“The older I get, the more I understand that it’s okay to live a life others don’t understand.”– Unknown
The early morning silence in my neighbourhood on Jan 20 was shattered by the rumbling growl of my beloved motorcycle, ‘Christine’, waking up from her slumber.
It was 1am, and the start of an epic 1,000-odd km, cross-border ride from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Chumphon, Thailand.
Joining me on this journey was Dr Harjeet Singh, a general practitioner, and Dr M. Thinakaran, a gynaecologist – both crossing the border on two wheels for the very first time.
I was their so-called “point man”. We were to be joined by two other riders – A. Suresh Krishna, and M. Vinodh – in the later part of the journey.
Both Dr Harjeet and Dr Thinakaran joined this ride because of me, for their interactions with the other riders have thus far, only been via WhatsApp.
But I knew all of them individually, and have ridden with them. I knew they would all gel well as a group.
There were several things to remember when doing cross-border runs – we must be meticulous with our documentation – with the necessary insurance coverage for both rider and vehicle.
For this, I used the services of Lo Bee Piang of Chuan Bee Kedai Kopi & Insurance in Changlun, Kedah.
I got to know her through my ride buddy, Suresh. We had used her services during our previous ride to Phuket.
This time, all our dealings were done via WhatsApp, with the final documents (travel insurance, Thai insurance for vehicle and mandatory third-party coverage, Immigration forms and white card) sent to us via courier.
Those wanting to head to Thailand will also have to get insurance that covers the duration of your stay there.
The process is easier when you deal with an efficient person like Lo.
Another thing to remember is to get a local SIM card for mobile and internet use to stay in touch with home, and more importantly, for navigation purposes, which Lo too, can provide.
Knapsack packed, panniers loaded, tank fuelled up, and kitted out in my all-weather riding tuxedo, I was off for another epic adventure. My loving wife stayed up to send me off in the early hours of the morning.
The first meeting point was at a petrol station in Sungai Buloh. Dr Harjeet glided in majestically on his Harley Davidson Street Glide CVO, his luggage strapped high on his top box.
From there, it was an uneventful, serene, non-stop 280km run to another petrol station in Gunung Semanggol in Kerian, Perak, for fuel, coffee, and restroom break. Or so I thought.
The high placement of Dr Harjeet’s luggage had made his ride quite skittish, and he had trouble controlling his bike at certain stretches of the highway due to the significant crosswinds.
He had to readjust the placement of the bag by repositioning it onto his pillion seat.
I did not realise how much troubled he was by it, until after refuelling.
As we set off to meet up with Dr Thinakaran in Juru, Penang, Dr Harjeet told me that he had left his fuel cap at the gas station.
I continued my journey to meet Dr Thinakaran, while Dr Harjeet turned back to retrieve his fuel cap.
Dr Thinakaran, standing next to his Harley Davidson Fatboy, was waiting for our arrival in Juru. He had called me up earlier, via Bluetooth, to let me know that he had arrived.
I was surprised to see that he was carrying only a small backpack, compared to Dr Harjeet and myself. What a light traveller he was, I thought.
He then broke the sad news that he had lost his travel luggage, which he thought he had secured, while riding to the meeting point.
The same crosswinds that had given Dr Harjeet some anxious moments had put the strain on the straps and loosened them enough for the bag to fall off somewhere along the route.
Fortunately, the travel documents were in the backpack.
But the ride had to go on, and Dr Thinakaran said he would buy the necessary items upon reaching our destination. Spoken like a true biker.
With Dr Harjeet soon joining us, we headed to the border at Bukit Kayu Hitam, Kedah, to continue on to Thailand.
The Malaysian side was a breeze, as we used the designated motorbike lane. The car and bus lanes were packed with long queues, even at that early hour, as many were crossing over for the long Chinese New Year holidays.
This became even more apparent at the Thai Immigration and Customs centre.
For vehicles being brought in, we had to apply for a temporary import permit – a very important document which you must submit on exiting the country, failing which, you would be fined daily, until you submitted the form.
It took us a while, but we eventually got the formalities out of the way.
This being their first foray across the border for Dr Harjeet and Dr Thinakaran, I led way.
The Thai national highway is not tolled or fenced off, as it is in Malaysia, but runs through towns and villages, thus allowing individuals, and small- and medium-sized businesses to thrive, and keep the economy going.
This also means a whole lot of movement of various-sized vehicles, people, and animals crossing your path. You must be ever vigilant and focused.
It was a refreshing new experience for both riders, and with that in mind, I kept the pace comfortable.
Now, it was all about riding. The next meeting point was Route 41 Bikers Café at Phatthalung, 157km from the border, to meet up with our fourth member, Suresh. He rides a BMW GSA 1250.
Route 41 is a typical biker’s café, made from timber. It is located by the busy Route 41 highway that leads to Bangkok.
You can meet bikers from all over, stopping by for food, drinks, rest, and to soak in the ambience. The place is plastered with stickers of biking clubs and groups from all over the world.
Arriving at Route 41 Café, we met Suresh – a regular overlander who has travelled the length and breadth of Thailand.
With sufficient food and rest, it was off to Chumphon, roughly 380km away.
That part of the ride was tough, riding in heavy rain. Road works meant that one lane was closed off.
We had multiple stops for gastronomic gratification, hydration, and micturition.
It took us about seven long, hard hours to travel that distance.
For regular long-haulers like Suresh and myself, we could actually feel the ride. I can’t imagine how it must have been for both Dr Harjeet and Dr Thinakaran, but they rode without a single complaint.
Manoeuvring and controlling our iron horses in slow-moving traffic, with the rain beating down on us, took a toll, both physically and mentally.
The heavy armoured riding gear added to the level of difficulty.
I always say that the success of a ride is not in the distance you travel, the places you see, or the number of bikers you ride with. It is the adaptability and attitude of the persons you ride with.
You need an Alpha to lead, but not an overbearing one. You should be able to read and understand the body language and emotions of your fellow riders, and adapt to the changes in the ride.
Suresh led the second part the ride, and I was the sweeper, ever the backbencher, right from school days.
Finally, we arrived at Chumphon Morakot Hotel, at 6pm local time – fatigued and drenched, but euphoric.
For Dr Harjeet and Dr Thinakaran, this was their first long ride in a single day.
One could see the sparkle in their eyes, the sense of achievement.
Showered and rested, we walked about in town to enjoy the sights and sounds. Dr Thinakaran, meanwhile, did his shopping for essentials.
Tastebuds satisfied, and high on sweet mango with sticky rice, it was time to retire after such a long day.
On Day 2, we decided to rest and relax, and to allow our two newbies to recuperate.
After a light breakfast, we got ourselves authentic traditional Thai massages to melt away the aches and pains.
For lunch, we ended up at a place called Aeki’s Bar & Aeksiam Muay Thai, located 30m from the Chumphon Railway Station.
It’s the first time I’ve been to a Muay Thai training centre-cum-restaurant and bar.
A unique combination, I would say.
It is owned and operated by a lovely couple – Aeki Phuthong, and his wife, Nattaporn Manee.
Aeki, a Muay Thai fighter-cum-trainer, manages the front end and bar, while his wife manages the kitchen, creating delicious dishes.
The eatery serves both Thai and Western food, chilled beers, and cocktails.
Later in the evening, we decided to ride to Khao Matsee Viewpoint, located on a high hill, 18km from the town centre.
It offered a panoramic view of Chumphon in the soft afterglow of a shimmering, setting sun – a definite photographer’s choice of a calendar post.
We managed some pictures for our collection. For dinner, we visited Must See Valley & Café located on the hillside overlooking the valley.
The staff, ambience, and food were great, but the service was fantastic.
When we requested for the mango sticky rice dessert, which was not on the menu, the manager, known as ‘TK’, took the trouble to send one of his workers to ride out and source it from elsewhere.
Now that, is what I call a customer-oriented service.
Day 3 started at 6am. The plan was to ride 800km south to Betong, in Southern Thailand.
We covered a good distance of 200km and stopped for breakfast at Surattani. Both Dr Harjeet and Dr Thinakaran were in their element, and led the ride.
Another mandatory stop at Route 41 Café for lunch, and the journey continued south, passing through Songhkla, Pattani, and finally, Yala.
The restive state of southern Thailand was evidenced by the high number of police checkpoints.
Finally, in Pattani, we stopped for a photo opportunity by the sea.
The bikes became a source of attraction. The first choice always seemed to be Christine. What can I say, she is an irresistible charmer.
We were still about 180km from our destination of Betong, and there were ominous dark clouds building up in the distance.
That was when I realised that my roaming had stopped working. It dawned on me that international telco roaming was not available in southern Thailand; only services by local telecommunications companies worked.
It was an oversight on my part, but Suresh and Dr Thinakaran had local SIM cards, so we were not running blind.
Scattered heavy showers along the way, with intermittent stretches of roads under construction, resulted in a messy and slushy ride.
The route, some 80km away from Betong was extremely twisty, with failing light due to the dark clouds. We split into two teams – Dr Harjeet and Dr Thinakaran following their navigation maps and taking the shorter route to the hotel in Betong, while Suresh and I took the longer route to tackle the sweeping corners.
For Suresh, who has tackled the route multiple times, he was riding on muscle memory. For me, it was full-on concentration, just keeping up with him.
We finally reached the hotel at 8pm. Dr Harjeet and Dr Thinakaran arrived 45 minutes earlier.
We were back together again, with another member – Vinod, riding a Harley Street Glide – completing the group.
We had dinner and walked about in town, which was in a festive mood for the Chinese New Year celebration.
I woke up at 3.30am the next day, sitting with a hot cup of coffee, while organising the photos taken from the previous days, to formulate my thoughts for the narration I normally do, post-ride.
Getting a ping from another early riser Dr Thinakaran, we decided to walk about in town, in the early dawn.
With no crowd or vehicles, the town was peaceful and beautiful, shrouded in the early morning mist, giving it the appearance of the mythical Shangri-La.
For me, dawn is a magical moment when there is minimal movement of man and machine, making establishing a connection with nature and the environment, that much easier.
There is so much beauty in life, just that we are too busy living, that we are not seeing.
The town was slowly stirring to life, with vendors setting up their businesses for the day.
Both Dr Thinakaran and I had an early breakfast. Soon, we were joined by the others, and the ride home was discussed.
The plan was to cross the border by 11am, ride to Gerik, Perak, for lunch and fuel, and then ride towards Lenggong via the trunk road, before entering the North-South Highway, heading for Kuala Lumpur.
Dr Harjeet and Dr Thinakaran were to split up at Ipoh, while the remaining three would head on to nation’s capital.
Immigration and Customs clearance on either side of the border was uneventful, and the ride went on as planned. However, the journey from Ipoh to Kuala Lumpur was wet.
Traffic was high, too. My investment in a good, all-weather riding suit and gear paid off handsomely, keeping me dry throughout the ride. That was enough to interest the two other riders in wanting to get a full set for themselves. Talk about real world marketing.
I am very particular about getting every rider to check in when they reach their home. Only then will I feel the joy, elation, and success of a well-planned ride.
Nothing beats the satisfaction of getting home safe to our loved ones.
“Vicarious liability” in medicine means that the doctor is responsible for the care of his patients, and would be responsible for any mishaps during management, caused by the system, or any personnel.
Likewise, I felt that I had a moral responsibility for the safe return of both Dr Harjeet and Dr Thinakaran, who had embarked on this long, arduous ride, because of their trust in me.
It was a fantastic and fabulous 2,300km-odd ride by a group of individuals working together seamlessly, being accommodative, and adapting to the ever-changing riding conditions. All this contributed in making it an awesome, memorable, and an epic ride.
This write-up is dedicated to all brothers/sisters with a passion to ride the open road, and in memory of the late S. Kugendran, with whom I have ridden many a mile.
He lost his life doing what he loved best. Bless your soul brother, and keep riding, wherever you are.
This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.