Thai tattoos, gravel rash, bravery awards – call them what you will, but everywhere you go – you will see Thai nationals with scars, big and small. I’ve seen them on arms and legs, feet and hands – and sometimes on a shoulder, back or stomach. Nine times out of ten people tell me they got them while on a mototaxi ride. Considering the number of trips the average working Thai takes on the back of one of these bikes I am sure they do account for a lot of the scars – and it is also a lot better than admitting you had fallen off your own bike, so ‘face’ is saved. I know that hanging onto the back of a bright vest wearing, Yabba popping maniac motorbike taxi rider sure got my adrenaline flowing! I was tempted a few times to give him a good whack on the back of the head – but I knew that the helmet he was wearing (unstrapped and costing all of 100 Baht – a padded ice cream container with a strap basically) was so flimsy he would probably pass out and we really would crash, instead of the constant stream of near misses we were experiencing now.
For reasons of my own sanity, shortly after getting on the back of the scooter on my first mototaxi ride – I vowed it would be my last. I hastily joined the ranks of tourists hiring and riding around ‘sin city by the sea’ on a rented scooter. On my first trip I got a very basic 100cc Honda dream – it had kick start, 4 speed gearbox and an auto clutch. I was free to ride anywhere, anytime, without risking my life and limb to an unknown riders dubious reflexes. On later trips I got the latest automatic gearbox scooters – so I could just see a gap and go for it. The older style scooters are actually better for open road riding – so if I was going any distance I would get one of those ones with the bigger wheels, nicer seat and 125cc injected motors.
I have my own bikes back in NZ, so riding was no problem for me – but on that first familiarization trip our group of six had 4 bike riders and two older guys who had ridden bikes on a farm – but never on the road. As we wanted to see all the sights and sample the delights – everyone hired their own bikes so we had room for any, um, ‘companions’ we might conceivably meet, if we got lucky. Licenses didn’t seem to be a problem, as I was never asked to even show mine, nor did I sign a rental agreement. To be fair – I held up my side of the bargain by never checking the oil, filling it with the cheapest gas I could find and rarely letting the throttle off full for gear changes. At night we made pretty spark displays by pushing the double centre stands down onto the pavement at speed too – hey, they are rentals: ride ‘em like you stole ‘em!
This all seemed ok riding around locally – we rode like a six person snake with the two slower riders in the middle of the gang, and I brought up the rear. I constantly scanned my mirrors and spent more time looking backwards than forwards – as Baht bus drivers tended to like to sneak past our bikes – and the two new road riders never ever looked in their mirrors, so I would beep my horn to warn the guys to move over. The day we planned the trip out to the crocodile farm we did it in a way that meant the least time on the highway, as our inexperienced riders did not grasp the concept of keeping up with the traffic being safer than going slow on the side of the road, but we shepherded them there and back ok – for a really fun day out.
We stayed in a nice motel half way between Pattaya and Jomtiem beach – it was quiet, the service was great and we were not right in the middle of everything – however, the easiest and quickest way to get there involved going up and down the crazy S bends on Buddha hill. Our experienced guide had warned all of us that quite a few of his fellow visitors had crashed on this bend – which is deceivingly steep and tight. Full diesel fuel tanks on overladen heavily leaning Baht busses often spilled raw fuel oil on the tightest bends to add to the potential for thrills and spills, so the council often spread sand on the diesel, in an ill fated attempt to soak up the slippery fuel oil. I admit I liked the challenge of these esses, and inevitably raced and passed at least one rider on this section, often sliding a bit here and there, especially going downhill. Uphill it was either full throttle or hard braking, before leaning over and scraping the footpegs – great fun! Our usual safety gear in the daytime consisted of a helmet that cost less than a beer, shorts, sunnies, a singlet and cheap slip on shoes (flip flops would have been irresponsible). Unless I did the chin strap on my helmet up ridiculously tight – it tended to flop about a fair bit and we only wore them to stop the annoying 200 Baht fines for not wearing a helmet.
The average young lady working in the ‘entertainment industry’ in Pattaya spends a lot of time on the back of a bike – going to and from work, the shops and all over town. They seem happy to sit side-saddle behind an unknown rider in their mini skirt uniforms and put up with all manner of bad riding, near misses and crashes. But I found that once they had come for a ride with all of us heading home, happily racing to the very edge of adhesion on the esses at Buddha hill, laughing our tipsy heads off as we passed each others bikes and other vehicles in our way, sometimes sideways, they never asked me to drop them back downtown on my scooter – not even once! I know the other guys got persuaded to take their girls back to wherever they wanted to go – but not a single one of my dates ever asked for a ride back down the esses from me. They would rather get a random drug crazed mototaxi rider to take them back, saying I was crazy.
Most mornings I watched my friends taking their dates back downtown, after our traditional late breakfast together, to where the girls own scooters were parked, or their apartments. The guys were often persuaded to go via Mikes or another mall for a snack and a bit of shopping first, lightening their wallets even more. Meanwhile my lady friends would walk over the road and be whisked away by one of the waiting mototaxi riders, fading into the distance as I slipped into the clear warm waters of the pool for some laps, then a nice snooze, before the other guys got back from dropping off their Isaan princesses.
I could not help but laugh and agree with the girls, maybe I was crazy – crazy like a fox!