To be completely honest, I have made a number of what you might call poor life decisions over the years. Out of all the bad ideas** I've had, none of them seem to top running with the bulls in Pampalona... until now. Choosing to ride a motorcycle across Thailand is categorized as a bad idea. Yet, choosing to learn how to ride a motorcycle so that I can ride it across Thailand is without a doubt the single worst life decision I have ever made. Hands down.
** Bad ideas usually start out as great ideas.
It was my second day in Thailand and the realization of what I was about to embark on was sinking in. After taking a number of cab rides across Bangkok the day before, I quickly learned there was a never ending flow of gridlock traffic throughout the city and seemingly no traffic laws whatsoever. The only thing that seemed constant was what I call the Tonnage Rule, meaning the bigger vehicle always gets the right of way. So here I was about to pick up my motorcycle absolutely dreading whatever it was I had gotten myself into.
Some quick background on why I chose to ride a motorcycle. It's simple really: Top Gear (the single best show on television), and The Vietnam Special (click to watch it, or series 12 episode 8 for Netflix users). If you haven't seen that episode, watch it, and it will explain everything. I figured if Jeremy Clarkson could do it, anyone could.
So, I made it to the rental shop and started signing all the paperwork. I made sure to purchase every possible insurance plan. I then made the massive mistake of asking the the bike shop guy if this was a bad idea. He then proceeded to tell me that they have only had one serious accident this month and if I avoided U-turns I would be fine.... Awesome. After an hour or so of this, I was finally on my bike and out the door. I had rented a Kawasaki KLX-250, a dual purpose dirt bike. It was the biggest bike available in my price range, but a choice my rear end would inevitably pay for. And did I mention that due to the lack of roman characters on street signs, navigating in the city was next to impossible?
My first day, I chose to ride to 78 miles to the city of Kanchanabury. It was just far enough to escape Bangkok without over doing it on my first day of riding, or so I figured. After a quick gas stop and a close call with a white Toyota, I was on the road and on my way. To avoid having to navigate while trying to stay alive, I had paid a motorcycle taxi to let me follow him to the outskirts of town. I wish I could properly describe what riding a bike through downtown Bangkok is like but I simply can't find the words that would do it justice. Terrifying doesn't come close to what I was feeling for that first hour. As I weaved my way through cars and other bikes trying to keep up with my taxi and stay alive, out of nowhere I suddenly came to terms with the fact that I was not going to survive this trip. From that moment on though I found myself settling in and relaxing a little as I snaked my way through the chaos.
After a few hours of close calls, poor shifting, and getting lost, I made it to Kanchanaburi. I had skimmed through the guide booked the night before and found a place that sounded nice called the Jolly Frog. Miraculously, I drove right to it, completely by accident. Even more miraculously, I had survived the day.
The Jolly Frog was paradise. It sat directly on the River Kwai (just a couple hundred yards downstream from the famous bridge) with an immaculate courtyard filled with lounge chairs and hammocks all overlooking the river. I spent the next 3 hours drinking terrible beer in the courtyard reveling in the fact that I had just survived Bangkok on a motorcycle and somehow landed in paradise. The fact that paradise only cost $6 a night was a definite plus.
I quickly made some new friends out in the courtyard and decided to tag along with them to the night market for dinner. Thai night markets are absolutely fantastic. You can buy anything from cell phones to goats. They are in every city, open only after dark, and are a backpackers best friend.
Dinner at the Kanchanaburi night market for 25 cents.
My new friends had all moved on to their next stops, and I had no desire whatsoever to get back on the bike. So, I spent the day doing absolutely nothing. It was amazing. I putzed around the courtyard making stressful decisions such as choosing between laying in a hammock or in a lounge chair or maybe both. I was still reveling in my success from the day before and I even managed to muster some confidence to jump back on the bike for a casual cruise down to the famous Bridge on the River Kwai.
The film is a whole lot better than the bridge...
I had a big day of exploring Erawan National Park planned for tomorrow, and I couldn't function due to the time difference so I called it a early night. Tomorrow, I had 80 miles of riding and again I wasn't terribly excited about it.
Read part 3 Here
A collection of stories and adventures from the FAMS director and instructors.