It was back about the year 2000 when upon recommendation I first booked a flight to the idyllic, former-fishing village of Pattaya, Thailand. Then I picked up a copy of Maxim Magazine and noticed (next to the hot babe photo) the cover story, “Pattaya – The Most Dangerous Resort Town in The World.” Well being the adventurous sort I decided it would be fun to take a copy of the magazine and visit all the “Dangerous Spots” and wasn’t surprised to discover that it wasn’t all that dangerous after all. That trip and my findings would have made a great follow up story to the original, Maxim sensationalism.
Fast foreword many years and many trips later to my discovering, a few years back, that this town is also the venue of the largest Harley party in S.E Asia. Burapa is the largest of the many motorcycle clubs and is the host of this huge gathering that draws as many as 30,000 spectators to days of music, bikes, and vendors much as we do right here in the good ole’ U.S. of A. A lot of hard work done by many volunteers and generous sponsors get’s the job done.
Being a renowned international photo-journalist has gotten me to the inside of the event and I have made many great friendships along the way. The “Harley Experience” is very much alive and the locals are quick to accept you as a fellow biker extending gracious hospitality. There are so many clubs in Asia that it is impossible to keep track of them but they all come together for this enormous gathering, and enjoy the camaraderie of motorcycling. One of the greatest aspects of the “Biker Life” in Asia is the attachment to the iconic David Mann/Easy Rider imagery. Motorcycling is still locked in that 60’s-70’s style of choppers, black leathers, patches, hard riding and hard partying which they do, with enthusiasm.
Not to say that the chrome and paint customs are non-existent. Quite to the contrary there are many fine custom builders that create one-offs comparable to most any done right here in customland. The old 750 Honda Four is a very popular engine for the radical front rake and extended front end ridged. Lots of chopped bikes of all sorts, some with very creative sheet metal. I was really surprised to see how many Harleys there really are over there, right on up to 2008 and any model in the Harley lineup.
The event officials tell me there are about 4,000 bikes that come to the festival which is a fundraiser for local charities and is free to the public.
The venue is a very modern park-like facility with paved walkways and a large grassy field for the stage and spectators. It is actually a new sports center so the infrastructure is excellent which makes for a neat, orderly arrangement of bikes, vendors and food.
The food is far more edible in Thailand than in some other countries and actually quite delicious as the Thai cuisine is famous for blending combinations of native herbs and spices for very tasty, fragrant creations. I do however avoid the bug cart which is an array of various deep fried insects which we may call pests but seem to please the palate of many locals. It is wise to be careful though as they do use some pretty spicy chili peppers, which reminds me of a story a few months back in the L.A. times. Seems as though there was a terrorist scare and HAZMAT was called to the scene which turned out to be a Thai restaurant cooking with some of those chili oils (the vapors can really permeate the air and tear your eyes).
Entertainment is ongoing from the huge stage featuring a mixture of local bands and the venerable biker rock music we all recognize. Unfortunately, absent this year was Carabao, the most famous biker musician in all Thailand who has supported the event for so many years. He was, however, replaced by some very talented musicians that kept the huge crowd in the party mood for the whole weekend. Let me mention here that the Thai’s really like their music loud which I suspect has most of them deaf before they reach thirty and had me leaving a little early that night.
On the way out I saw a first – in the parking lot were 30 or so custom pickup trucks you have all seen, outfitted with a dozen speakers or so each, amplifiers etc. The unusual thing that you probably have not seen is that they were all wired together to play the same music, an amazing amount of music in one parking lot.
The Thais enjoy being gracious hosts and are quite willing to have you join them for a beer at any time, and beer they do drink. The camaraderie of bikerdom is alive and well here making you an instant brother. Brothers from all over the world come here so it all adds up to a very enjoyable few days of international interaction biker style.
Some say the temperatures in Thailand are hot, hotter and hottest, but the weather in February is usually quite comfortable most of the time and this year was made more pleasant by a constant cloud cover keeping the searing rays of the sun at bay all day long.
I try to schedule trips to coincide with major events and this is certainly one major event you wouldn’t want to miss if you’re in that part of the world during February.