It’s still dark out. The morning is crisp and cool, especially for Thailand. I’m strapping my new Skoyco touring bag and my backpack to the rack of my Lifan Cross 200. I feel strange. Alone. I’m about to embark on a 3000 kilometer motorcycle journey in a foreign country on a cheap, unreliable enduro bike–by myself.
I don’t speak Thai, and I’m not much of a motorcycle mechanic. Thailand’s roads are among the deadliest in the world. Things could get ugly if problems arise. Slowly, the mountain of excitement for this big adventure is washing away into a sea of worry and doubt. I need to get going, to get far away from home, so I can ride on instead of worrying about whether or not this is really a good idea.
The bike is ready. I strap on my boots, slip on my riding suit, fire up the bike, and roll out of my driveway and on to highway 218 towards Nang Rong. Day 1 has started. My plan is to go from Buriram to Bangkok and then on to either Petchaburi or Ratchaburi, where I’ll stop for the night. Bangkok is 325 kilometers from my house. Ratchabui is 470, and Petchaburi is another 60 kilometers past that.
As I approach Nang Rong, about 40 kilometers from my house, I feel a few rain drops, which is quite strange, it being the dry season and all. I’m not too worried. It’s just a light sprinkle. I ride for another 10 minutes and then turn off the 218 and onto the much larger highway 24. What was a drizzle is now a full on downpour. I have no choice but to stop and dig out my rain suit. I can’t believe it! It hasn’t rained in ages, and now, on my first day of riding, it’s pouring! Whatever, I need to push on.
My rain suit’s on and I’ve hit the road again. It hasn’t rained in a long time, and things are going to be slippery. To make things worse, I’m on the 24, the main highway going to Bangkok. It’s full of massive, old, poorly maintained trucks. I get up to speed and steam ahead towards my destination, eager to get this, the worst leg of the trip, over with.
It didn’t take long after the rain had started. After about 15 minutes of riding I come across the first major accident I’d see on my journey. Even though there is a big grass divider–with lots of trees–separating opposing lanes of traffic, two big rigs have managed to sort out a head on collision.It’s ugly. The trucks are so tangled into one big mess of metal that it’s hard to tell them apart. One of them has also smashed into a tree. The cab of the truck looks like one of those compressed bundles of recycled cardboard boxes. I can’t imagine that anyone has survived, and I’m not going stop and try to find out. I hop onto the shoulder and dart around all the traffic. It’s still pouring rain.
The rest of the trip to Bangkok was as I expected, not that great. Lots of big, ugly trucks and big, ugly highways. My goal is to experience the beauty of Southern Thailand, but I have to get down there first! And that’s what this day’s all about. As you can see on the map, my plan is to go over the top of Bangkok, not to drop down into the city.
Well, that was my plan until I misread one little road sign. I was on highway 1 heading towards Bangkok. I wanted to transition onto highway 9, which would have taken me right over the dirty, dangerous, crowded streets of Bangkok. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that highway 1 had split off in two directions as I was riding down it. Accidently, I transitioned onto the highway 1 that drops straight down into the heart of Bangkok.
It was also an expressway, and motorcycles aren’t allowed on expressways. About a hundred meters after “highway 1” turns into “expressway 1” the police had set up a road block. They busted me and took 400 baht of my hard-earned money, which had to be paid on the spot–no money, no motorcycle. They just keep it until you come back with their cash.
Of course, I had a much bigger problem than the coppers taking 400 baht off me. I was now kicked off the expressway and onto the crazy streets of metropolitan Bangkok, which are the busiest, most unorganized streets in the world!
I decided that the best thing to do was use side roads and follow the expressway back out of the city. It didn’t work. The roads were so confusing and hard to follow! Some one way. Some two-way. Some expressway. It’s a freaking mess! Within minutes, I had lost sight of the expressway, the only way I knew how to get out of town. On the move, I came up with a new plan. I would just “feel” my way out of town. I mean, if I ride long enough, eventually I’ll get out of the city, right?
So off I went, heading in what I thought was a west/southwest direction, which is the way I wanted to go anyway. …and who cares if I’m on the highway or cutting through side roads, as long as I’m heading in the right direction. I pressed on for about 35-45 minutes, until the roads thinned out and I was seeing a bit of the countryside. Finally! I was out of the mess that is Bangkok.
Rolling down this country road, I came upon a small university. It was off to the right side. On the left was a girl sitting at a bus stop on the side of the road. She looked to be about 20 and was wearing a school uniform, surely from the university. “Maybe she speaks a little English,” I thought. I pulled over, turned off the bike, and took off my helmet. She looked at me nervously, not really wanting to be bothered by some lost and confused foreigner.
I approached her anyway. The poor girl was sick as a dog, swollen red eyes, holding a handful of tissue up to her runny nose. I unfolded my map and asked here to show me where we were at. At the same time I was pointing to and swirling my fingers around the area just south/southwest of Bangkok. That’s where, I was communicating, I thought we were standing. She gazed at the map, running her fingers along the roads heading out of the city. Then she picked a point, put here finger on it and said, “here.”
“Here?,” I said, pointing at the spot she had chosen. “Oh, shit!”
I had gotten onto the 305, a road that heads dead east, exactly the opposite direction I wanted to be going. I was not amused. I thanked the girl and gave her my best big smile, even though I was steaming mad. Then I put my helmet back on, hopped on the bike, turned around and started swearing like a sailor. I was also riding like an idiot, swerving in and out of traffic, angrily cutting people off. I had to calm myself down or else I was going to wind up in an accident.
It was only about 2 o’clock, but I thought it would be best if I just went back to where this mess had started. Then I could get a hotel room, grab a few beers, and make the best of the afternoon. I could sort things out in the morning. And that’s exactly what I did. The place where the 1 meets the 305 is called “Rangsit,” a suburb just north east of Bangkok. I stayed about 1k from the huge “Rangsit Market.”
Sitting in the hotel room, I pulled out my computer, got online, and checked Google maps. I found that the 305–going the other direction–would take me back out to the 9, the highway that I was trying to catch before ending up on the 1 into Bangkok. The only problem was that the 305 was an expressway–no motorcycles allowed. “I’ll figure it out in the morning,” I thought, and I went out for some food and a few cold beers.
I returned to my room with a couple cold ones and watched the sun go down from my balcony. I felt strangely comfortable, like I was a part of all those people going about their daily lives, moving about, shopping, enjoying their street-side snacks. This sense of calm came from accepting the fact that, at this moment, I was not totally in control of my fate.
I’m in a foreign country. I’m on a motorcycle. I don’t speak the language. I’m lost. I need those people out there. I need them to help me. I can’t afford to care about anything else. I can’t afford to compete with them. I can’t afford to judge them and to have them judge me. I need them. They don’t need me.
Life gets simple in situations like this. You lose your ego, and with it all the worry and stress you haul around trying to protect it. And that brings about a strong sense of calm. You don’t care if you’re better than anyone else. You don’t care if they think they’re better than you. You’ve surrendered, which means you have nothing left to lose. You’re free.