New wheels and upgrades in BKK

We are sitting here waiting for a train out of Bangkok, so I thought I’d take the time to write a note on some of our repairs and improvements that have happened in the last week. The most significant is a new set of Andra 30 ‘bomb proof’ wheel rims.

On a day off 2 weeks ago I went to fix a small buckle in the back wheel and realised it was caused by a cracked rim.

imageThere is a LOT of load on the back wheel and it probably cracked on one of the bumps along the way. It wasn’t an immediate disaster as the crack wasn’t down the side wall and therefore wouldn’t cause the rim to collapse – it meant basically the associated spoke was doing nothing (the internet is great for all this!). So I marked the crack and we continued on checking it as we travelled. It was fine for 5 days until Bangkok and I suspect it might have been cracked for a good while before…

We needed a new back rim.

First port of call was JD tandems who sold us the bike, Ruth was extremely helpful and fast on email answering all my questions – thanks! Eventually the Andra 30 rims were the obvious choice, not cheap, but the best hardcore touring rims around from a Kiwi company.

After weighing the risk versus cost we decided to replace the front rim also and each wheel needed 48 spokes plus spares. To round things out the braking surface on the rims is tungsten carbide finished and requires special ultra hard brake pads. The pads are a fancy bright blue colour and look really slick, which is nice. The idea is the rims are so hard they will not erode during braking and will never need replacing.

imageAll the work was coordinated by Ma at BOK BOK BIKES, if you are touring through Thailand these are the guys to call. Every other bike shop didn’t know where to start with 48 spike wheels and one of them said ‘just call BOK BOK’. Ma’s brother did the wheel building at KANGAROO BIKES (near Bearing, last stop south on the sky train). They are dealers for Rholoff, Thorn, Surly, CoMotion and the workshop is stacked out with more top end tools than I’ve seen in any London shop. They were quick on email and got the work done on time so we could leave for Myanmar on schedule, including importing the rims through customs. Thanks guys!

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We also took delivery of a spare tyre, after debating whether one was needed and deciding against it in London. In the end I couldn’t sleep thinking about that, so we’ve gone safety first and got one sent over in our ‘bike care package’ from Bren in New York. It is a foldable Schwalbe Marathon Mondial. He also sent spare tandem length gear cables and end caps and other small bits n pieces.

One upgrade Bren sent which we’ve been craving is our new kickstand. It is a Pletcher type that cleverly has two legs that fold to one side. No more leaning the bike on trees, posts, fences or one of us having to stand holding it like a lemon.

Finally we got a little Irish and Welsh flag!!!

Flying the flags!

We are both exhausted as we were up late last night putting the new wheels on. In the process we popped two inner tubes… Annie effected tube replacement and puncture repair expertly. 🙂 We were also hogging the Wi-Fi ordering more spares, downloading maps, books, guides, booking accommodation, route planning… Back on the road proper tomorrow.

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Not much sight seeing in Bangkok

We have spent just over a week in Bangkok. It has been a very busy week, but we’ve not spent much time exploring the city as tourists. 

Now two months into our trip, it was necessary to spend some time planning the next stretch (Central Asia really doesn’t seem that far away now). 

Applying for visas and permits, replacing any gear and giving the bike a thorough service were also high on our list of priorities.

Bangkok is an excellent city for cyclists do all of the above, especially as there are LOADS of warm showers hosts dotted all over with good transport links to everywhere you need.

A couple of weeks ago we had noticed that our back wheel rim had cracked (it held up well for three weeks after). As we have 15000km still left to do we decided it was worth replacing both with new Andra 30 rims. For more info on how we went about ordering these parts and building the wheels in Bangkok click here.

The first 5 nights were spent with Mike (Joseph is his warm showers name) and his great friends east of the city. 

Mike has travellers turning up pretty much every day of the week (he’s also a couch surf host) and our stay crossed over with two Russian travelling musicians who had found each other online and hitch hiked the whole way from St Petersburg, and a family of four from Italy who were in their last week of a four month trip across Asia. There was plenty of space to spread out and reliable wifi. image

Their street was a real community and everyone was incredibly friendly. We cooked together every night and we both really enjoyed staying with them. 

We then headed north to spend four nights with Tim, an old friend of Annie’s who currently teaches at Harrow International school, his boyfriend Mick and their little beagle ‘Stevie Nicks’. It was a treat to have our own bed and great to spend some time with a familiar face. 

Tim had very kindly received a package for us (with our kick stand) sent from a friend in America (took 4 days with US postal service, roughly $80 with a 500 BHT custom charge the other end). If you’re having trouble finding an address to receive a package try asking your embassy. The Irish embassy confirmed they would have done this for us.  

day time walk
Tim and Mick are avid game players and shared a range of new dice and card games with us including Perudo, Yatzy, Diamonsters and speed Monopoly which is the most ruthless game either of us have ever played! (must get a pack for George)

 

Yazi scoring card!
 
Visas took a good chunk of time as did dropping off and picking up our wheel rims. We also made a trip to Outdoor Unlimited in Amrin Plaza where there is a range of outdoor and sports gear, although, in the end, we didn’t get much except a second sports bra for Annie. 

We also met up with another cycle touring couple who we contacted via the warm showers forum. We have been desperately trying to find some up to date info on the Myanmar/China border crossing at Muse – in the past it has not been possible to cross here without a special permit and guide due to regional fighting. Geart and Sytske also want to take this route and will be in Myanmar at the same time so hopefully we can team up and cross together. We’re still exploring the options but are pretty sure already that it’s possible and safe enough to cross.

We have both been reading books about Myanmar. Paddy has nearly finished Orwell’s Burmese Days and I’m deep in the midst of Letters from Burma written by Aung San Suu Khi. We’re both keen to cross the border now and will meet up with the Mum and Dad Sheen in Mandalay/Bagan which should be fun!

So, onwards north to Phitsanulok (by train) and then a four day cycle to Mae Sot border.  

No need to hold the bike when parked with the new kick stand!

Applying for your Chinese Visa in Bangkok

The application process for a Chinese visa is a lot more time consuming than any other Asian country we have been to. 

We considered applying via an agent but in the end decided to fly solo with it all. 

We felt we just needed to get organised with prolonged access to a computer and printer.

 While we waited for the Myanmar visas we made our way north to the Chinese Embassy to pick up the forms.

  

First things first, the visa application centre is NOT in the Chinese embassy like it is in every other consulate. You need to go to New Pretchaburi Road to Level 5 in Thanapoom Tower (10 min walk). 

  
Going to the embassy first did prove quite useful in the end because they showed us examples of some of the supporting documents we would need to submit.

 It seems that the Embassy, no doubt because the application process is so onerous, has subcontracted the management of the first phase of the application procedure out to a private company. http://www.visaforchina.org

This company offers advice, information and runs a first stage tick box exercise on your application before its sent to the Embassy for final approval.

In a way it’s sort of good because they give your application a thorough once going over before you handover and wait for the outcome… Also unlike other consulates you pay on collection.

They are open 9:00am to 15:00 Mon-Fri. But if you want the 2 day express service you need to drop off before 11am.

We were told it was only possible to apply for a 1 month tourist visa in Bangkok, although we have heard of others successfully applying for three months in other cities… (we hope to extend ours at least once when we’re there).

The form is very detailed and requires supporting flight bookings (!), accommodation bookings (!), a detailed day by day itinerary, bank statements and a ‘Letter of Certificatin of myself’ which details your intent of travel, employment status etc. Having a bank statement was important, especially if you are currently unemployed.

  
Everything has to be done on a computer and printed off. You also need photocopies of your current immigration exit stamp (Thai in our case) and passport page.

We had also read that including other supporting documents like our travel insurance document was a good idea, but these weren’t needed in the end.

The detailed itinerary itself took a long time to write out and then there were flights and accommodation bookings to organise.

If you want more information on any of the above and how we went about it please leave a comment and we can try and answer your query.

Anyway, everything was good and efficient and we submitted on Tuesday and collected on Friday morning paying 3200 baht total.

Applying for Visa for Myanmar in Bangkok

One of the main reasons for coming to Bangkok was so apply for our next two visas – Myanmar and China.

We wanted to be as efficient as possible with our time as staying in big cities always blows our budget. 

We made sure we arrived into Bangkok on a Thursday afternoon with the aim of getting our Myanmar visa sorted before the weekend. 

We just had enough time to cycle to the Myanmar Embassy (closes at 4:30pm) to double check the procedure/supporting documents needed, make a copy of our passports (there’s a photocopier there) and pick up the visa forms.

We planned to complete the forms that evening and get back early the next morning to apply. 

The current visa drop off times (Feb 2016) are 9am-1pm. I had read a number of blogs and posts saying that you needed to arrive really early if you wanted to be in with a chance of getting a visa and that people were known to start queuing at 7am…  

We set off at 8am but didn’t actually arrive until 10.15am due to traffic and waiting for busses. This wasn’t a problem. The office was very busy but if you have your form completed (front and back) and you already have your 2 photos and passport photocopy ready then you simply pick up a ticket near the door, sit down and wait until you’re called up. 

We waited for about half an hour and there were lots of people who arrived after us who also got seen. It was all very efficient and easy!

We coughed up the additional fee to get our passports back the same day (3000 baht total for both) and this wasn’t a problem either, she didn’t ask us why we needed the same day service. We were all done by 11.30am. There was no need to mention we were going by bicycle or entering/exiting via border crossings.

Pick up is between 3:30-4:30pm which meant we had time to make our way to the Chinese visa office and pick up the forms there in between. (Bus 514).

There is a lot to organise for the Chinese visa but we will have the weekend to prepare itineraries, book accommodation etc and print everything we need ready for application on Monday.

Pick up at Myanmar office took a total of 3 mins.