I’ve been meaning to post this story now for over two years. It’s more out of a sense of duty and completeness to the trip I had that I write this now. My trip ended in August 2013, and I feel like I never really wrapped up this blog, or told some of my final thoughts and memories of traveling around the world for a year. I’m going to attempt to wrap things up with the next couple posts that talk about some experiences I never got around to talking about, as well as talk about my thoughts of being back.
Without a doubt, the craziest story of my trip involves somewhere around the midway point in my trip to Thailand. So here it goes…
I arrived in Thailand after being in India for about three weeks. India was pretty wild, and felt like a different trip to me. I’ve never felt so foreign in a place in my life as I did India, and might have to recount more of my experiences there. Compared to India, arriving in Bangkok, Thailand felt like I was in any Western country at first. The airport, roads, buildings and infrastructure were all very modern, at least in appearance. I spent my first week in Bangkok in a hostel. I had an awesome time in Bangkok. The hostel I was in was small, and I had no trouble meeting other travelers to go exploring with. I did all the classic tourist things in Bangkok… I went to the temples, I walked around the markets, I ate Thai street food, and just had fun exploring Bangkok. After about a week, I left for Chiang Mai which is a city in the North. I stayed at yet another hostel that was filled with the usual… Brits, Aussies, and some Canadians and Americans. I did a day long cooking class here that was fun. I also went on a jungle trek for three days that was really cool. A lot of hiking, and we stayed in local villages and slept in bamboo huts. If I haven’t written about that, I’ll need to.
Prior to leaving for my jungle trek which was just outside of Chiang Mai, I had met some other travelers planning to ride motorbikes to a sleepy mountain village called Pai. Pai is kind of known as this chilled out place that’s very touristy. It requires getting on a bus from Chiang Mai for a few hours. My new hostel buddies were planning on checking it out, but wanted to make more of an adventure out of it by renting motorbikes. This would allow them to see more of the countryside, and stop at various places and check things out. They were planning to leave the day after I got back to Chiang Mai, so I might have a chance to join them. Now at this point, I should say a few things:
- I don’t know the Thai traffic laws, and don’t have a license
- I’ve never ridden a motorbike, scooter, or anything remotely close in my entire life
- Pai is roughly 84 miles from Chiang Mai
Ok, so what would make me think I could ride a motorbike for the first time ever in a foreign country where they drive on the opposite side of the road of what I’m used to? Well, I think at the time, I had been on the road for 8 months, and nothing really scared me. I was looking for adventure and to do something different…. really different. Riding a bike in Thailand sounded like fun. I liked the people I had met in the hostel, and the whole idea just seemed cool. So after getting back from the jungle trek, I found my friends were still planning the trip, and so I joined them.
The day started by going to the rental bike place. The plan was to pay them to transport our bags up to Pai, and then we’d get them back (along with our passports) when we arrived in Pai. So see… this was an actual service that was provided… lots of people do this in Thailand, including idiots like me probably. We got our bikes, and one of the guys in our group, Sam from Australia, gave me a quick tutorial. At the time, Sam also commented that it looked like a had really nice and fast bike. Foreshadowing. After my little tutorial in working the gas, brake, and gears (thankfully it was an automatic, or maybe I might have been able to end the trip right then and there), we were off. I should also probably point out that this bike was more of what we would call a scooter in the States.
Our first stop was to get gas. As we set out on the busy streets of Chiang Mai, my first thoughts were… “What the hell are you doing? This is a little nuts”. However, after a few minutes and some turns through intersections, I was starting to relax. We got to the gas station (which looked like just about any other gas station I’ve seen in the US), filled up, and then headed out again. I was starting to get comfortable on the bike, and by the time we were outside the city, I felt like this was going to be a fun day. Riding in the countryside was beautiful. We saw landscapes, waterfalls, and plenty of Buddhist temples. Riding our own bikes gave our group the ability to stop and see things along the way as we wanted… total freedom to explore, and I was thinking, “Wow, what an awesome experience”. That was what my trip had become at that point… collecting more amazing experiences. I didn’t really care about tourist sites anymore. I had seen enough amazing stuff at this point that I was overstimulated and needed to do more adventurous things to get the same thrills I had earlier on in the trip. Probably about a little past the halfway point on the trip to Pai, we found a roadside cafe, and stopped to eat. Our group was small from what I remember. Other than Sam, I actually don’t remember the names of anyone else at this point. I remember there being a girl from Austria, but I can’t remember if there was one or two more other people with us. I didn’t take many photos that day, and I honestly can’t even see the face in my mind of the other person I kind of remember. Sam and the Austrian girl were leading us since they seemed to know the way and had tons of experience on bikes.
After the cafe, we rode a little further and found what in the States would be a National Park. It even had one of those big brown wooden signs with yellow lettering you find in US Parks.
There was this waterfall, and we actually took the chance to get out and get into the water. We wouldn’t have had this experience on a bus. We would have just arrived in Pai, and hung out, but nothing else. It might have been fun, but it wouldn’t have been the experience we were now having this day.
At this point, I was feeling pretty chill. We had been riding our bikes for what felt like all day. We had stopped at several places, seen some cool sites, swam underneath a waterfall, and just generally enjoyed the experience. I was pretty comfortable on my bike at this point, and glad I made the decision to join my hostel buddies on the this trip.
After the waterfall, we got back on our bikes with the plan to continue riding without any more stops to Pai. Probably half an hour to 45 minutes after leaving the waterfall, we were getting into some mountainous terrain. The road was getting really curvy and a little dicey. Also, I had been riding for a while, and was probably going a little too fast. Not knowing how to properly handle turns on a bike, I wasn’t properly leaning into turns and letting the my body and bike do the work. I was over turning the steering, and on a really tight turn, it caught up with me. I just remember this point where my bike slid out from under me. I was probably only going 25 mpg, but bike when sideways, and I hit the pavement hard on my left side. My left knee and arm took the brunt of the fall. The bike slid in a straight line from where I had lost it, and I just barrel rolled, tearing myself up along the way. Luckily, I had a helmet on, but I don’t think I hit my head anyway. When things came to a stop, I just remember thinking, “You’re an idiot”. I looked down to assess the damage, and I saw what was probably the worst gash on my knee I’ve ever seen. I mean, my knee basically opened up and I think I could see my knee cap. I looked at my left arm, and there was just a huge road rash down my entire forearm. Both of my hands were torn up pretty bad too. However, I noticed right away that I was able to stand which made me think I hadn’t broken any bones. It was probably the only good thing I could find at that point. I knew I couldn’t go any further with the trip. I was so banged up, and sore. I also realized that my glasses had fallen off in the crash. I started looking around, but couldn’t find them. Luckily, there was someone in our group riding behind me (think all the others were ahead). Eventually, Sam and the Austrian girl realized I wasn’t with them, and rode back. I felt so bad for wrecking the day like that for them, because now I had put them in a situation of having to help me which I hated. I went over and checked out my bike, and other than some scratches, it seemed ok. I looked at my knee and just couldn’t believe that was a part of my body. It looked like a mess, and would absolutely require medical attention. But where? I was in the middle of what felt like a Thai jungle with the worse injury of my life. I didn’t want to panic, but I just didn’t know how this was going to work out for me. It’s actually kind of hard to write about this now because it’s all starting to come back. What an awful and pitiful situation I found myself in. I think I’ll stop here for now, but promise to pickup the story in another couple days. Promise!