This morning we paid our 130THB and exchanged our passports for the keys to a couple of 125CC Honda Wave automatic motorcycles. It all seemed pretty straightforward : turn the ignition on, hold the break whilst starting the engine, twist the throttle up to start and use that to control your speed (up to go faster and down to slow down) and use the brakes when necessary. There were also indicators and lights and a horn to use when encountering fluttering chickens and dumb dogs who lie in the middle of the road. Starting the engine wasn’t a problem but when I began to move the bike, I must have been a bit to heavy on the throttle, and coupled with the fact that I still wasn’t used to the whole idea of balance (they’re a lot heavier than I’d expected), I ended up nearly crashing in to a truck parked at the side of the road! Unfortunately for her, Siobian did crash into the same truck I narrowly missed, fell off the bike and caused a scratch to the paintwork at the front, which she later discovered would cost her a massive 570THB!
Shaken by her experience and worried about any further damage she may do to the bike or herself, she gave the keys back to the lady, deciding that perhaps motorbike driving was not one of her fortes. This left me in a bit of a predicament : taking the motorbike out on my own would have been very little fun for me or her. So I drove the vehicle up and down the road a few times until I was reasonably comfortable with the balance and the amount of pressure I should put on the throttle when starting the motorcycle and then made a proposal : If Siobhian wanted to ride on the back of my bike then I promised I’d drive cafefully and not take any unecessary risks. She agreed, and so it was that not only was it the first time I had really driven a car in around 10 years, it was also the first time I had ever driven a motorcycle and I was in responsible for another person’s safety on the back of it!
Don’t worry, everything turned out ok but I can’t say it was a trouble free experience. The first test I encountered was when I got to the end of the drag that runs alongside White Sands Beach, the road began to weave its way up into the mountains, so that I had to navigate steep gradients and sharp curves. Fortunately there was very little traffic but I was still petrified to go any faster than 20kph! The road flattened out once we’d got around the northern part of the island and past the ferry port, so I was able to relax a little. However I was still unable to appreciate the scenery as my eyes were completely focussed on the road in front, the oncoming traffic, and any sign of movement or obstacles at the side of the road (children, dogs, chickens, fallen trees, large rocks). After a while actually driving the motorcycle wasn’t too much of a problem and I got the vehicle up to 70 or 80kph on the straights, but I was still having a little trouble turning corners : I didn’t want to tip the vehicle too much through fear it may topple over which resulted in – on ocassions – driving in the middle of the road.
We drove all the way down the east coast with the plan to stop at the southernmost point, Long Beach. However as we approached Long Beach the sky clouded over so we decided to continue around the island with a view to stop at another beach instead when the weather improved. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to us, the road did not run all the way around the island, so after following what can only be described as an ‘abandoned road’ to it’s end, we had to turn around and head back again. We planned instead to take the turning off to Ban Kwan Chang and the nearby Nang Yom waterfall which was just before the beginning of the precarious mountain roads back in the north of the island. Not long after this turning, another test presented itself : the road began to get very uneven and rocky and then muddy, until I was driving over a layer of mud on top of a dirt track. The motorbike was sliding all over the place and instead of risk losing control of it and us both ending up in the mud, we deposited the bike at one of the local’s houses and walked the rest of the way.
When we arrived at the entrance to Ban Kwan Chang, two of the locals were just taking a couple of the elephants out for a walk, riding bare back and steering the animals by pushing their foot against the back of their left or right ear, depending on which direction they wanted them to move in. We followed the elephants half the way to the waterfall, watching them tug at the vegetation lining the sides of the dirt track and separate the leaves from the mound of earth they’d also managed to bring with them! Further down the track we saw numerous grapefruits (or what we thought to be grapefruits : they were about the same size, the skin was green in colour and the fruits hung fairly low in the trees as many citrus fruits do) growing on the trees, as well as rambutans, papaya and durian. There was a group of locals with their pick up truck collecting durian from the trees. They’d piled up quite a collection in the back of the vehicle. When we arrived at the top of Nang Yom Waterfall, there was a little house perched at the side of the falls and who should we see sharing drinks outside in the garden? Only Oodie and his two Thai band members! We’d been to Oodie’s Bar every night since we discovered it, so I swear they’ll think we’re stalking them!
On our walk back, we paid a brief visit to Ban Kwan Chang (Chang is Thai for elephant) to stroke and feed the elephants, before retreiving the bike and continuing on our way back to White Sands. The final obstacle (and probably the worst one of all) happened when I was climbing the hill at the start of the precarious mountain bends. I spotted a huge cement mixer ahead of me and not wanting to overtake when there was a blind corner approaching, I slowed right down. My plan was to stay behind the vehicle until there was an appropriate stretch upon which I could overtake. It got the the point when I couldn’t really drive much slower and I’d just spotted an appropriate overtaking point. So I was about to pull out when a large landrover came speeding down the hill on the opposite side of the road. I couldn’t then overtake and I couldn’t physically drive any slower so my only option was to stop. I had stopped half the way up a very steep hill, so attempting a hill start with or without Siobhian on the back was not an option I was about to entertain. I subsequently took the only option remaining : waited for a break in the traffic, manually did a u-turn with the bike, pushed it down the hill, and then started the engine again at the bottom of the hill, got back on the bike with Siobhian and started the whole hill climb again from the beginning! Anyone watching would i’m sure think this was the funniest spectacle they’d seen in weeks and would probably be muttering to themselves, “stupid farang!”
We spent the evening at Oodie’s again. I don’t know whether it was the effect of the horror film we’d seen earlier on that night or too many beer Chang, but when we walked home past the 100m stretch of undeveloped jungle we heard the strangest noise coming from the depths of the undergrowth : as well as the usual noises from the crickets and frogs, this one sounded like a demented cow! We both looked at each other as if to say, “what the hell is that?” and then ran the rest of the way back to our bungalows!
Me in very fetching helmet on the Honda motorcycle I drove around the island, Ko Chang
The 2 elephants that we followed up to Nang Yom Waterfall, Ban Kwan Chang, Ko Chang