Roads to the far East- A Road Trip

Road trips are always fun. Made solo or with a group of friends, they leave a never-ending trail of rich experience and impressions of earthly beauty. I had an opportunity to add another one to the list recently on the month of July 2016, when I joined a few friend of mine over a 5 day, 2100 kms for a road trip across the Northern Thailand.

So why Thailand !! Well, to start with, it is miles ahead in terms of easiness and reach for people in India to make an overseas road trip, doesnt cost a ‘bomb’ and the country-side is simply ‘be-au-tiful‘. Keeping into perspective about all the ingredients to make a great road trip, its pure divine to be on a pair of wheels in this part of the world.

This idea opportunity came to me courtesy motohive.in and letsride24x7, who had taken a lead in organizing this road trip for known friends and family members. Thus, it is indispensable to not share word of being thankful to them as this turned out to be one trip I would have repented for long had I not been able to make it.

Ahh.. coming back to he road again. The dates for the trip were from 2nd July 16 to 7th July 16. And we had included one day, 8th July, for the top of the list, shopping spree in Bangkok. Did I forget to mention, we also had several ladies accompanying us so how do you miss shopping from the itinerary. 🙂 The scheduled itinerary looked like this.

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courtsey motohive.in

The departure day started very early with all of us friends travelling from Pune to Mumbai international Airport to catch a mid day JeT airways flight to Bangkok. It was a day when all hell broke loose and it rained all the way. We managed to reach in time @Mumbai Airport and spent most of our time waiting in the Departure lounge sipping hot coffee and watching flights land and take off from distance.

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Adios Mumbai… will return soon

We reached Bangkok around 7 in the evening. The city was preparing itself to a bright Saturday evening and looked absolutely inviting from the skies.

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A birds eye view of Bangkok

Our first evening accommodation was arranged in The Patra. Its close proximity to the Suvarnabhumi Airport was a factor considered however the hotel would be slightly distant from several key attractions. But non the less, the cabs could be arranged by the hotel staff, however, late night expeditions could turn out to be long walking extravaganzas.

We had an arrangement to keep our extra luggage at the hotel storage and leave only with the essentials. As it was bound to be a road trip, the next day morning  was for us to collect the motorbikes and head out. The motorbikes were rented out with arrangement with Big Bike Rental Bangkok. They had quite an inventory to offer to everyone’s taste. I had opted for Honda CB500X, a comfortable and capable touring machine. My friends had opted for other motorbikes, so that meant, we were going to have loads of fun switching rides. Viola..!!!

Vrooommm  Day 1 …!!

Day 1 Excitement, Urge to hit the road, and anticipation of beautiful times to come had us all on our heels. We checked out from the hotel after keeping the extra luggage stored to meet Frank, the BBR guy who had already set the motorbikes out for us. We grabbed some quick morning bite and got our Mobile Prepaid Cards from a nearby 7Eleven.

Tip :  Try to sort the prepaid cards from the Airport Departure terminal itself. Many 7Elevens don’t have them in stock and it might leave you stranded in a fizzy the last moment. All it needs is a Passport for you to get one. One passport could be used to obtain multiple sims as well. We had picked AIS Group and True SIMS. An excellent 4G coverage throughout Thailand is a boon. Even if one expands all of its Voice account, data connection would be fairly enough to make Watsapp calls/messages, Facebook Uploads and quick browsing.

As a backup, we also had a mini bus arranged to escort us for rest of the trip. It came out to be a huge relief for everyone as we had our backup vehicle carrying our essential stuff and ladies along with children. With my experiences over a few other longer rides that I had made, any backup vehicle is always an asset. And a very friendly ‘MAX’ was the guy who took the drivers seat to guide us and take us around his country roads for next few days.

We had quite some paperwork to be completed before we could start. It included signing off with the Terms and Conditions, Disclaimers. As a norm, one needs to submit Passports with the rental companies, however, we managed by only submitting the hard copies. A quick brief is always welcome before venturing out with a large group to keep everyone in tune. We had one addressing queries about the roads conditions, road ethics, weather check and any individual queries.

Oh yes, and I made an immediate friend there before we left.

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It was about time. The caravan was ready to explore.

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My ride for the next few days

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Quick refilling stop

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Rains welcomes wherever we head to!

Our first destination was a district in western Thailand that shares a border with Burma to the west, Mae Sot. The town is part of Tak Province and is the main gateway between Thailand and Burma.

The overnight stay was arranged at Centara Mae Sot Hill Resort. A big looking comfortable stay was expected after the first days ride close to 500 kms, and that was exactly how it was. Now, one this very distinctive about Thailand was, the villages or towns did not look like one in the literal way. So as to say, Mae Sot was a smaller town, however, it didnt appear to be with its huge shopping complex, very clean broad roads and some quite fancy eateries out. After having a good nights rest, next day it was to visit the Thai-Burmese border line.

Vrooommm  Day 2 …!!

The Moei River serves as a natural border between Mae Sot and the Burmese town of Myawaddy. Mae Sot is the where Asian Highway AH1 links Thailand and Burma.

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The monument at Moei River bordering Thailand and Burma

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The friendly open bridge and the two Royal Thai Army guards posted at the border

With small shops set up of the illegally smuggled black market, there is not much for the offering at the border line. Soon it was time to head out again.

Today we had slightly shorter distance to travel of about 400 kms to the city of Mae Hong Son. It is a town in north-west Thailand, capital of Mae Hong Son Province. It is in the Shan Hills, near the border with Burma along the banks of the River Pai. Though the distance wasnt large and we had quite fabulous roads to do quick miles, rains marred our progress and slowed us down considerably.

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courtsey motohive.in

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Some shoot @sight shots

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The backup Van

We had our lunch at a small eatery on our way and something very retro welcomed our sights there. The owner had parked two of the legendary names parked right alongside the dining space and it was hard for the two-wheeler junkies like us to let it go without notice.

 The Kawasaki Zephyr 750 (90s) and Honda CB1300 (90s)

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The red patch alarms the user about a dangerous slippery, down the hill turn, especially during the nights. Its something one cant miss while riding under artificial lights

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While awaiting at a very friendly Royal Thai Army post. One can find them all over the province.

We reached the town in the evening and by that time, the day light had already left the horizon. We checked in @Baiyoke Chalet Hotel which is at a short walking distance from the Mae Hong Son Lake.

The main attraction for the town is undoubtedly MaeHongSon Lake. Its a huge water body with beautifully lit temple that one can witness from across the lake while sipping some nice drinks. We reached the town in the evening when it had got dark. After a quick check in and freshening up, we all decided to head out to Mae Hong Son Lake. And it was time to have some fun, good food and stroll alongside the lake while appreciating the golden lit temple across the lake.

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A view from the across the lake cafe, The Sunflower Restaurant

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The Temple and the Nectar

After long sessions of talks, food and drinks, we all walked back to the hotel. Post offering our prayers for another day of exhilaration and fun, we all crashed into bed, awaiting another eventful day to come.

Vrooommm  Day 3 …!!

Day 3 was the day for our shortest ride of the whole trip. We had to cover close to 120 kms and travel to one of the biggest party scene destinations of the whole trip, Pai. It primarily thrives on tourism. Well-known among backpackers for its relaxed atmosphere, the town is full of cheap guesthouses, souvenir shops, and restaurants. But before we reach Pai, we had a few more check ins to be made on our way.  The first one was the Sutongpe Bridge.

‘Sou-tong-pe’ is a local name means Bridge of faith, as you walk along the bridge you may wish, and your wish will come true! To describe, its a vast sprawling field with a man made bamboo bridge that runs over the paddy fields. Its offers a beautiful lush green view from the top and you might find occasional monks crossing your ways if you are lucky.

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A quick stroll over the bridge and we were again all set to leave. Though it was overcast, however, July turned out to be gravely humid and we were all sweating more than we could under those heavily armored riding gear. Hence we all planned to get back on our rides and start soon.

Honestly, nothing beats the cool breeze gushing through your gear if you are standing and walking around in those heavy leather. We didn’t want to stop again and just keep riding along. However, there were still some walking left for us to do in the day.  After a short ride, we reached the to feed some fishes at the Fish Cave.

This is like a small garden with ponds in the middle and you will get to see myriads more fish (and feed them). Its nice to walk around and doesn’t offer much for tourists to explore around. Just could be a short stop for you to stretch your legs for a while. Still worth to share a few pics from the garden.

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The path way that runs across the park. Beautifully done with leaves impressions right all the way

We left shortly after everyone spent some time strolling around the park. There were some small souvenir shops as well in the park premises. A few of our friends flocked towards them and I, surprisingly, with my naive negotiation skill, also successfully bagged some stuff. 🙂 So with a huge smile, I geared up back and we hit the road again.

Vroooom 3 was a shortest ride day for us all and hence we had planned to explore a few more destinations while on our way to Pai village. Thailand had been so far a country with beautiful landscapes and lush green valleys. I think the next check-in for us was slightly different as it was about some adventure passing over narrow passages overlooking trenches and ditches. Rightly called as Pai Canyon, it offers a challenging terrain for all folks and lots of narrow spaces to jump around. Though it was all fun but since a lot of us had been riding, our gear didnt allow us much to be much exploratory. Especially the boots. So it goes without saying, carry friendly footwear before venturing into the ‘canyons’.

   Looks Adventurous .. absolutely, with riding gear on … Naaah..!!

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Waiting for customers

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The Magic Bullet Power Booster

Though it was merely a 120 kms ride for the day but we still had to cover some distance. Pai was anticipated as a huge party hub and everyone was too eager to drop off the gear and let the foot loose at the biggest party scene of the trip. We made a few more short pit stops to get refills and planned out to reach Pai before the sun sets on us and save some time in the evening to roam around and grab some BEER..!!

We reached Pai in time as planned and checked in to this lovely looking resort on a narrow street. Pai, is a small town, that lies on the banks of river Pai. With around 140 odd kms distant from Chiang Mai, the largest and most culturally significant city in Northern Thailand, it is majorly influenced by waves of global tourism, upbeat pubs, and street food and celebration. The resort we stayed was Pai Village Boutique Resort, a boutique resort, tastefully done with a sense of peace and wood in mind. This was right across the street to a some of the fine pubs and bars that Pai had to offer.

Soon, it was time to drop off the heavy gear, grab some beer and head out. The very best about this place is that one can walk over the streets while enjoying their favorite drink, have a bite and ludicrously tasty street food with loads of variety for all.

The evening was coming to life as party goers were on the street and so did we head out in different directions around this town. We halted at one nice, small bar which had seating for around 6 to 7 people at its high rise bar right on the street side and had a huge invite for all that read ‘BEER’.

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😀 , no second thoughts given, and we were soon sipping some Singhas and Buds while constructing a chit chat with the owner. And while we were involved into the chatter, a few more guests over the bar recognized us and cheered us with a tap. Actually, these guys were also on a road trip across Thailand and one of them had a small crash earlier on the day. Luckily, some of my friends assisted him, like good Samaritans, and here we were, raising toast to the good times.

The list of places that one can explore is long. However, a few that we actually checked in and ended up having great time were, The Boom Bar, The Dont Cry Bar, and The DTox Bar

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The resort Parking

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Resorts own Bar

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The Don’t Cry Bar

Roaming around in Pie is a lot of fun. Non ending music, loads of outlets to get your leg shaking, a no-fuss-about crowd and great food. We spent rest of the night pub crawling, crawling… literally by the time it was 5 in the morning. Wink …!!!

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Before it was all sober 😀

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Random street Graffiti

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All Neon Night

Honestly, don’t have and account or and order in memory about how the evening was celebrated, but it was super charged, electrifying and foot-thumping.

The Ride

Honda CB500X

Since I had been riding the Honda CB 500X for around 3 days now, it has earned some space of mention and express my fondness. This is one bike that is tailor made for long distance hauls. Seats comfortable, bars are upright and churns loads of kms per lt giving out excellent mileage. To me it was quite a capable machine considering my riding style and capacity. I rode it on the twistiest, on arrow head straight patches, in the rain, on dry tarmac, doing descent speeds and I would not have been more happier. There were a few more similar counterparts in the group as Kawasaki Versys 650, however, it never appeared to me to ask for an exchange. If I would have to suggest one to anyone who might be planning a similar trip on the future, do check for this one for sure. Unless you don’t was to kill your knee scrapping spikes, it should be an all rounder for you.

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Vrooommm  Day 4 …!!

Road to Chian Mai. That day kick started with usual routine. Quick breakfast, checkout and heading out. We had Doi Inthanon National Park as well on our check in list but we missed doing this part of the trip due to unforeseen reasons. We planned to head straight to Chiang Mai instead and as always, racing against time. Chiang Mai means “new city” and was so named because it became the new capital of the Lan Na kingdom when it was founded in 1296. It being a famous district on the tourist map, so there was a lot for us to see in the city.

During all of the times we had been traveling, one that had never showed a back on us was great roads to ride on. Since we had several different bikes to have an experience with, everyone had a chance to ride along different machines. Its a load of fun to ride tourers, naked sports, docile, aggressive and absolutely freak of a machines over this part of land. There a lot that I would share about my experiences over the time riding different machines,  but lets save it for another part of this journey. 🙂

Coming back to this buzzing city of temples. We were staying at Le Naview  A lodging very close to Wat Phra Singh, a restored, 14th Century, Buddhist Temple. The hotel was huge comforting and treated us with its open restaurant that was right after first few steps into the hotel. All being hungry and tired wasted no time in jumping on to the food.

The food option available in Thailand as a country are plenty and delicious, unless one is not into eating it all appetite. Options for Vegans are not that lucrative as they are possibly for Non Vegans. But then again, aroma of those Green Thai Curies works nothing less than good those appetizer.  Time to gulp in the food and checkin with rooms.

The hotel is quite spacious with big rooms. Thankfully ours was on the ground floor so we did not have to carry our stuff much. Two things that I observed about how hotels work at this part of the world are – One… There is no porter that puts your luggage to the rooms. At the max, they are helping you our to carry stuff to the lobbies and from their you can carry yourself. Two… There are no Floor ‘0’ here by. The ground floor are marked as ‘1’. Though non of them come in the way about how hospitable any hotel is.

Link in most of the Thailand, the most convenient means of transportation would be to rent out a scooter and roam with free will. And we did the same There was a paid booth for quick reference of tours around the city in the lobby. Some of us planned to pick those up, while we rented out the scooters on 200 bahts for a day. The scooters were cute, flashy and fun to ride. I reckon, no matter what motorcycle we had been riding for this long, riding a gearless bike is always fun and relaxing. Myself and few other friends picked one each and we started our exploration after refreshment.

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The Minion Company

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The Gang Members

So we had a list of the places we were trying to do for the evening. Wat Phra Singh to start with as it was closest to the city and had huge historical significance. And honestly stating, this is one of those very many picturesque spots where any shutter bug could spend hours and still would not be done. Its Golden Domes, beautiful sprawling lawns and in the evening when the light are switched on, its an magical golden statues are a treat to eyes. I think we felt this more as we were exploring. It was simply magnificent.

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Beautiful Wat Phra Singh

There are a few night markets which run late in the evening and offer stores and street side stalls for the tourists. Chiang Mai is a shoppers paradise, and nothing beats shopping for a bargain more than in in the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.  The Night Bazaar, on the east side of the old walled city, is approximately 1km long on Thanon Chang Khlan (large roads in Thailand are named Thanon, and smaller side streets are named Soi) (so Thanon Chang Khlan translates to Chang Khlan Road). The Night Bazaar is open every day of the year regardless of the weather from dusk till around midnight.

Though we were not shopaholics but it still had loads of tempting stores to check out for that we all ended up with our hands full of bags and souvenirs. We had spared one day alone to complete the shopping list in Bangkok the penultimate day, but still, who wanted to wait for that long. 🙂 After roaming around for a couple of hours, we settled down at an arena where in live performance was being carried out by a band. To me, nothing more than asking for a place to settle for a while, with some great live music and beer besides you. It was a perfect setup to end the day on a musical note.

Ah… Life is beautiful, I told myself, while the band was performing ‘Coming Back to Life’ by the Floyds. I really was getting back then.

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“Coming Back To Life”

The ride

Honda CRF250

It was a day to go on to be a street rogue. And nothing fitted the profile more suitably then Honda CRF250. Okay, before I share my impression, I felt that the best terrain to enjoy this machine are the twistiest. The straight highway dashes might feel a bit bored and under powered if you have loads of road to rip on and no signs of hurdle. However,  in the twistiest, it comes to its element and KABOOOMM..!!! This was probably the lightest motorcycle of the lot (other could be CB300 naked) and it was its biggest asset to throw it around on the corners. I am not a cornering junkie just to mention but I still was able to ride faster and lean more on this one. That’s how much confident inspiring this one was.

But yes, as I had mentioned earlier, this is not a highway munching tool. The seats narrow so that’s not much comfortable, tanks small so it dries up quickly and high seated so people with short height could face some challenges. Non the less, I had great fun hopping over this hooligan.

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Honda CB650F

Another one for the day was another Honda CB650F. Now there were many reasons why I wanted to swing my legs over this one. One was that I own a Kawasaki 800 back at home and have ridden it over long hauls as well. Also, here in India, CB650 R is considered to be the closest competitor to the Kwacker. Now, one thing that everyone arguably can agree upon is that Hondas make one of the most silent and refined engines there are in the market. CB650 was butter refined, did not make any noise and was compact feeling bike. Rode it for short distance in the twistiest and it felt very much planted and behaved properly. And a huge plus that worked in its favor was that it was a tad more comfortable in comparison to Z800 and was capable of doing almost everything that Kwacker would do.

Again, not being a pro, it is what I can churn out as an impression with the riding experience I carry.

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Vrooommm  Day 5 …!!

It was the rush day for us. There were no plans set up for this day for sight seeing. It was the longest distance that we had to cover during this whole trip on any given day. Since we were parting ways with our beloved rides a day after, everyone decided to make is a safe and memorable ride to end the tour.

The ride

Yamaha MT03

I claimed the fun toy of the lot, Yamaha MT03,  which was so much fun and ripping around on those beautiful highways. Saving reviews for the experts, to me, it was a comfortable, nimble, fun to dash through traffic ride, good enough to keep speeds up north of 160 kmph with ease. It does not feel any lack of punch though it was in the company of much powerful machines. Seat was comfortable enough to not to force you take breaks much often. It was in fact so much fun to ride that I even missed the midway rendezvous point and kept riding along. Much Fun that little Yammy was.

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Fun All The Way.. Yammy Jammy.

Honda CB300F

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courtesy powersports Honda

Till we were closing the last stretch of distance, it had already been overcast and downpour started. Time to switched the motorcycle back again. And for this last stretch, I picked up the most familiar, comfortable city ride of the lot, the Honda CB300F. I own a CBR250R back here in India and have ridden it quite much in my daily routine. Hence CB300F has almost everything that CBR250R has minus the full clad bikini. Being a single cylinder 300 CC, it will get those vibrations up the bar ends, foot pegs if we try to rip it out and out. Over the highways, all those attributes amplify while going on higher speeds.  However, as I mentioned earlier, at home while riding in the city and being light is always an asset when you are crawling at snails pace stuck in a bumper to bumper traffic.

During the last few kms of the ride I was introspecting about how the days have passed by. In terms of the distance we covered and the rides we all enjoyed. Just as a fundamental, I don’t rate any of the rides as better then the rest just because one could lean better then the other or notch up higher speeds. While a lot many tend to draw a comparison across the board, I believe since all of them had different characteristics, I would stick to suggest a pick most suitable to do these road trip next time around. And for me that pick would be Honda CB500x. It has all the punch, fun, excitement and comfort that I would need considering the distance we covered, the straights and twistiest that we did and rode in bright sunshine and under the clouds. Lest assured, all the rides were fantastic and by the time we reached hotel, I was a hugely satisfied soul with a memorable road trip to cheer for coming to an end.

Vrooommm Day 6 …!!

The last day was reserved for everyone to get around the city. However, for me I skipped the normal routine touristy plan because of two reasons.

One, it was my second trip to Thailand. So I had already seen most of it so it didnt excited me much 🙂

Two, I had plans to visit the Paddok Store.

This is one of the better rated stores for all shopping related to riding gear and accessories. The store is packed with loads of gear and majority of it if from Tiachi and Komine brands. The store is spread across two huge stores in a row, though both of them had similar gear on to offer. Just the Riding Boots and Helmets were stocked into different stores. And as it happened, I ended up purchasing a Helmet and Hand Gloves for city riding.

HJC RPHA 10 PRO SPEED MACHINE

Its is the one of the lightest helmets that I ever held in my hands. @1300 gms, its is just feather light. I think that was one of the key reasons I could not resist bagging one. The graphics are sparkling crisp and an eye candy. The price for this one was 13700 Bahts. with some discount. In India it sales with a tagged price of Rs. 40,000.

Tip : Thai Government provide VAT refund for the sales that visitors do during their stay. But to claim this, one has to ask the merchant to issue a Green Slip along with invoice that is used to claim this refund at the Airport. I didn’t so I could not claim the VAT refund while returning. But it is suggested to ask for the VAT document as merchant might not be suggestive for this. How to claim for VAT refund is shared here.     

The first hand impressions about this helmet could be summarized as below

Feather Light/Brilliant Graphics/Goodies in the box like extra tinted visor, Pin Lock screen, Key strap, Additional sticker set for helmets. The weight does not strain your neck with any neck movement. The visor locking feel does not sound quite solid as it locks the visor with a soft feeling, unlike the other HJC I have that closes with a solid ‘click’ feel. But this doesn’t mean it compromise on securely locking the shield.

I have another HJC helmet, Green Mamba FG-17. The size I am using for that one is S/M 57/58. However, while I tried the SpeedMachine, I felt that the L 59/60 was a more appropriate fit. Since HJC’s come along with ear pockets inside so its easier to fit on any external helmet communication systems as Sena, Interphone and many others without discomfort.

Overall, though this wasn’t planned (or needed :)) but it was a very satisfactory purchase in the end.

Rest of the day was spent at MBK. Now MBK is as huge as it gets. Takes a whole lot of time to go around all the floors and I had always come back with an extra baggage every time I have been there. With good negotiation skills, you can get almost everything what could be there on your shopping list.

Tip : While leaving from MBK, there is a defined terminal to catch Taxi On Fare. However, please make sure the destination is well understood by the driver. A lot do not understand/converse in English. Also, they might not also have GPS installed and can take you along for a ride. Stress on the clarity of the driver else do not board. This happened with us this time around and we had to off board in the middle of no where after an argument with the driver, which non of the parties could understand.

The Journey Ends… !!

The return leg was on. The fun trip was coming to an end and it was time to head back home with a lot of stories and adventures to share around. It was a much needed escape from the routine and there was a rejuvenated me who was heading back home.

And at this moment I was reliving the same old classic, ‘Back to Life’ …. literally…!

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Adios, till next time I hit the road again to share more stories.

Cheers Shashvat !

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