The Forgotten Joys of Riding a Motorbike in Thailand

Up until yesterday I hadn’t been on my motorbike in over a year. My wife still uses it to go to the local shops, but I prefer to drive. There was a time when I went everywhere on two wheels; during my first seven years in Thailand it was my only means of transport. Once I had a new car though, I only used it for short journeys. Then when we moved to the outskirts of Bangkok last year I stopped using the bike altogether.

My Love of Motorbikes

I’d never had my own motorized transport until I learnt to ride a motorbike in Thailand. Before that time anyone with their own wheels seemed to possess some magical skill that I secretly envied. I was in my thirties and felt a bit embarrassed by my pedestrian status. I always claimed that it didn’t bother me, but it did. My usual quip was that some people are made to drive and some are made to be driven – my weak attempt at reverse snobbery.

So when I finally mastered the art of riding a motorbike it was like a new world opened up to me. I would ride everywhere in Thailand and had no problems sitting on the bike for hours. My wife grew to dislike it when I would suggest that we set off on another one of our epic journeys. Sitting on the back of the bike for half a day or more couldn’t have been much fun. At least once a week I’d make the 110 km journey through the mountains from our village to the nearest city. I’d then make the return journey with the bike weighed down with bags of shopping. Even some of the local Thais would raise their eyebrows at the number of shopping bags I’d take on that bike. For the first few years I got around on a second-hand Honda Wave, but then I bought a brand new one – for a long time this was my pride and joy.

I completed some crazy journeys on my Honda Wave. We had some amazing adventures together. I’m ashamed of it now, but I would often ride when drunk. This means that there are many bike journeys that I just don’t even remember. I once came out of a blackout in Chiang Mai after riding all the way from Phitsanulok. It was on the back of this bike that I rode the 350km journey to Thamkrabok temple and checked myself in for a detox (a whole chapter is devoted to this journey in my book Dead Drunk).

A Reluctant Car Driver

In the beginning I was a bit negative about the idea of getting a car. I’d never learnt to drive, and thought that getting a driving licence in Thailand would be too difficult for me. The truth was that I loved the freedom of the motorbike and cars just seemed a bit too clunky. My wife would pester me about it, but I always ignored her reasoning. When our son was born though, the arguments for a car were too much to ignore. Many of our Thai friends and neighbours would happily take their babies on the motorbike, but I didn’t like it at all. It turned out that getting a Thai driving licence was relatively easy, and soon we had our own car.

Once I got behind the wheel of a car my obsession with motorbikes disappeared. I could now travel much further in comfort with air-conditioning and my favourite tunes on the car stereo. I would reluctantly use the motorbike to go to work, but only because there was nowhere to park the car. Riding to work every morning became a chore that I started to resent. When we eventually moved here to Minburi, there was no longer any reason to use the motorbike at all.

The Forgotten Joys of Riding a Motorbike in Thailand

I’ve started running on a track in a stadium near where we live. It is only a couple of kilometres away, but my initial plan was to drive there by car. There was no way I wanted to run to the stadium because of the local dog population; they are the reason why I don’t run at home. My wife thought the idea of driving such a short distance every day to be a bit crazy. I could see her point, but initially the idea of using the bike again didn’t feel too appealing. It felt that there was no other choice though.

Getting on the motorbike yesterday morning was like coming home. I enjoyed the ride to the local stadium; the feeling of wind hitting my face as I accelerated. I remembered how riding a bike means feeling more a part of the surroundings. I’ve been driving on the local roads for over a year now, but everything looked different on the bike. It was kind of exhilarating, and I felt the same way on the journey this morning. It appears that my love of riding motorbikes has returned.

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10 thoughts on “The Forgotten Joys of Riding a Motorbike in Thailand

  1. When I first came to my North African country twenty years ago, only the rich had cars, and Mercedes sedans were very common. The middle classes were all on motorbikes. The poor were walking many kilometers.

    About five years ago I started noticing that the middle classes were mostly purchasing a car, and the rich had upgraded from Mercedes to really expensive black, four-wheel-drive vehicles. Now, most of the poor are on motorbikes and only poor children and beggars are walking.

    1. Hi Lynne, it is a similar situation here. Motorbikes are relatively cheap and most people will have at least one in the family. Bangkok is car hell and it is hard to tell if there are more now than there was a decade ago when I first arrived.

  2. Paul I have never ridden a motorbike or driven a car. In my younger days I had the policy of preferring to drink rather than drive. I never had much sense in those days but the little I did have was enough to make me realise the two didn’t mix.

    If I do ever live in Thailand then learning to drive a car or ride a motorbike will be a must but for now young Wilai drives me around.

    One of my fears to driving on the rural roads would be the number of potholes about. Riding a motorbike after dark must be scary.

    1. Hi Martyn, drink was probably one of the main reasons why I never got around to learning to drive before coming to Thailand. Driving a car or riding a motrobike in Thailand involves risks, but it offers so much freedom.

  3. How did you learn to drive in Thailand?

    I don’t drive and would like to learn but not sure how to go about it in Bangkok.

    1. I was living in rural Thailand when I learnt to drive. I found a place with no traffic and taught myself. It isn’t something I’d recommend. My wife took lessons and they were reasonably priced. You should be able to find a driving instructor near your location. I hope that helps.

      1. Yeah, I don’t think that would go down too well if I tried it in the middle of Bangkok! Plus I don’t have a car.

        I’ve had a look around but they are mostly in Thai and I’m not that good at speaking it yet.

        How hard is the test?


        1. Hi BB, I think it depends where you do the test. In my case it was suprisingly easy – they assumed that I was an experienced driver and didn’t ask me to do the practical test.

  4. One of the things I loved back in the States was having a car. It affords freedom! road trips which means audio books and music and miles and miles of landscape.

    The motorbike is the answer over here. Cars are too clunky (as you put it). They are furiously expensive and just don’t go down sois or parking lots very well. As a motorbike driver, I find them frustrating.

    Although I do enjoy riding in them. Hi-so! Hi-so! It’s a nice break from the pollution and heat.

    Welcome back,
    the motorbike

    1. Thanks Lani, I think a mix of car and motorbike is probably ideal. I always felt uncomfortable riding the bike in central Bangkok – the car is better for me despite the traffc jams.

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