Two wheels is the way to ride in Thailand. Whole families jump aboard, young teens skid off burning tyres trying to impress their sweethearts, and food vendors attach their stalls as side carts and trundle up busy roads.
We decided to have a go at in the relaxed river town of Krabi. Out of the three of us, none had any experience riding a moped or motorcycle. Tom and I could legally drive, but despite having a license for five years, I had no road experience to speak of. Carla has never attempted to drive.
With that glittering track record, we set off to hire some bikes. 150 Baht for the entire day each, no license necessary and no questions asked. We signed waivers which stated a fine of B37,500 if we lost or damaged any of the bikes. We were granted a quick tuition of how to ignite the engine and park across the road, then told to select a helmet if we wanted one.
We set off gingerly around the block, keeping to the left lane and occasionally driving around food stalls and stray dogs. The traffic spilled fluidly over three lanes, with bikes swerving in and out and large vans beeping consistently as they sped past. After a quick stop to fill up on petrol, Tom accidentally started up too energetically and veered across 2 lanes. Luckily there was no traffic and not many witnesses to his blunder. Nevertheless, we decided a break was in order and parked the bikes up to explore a local market.
The dark cool aisles led you past green vegetables, ochre spices, freshly squeezed juice in plastic goldfish bags, blue clawed crabs and squirming catfish. The stall owners smiled as we passed and joked with each other as they expertly scaled and sliced their food, or sat fanning themselves in slow motion.
The leather was hot as we swung back on to the bikes, and confidently set off towards the motorway. We followed Tom up ahead, and took it in turns to shout at each other as we accidentally left our indicators flashing and tried to make it through the traffic lights together. We sped up and felt the wind whip up our chin straps (of course we’d opted for helmets), and let the white noise fill our ears. A hard shoulder was specifically left for bikes, and we felt safer out of the way of the faster trucks, although we did encounter the odd motorist going the wrong way.
After a few more kilometres, Tom’s bike began to struggle uphill and spluttered into early retirement. A young girl who manned a roadside stall seemed shyly amused by our predicament, and we left Carla in her company whilst we rode off with the two working bikes to find fuel. Not far down the motorway, we came across a petrol station and asked for a can. The girl looked blankly at us before fetching a litre Fanta bottle. The fuel she filled it with was also bright orange. As I set off, I jammed my hand between the accelerator handle and the mirror and bucked madly across the forecourt. After seeing Tom do the same novice move and thinking how he could’ve just let go of the handle, I felt a bit stunned at my loss of control. We then had to drive back down the motorway the wrong way after failing to find a place to do the local’s favourite U-turn, but were soon reunited and ready to go again.
We finally found the turning to the Tiger Temple after a few wrong attempts (note: follow signs for Wat Tham Sua), and ditched the bikes to explore the Buddhist temple. The coolness of the dark cave, the gold statues and the orange robed monks and shaved headed nuns calmed our nerves after the stressful experience of getting there. We trekked up over 1,200 steps to arrive at the glowing golden mountaintop shrine, and understood why this place is a meditation centre.
The return journey took only 35mins, compared to the outward trip of over 2 hours. It was thankfully uneventful, and although we anticipated that it was Carla’s turn to bomb it wildly, she rode sensibly for the most part. As we pulled over to return the bikes, Carla rode straight past the bike shop, up the hill and out of sight.