraft’s augmented turbofan engine, definitely not on a 150cc scooter. Both were eager to give their respective machines a proper shakedown.

The route would take me from Setia Alam to Taiping, Perak, for lunch, and then, on to Kangar, Perlis, where we would spend the night, a distance of 496.6km. The next morning, we would cross the Malaysian-Thai border through the scenic hills of Wang Kelian, all the way to Trang, and finally, to Koh Lanta, covering 285km.

We figured two nights in Koh Lanta would be enough to savour the beauty of this island paradise before moving on to Aonang in Krabi, 85km away. It was not. After two nights in Aonang, we would start our downward leg, passing through to Patthalung 292km away, and spending one night in Hatyai. From there, we would head for Penang for the Malaysia International Miniature Hobby Show, a distance of 215km. The final push for home, 365km away, would come on Sunday.

Anyone who is familiar with riding to Thailand would know that their fuel is corrosive to most Malaysian bikes. Mixed with ethanol, the concoction, called gasohol, is like sulphuric acid on a bike’s fuel system. Pravin’s scooter is more than 10 years old, as is his Kawasaki KLX, so he avoids gasohol like Dracula avoids garlic cheese naan.

Lan’s Versys, being the 2024 model, is more agreeable to gasohol, but not by that much. Fortunately, there are still petrol stations in Thailand that offered ‘benzene’, which is more to our bikes’ liking. But these stations are few, and far in between. The trick is to map them out before you set off. Easier said than done.

Both Lan and Pravin would be travelling ‘two up’ – Lan with his wife Karlin Kayzee Khairudin, and Pravin with his sister Sunitha. Pravin wasn’t that worried. In its current iteration, Blue Banshee – his name for the Vespa – can haul 17 litres of extra gas. That, coupled with the Vespa’s frugal fuel consumption, should last him the entire trip.

From left: The writer, Ahmad Razlan, and Karlin Kayzee enjoying a short respite on the ferry bound for Koh Lanta.

Since I was on my own and had three luggage boxes to play with, I offered to be the tanker for this hop. My luggage would be strapped to the seat, lashed by bungee cords and cargo netting. Three 5-litre jerrycans in the top box, plus two 2.5-litre bags of gas in the side panniers would give me a total of 20 litres. The real load was more like 16 litres since the cans could not be filled to the brim. But I figured, 16 litres split between Lan and myself should cut it. At least until we found some life-giving benzene. We just had to really watch our throttle inputs. Again, easier said than done.

I loaded up my bike – a 2024 Kawasaki Versys-X 250 – on the morning of, and broke my first rule of long-distance riding – I did not fill up the night before. So, when I took off and rendezvoused with Lan and Karlin, my tank was showing only three bars. Easy. We’ll just fuel up in Rawang, I told Lan. The problem was, when we got to the station in Rawang, the place was inundated with weekend riders filling up. I decided to press on. I was conservative on the throttle, and in no time, Lan, with 650cc on tap, was long gone. And that’s when my troubles started piling up.

No sooner had I seen Lan and Karlin flicker off in the heatblur bouncing off the asphalt, my fuel gauge dropped to two bars. Bingo fuel. The next stop was Bestari Jaya. A cosmopolitan city such as this would surely have a multitude of gas stations to choose from. I exited the highway and pulled over just after the toll plaza. I punched in ‘Gas station near me’ on Waze, and one popped up just 10km away. I smiled at my good fortune, cranked up the volume on my speakers and rode on, happy as a squirrel.

Unfortunately, at the end of the route, the GPS indicated that I had to double back! Apparently, I should have taken the highway back and worked my way from there.

A simple ‘Make a U-turn’ at the start of that stretch, and I wouldn’t have been chin-deep in the sheep’s doo-doo I had found myself in.

Editor’s note: Part 2 of Haris Hussain’s adventure will be published next Sunday.

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