More rides in Kanchanaburi (2)

By Graham K. Rogers

Over the Hill

The title is, of course, a deliberate pun. I am 54 this year and it just gets better. It also refers to the direction this ride took. This is the second part of a "Fast Ride" I started in September 2003. Not that I have not ridden in the last few months: I went on a series of rides in the New Year; and it is not that I have failed to take this route either. I have been up here several times. Time got the better of me once or twice, and on a couple of occasions, I lent my camera to someone; and then the bike was not running; or the wallet was off-limits; and some Sundays I had other commitments.

I finally linked everything this morning: time, camera, bike, cash (this being the end of the month) and even beat the alarm clock giving me time to read the newspaper with my coffee. I had been into Bangkok on Friday, for one of my rare city trips, as the bike was due for a new tax disk; and the Old Man who was doing it for me this time (the previous document man dropped dead a few months ago, so we had to start some processes again) was making another attempt to get me a licence plate. The number has been issued but someone -- me or the previous owner: we rare not sure who -- lost the receipt. I am in a bureaucratic black hole: stuff gets sucked in, but nothing seems to escape. Needless to say, I was stopped by the police and was probably about to be fined, but I phoned the Old man and he spoke to the policeman. . .

As I had a fair distance to go, I toook the highway all the way to the outskirts of Kanchanaburi, then the by-pass round the town, and came out with a right turn to put me on the road for the Erawan Waterfall, the Srinakharin Dam, and the road to Srisawat. It was this road that I had written the ride report on last time, and the last image was of the intersection -- left to the Dam and the Waterfall, right, up the hill to Srisawat.

And that is where I began today

The road has been resurfaced right the way up the hill and all of the loose stones that had been a feature of the previous job were now gone. A nice job. As I started up the hill, the clouds that I had seen getting closer, had obviously been this way already. Up the hill was damp, the other side was wet.

Immediately, the hill has a steep gradient, and one often finds trucks struggling after the first 100 metres. With more than 5kms to go to the summit, this is a painfully slow trip, especially with the considerable number of curves -- looking over the sides to see where you will be going.

It is also illuminating to stop and look back to see where you have come from. While looking at the view, a truck went past travelling down the hill. Of the trucks I saw today and a bus, all were traveling slowly -- low gears, plenty of brakes, with that acrid smell.

Unfortunately, not all are as prudent as those I saw today. When I came up here late last year, I saw little untoward, but in the newspaper the next morning, there was a report of a bus -- not long after I had left the area -- leaving the road with several deaths. The driver, in almost time-honoured tradition, ran away from the scene. Thais being religious, and superstitious, want to make merit (see Tamboon), so at the side of the road in locations where there have been fatalities, construct spirit houses and leave flowers plus other offerings for the gods of the area. I have seen similar small shrines in the north of Italy. And still the road rises. . . .

As the road nears the summit, so the twisties increase. For a rider out on a Sunday jaunt, this is enjoyable and the series of bends can almost be straight-lined, especially on the return journey, downhill. Unless you have a bike capable of off-road work, there is no way through. I have done this several times when I had the BMW R80g/s, but the K goes back down the hill.

Unusually, this week there were a few others taking the same route. As can be seen, it was quite congested for the time of year.

I have never counted the number of corners that are on this hill: lots. Going through the images I took earlier, I have discarded half a doaen already because there are just too many bends here. As per above, much enjoyment to ride this route; but even pictures fail to convey the dramatic sense that is instilled.

Considering how I arrived here this morning, I had already ridden over 100kms of twisty and fast roads and there was more to come. Much more. The the summit itself appears and the nature of the road changes as does the country on the other side of the range of hills.

The road from the summit down, starts with a series of wide-looking bends with fixed radius: gently banked. Then as the gradient of the hills themselves increases, so there is a section with some really sharp zig-zags. This is probably more enjoyable the other way as an uphill stretch with gravity to help.

The air was noticably cooler up here, particularly when compared with later in the morning and around noon. As may be guessed, some of the images were taken while I was on the move. I would admit to coming up the hill in second gear and just a bit higher than tickover, with the camera upside-down. If any cars or bikes came close, I either stopped or put the camera away. I had it attached to the camera case, which itself was slung over my shoulder.

Now, going down the hill, the twisty nature can be seen, which then opens out into a faster stretch, with gentler (but faster) bends, although I continued to crawl along in second gear.

While looking around, I became aware of a slight metallic pinging sound, particularly when I turned my head to the left. I looked down but saw nothing that appeared to be wrong, so carried on, although I did try to locate this quiet sound from time to time.

As one approaches the last of the tight bends, it is possible to look across and see through the trees to where the road straightens out; and then the twisties are done and the road opens. Although there are some slight bends, it is easy to make this a straight line travelling in either direction.

The next part of this road, from the hills themselves to the village of Mongkathaen, may be less drastic, but it is no less enjoyable as a rider's road. Short straights, low traffic volume, coupled with some medium speed bends -- a good road surface most of the way -- makes this a fairly safe but fun morning ride.

Still riding slowly, I saw that, for a short distance -- about one kilometer -- the road surface had not been resurfaced in the recent set of improvements. Not that it was bad, Maybe this was in the interests of economy, but I doubt that: local government does not think that way in any country.

Approaching the village, I took advantage of the light -- non-existent -- traffic and stopped on the right side hard shoulder: this gave a better view round the corners and down the road.

As I came to the outskirts of the village, I decided to stop this part of the ride, partly because I was almost out of memory for the camera: I had changed to the small memory stick which meant less than 10 more images; and I had taken half a dozen already.

The last two were of the lake behind the dam. Retracing my steps over the hills, I turned into the area which has the Erawan waterfall, several caves and a road that follows the west side of the lake. The dam crest is open to the public, as are (I think) all. They are well-visited and some have accommodation. Although dams destroy much land, they do create a different form of beauty.

After a try of the crossword and a can of Sprite, I headed back towards Kanchanaburi by a circuitous route. Near Prasat Muang Singh, I was again aware of the rattle coming from the left. Looking down -- I was goping a little faster now -- I noticed that the left luggage bag was shaking more than I thought was right. I stopped and found that it was indeed loose towards the rear. I found some shade and took the bag off, hoping to tighten the nut I knoew was there. It was there, but the bracket itself had snapped. This was my signal to return, via the smoother roads (when possible) to Bangkok.

I will take the bags off in the morning and run around with a back-pack for a day or so until I can get it into the shop to let the Old Man have a look.

© Graham K. Rogers
Bangkok: February 2004

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