Earlier this year, Ivan and I toured the Bolaven Plateau in Southern Laos on a Honda Smash motorcycle. I thought we were going to die (see bike name), but we did not. In fact, it turned out to be a lot of fun.
Afterwards, in a moment of delusional euphoria, I said to Ivan: “We should do this kind of thing more often.”
Which he mistakenly interpreted to mean: Let’s buy a motorbike and ride around the world.
Two months later …
Meet our bike:
(Yes, I’m going to be using this badass photo filter a lot from now on.)
We ordered a custom-made Yamaha SR400 from a small shop in Bangkok. The mood was high until the time came to collect the bike. The shop is on a typical Bangkok road that not even a headless chicken would attempt to cross. And we knew that even if we made it out of that district alive, we’d still have a labyrinth of jam-packed roads to navigate before we’d meet the open road.
The constant growl of bus engines, motorbikes, and tuk-tuks forced all roadside conversation into a screaming match:
“HOW DO WE GET OUT OF HERE ON A MOTORBIKE?”
“I DON’T KNOW!”
“I’M SCARED TOO!”
“MAYBE WE CAN LEAVE EARLY IN THE MORNING?”
But then we discovered that even in the wee hours, Bangkok’s streets glow with an aura of red from the brake lights of gridlocked traffic. Which meant that we had no choice but to face the traffic.
Our previous motorbiking experience was limited to driving our 120cc scooter up and down one road on the peaceful island of Koh Tao, as well as our short trip in Laos. And here we were in the middle of Bangkok, trying to figure out how to straddle a 400cc motorbike that sounds like a bag full of pissed-off lions, and then weave through a mess of kamikaze drivers.
(You might think we’re a little bit stupid.)
(You would be right.)
We bought protective gear—full-face helmets, black motorcycle jackets with armour, gloves—and when we put it on in the steaming heat of Bangkok, it felt like I was being hugged by an ass crack.
I started to think that maybe this motorcycle plan was a bad idea.
We procrastinated our departure for several weeks, hiding out in our drab hotel room and picking each other apart to fill in the time. I tried to quit. “Who’s idea was this anyway?! Other people are catching buses! We could be on a bus right now! But not us. Oh no. We have to go and buy a fuck-off-sized motorbike.”
As he often is when faced with my freakout sessions, Ivan was cool and confident. “But think of the places we’ll see. Once we get beyond the city, it’ll be wide open roads, national parks, mountains, lakes, caves, waterfalls…”
“I like buses. I can read on a bus. A bus has air conditioning.”
“But we’ll have chance encounters with local people, which is doesn’t happen when you’re on a tourist bus. I’ll be beautiful on a motorbike. I promise.”
“I don’t get bugs in my mouth on a bus.”
“I’ll be romantic.”
“Saddle rash is not romantic.”
But I couldn’t sway his vision.
Finally, we came up with the idea of paying a taxi driver to guide us out of the city. In this plan, I would ride in the back of the taxi so that if something bad happened, one of us could live to tell the story. (Hey—somebody had to be the hero and that person was me.)
We gave the driver one simple instruction: “Drive very carefully and very slowly.”
Anyone who has ever been to Bangkok knows that “slow” to taxi driver who is being paid a flat rate means anything under 100km/h, while “careful” is everything that doesn’t result in death. This time was no exception, though to the driver’s credit, he did stop and wait on the side of the road every time he lost Ivan in his rearview mirror for long stretches of time.
With my face pressed up to the back window, I watched Ivan trying to keep up with the taxi until the glass was fogged up with my hot, anxious breath. It was quite possibly the most stressful experience of my life.
Then, as I often do in times of high stress, I fell asleep.
When I woke up, we were surrounded by empty roads against a backdrop of mountains and water.
And Ivan was alive, which is a relief because I desperately wanted to use a badass photo filter again.