Adventure tourists on big bikes traverse the Pranburi Dam, Prachuap Khiri Khan. (Capital TV capture)
Big bikes are booming in Thailand – and for the more adventurous, offering an exciting new way to discover its hidden charms.
– For the full text, see the Life section in Monday’s Bangkok Post print edition or E-paper.
– Three-part video story: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
There is a glorious paradox in motorcycling. On one hand it is deeply peaceful, almost meditative, all one’s attention on the present moment, a sensational smorgasbord, the wind on the skin, the multiple shades of green, the jolting vibration and the roar of the engine. On the other, it is carnal, thrilling and dangerous – a primeval lust to conquer and control, a high-stakes dance with death. Thailand has the second most dangerous roads in the world; according to the World Health Organisation, of the 24,000 estimated to die each year, 73% are on two wheels.
And yet…this exposure to danger and the elements, the sensory appreciation of beauty, the feeling of discovery…it’s a true peak experience. And there are few more beautiful places to have this experience than Prachuap Khiri Khan.
(Bangkok Post video)
Our weekend jaunt starts at a bland motel south of Hua Hin with rain in the air; our first stop is Rajabhakti Park, of whose allegedly corruption-riddled construction much has been written in the pages of the Post. The seven statues of Thai kings, from Ram Khamhaeng to Chulalongkorn, are quite impressive; the gargantuan godfathers of Thai history, stern and resolute in their towering infamy.
The rolling hills of Prachuap Khiri Khan are ideal for adventure motorcycling. (Capital TV capture)
After that, the fun begins, as the ten bikes head into the picture-postcard rolling hills and twisting rural roads. Big bikes are booming in Thailand. Sales of models bigger than 400cc shot up over 100% in both 2012 and 2013. The rate of growth has slowed since, but is still clocking over 25% per year. 25,000 new big bikes hit Thai roads in 2016, and Thailand has become a manufacturing hub for export, with 115,000 assembled last year.
Bikers explore the grandeur of the Pranburi Dam. (Capital TV capture)
After another 20km – and a herd of goats to circumnavigate – we reach Pranburi Dam. It was built in 1978 to protect the lowlands to the east from flooding, but the 35 square-kilometre lake – home to carp, catfish, snakehead fish and jungle perch – has become a tourist attraction. It is breathtakingly serene.
Bikers blaze their own trail by the Pranburi Dam. (Capital TV capture)
After the dam, the road ends and we hit the dirt. It’s muddy, it’s messy, and it’s exhilarating. For off-road virgins like me, it’s also a tad terrifying.
Prachuap Khiri Khan has plenty of dirt tracks for the offroad enthusiast. (Capital TV capture)
I’m quite relieved when we return to the tarmac and head south to Kuiburi Wild Elephant Reserve.
(Bangkok Post video)
As we arrive at the Reserve base station, the heavens open, and we are reminded that yes, this is rainy season. It’s good timing, because bikes aren’t allowed in the park. Instead, we pile into the back of pickup trucks for glimpses of the park’s 300 wild elephants and one of Thailand’s largest populations of gaurs, the world’s largest bovine mammal, also known as Indian bison.
One of the 300 residents of the Kuiburi Wild Elephant Reserve. (Photo by Dave Kendall)
The elephant cemetery at park headquarters is a good reminder that the park is more than a tourist attraction. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the illegal wildlife trade is now a $20 billion (668 billion baht) industry – the fourth largest illicit trading type behind narcotics, people and counterfeit goods.
Thailand is the second largest illegal ivory market in the world – after China – although most of it isn’t from Thai elephants; 20,000 African elephants are poached every year, and a lot of their ivory is trafficked through the Kingdom. Despite an attempted crackdown, the trade – and the busts – continue. On July 25, two Vietnamese nationals were arrested at Suvarnahumi Airport for allegedly trying to smuggle 75kg of ivory, worth 90 million baht; on Sept 7, another 41kg was seized en route from Republic of Congo. According to deputy police chief Pol Gen Chalermkiat Srivorakhan, a total of 335kg of ivory were seized during the first half of 2017. At least the wild elephants here are protected; about 10% of the nationwide total live here, and there have been no poaching incidents since 2010.
The rain stops just in time for the next leg of our trip – a 50km ride east to Sam Phraya beach, a peaceful strip of white sand and pine trees.
Bikers scan the horizon from Sam Phraya beach. (Photo by Dave Kendall)
Janejira ‘Joy’ Suwannasing strikes a pose on Sam Phraya beach. (Photo by Dave Kendall)
As dusk falls, we settle down for a barbeque on the sand. Make that a feast – there’s Tom Yam Talee, Yam Wun Sen, a variety of steamed fish and platters of watermelon, mango and plenty of locally-grown pineapple.
Bikers camp out on Sam Phraya beach. (Capital TV capture)
There are also thousands of mosquitos – swarms as thick as I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter – and we beat a hasty retreat to the tents before they’ve enjoyed their own beachside barbeque.
The next morning, we’re up at 5.30 for a spot of pre-dawn aerobic exercise. After a ten-minute ride through the darkness, we scramble up to Khao Daeng, Red Mountain, one of the most storied peaks of Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. Not all riders share the same fitness level, so it’s more of a challenge for a couple of us to be on two legs rather two wheels, and it’s not made any easier than the sheer rocks left slippery by morning drizzle.
Bikers mob the normally serene Khao Daeng viewpoint in Sam Roi Yot National Park. (Photo by Dave Kendall)
But finally we reach one of the finest viewpoints I’ve seen in Thailand, a panorama of the Gulf and the park’s picturesque tableau of peaks.
(Bangkok Post video)
The sunrise itself is rather a damp squib – mostly hidden behind a bank of grey clouds. But now that it’s light, the descent reveals some of the Park’s amazing flora – in particular, cactus trees with a remarkable similarity to snakes. The park contains 300 bird species and the wildlife includes Malayan porcupines and barking deer. Most in evidence were the hordes of cheeky, mischievous Macaques monkeys, some of whom were using our bikes as a kind of jungle gym when we arrived back in the car park.
From here we hug the coastline for a 35km ride north to Pak Nam Pran, where we celebrate the completion of our 200km tour with a delectable seafood smorgasbord.
It’s been wet, and at times it’s been strenuous and uncomfortable. It’s also been exhilarating, playful and joyous. Adventure motorcycling is not the easiest or safest way to explore Thailand. But it is probably the most fun and intense. And it sure as hell beats sitting on a bus.
- For the full text of this article, see the Life section in Monday’s Bangkok Post print edition or E-paper