By Lawrence Wheeler
So, you want to tour Thailand by motorcycle! Great!! Thailand is a very motorcycle-friendly country with some of the best roads in terms of scenery and challenge. For the off-roader, you will find as much excitement as you can handle. For the road cruiser, cruise on smooth fast superhiways or enjoy the banked, curving mountain roads. Thailand has all sorts of scenery and climates to choose from . Touring by motorcycle is one of the best ways to make contact with the local people and really get to experience a Thailand that you can't get when a part of the tour-group crowd.
In the South are Thailand's beautiful islands with beaches that have been immortalized in postcards and dreams. Here you find a way of life that has attracted people from all over the world to come live here. Tourism has touched, but not yet destroyed the life here. People are still friendly to foreigners, especially in the small villages.
In the North are the hilltribes of Thailand and ancient Lanna culture tracing its roots to Burma, Laos and China. The people are known for their hospitality and relaxed way of life. The weather here is usually cooler than the rest of Thailand due to its location in the foothills of the Himalayas. There isn't any snow, but in some areas it gets cold enough to make cold-lovers feel right at home. The North also has the best riding in all of Thailand.
The Northeast, called Isaan, is considered the heart of Thailand. The people here are mostly field workers and factory workers and live a very simple life. The poorest areas in Thailand are mostly in Isaan, and life is a struggle for many people, but this struggle has bred a strength and determination that keeps them going no matter how hard life gets. For me, the life is best exemplified in the music and dances of Isaan. They have a rhythm and feel that makes you want to be a part of it.
Well, now you really want to see Thailand by motorcycle right? Have you ever ridden before? If not, forget about learning here. This is a place for experienced, confident riders only. Many foreigners are injured and killed every year in Thailand mostly due to inexperience and being stupid, so be real with yourself concerning your riding abilities and your ability to adapt to the Thai style of driving. If you're not sure, I would recommend that you hire a car or jeep with driver and enjoy Thailand in comfort and relative safety. You might not get to ALL the places you can get to with a motorcycle, but you can enjoy your travels almost as much, with fewer worries about weather, hospital bills, etc. The cost for renting a jeep and driver is from about 1,200 baht per day, plus expenses. Not expensive and your mother will sleep better, so why risk your life needlessly?
Back to riding...
Now that we have gotten rid of the amateurs, let's get down to business. We all know the motorcycles are dangerous. Isn't that what your mom told you all the time? And didn't that help to make you MORE determined? Motorcycling is either in your blood or it's not. We just have to accept that a certain segment will always think we're crazy, but so what? Life is for pleasure and fun, and to a motorcyclist, nothing beats a good ride. Some of us prefer to ride alone, some in packs. Some prefer the dirt (and mud!) while others love the throbbing between their legs from the massive cc's of a cruiser. Whoever you are, Thailand will give you your fills and thrills, but hopefully, no spills. Let's talk about avoiding some of the spills first.
The basic law of the land is 'Might is Right'. Anything bigger than you has the right of way. Don't try to bully or bluff your way around. You might get your way sometimes, but when you lose.... As a motorcyclist, you are near the bottom of the ladder, just up from pedestrian. Other drivers will assume you know the rules and will act accordingly. Another basic rule is to keep to the left and drive in a straight line. Many teenagers driving bikes and others driving cars don't always follow the rules, especially since Thais love to drink and drive, so you will have occasions when idiots will come up from behind and blast by, sometimes just inches away. Again, they are assuming you will follow the rules, even if they don't.
When driving, maintain a safety margin all around. Be aware of what is going around you and plan for a worst-case scenario. Give yourself an escape route. I want to emphasize again, PAY ATTENTION TO THE ROAD. Forget the pretty women, interesting buildings, etc. If you want look, stop your bike first, then look all you want.
Use your horn as much as you like. It's not considered a threat like in some countries and it will usually get the drivers or pedestrian's attention. Many times people will enter the roadway in front of you without looking, or seeing you, but ignoring you (see rule 'might is right').
Note: I recently installed a bus-type airhorn in my truck as an extra safety measure; Thai are trained to 'freeze!' at this sound, because the busses and trucks that use these horns drive agressively and give very little room for mistakes. It's interesting to watch the reactions, but I do try to control my new (higher) status as 'Mightier Than Thou'....It is only for a moment, anyway....
If you see a dog, give it plenty of attention. After you have traveled around a bit, you will notice many dead dogs on the road. Better that someone else hit them than you. If you can't avoid the dog, grip your handlebars tightly and hit it head-on, maintaining a straight line. Try not skid out on the guts! (sorry, my sick humour:)
Passing, or being passed is when most deadly accidents in Thailand happen. This is something to avoid unless really necessary, then only with super caution. You can never assume that anybody knows you are there or what your intentions are, so use lights, horn, turn signals, etc. to signal your intentions. When on a two-lane road, you will have many occasions when on-coming traffic is passing other vehicles. Even if they see you are in their way, they will usually ignore you, assuming you will get to the left shoulder (where by law on most roads, bikes must travel) and give them room to pass (might is right again).