On the Road in Thailand: A Motorcycle Adventure

{ 49 comments }

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!”

“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.”

Ha.

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.

More soon!

 

Leave a Comment

  • Janet December 14, 2012, 8:29 am

    I don’t know why I just started busting up laughing when I read that you fell asleep. And yes, Ivan has a pretty bad ass look to go with the bad ass filter. I love that you wrote about wanting an excuse to use them :D it was also nice of the taxi driver to wait on the side of the road until he caught up again.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche December 14, 2012, 8:42 am

      Go ahead and laugh at my stress-based narcolepsy, Janet! :) I think I wore myself out with stress and my body was like: Yeah, we’re shutting down now.

      Reply
  • Mikeachim December 14, 2012, 11:52 am

    The question that you’re teasingly not fully answering for us is, of course, Are You Going Round The World As From Now? Or is this a test of the equipment? Or can we expect this to be part 1 of 365 updates, complete with dodging avalanches, weaving round grizzlies, riding with the Hell’s Angels, jumping police roadblocks using conveniently placed propped-up planks and finally entering Bangkok in 365 days time to be arrested by a member of the police force of every country you passed through? Like the Cannonball Run with less wheels?

    Please say yes.

    Reply
  • Michael Hodson December 14, 2012, 12:20 pm

    Ahhh a great adventure on two wheels, which reminds me to tell you… I might have a little fun project coming to SE Asia later in 2013 of the 2 wheeled variety that you two may love :)

    Reply
  • Donna Morang December 14, 2012, 1:35 pm

    You made my morning. This is the funniest blog I’ve read in months. Loved it!
    I have seen the traffic in Bangkok, and I think you were super smart with the taxi idea.
    Waiting for my bad-ass adventures.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche December 16, 2012, 3:19 am

      Thanks, Donna! For every Facebook fan that I lose because of my crass language, I gain a cooler person, like you.

      Reply
  • Eric Nepomnaschy December 14, 2012, 2:13 pm

    sweet! love the bike. love the experience. it’s like buying a monkey ha? Hey! let’s get a monkey, it’ll be fun…then you get a monkey and you are like, wtf? whose idea was this anyways? haha

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche December 16, 2012, 3:18 am

      Just like a monkey. But the monkey is growing on me now.

      Reply
  • Jade Craven December 14, 2012, 2:43 pm

    He looks pretty damn fine with those filters you´ve been using :) I really can´t wait to read more about the rest of your adventures.

    Reply
  • Carmel December 14, 2012, 3:36 pm

    Before your travels, had you ridden many motorbikes? This freaks me out because I have no idea how to ride one, nor does my husband, and they seem to be the preferred mode of transportation in many Asian countries. He has the attitude of “we’ll figure it out…” I just don’t want to die.

    Can’t wait to read more about your bad ass adventures! Do you still have the little hillside abode?

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche December 16, 2012, 3:15 am

      Yes, we still have our hillside abode, Carmel.

      We had never ridden on a bike before this. Your husband is right: you’ll figure it out. Just start out on a quiet road and go back and forth a few times to learn the bike. Many of the bikes they rent out are automatic, so you can learn auto and then work your way up to manual if you need a more powerful bike (for hills). Whatever you do, don’t drive drunk! I’ve seen a lot of tourists try to ride home from parties, and it doesn’t end well.

      Reply
  • Bethany ~ twoOregonians December 14, 2012, 8:12 pm

    I love this. When we were dating, Ted rode motorcycles and I completely hated the idea. I went on one ride with him, once. Later, he sold his bikes, and we spent our pennies on university and housing and then saved our pennies to travel. This year some of our best moments, hands down, were on those crazy roads in Thailand and Laos, Ted driving, me hanging on for dear life, excited at the liberty of the road. I’m not ready to go “The Long Way Round” or anything, but I think I might’ve caught the bug…

    I’m sorry we didn’t get to catch up with you in Asia. If you end up motoring your way toward the Pacific Northwest, though, come ride out and find us in Oregon. Ted knows some great back roads :)

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche December 16, 2012, 3:12 am

      It’s hard to imagine that something that feels so delicious can be so dangerous. Well, I do believe the danger is relative to how you drive, and we drive like two grandmas on a badass bike. But still, as we’re whizzing through the tropical air, I forget all my fears because it just feels SO GOOD.

      We’ll certainly take you up on your offer if we make it to Oregon!

      Reply
  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures December 14, 2012, 9:34 pm

    Oh thank goodness he was okay!!! My heart was pounding! Love the filters.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche December 16, 2012, 3:08 am

      I think I would’ve titled it differently if Ivan got mashed on the road. :)

      Reply
  • Patricia Sands December 15, 2012, 2:17 pm

    BAHAHAHA! That badass filter obviously encourages your even-more- badass-than-usual humour! This was just too good and so was the news that Ivan was alive. Celebrate the festive season wherever you are with my best wishes to you and your family.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche December 16, 2012, 3:08 am

      Thanks, Patricia. Yes—my family certainly needs best wishes. My poor mother.

      Reply
  • Millie Noe December 15, 2012, 4:00 pm

    Then, as I often do in times of high stress, I fell asleep.

    I love your stuff and this line seriously cracked me up. I’m definitely a fan of you and your adventures.

    Reply
  • Gennifer December 15, 2012, 7:37 pm

    Wow, you guys are brave! I remember how scary it was riding in the back of a taxi in Bangkok – I can’t imagine trying to drive a freaking motorcycle in that traffic! I had a hard enough time negotiating the roundabouts on a scooter and driving on the left side of the road in the Bahamas!

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche December 16, 2012, 3:06 am

      I’m learning that Thai traffic isn’t as bad as it seems. There is method to the madness. Because it’s so chaotic, drivers are always on high alert. They just swerve around you if you do something wrong.

      Reply
  • Tyler & Tara December 16, 2012, 5:07 pm

    Tara and I just saw that you followed us on Twitter and we came to check out your website. What fantastic writing! We had a similar experience trying to keep up with a motorbike-taxi in Vietnam :)

    http://journal.goingslowly.com/2011/01/race-to-station-part-one

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche December 17, 2012, 3:18 am

      Thanks, Tyler and Tara. I read through many of your Thailand articles before heading off and they gave me confidence!

      I’m very inspired by your property in Vermont. Looks beautiful.

      Reply
  • Izy Berry - The Wrong Way Home December 17, 2012, 2:46 am

    It’s a funny post :) You took a taxi and Ivan was on the motorbike… :) In fact it was quite a smart idea.

    Reply
  • Sarah Somewhere December 17, 2012, 9:42 am

    Jealous! There, I said it. Have a blast guys :)

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche December 18, 2012, 5:15 am

      You’re not allowed to be jealous. You’re doing the rickshaw run in India!

      Reply
      • Hannah December 21, 2012, 2:01 am

        I’m jealous too! As for you Torre, we would LOVE to share our next adventure with you – Sarah and I have been talking about signing up for something next year, and would seriously love to squeeze your bas-ass self into our future ride. How does this strike your fancy? http://www.theadventurists.com/bajai-rally :)

        Reply
  • Katie December 18, 2012, 3:11 pm

    I almost spat out my coffee when I read, “It felt like I was being hugged by an ass crack!” Bravo! I just found this blog through Katie Going Global, but can’t wait to read more.

    Reply
  • DEK December 21, 2012, 10:25 pm

    You must tell us when you fall in with a gang out Buddhist monk outlaw bikers. You must tell us the story whether it happens or not, as it would be too good not to.

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche December 23, 2012, 2:49 pm

      I will be sure to make that story up just for you, DEK. What a great premise. What would they be rebelling against? Capitalism, perhaps. The peace enforcers. Sign me up!

      Reply
      • DEK December 30, 2012, 11:54 pm

        “What would they be rebelling against?” Are you setting me up for Brando’s line in “The Wild One”?

        “What are you rebelling against?”
        “What have ya’ got?”

        Reply
  • Meg | One Love Meg December 22, 2012, 4:13 pm

    Super cool! You two are bad ass for sure! My bf and I are thinking about buying a bike in Cambodia and taking it up the coast in Vietnam. Hopefully this is feasible and if so…. we are in. We will happily join the motorbike club. Maybe we need a name?

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche December 23, 2012, 2:50 pm

      YES. Here’s a name: Awkward White People. Because that’s how Asians probably see us when we’re on motorbikes!

      Reply
  • ben December 24, 2012, 9:50 am

    Really cool blog.
    Be careful on that bike though. They’re safe to drive..until they’re not, if you not what I mean.
    Not sure which way you guys are headed, but if it’s northwards, don’t miss the Mae Hon Song loop out of Chiang Mai – 800km or so of misty mountain roads. We did it exact;y a year ago and it was mental.
    There’s some info in my blog here if you go: http://scratchacross.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/the-mae-hong-son-loop-part-1/

    be safe
    Ben

    Reply
    • Torre DeRoche December 25, 2012, 3:08 am

      Yeah, I think about that a lot. Like, one minute you’re gliding through perfect tropical air, and the next you’re spraying a tree with face blood. Gross. I hope not! My mother would never forgive me. We drive really slowly – 100cc scooters and those motorbikes with side carts full of bottles of water often overtake us.

      Your photos are beautiful. Looking forward to the Mae Hon Song loop!

      Reply
  • ültra December 26, 2012, 8:17 am

    how much did u pay for the SR400 ?
    bests,
    ültra

    Reply
  • Kae Lani | A Travel Broad January 1, 2013, 11:53 pm

    What an epic adventure! Keep up the awesome!

    Reply
  • Norman Ledoyen March 1, 2013, 1:32 pm

    Can you provide the name and address where you had the bike assembled. I was aware of the shop but now I need to order the bike and I lost the address. Thanks for you help. Norm

    Reply
  • czramone April 27, 2014, 5:15 pm

    So Cool and Where you guys rent (or buy) this beautful SR400??Could you tell me the add of that shop? Thanks a lot~

    Reply
  • Sarah July 29, 2014, 4:48 am

    You want to be safe riding a morotcycle in Thailand, you must be alert of other road users 100% of the time. So often I see people riding overloaded on poorly maintained motorcycles. No lights at night time and no helmet. Try to stay safe and you will certainly become a good rider dodging all the bad practices you see in Thailand.

    Reply