Let’s start by going back about 25 years or so to set the scene. We were on a family day trip to a theme park close to where we lived and I was very excited to be allowed to have a go on the little motorbikes for kids. After a brief explanation about braking and how turning the right handlebar ever so slightly made you go forwards, I had my helmet on and I was ready to enter the track. I was going to ride a motorbike, how cool.

This experience came to a brutal and rapid conclusion approximately 3 seconds later!

For some reason, as I set off I panicked and instead of braking as I wobbled precariously my instinct was to twist the handlebar back as far as it would go, resulting in me being propelled forward at a frightening speed completely out of control and oblivious to all around me. I careered into another young child and ensured both of us and our two motorbikes ended up smashing into the bales of hay surrounding the track. She was crying, I was crying, it was not good. I have a feeling my parents were pretending to disown me at this point due to embarrassment and the furore I had just caused. As I began my walk of shame back to them still plucking strands of straw from various places on my anatomy whilst blubbing like a big baby, I decided motorbikes were not for me!

 

We got to see views like this

We got to see views like this

Back to the present day and I am sure you can now realise why when Maddie suggested we hire a motorbike on the tiny Thai island of Koh Yao Noi that I had a few reservations. Visions of hospitals, legs in plaster and even a possible divorce all ran through my mind – all of them a very real possibility if I replied incorrectly. “OK” I said, and instantly regretted the one little word that had just escaped my mouth. This was surely not the right answer.

 

We have heard of so many people who have hired motorbikes in Asia to get about, including my brother who has used them frequently despite watching his big brother cause mayhem all those years ago and finding the whole episode incredibly funny – thanks Phil. There is no doubt that if you know what you are doing then they are a great way to sight-see at a reasonable cost. If you don’t, ineptitude mixed with erratic driving conditions of locals and tourists alike is why you do hear quite a few horror stories.

Another stunning view from our day

Another stunning view from our day

 

The thought of hiring a motorbike anywhere we have been so far in Asia brings me out in a cold sweat. Dodging the other 1.5 million motorbikes in Bali that are zipping around whilst also having to contend with cars is frightening. The driving in the Philippines is so crazy that you are likely to turn a corner and find a bus cruising towards you on the wrong side of the road as it slowly passes an equally large truck, not a situation I would be overly comfortable with if on a motorbike. As for the “roads” in Sumatra, they are of a standard that would be better suited to an all-terrain vehicle rather than a motorcycle! However, Koh Yao Noi is different. It is one of the quietest Thai islands you could wish to find and the roads are in excellent condition. If we were going to do this anywhere it would be Koh Yao Noi.

 

The locals make it look so easy

The locals make it look so easy

We hired the motorbike from the guesthouse we were staying in which was incidentally run by the local policeman. Surely he wouldn’t arrest us and throw us in jail if it all went wrong and I caused havoc on his serene island? He seemed far too nice for that! As I sat on the motorbike I immediately realised a rather significant issue in that to get to the main road I would have to firstly travel down the rather steep, unpaved, potholed track our guesthouse was located on. Talk about a baptism of fire! I explained to Maddie that it may be best if she let me get used to the bike first and she walked down to the main road and got on there. She didn’t put up any argument whatsoever and seemed exceptionally keen to walk in the blistering heat on the uneven rocky surface and meet me at the road. She was obviously as confident in my abilities as I was.

 

As I set off I tried to put my one and only other “experience” to the back of my mind and was intent on breaking my own personal record of at least staying on the bike for more than 3 seconds. As I slowly (very slowly) set off almost freewheeling down the hill and trying to avoid the ruts and rather large stones along the way I had a feeling that the day may not be particularly relaxing.

 

Hesitantly setting off

Hesitantly setting off

However, having reached the bottom without falling off or hitting anything inanimate or otherwise, l went for a little spin on the main road to try and get a feel for the bike. Five minutes later and Maddie was on the back holding on to me just a little bit tighter than I thought was necessary, but nevertheless we were moving and going in the right direction, I seemed to be getting the hang of things. The lack of traffic on the road was a massive help and certainly reduced the chances of causing a mass pile up.

 

We spent the day exploring the island and even went “off road” down an unpaved track to try and find a secluded beach. We gave up a kilometre or so into it as things were staring to get a little bit beyond my somewhat limited skills and turned back to the sanctuary of a concrete road! We merrily went at our own pace whilst the locals and the older ladies in particular would come flying past us on their motorbikes, no doubt wondering what the stupid tourists were doing going so slowly. I nearly got overtaken by a woman on a pushbike going up one hill, but pride and embarrassment made me speed up to ensure this didn’t happen!

Nervous smiles all round!

Nervous smiles all round!

 

As the day progressed we completed our circumnavigation of the island and even managed to reach the mind blowing speed of 40kph at one point. Stopping and starting was always interesting, but overall we had a good day and saw far more of the island than we could have by walking or hiring a pushbike.

 

As we turned the final corner on the main road to head back up the dirt track to our guesthouse we were met by the sight of a young couple who came barrelling down the aforementioned dirt track on a motorbike. They flew straight into the main road before zig zagging all over and screeching to a halt a couple of meters before the road ended and the sea started! The young English woman got off the bike and screamed “Jesus Christ Josh” as she proceeded to stomp back across the road to rescue her flip flop which she had lost in all of the mayhem. “See” Maddie said, “at least you aren’t that bad!” That was good enough for me and I didn’t want to push my luck any further as we ended or day without any damage mentally or physically and hopefully I had put the childhood ghost of my motorcycling to bed once and for all.

 

The road ends, the sea starts

The road ends, the sea starts

Will we hire a motorbike again? Only if it is ridiculously quiet and the roads are in good condition like on Koh Yao Noi. Fair play to people who are able to handle traffic and are confident enough to ride motorbikes, but I think I know my capabilities.

 

If you enjoyed reading this or just laughed at my ineptitude why not leave us a comment or if you are too shy, just click the heart!

 

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10 Responses

  1. Phil

    “Push my look”. How do you push a look?

    Did Maddie need a few drinks before getting on the bike? Because she looks a little drunk in the photo – the glasses falling off her face and all 🙂 And I’m not sure what is going on with your facial hair brother dearest. Are you trying to pull off a Merv Hughes?

    Also, where are the gears on the bike!? You took a girls one, didn’t you! Did you get some free lipstick with it?

    Banter over, I’m glad you enjoyed your motorbike experience, as I think it opens up a whole new world when travelling. If you have time, take a motorbike to the Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos, it is very nice.

    Also, in Vang Vieng, there is an amazing English cafe serving pies (chicken and mushroom), fish and chips etc! I remember the cafe had an upstairs balcony where you could eat (think it was wooden), and it cost about $2.50. English owned. Over the road from a ‘nightclub’. Hope this info is correct, but it was 6 years ago I went! May not be there any more. Oh my lord – hunt it out if it is! But be careful not to get a happy shake… Especially if you take a motorbike to the nearby caves and waterfalls 😀

    Reply
    • Paul

      Thank you very much, typo corrected! As for your other well reasoned comments, well your sister in law was stone cold sober, just petrified and probably a gust of wind caused the skewing of the sunglasses! As for the facial hair, that’s the benefit of not having a job and not having to shave every day, let it grow wild!!! I seem to remember you having a few interesting looks over the years. We can always can rely on you to give some enlightened opinion on the key issues on a blog post can’t we? 😉 Thanks for the advice on the English cafe too, will stay clear of the happy shake, although think you may have had something similar before writing this judging by your attempted humour!!! Until next time little brother 🙂

      Reply
  2. Claire

    Yeah I tried a bike in Vietnam, I have a very lovely Y shaped scar on my thumb to prove it. But I think it was the Vietnamese family’s faces I will remember, as I nearly road into their very expensive, fancy BMW. Luckily I missed it.

    Reply
    • Paul

      Ha ha I can just imagine your face too! I think most people who have been on a bike have a story to tell in some way shape or form and many also have the war wounds to go with them. Luckily no scars for me this time.

      Reply
  3. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)

    Great story, and I think you’ve painted a very accurate depiction of what it’s like to ride a motorcycle for the first time! It’s amazing how fast 40kph feels when you’re on a tiny little two-wheeled bike and completely exposed to the elements.

    I have mentioned before that I think it is remarkably bizarre and foolhardy when I hear about people who come to Asia and decide they want to rent a motorcycle without ever having ridden before. Of course it is one thing if you are on a nearly deserted island with no other traffic, but even still, there are other ways to hurt yourself on a bike that are not limited to head-on-collisions. If the roads are bad and you brake incorrectly, it’s possible to flip the bike! Both Tony & myself have experience riding bikes—we actually had scooters back in Nashville, and took a 3-day intensive “learn to ride course”)—but there have still been places we have gone where I definitely didn’t feel safe riding a bike. Tony has 20 years of riding experience so he’s fine, but the roads of Asia are not the place to cut your teeth!

    Reply
    • Paul

      Thanks Steph. Yes there is enough to worry about without even thinking about other traffic on the road! I certainly wouldn’t have the confidence to even contemplate riding in a busy location without having previously amassed quite a bit of practice.

      Reply
  4. Macca

    Seriously it sounds like heaven riding where you are, try battling against the crettins on the way to and from Leeds every day at rush hour. I now have enemies that prevent me from passing them, however I always win and thank them so much for their kindness by showing either the bird or [email protected] sign

    Reply
    • Paul

      Ha ha. Certainly was a bit quieter than you are used to for your daily commute. Your name was mentioned once or twice during the day as we went along deserted roads. Even if I had wanted to show anyone the bird I don’t think I would have been brave enough to take my hand off the handlebar for fear of ending in a heap on the road!!!

      Reply
    • Paul

      As you well know if Maddie was driving I am not sure I would have been alive to write the post!

      Reply

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