Riding in Thailand is Different. And That's a Good Thing.
Richard Millington, Director of Motorrad Tours, explains why you shouldn’t just think of Bangkok and beaches when you’re considering Thailand. I have just returned from my third time riding through Thailand. If you were asked to list the world’s top ten motorcycle touring destinations, I doubt that Thailand would make your list but, if it didn’t, you would be missing out on something truly amazing. Think of Thailand and you probably think of sunny islands, great beaches and dodgy clubs. You would be right – Thailand has all this and more. But nearly everyone lands in Bangkok and heads south to the sunshine and the infamous tourist destinations – they are all going the wrong way.
Thailand was also the location for 2016’s GS Trophy International Final.
Put your bottom on a motorbike (instead of a sun lounger) and head north. Now, I am not advocating hiring a holiday scooter and riding in flip flops. There are a limited, but increasing number, of proper bikes available to rent in Thailand. You can find a mix of 500-650cc Hondas and Kawasakis and even a few BMW GSs. But why would you want to kit up in a hot and humid country and ride a bike?
Well, what are you looking for? Easy riding with great scenery and coffee shops every few miles? Stick to the main roads and Thailand has 1,000s of miles of it.
Dirt roads leading to remote locations that challenge your riding skills and determination? Turn off the beaten track and the north of the country is crisscrossed with ‘roads’ that are neither on the map nor ever likely to see tarmac.
Beware; many are dead ends and some just fade to, well, nothing. However, the riding is great and fuel is usually not an issue as every village has a hand-cranked 45-gallon barrel of petrol as a local ‘fuel station’.
Are you looking for wide, sweeping twisty roads? Ride the ‘Road of 1,864 bends’ around Mae Hong Son.
Realistically, it’s a two-day ride and is possibly the only road that I have ever ridden and thought “a straight bit or two might actually be nice”. The turns flow endlessly like some crazy never-ending asphalt snake. It goes on and on forever.
We didn't count, but we'd believe that there really are over 1,800 bends!
Or, do you want some really challenging Alpine hairpin routes? Head further north and there are roads stacked with hairpins unlike anything you will ever find in Europe or the USA. Beware that, since this is Thailand, you may round a corner to see occasional cars stuck just spinning their wheels on the apex!
Ride into a full 180-degree hairpin looking up and left to see the exit but the exit is so close and so high you can’t actually see the tarmac. And there are tight, first-gear hairpins that cause you to slip the clutch leading to descents and climbs that leave you hanging onto the bars.
The north of Thailand offers some of the most technical and challenging road riding anywhere. As one rider summed it up after our recent Thailand visit: “the Stelvio Pass is for wimps”.
Roads may go from this...
Thailand offers a massive variety of great riding, sunshine and remarkable scenery, but that’s not all. The challenges don’t just end with the style of road, or even the road itself, although this is often a challenge as well. Deep black tarmac with perfect bright yellow (not white) lines will give way mid-corner to some old patched, potholed asphalt in desperate need of repair.
Dogs will lie basking on the road, but due to the friendly, courteous and Buddhist nature of the Thais, the dogs are used to you avoiding them – not the other way round. They might twitch an ear but more often than not the sound of an approaching vehicle won’t cause them to stir even this much. Add to this wandering herds of cows and goats and this pretty much covers the wildlife.
One thing not to be worried about is Thai drivers. They are, in my experience from leading trips on six continents, truly unique. Get outside of Bangkok and there seems nothing you can do to anger a Thai driver. Road rage is a concept entirely alien. Here’s an example.
If you need to turn right, but this means crossing the dual carriageway, well, that’s quite dangerous. Much safer to drive or ride down the hard shoulder the wrong way!
Want to pull out of a side road but there’s something coming? Just slide out and sort of blend in – no one will notice.
Stuck behind a slow truck, but there is traffic coming the other way? Well, if the hard shoulder is clear, just perform a head-on overtake. The oncoming traffic will happily move over onto the shoulder and let you through.
And why not? It has cost them nothing; there is no issue or danger. There is definitely a mindset when driving that is “I’ll worry about what is in front of me – you worry about what’s in front of you.” When everyone thinks the same, it works – sort of.
For a European driver, where the merest inferred slight or being forced to alter direction by a few degrees is reason to rant and scream and hold a clenched fist on the horn, it takes some getting used to. But quickly you learn to relax, go with the flow, chill – no harm, no foul.
All too quickly you find yourself comfortably queue jumping down the hard shoulder, undertaking on a dual carriageway and being tempted with head on overtakes. It’s fine. Just remember not to continue when you get home. Surrey constabulary don’t have the same attitude as the Thai police!
So if Thailand is not on your list of great riding destinations, then it should be. It really does have it all. Try it – you won’t regret it.