4 Lessons I Learned Eating Dirt on Thai Roads

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They say the best lessons are the tough ones
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Josh Sultan
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Mar 14, 2022
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Last week I visited Kanchanaburi, Thailand. This tourist hotspot has it all, from lively markets to beautiful nature reserves, and a surprisingly dark history (ever seen The Bridge on the River Kwai?).
I spent most of my time there wiping out on the highway.
Before I arrived, I knew I wanted to take the short hike connecting 7 tiers of waterfalls in Erawan National Park.
Here’s the story of how I ended up riding a 150cc scooter for the first time on this 150km round trip, and the lessons I learned along the way. Some more painfully than others.

I arrived at my hostel in the early evening and settled into my bunk. It was a 6-bed dorm, and after a while 2 of my dorm-mates walked in. Pari and Sean.
That’s lesson no. 1: Hostels are an amazing place to meet cool people. If you want to make friends, stay in a hostel.
Their plans mirrored mine; they wanted to go to Erawan National Park- but they were going to take scooters.
“How long have you been able to ride?”
“I learned today, I hired a bike in the morning, and I’ve been practicing with Pari all day”
That’s when the thought occurred to me. Could I tag along with these guys? Could I hire a bike first thing in the morning, teach myself to ride in a couple of hours, then make the trip across Thailand’s hectic highways to Erawan National Park?
I thought I could, and thankfully there was nobody around with better sense to convince me otherwise.
The following morning I woke up earlier than everyone else, and set off to find a bike. The shop I chose was run by a mother and her two teenagers. It was the boy’s first day working in the family business and he was nervous. So was I.
“You know how to ride one of these, right?” The mother asked.
“Oh, yes. Definitely” I lied through my teeth “but never one quite like this so could you tell me what the controls are?”
And that’s how I picked up this absolute hog
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I rode away from the shop.
The mother would tell me when I returned the bike the next day that she had a mini heart attack watching me ride away, but that’s not surprising given I had literally never operated anything like this machine before.
I found a car park where I tried pushing, squeezing and pulling the various buttons and levers to see what they did. After a little practice I felt ready to hit the highway that lay between my current location and the hostel. It turns out it really wasn’t that hard, so I was optimistic about the journey.
I ate shit on that highway. Twice.
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Which leads me to lesson no. 2: The best way to learn quickly, is to fail quickly.
I made it back to the hostel, but I was visibly worse for wear. The receptionist dragged me to the office without a word and helped me clean my wounds with saline.
I spent a couple more hours practicing in the hostel car park, and then it was time to leave. What lay ahead was 75km of unfamiliar road in a country where I didn’t know the rules. On a vehicle the likes of which I had never touched before this morning.
I knew I wasn’t ready, but that’s lesson no. 3: You’ll never feel ready. Sometimes you have to take a leap.
I rode at the back of the convoy, and since both Sean and I were inexperienced riders, we only averaged 40-50km/h on the way there. When we arrived at Erawan National Park without incident, I was relieved, exhilarated and seriously proud.
I was then immediately humbled by the sight of a middle-aged Thai woman who hopped on her own bike with (I kid you not) a swaddled new-born in one hand and the throttle in the other and rode away as if it were as simple as breathing.
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Washing away the grit and grime of the road under Erawan’s waterfalls was magical, and worth the struggle of getting there, but that’s not where our journey ends.
You see, Pari and Sean were camping in Erawan overnight. That means I had to make the 75km journey back to Kanchanaburi during rush hour, alone. I would never have attempted the trip to Erawan if it weren’t for Pari and Sean’s support, and the thought of making the return trip alone was daunting.
As I was preparing myself and my bike for the journey, I overheard English. I turned to see 3 people who also looked like they were about to leave on bikes. They looked unapproachable. I don’t want to elaborate on why they gave off that impression, but let’s just leave it at the fact that they had actual motorbikes.
I walked over and introduced myself. I asked where they were heading back to.
“Kanchanaburi” they said. Not as far as I was going, but 95% of our journeys would overlap.
“Do you mind if I ride back with you? I’m new to this and it would be nice if someone were around to help if something goes wrong”
Max, Millie and Paul obliged. I didn’t expect much from them, they didn’t know me and they owed me nothing, but I was happy following them from behind so I could focus on riding instead of trying to navigate too.
They rode back at about 80-90km/h.
It was faster than I’d ever gone and it was all I could do to keep up on my dorky little moped. I was white-knuckle terrified.
At one point my water bottle, which had been hanging off my bag by a carabiner, came loose. I don’t know how I caught it, but I found myself hurtling down the highway at 80km/h ONE HANDED.
I had nowhere to put my water bottle down and I couldn’t reattach it without both hands. I thought “If I’m going to die on this trip, it’s going to be right now because of this water bottle”.
I managed to pull over on the hard shoulder and completely lost sight of Max, Millie and Paul. They had no reason to wait for me. I got my bottle reattached and set off again. Properly alone this time.
For about 100 metres.
Up ahead, the convoy had pulled over on the hard shoulder and were looking back with worried expressions. They set off again, but Max and Millie dropped back to ask if I was okay, what had happened, and to let me know that they were worried for a minute.
That’s lesson no. 4: Almost everyone is kind when you give them a chance.
Eventually, the other three peeled away down a side street as I continued down the main road. They waved, I shouted gratitude at the top of my lungs, and I made it back safely.
It’s not exactly what I’d pictured when I planned this trip, but by pushing myself, relying on others and having a little faith I made a 150km trip on my first attempt at riding a bike. On Thailand’s notoriously unpredictable roads.
Would I recommend you follow my lead?
Absolutely not. What are you, crazy?
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