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MOTOREX Magazine 2011 92 EN

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REPORT CONTINUED A pachyderm tests out Touratech’s Zega panniers. At the elephant camp these animals, which can weigh up to 5 tons, play football and even paint pictures! Not for everyone: but without these improvised ferry boats, crossing rivers such as the Mekong would just not be possible. decline. Today, there are only 3,500 elephants left in Thailand, and only a very few of these live in the wild. Most earn their 150 to 200 kilos of feed per day as working elephants. “The Mekong – Companion through every stage” Somewhere in the mountains of northern Thailand, the unexpected occurs: at a bend in the road, we see two of these great creatures coming toward us. A few years ago, when the Zega pannier had just been invented, Jochen Schanz and Herbert Schwarz (company founders) were looking for an original idea for a promotional photograph. They hit on the idea of having an elephant place its enormous foot on an aluminum pannier. We were finally able to make this advertising idea a reality at the Maetaman Elephant Camp, a good hour’s ride from Chiang Mai. Our photo shoot turned into a kind of special performance for the mahout, the elephant and the many coach tours visiting the camp. THE LIFEBLOOD OF SOUTHEAST ASIA The Mekong River – reverently called Tonle Thom, “Great River”, by the Khmer. Its source lies somewhere in the impassable terrain of the Tibetan Highlands. Different interpretations mean that measures of its length fluctuate between 4,350 and 4,909 kilometers. The Mekong is our companion through every stage of our journey. Our first meeting is in the border triangle between Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. This area is said to produce three quarters of the opium on the global market. On the Thai side, the secretive and dangerous-sounding name of “the Golden Triangle” is centered upon what is, quite simply, a tourist trap. On the bank of the Mekong, a huge golden Buddha watches over the many stalls set up along the main road. Buses disgorge one Asian tour group after another. We don’t feel the need to stay here long. An adventurous ferry ride takes us across the “Great River” to Laos, and into another world. Before we see the Mekong again, in the Laotian capital of Vientiane, we have to negotiate a 700-kilometer stage across the mountains. One bend after another, so that we are dizzy when we dismount from our bikes each evening. A NIGHT ON THE ISLAND Deep in the south of Laos, the Mekong flows through the Si Phan Don region. We spend a night on one of its four thousand islands, Don Khong, before heading further south. Three pirogues tied together, calling themselves a ferry and not inspiring any particular confidence with their appearance, get us back to the mainland in one piece the next day. In Cambodia: south of Kratie, a narrow sandy road meanders along the bank of the Mekong, inhabited by water buffalo, dogs and an entire hen house. Simple huts sit enthroned on stakes at the waterside. We feel as though we are riding straight through the people’s lounges. In Kampong Cham, a sleepy provincial town in Cambodia, we say our farewells to the “Great River”. 12

Our first night in a tent was spent in Laos, with coffee bushes overhead. Simple accommodation with power is available from as little as 2 dollars a night. The roads of Southeast Asia are frequented by the most bizarre of vehicles, generally hopelessly overloaded but nevertheless infernally fast... THE BOLAVEN PLATEAU, LAOS We want to go where Laotian coffee grows – the Bolaven Plateau. This humid, fertile tableland with its green forests and waterfalls lies at an average altitude of 1,200 meters. The city of Pakse disappears in the rear view mirror. Between mango, banana, tea and coffee plantations, white and red beans are spread out to dry in the sun on large bamboo mats. At Laongam, we branch off onto a red dirt road not shown on our satnav system. Tiny villages, seeming completely cut off from the outside world. Astonished faces. But even the simplest bamboo hut has a large satellite dish out front. When the road forks, we follow the hand signals of the Laotians. This approach doesn’t always work. It is slowly getting dark, although it is only 5.30 p.m. For the first time on our journey, we put up the tent. Soon it is pitch dark, and we are camping at an altitude of 1,100 meters on a coffee plantation. TRAFFIC REGULATIONS WITH A TWIST If there are traffic regulations in Southeast Asia, they are something that we Europeans have no hope of figuring out. Or nobody obeys them. At first glance, there seems to be a great deal of chaos. But when you look again, somehow it all works. Take roundabouts, for example: first you cannot get onto them, then you cannot get off. One of the few questions that you can generally answer with reasonable certainty is: do people drive on the left or the right here? People’s entire lives seem to be played out on the streets here. There are dogs, piglets, chickens, oxen, all roaming free. At the side of the road you find bottles containing fuel, heaps of fruit for sale and fish hanging up to dry in the sun. And, time and again, happy and friendly people who wave to you as you go by. Our BMWs are running like the proverbial Swiss clockwork. Lubricated with MOTOREX, they are mastering the almost 6,000-kilometer journey effortlessly. Now we are heading back to our starting point again, the city of Bangkok with its 7 million inhabitants, where Peera is already waiting eagerly for our return and an account of our travels. And it is with great conviction that we are able to tell him: It was, without doubt, a perfect plan to have no plan at all. • WORLDWIDE COLLABORATION WITH TOURATECH Touratech currently employs around 200 people at its site in Niedereschach, on the edge of the Black Forest. The engine, transmission and fork oils, brake fluids, air filter and chain maintenance products from the MOTOREX MOTO LINE range are an essential part of the broad-based Touratech product portfolio. Thus, readers will find the name MOTOREX on quite a few of the 1,000 or more pages of Touratech’s annual product catalog, and this in over 30 countries worldwide! MOTOREX MAGAZINE I APRIL 2011 13



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