Saturday, April 25, 2015

Connected at last!


Berenda, one of the many LCSG Angels that helped organized the event - Pic KC

Pic Taiwoon



For the longest time, the wonderful cycle paths of the East Coast Parkway in Singapore had a most unhappy ending. One can cycle all the way from Changi Village, through the lovely East Coast Park for nearly 20km or so but it ends abruptly at Fort Road. It's like watching a beautiful movie only to experience a power failure and all the build up that takes much work to develop suddenly gets killed just like that.

Hence, I was overjoyed and very pleased to learn of the opening of this most important connector recently and yesterday, the National Parks organised a ride to celebrate this opening. My good buddy Roland invited me to tag along and I joined over 100 cyclists at the Road Safety Center that met at 8am. There was a briefing about the finer points of cycling this most magnificent part of Singapore. It was also lovely to meet many cycling friends and good to see Taiwoon, the co-founder of LCSG there all beaming and inspiring his flock.

Pic Daphne Ngo

2 rides were organised, the 8km and 14km routes and I joined the latter. It is always nice to be on my Tikit chatting with friends as we cruised together as Group 2. The connector starts by a special green bridge for cyclists that went overhead, passing Fort Road and continued along skirting the Marina Bay Golf Course. This very significant 1km + journey then led to Rhu Cross, which fringes the lovely Marina Bay "lake", and allowed us to enjoy this beautiful and famous playground of Singapore. The ride through Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands etc is truly a must do for any visitors to Singapore as it is truly breath-taking.

We did a loop passing through the Singapore Flyer and the impressive new Singapore Sports Hub and Stadium. I noticed too how crowded the waterways were with so many kayaks as well as dragon boats speeding away. We returned back to the East Coast Park once again via the Happy Connector (for a lack of a name) and was pleasantly surprised at the lovely welcome back at the Road Safety Park. Cold drinks, bananas and a much appreciated goodie bag with gifts of arm sleeves, a small bike pouch and a map of the East Coast Cycling area.

All in, it was a lovely morning well spent. Kudos to the National Parks for the wonderful job at making the Singapore cycling scene more and more vibrant and to LCSG for their tireless advocacy and support. It is indeed delightful to be able to cycle from the Singapore River all the way to Changi Village completely on the wonderful park connectors. Connected at last!


Friday, April 17, 2015

Why scooter the Mae Hong Son Loop, N Thailand?

While this loop can certainly be done by a bicycle, it is not for the faint hearted. 700km through some very serious mountain climbs mean it can be a really tough ride. No wonder one Swedish cyclist called this ride The Wall. We did half of it in Feb 2014, and lived to tell the tale. However, these roads of the Mae Hong Son loop are truly a motorcyclist's dream. Amazing scenery, quiet roads, lots of curves and hairpins and cool weather from Nov to Feb. The steep hills are not a problem for modern scooters, even 125 cc ones provided one is not in a hurry. For us, we took it easy and aimed for 150km per day and that means being on the saddle for only about 3-4 hrs, cruising at an easy 50km/h or less.

The Yamaha Filano 125 scooters were amazing in fuel economy, averaging unbelievable 60km per litre. The Yamaha Tricitys due to its 3 wheel configuration and weight, also 125cc still managed a respectable 40km per litre. The Roscoes' Suzuki Burgman with 2 people averaged 32-34 km per litre. So it was a big pleasant surprise that the Filanos consumed only $20 worth of fuel over 900km.

There are numerous rental companies in Chiang Mai but we went with Pop Rental as they had a good variety of motorcycles including big ones - 500cc all the way to 1000cc. But truly, a small 125 cc should suffice as its hard to go faster than 70km/h on these country roads and pointless too. If you plan on a pillion, then a bigger 200cc makes sense.

Make sure safety gear is always worn. This means a good helmet (not the ones that come with the rental bikes) with full wind visor, gloves, jacket, long pants, shoes are the minimum. Of course if you can look good, why not? Flowers optional though.

A minor spill confirmed for us the importance of getting insurance, which meant peace of mind. Our friend walked away relatively uninjured thanks to the safety gear. All these plastic panelling of these new scooters are not cheap to repair. Insurance only adds about $2 per day so do check with your rental company if they have insurance. Of course, the key is to ride slowly, attentively and carefully especially around the bends. Traffic in the city can also be challenging, so please be aware.

One more thing, there is no need for license here in Thailand apparently. Just leave your passport as a deposit and that is good enough for them. But this means the onus of riding safe falls upon you and it helps to practice and skill up before embarking on such a journey.

Papa trying out the Yamaha Tricity for the very first time!

Anyway, here is a video I took while on the move. Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed my one hand riding! Trust you can feel the freedom, the fun, the wind and the unforgettable joy of scootering through one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Motorcycle rental shops in Chiang Mai and more useful information. Click here.

Photo credit - KC

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Scootering around Northern Thailand - Feb 2015

Pic -

Pic KC

When a bike shop dabbles in economics...

Pic KC

We did squeeze in a bit of cycling after all in MHS!  Pic KC

Pic KC

Pic KC

The Mae Hon Son Loop is a must do for any serious cyclists. We did half of it in Jan 2014 and went home wanting more. However with only a week to spare this year, cycling was out of the question. I mooted the idea of riding small scooters for this loop and it was met with excitement especially from Ken Cheok and Scott, who are non cyclists but keen motorcyclists. Papa Mike too had had a recent knee replacement so cycling was definitely out. Hence, this provided the reason to use highly efficient fuel injection petrol engines, instead of our usual human power.

Our usual abode Na Inn has now been sold and under new management. Unfortunately, the standards have taken a dive and a quick research for alternate guesthouses led us to Early Bird Bed and Breakfast, just 5 mins walk away in a nearby Soi. This is a newish place run by young creative ladies who truly redefined the word hospitality. Fresh, modern and bird themed, we truly enjoyed our stay there. They helped us rent our brand new Yamaha Grand Filano scooters and their warmth and friendliness won our hearts.

Pic KC

Pete and Jan got a bigger Suzuki Burgman 200 as they were riding together, Papa and I had the latest Yamaha Tricity (yes, 3 wheels) while the other 4 (KC, Ken, Scott & Cil) rode brand new Yamaha Filanos 125 cc scooters. For the newbies, it took all but 10 mins to master these easy twist and go scooters and we were soon on our way south along Highway 108, turning off to Highway 1009 (2 hrs later) to the beautiful Doi Inthanon National Park. The steep climb up the park really made us glad to be on these scooters instead of our usual bicycles, as they were struggling to go up. We spent the night at Hot Coffee Resort at Mae Chaem, nestled just by the river. The proceeds supported an orphanage right beside it and this is a must return place. Warm hospitality, great food and bright smiles!

Pic KC

Next morning we scooted down 1088, then back to 108 again, right towards Mae Sariang. The roads were beautiful but some bits were broken. Unfortunately, KC took a spill around one of the bends but came away relatively injury free due to protective wear and the the protective hand of God. We checked into the Riverhouse, a quaint all wooden hotel. We enjoyed eating at the local food court/market and watched Thai boxing at night which was exciting.

After a lovely Western breakkie, we pop into Mae Sariang's museum before heading northwards toward Mae Hon Son. We could not resist stopping at 30km mark for "Sheep Coffee", a most lovely spot. Next distraction was the Japanese War Museum which has been beautifully renovated since I last visited. The ride so far on this stretch was not as curvy until just before Mae Hon Son. It was amazing to ride into Gims Resort where the staff recognised us from last year. We visited the Wat Phra That Doi Kong Muon temple on the hill, in time to catch the sunset and enjoyed a lovely dinner just by the lake.

Leaving MHS, we headed north after 20km on 1095 towards Ban Rak Thai, a small Kuomintang Chinese village at the Burmese border. One highlight was going for a mud treatment at Phu Klon Spa. We never had so much fun getting caked in black mud! A visit to the famous Pang Ung Lake, catching the evening light was unforgettable. It was unfortunate that we could not stay there as accommodations were pretty run down. Pushing on another 15km we arrived at our destination where we checked into the Ping Ping Guesthouse. It felt like being in China. Though basic, our accommodations were comfortable and cheap. With more money in the kitty, we splurge at the best Yunnanese Restaurant.

In the morning, riding just 2km to the Burmese border was a must-do. It was so special to be at one of the most northernest part of Thailand! Coming down the mountain back to 1095 was fun, and cold as the temp dropped to 12c. It was nice to stop at the Fish Cave before continuing on 1095 towards Pai. Passing by this familiar route again on scooters instead of bicycles made us appreciate our great and magnificent effort last year.

It was awesome to spend 2 gorgeous days in Pai. This is such a happening place with art, food, coffee and all sorts of alternate lifestyle cultures. It helped that we stayed at Pai Village Boutique Resort again. We did a day tour covering the Alpaca farm, temple on the hill, elephant camp, Pai Canyon valley and the WW2 Bridge where I engaged a professional photographer dressed as Jack Sparrow to shoot some really amazing pics.

One highlight of Pai is the intriguing night market where street food are aplenty, together with souvenirs, crafts, clothes, music, coffee and so many things to keep occupied.

It was hard to leave Pai but we had to. 762 curves awaited us along 1095 as we headed towards Chiang Mai but not before stopping at our favourite stop, 32 Coffee Hill for a delicious lunch. They have designer toilets with great views!

Our plan was to camp out at Mon Jam, which is just 40km from Chiang Mai along 1096. The scenery was breathtaking and seemed like everyone from Chiang Mai was there too. However, looking at the poor condition of the tents and its high rates, we decided to back track to the foot of the mountain, and stay at a lovely resort which was on offer!

It was hard to return our trusty scooters when we got back to Early Bird as we all got too attached to them. The lovely staff at Early Bird welcomed us warmly and it was great to be home. 900km of partnership covering the beautiful roads of Northern Thailand changed us forever. What we saw and experience humbled us and the hospitality and warmth of the wonderful Thais mean we must do it again real soon.

The Scootering Team

Ken, Mike & KC

Mr & Mrs Lovethefold

Jan & Pete