Riding in SE Asia


Our bikes were flown to Bangkok, Thailand. After a horror show reclaiming them at the airport, we rode thirty miles  to our hotel in the rain at night on the left side of the road. For the riders coming from Australia, English-style roads were what they were used to. For those just joining, It was an additional challenge. Motorcycles are not allowed on the expressways in Thailand, so we had to use city streets. Saving grace was the traffic had lightened up.

Departing the hotel to begin our journey was a challenge, Leaving as a pack of twenty motorcycles to exit a city of ten million people at the start of  the day tested the group. Our two Thai guides lead the parade out of town. “Second man drop-off” is our technique of keeping the group together. When we get to a corner or the road divides, the person behind the leader stays at the corner to show the way. When the last guide approaches, the drop-off rejoins the group. Unfortunately, some members left too early and the group fell apart. We all got to the prearranged rest area, refreshed and rode off in smaller groups.

Thai drivers were aggressive, but courteous, once we left the big city. They would pull out in front of us, but give space to pass. Buddhism is the dominate religion in Thailand. The relaxed, everything’s-going-to-be-fine attitude prevailed. Roads were generally well maintained, but got narrow toward the north.

Vehicles were varied.  Three-wheeled trucks were everywhere, carrying a variety of loads from dirt and sand to a six-foot high stack of flattened cardboard boxes. Toyota cars were the most popular. Most two-wheelers were 125cc step-through scooters. I even saw the most popular motorcycle ever built, a Honda Super Cub. The vast majority of bikes are locally-built. There is a 100% duty on imported bikes. One enterprising Thai bought a Suzuki Hayabusa, world’s fastest production motorcycle, in parts and assembled it himself. It can’t be licensed or insured and if crashed, the owner walks away or risks arrest.

Scooters are every where. Many have more than one person riding, with four being the most we saw. Couples, couples with kids, couples with a dog were among the combinations. Riders carried weed whackers, backpack chemical sprayers, shovels and other tools. One even had a load of six-foot pieces of angle iron. They are also used to deliver food. Here’s a bike whose rider delivers for McDonalds.

We road along the borders with Burma and Laos. The military dictatorship wants us to now call it Myanmar, but their neighbors still call it Burma. The friendship bridge between Myanmar & Thailand has been closed since October, 2010. Many Burmese swim across the Mekong River border. We rode past many military/police checkpoints that stop local traffic looking for illegals.

The two hundred thirty-nine miles from Mae Sot to Mae Hong Son curved 1,864 times according to the route notes. One of the best motorcycle roads in the world, with many very hairy hair-pin turns. The next day’s 136 miles from Mae Hong Son to Chang Mai according to some signs also had 1,864 curves. Our local guides claimed that we had ridden over 3,700 curves in two days! There was very little traffic in this remote northern area. Scooters were the most common vehicles.

Crops were planted up to the edge of the pavement. And beautiful plants they were. Terracing covered the hillsides. Little ground was not put to use.

Laotian roads had even less traffic and we got back to driving on our normal side of the road! We saw scooters and small pickup trucks, but only a handful of cars in two days of riding. The country is one of the poorest in the world and it showed. Modest Thai homes gave way to bamboo huts with dried-leaf roofs. Rarely was a satellite dish spotted. Small villages may not have any motorized vehicles, so they use the street as common ground. Free-range chickens, ducks and pot-bellied pigs abound.

Road surfaces were not as good as Thailand, but nearly as scenic. Switchbacks, twisty curves with mountains and valleys galore. Children waved enthusiastically as we passed through their villages. Groups of walking women and truck beds full of young men also greeted us. We felt very welcome.

Riding through these two countries should be on every biker’s bucket list.


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