Reader’s Stories: Ballistic Bangkok bikers

A few years back, I was offered the chance to travel to Bangkok, Thailand. Hearing that this was the “girlie” capital of the world, I accepted without haste – Later I learned that Bangkok is also the AIDS capital of the world, so it was a relief that I hadn’t done anything stupid.


After 28 exhausting hours of flying, enduring the substandard freeze dried instant food and the carryings-on of the schizophrenic old man beside me, I was walking through Bangkok airport. I got out, hailed a taxi to a relatives apartment, and promptly dropped dead.

I was awoken the next morning by the horrendous sound of hundreds of two-stroke motorcycles, racing away at some unseen intersection … or maybe it was my cousin’s snoring (I was still a little jet-lagged and hazy). Wanting to see where the hubbub was coming from, I proceeded to run down the stairs and instantaneously tripped over a conveniently placed cat (never in my life have I seen so many felines roaming about). Regaining my composure, I continued my journey to the street below.

There I was confronted by a wave of bluish smoke and a myriad of tiny motorcycles zipping full throttle past me. I thought to myself, “Self, that looks like great fun.” I explained to my cousin that I might like to take a little jaunt around the city to see what it’s like. He replied that he just happened to have a friend with a 250 Kawasaki ‘Cafe Racer’ who maybe willing to lend it to me. I was hoping for something a little larger, but in hindsight I’m glad that’s all I got.

So we hopped into an ever convenient taxi and were taken to his friends garage/house. The friend was asked if he would be willing to lend his bike out, and he obliged with the remark, “Drive on the left, and if a cop tries to stop you, drive away as fast as you can.” He went on to explain that the police system is very corrupt in Bangkok, with the police being possibly more of a danger than the drug pushers!

Amazing what you can carry on a motorcycle

The Thai people are legally not allowed to own anything larger than a 250 cc, so you see a lot of two stroke screamers about. The idea of motorcycling elitism in Bangkok is a Honda Rebel 250 ‘chopper’. It has the same qualities as the choppers in North America; Extended fork tubes, radical rake, ape hangers, straight pipes, and every other ridiculous accessory you could think of. It’s also pretty entertaining to see one of these ‘rebels’ of society looking tough, sitting at an outdoor pub, swilling some premium Thai brew, before strutting over to his “Hog”, swinging a leg over his steed, flicking his cigarette butt onto the ground, giving the kick start a hefty rotation, and … putt, putt, putt. Off goes Mr. Rebel, leisurely (not by choice) cruising into the smog&endash;blurred sunset, cursing life. Strange, very strange.

After about 20 minutes of tearing about on the Kawasaki, a taxi (again?!) changed lanes without using his indicators. Needless to say, I was swiftly set upon my rear. Not a good thing when thousands of tons of steel are bearing down upon you. I swiftly righted the bike and nervously rode on.

After being cut off numerous times, I had had enough. I began weaving, dodging and basically disregarding the law, just like the locals. I discovered that in this metropolis it is imperative that you be aggressive, or else you sit in one spot for hours. Arriving at a red light, I was starting to feel confident of my overseas riding abilities. Obviously, the “Corner Cop”, (there’s one at every intersection) didn’t agree, and came sprinting towards me, billy-club in hand. Taking the owner’s previous advice, I cranked the throttle as far as was allowed, and off I went into the oncoming traffic. A little hasty, possibly, but I managed to get across unscathed. Incidentally, it was rush hour, so the only vehicles moving were the ones able to squeeze between the decrepit transport and pickup trucks.

Seeing the gas gauge hovering on “fumes”, I stopped into the nearest Esso gas station for a fill-up and a Coke at the 7-11. Some things just don’t change, even internationally. I then attempted to tell the attendant that I would like the gas tank filled, but no amount of explanation and hand gestures could get the message across. After about five minutes of futile description, I took the pump from his hand and replenished the bike myself.

See the buffoon that has dropped his Vespa? It’s the drunkard test in which one must pilot oneself and a lawman around the police pavilion without tipping over. This dolt has failed. Silly man, isn’t he?

When I had completed the fill up, the gasboy remarked, “Oh… fillemup!!”. I nodded my head – amazing just how much the English language has permeated other cultures. Likewise, you can stroll into any of the 30 or so McDonalds in the city and you’re instantly back in North America. Talk about taking the 25 cent tour. By the way, the fill-up on the Kawi was the equivalent of a day’s minimum pay for a Thai … about 5 bucks.

After the “fillemup”, I proceeded back to the owners house to survey the damage. The bike had suffered little, save for some scratches to the bar ends, butt (pardon the pun) my poor gluteus was blooming with raspberries. This would stay with me for some time as a reminder of my little adventure.

After this little incident I decided it would be best if I observed traffic manoeuvres from the sidewalk, lest I become a crimson human crayon on some road that I can’t even pronounce, on the other side of the world. Watching some pretty grave wrecks with much blood and lifeless bodies later, I am truly glad that I survived without serious incident. When a rider here gets into a smash up and is killed or knocked unconscious, passers-by drag him and his bike onto the sidewalk, where, within five minutes his person and machine are picked clean by scavengers. If there is anything left of value when the police arrive, they just get another fringe benefit to subsidise their income. When the cops have foraged and left, the medics come to retrieve the mostly naked corpse and deposit it at the mortuary, where it will probably never be identified.

I did manage to get some pictures to let one loosely grasp how insane it is riding a motorcycle in Thailand. It helps me to realise how appreciative we should be to ride in a country so uncomplicated such as ours. So be thankful for what you have, as many other people don’t get to feel cool, fresh Canadian wind in their faces. Happy trails.

Matt Bondzio

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