A lot has happened in the last while! Firstly, we've been kicked out of our awesome apartment... :(
No, we weren't throwing wild parties or trashing the place. We didn't foresee that we would stay in Chiang Mai this long, so our AirBnB lease expired. When we went online to renew it, we found out the landlord upped the prices for the holidays - it was more than double what we were previously paying! So we opted to move out of Nimman and find other accommodations. We're now staying clear across the city, in the north-east quadrant called Fa Ham. We're staying in a high rise apartment right behind a huge, new mall called Central Festival.
Although this change of scenery is kind of a bummer (we really, really liked our old apartment in Nimman), it allows us to explore a new section of Chiang Mai. It's like researching all the different areas to live around the city, so if we end up buying a place here, we'll know the best neighbourhoods. I have a feeling it's still going to be Nimman...
This is the lobby of our new apartment building. Very festive!
So this is where we spent Christmas. We don't really like our new accommodations. Although this building is newer, it's a lot smaller than our old apartment and it's right beside a highway so there's a lot of noise and dust from the traffic. We have to keep the windows closed and use the air conditioner all the time, which Neda isn't too happy about. :(
Our new place does have a swimming pool though. We make use of it a lot just to get out of the tiny apartment.
Secondly, the hunt for used motorcycles was fruitless.
We're specifically looking for a couple of 250cc dual sports. While the roads are in excellent condition in Thailand, we're thinking about heading to Laos and Cambodia when our visa exemption expires. We've heard the roads there aren't as developed, so the dualies would come in handy. Plus we want to do some trail riding while we're here as well! We were looking for something like a Honda CRF250L or Kawasaki KLX250S. The reason for these two choices is that they're assembled in Thailand and are exempt from the oppressive import tax that Customs levies on all vehicles coming in. So these bikes are a lot cheaper than their Japanese/European assembled competition.
That's relevant information for our big bikes which are sleeping in Europe. The import tax for bringing in used motorcycles is almost 300% of the value assigned to the bike. So to bring in our BMWs, we pretty much have to pay three times the value of what the customs people deem it to be worth (which will probably be a lot higher than what we think it's worth). And the paperwork, wait-times and emissions-testing procedure is a nightmare. By publicly documenting all of this, Thai Customs is basically telling everyone not to bother and buy a vehicle inside the country instead.
If we decide to stay here, we'll either have to leave our Beemers somewhere outside of Thailand (Croatia probably) or sell them. Yeah, who are we trying to kid. We're not selling our bikes. Waaaay too much sentimental value. That and we'll get nothing for them because of the mileage...
I hit the classifieds pretty hard for a couple of weeks. There were a couple of older, very high mileage CRFs. One KLX looked promising, but the owner flaked out on our meeting - guess he wasn't too motivated to part with his bike...
Time was running out on our visa and we were starting to worry.
So we went to the local Honda dealership and picked up a couple of these bad boys!!!!!
We were hurtling towards the expiration date of our visa so we bit the bullet and bought new bikes. It turned out to be not that expensive (relatively): less than $3500USD including tax, insurance for one year and registration of a Thai license plate. They are $4500USD outside of Thailand before taxes and this doesn't include insurance and registration, so it was a good deal to buy a Thai-assembled bike. I'm confident we can sell a nearly new bike with low mileage and not be out too much money. Especially compared to the cost of renting bikes for many months. And we can ride these ones out of Thailand!
A slightly Merry Belated Christmas for us... 555!
Riding our new bikes home. So excited!!!!
It took a couple of weeks for us to take delivery once we ordered the bikes, as the dealership was out of stock of CRFs, so these ones had to be shipped from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. We paid a few extra dollars for them to install rear aluminum racks so we can mount our drybags and backpacks on the back. The only wrinkle is that we are waiting for the ownership papers (called a Green Book) to be registered to our names and license plates to be assigned to us. Those are mandatory for taking the motorcycles across the border. The dealership is confident we'll get those before our visa expires.
So now we're planning our road trip out of Thailand. We're probably going to hit Laos first since we're so close to the border, then make our way to Cambodia and then come back through South-East Thailand and then return to Chiang Mai (because we love it so much here).
Ooooh! So excited for our road trip! And it feels way more relaxed since we have a home base that we can come back to anytime we want - that is, once we apply for and receive our new visas...
Ahhh, the pride of ownership. Parking our brand, new, shiny motorcycles at our apartment for the first time
It's been so long since we've owned new bikes! I'm taking a zillion pictures of them. As any motorcyclist knows, we are now officially in the modding stage of ownership! These are basically trail bikes, so we gotta get them decked out for touring. First thing to address is the terrible seat. Hard as a rock! On the 15-minute ride from the dealership back to our apartment, my butt got sore. There's no way we're doing multi day-long rides with that stock seat.
Also, we've got to address secure storage on the bikes. Right now, we've only got soft bags with us, which can be easily cut off the bikes or slashed open. We'll probably get topcases to store our valuables and documents. By the time we're done, we're gonna end up with two Honda GSes... Neda will want to Touratech out her CRF! 55555!
Neda's first mod: an elephant key chain she got from the mall. She's named Ellie and she's the official RideDOT.com Thai mascot :)
Neda runs some errands on her new ride
Having our own transportation really opens the city up for us. We're getting acquainted with the confusing mess of one-way streets around the old town, as well as trying to discover the most efficient way of getting to our most visited spots around town - which these days is the Honda store. It's turning out that there are a million pieces of papers to shuffle between the government and the dealership, especially being a foreigner trying to buy a local vehicle.
When all this is done and over with, I'll document the whole rigmarole we had to go through to buy new bikes as a farang if anyone wants to do the same. It's quite a long and tedious process...
On one of our forays into the city, Neda had to break out the map to find out where we were supposed to go. Next mod: GPS...!
We're also getting used to riding on the left side of the road. All of this isn't new to us - we've already ridden in India, the UK and New Zealand. Also, the style of riding here is familiarly Asian. It feels like a less frenetic version of India. If traffic is like pushing rocks through a tube, the cars and trucks are the big stones and the motorcycles and scooters are grains of sand that slip past them when they get backed up and can't go anywhere. We both love being on bikes and lane-splitting! At red lights, we filter our way to the front and zoom away from the rest of the four-wheelers when the light turns green. Stop-light Grand Prix!
Speaking of traffic lights, Chiang Mai has some pretty crazy long red lights. At the stop lights along the main highway, there is a countdown that shows you how long till the light turns greens. It starts off at 180 seconds... Three minute red light!!! Most everyone turns their engine off.
The road etiquette here is to look out for the person in front of you and ignore what's behind you. Shoulder check? Wat Pho? Dandruff? This all means that you really can't count on the person in front using their rear view or side mirrors, so you have to anticipate what they're going to do and always be ready. It's pretty crazy, but again, nothing can be as bad as India, so we take it all in stride.
Man, it feels so good to be on two wheels again!!!
Going for a little night cruise
It's peculiar experience stepping down from a 1200cc, 100hp 700lb behemoth to a tiny 250cc, 22hp 300lb mosquito of a bike. Although we used to own 250cc 4-stroke dirtbikes, we never rode them on the street. I'm finding I'm always a gear or two higher than I need to be. On the big Beemer, I got quite lazy with the shifting - there was always gobs of torque available in just about any gear. On the tiny Honda, my left foot is tapping down and pulling up like Fred Astaire in the movies. It's tiring!!!
And the single cylinder engine... sounds like a sewing machine. Off the line at green lights, I'm redlining it in every gear: Brp(1st gear is short)-Braaaap-Braaaaap-BRAAAAAAAP tugging up on the shifter all the way to sixth gear. It sounds like it's gonna blow up. My mind is calculating on the fly: 6th gear times a million revs a minute... must be at least 150km/h! I glance down at the speedo to confirm: 80 km/h... 555!
It's going to take some getting used to this new bike. At least parking is easy. I just step off the bike, reach over the seat, grab the foot peg on the other side, tuck the bike under my arm, then pick it up and place it wherever I want... :)
You would be forgiven to think that 7-11 is a Thai company
In the Chiang Mai downtown core, there is literally (I mean literally in the literal sense) a 7-11 convenience store every 200 meters. Literally. Not figuratively.
There's always a bunch of scooters parked outside the 7-11. It's like the Tim Hortons/Starbucks motorcycle hangout equivalent. One thing I really like about our CRFs is that we totally blend in with the locals. I remember riding our Big Pigs around Latin America - everyone stared at us and our alien bikes. Now nobody gives us a second glance. It's nice not to draw unwanted attention!
Thirdly (bet you forgot we were counting...): It's New Years Eve!
The mall beside us is throwing a huge party so we walk over and join in to ring in the new year
Cheap meals at Central Festival Mall
The place is packed, everyone is waiting for the New Year's Eve celebrations
If you're wondering what the inside of that huge purple Christmas tree looks like, this is it
There was a stage set up with musicians and people counting down in Thai for the New Year
Welcome 2016! Fourth New Year on the road! Crazy!
It's a brand new year and we have wheels. We also have a (rough) idea where we're going with them.
Up next: SE Asia by motorcycle! So stoked!!!