The Motorcycle Diaries / Part 14
Thai Rentals C90 / 125 Trail
In 2003 I went with my wayward erstwhile IT business partner Angelo to Thailand, ostensibly for an IT event and marketplace. In the course of our wanderings we went to a couple of the islands (or Koh) in the Gulf of Thailand.
On Koh Samui we hired a pair of Honda C90s. Apparently the C90 is far and away the best selling motorcycle on the planet. Perhaps this is easier to understand when you realise they’ve been in production, virtually unchanged, since the early 60s. Even more so when you see them loaded up with entire families. I counted two parents and four kids on one, and even a live, bound goat on the back of another! Even in busy Bangkok traffic you would see these massively overloaded C90s wending their way through the flow.
Koh Samui is a national park and, at that time, had no cars, so we could whip up and down the dirt roads at will. No helmets, sometimes three or four to a bike, it was wonderful and carefree.
At one point my C90 conked out and wouldn’t fire up. I went into a nearby bar to recuperate and got talking to a one-armed man from Northumbria. It turned out he’d been a mechanic years ago so he came out and had a tinker. Within about 5 minutes he had that bike up and running again.
We also went to Koh Chang and went slightly up-market with a pair of 125 trail bikes. These were even better for going up some of the side trails. Angelo got sidetracked into some sort of dodgy business deal but I bumped into a young guy calling himself “Scoob” (apparently after Scooby Doo, the cartoon dog!).
I’d just finished having coffee in a little wooden roadside cafe, complete with passing logging elephants, when I came across this guy waving me down by a gaggle of local people bunched up by the side of the road. I stopped and he asked if I could give him a lift “past the snake”. I looked down the road and saw the problem.
An enormous bright green and yellow snake had coiled itself up in the middle of the road and was flicking its tongue out as it sensed the gathering gaggle of humans.
The locals seemed suitably wary so we guessed that snake might be suitably venomous. Nobody was willing to walk past the beast and everybody was waiting for it to move on. Being westerners, Scoob and I were in a hurry - places to go, people to see. So he clambered aboard and we headed off gingerly as close to the edge of the road as we could get. Then, keeping our right legs as high as we could in case he should strike, we gunned past that shiny green tongue-flicking bad boy as fast as the 125 would take us.
No strikes. No bites. The snake and the human gaggle may still be there for all I know, but Scoob decided to hire a bike himself and over the next day, setting off in the opposite direction, we checked out the entire length of the Koh Chang main road. On the southernmost tip of a fishing pier off the southernmost tip of the island we dined on a seafood lunch caught and served by a smilingly hospitable local fishing family .
A day or two later I was down a trail looking for some legendary waterfalls. I’d got off the bike and was walking down a narrow footpath by the small river. On my right I saw a little family group sitting in the front of their house-on-stilts. I called over to them the (now forgotten) Thai word for “waterfall”, pointing in the direction I was going. They nodded vigorously, also pointing. I waved and carried on but noticed that a young girl and what I took to be her mother had detached themselves and were setting off from the stilted house on a path converging with mine. We met up and they gestured that they were going to show me the way!
And sure enough, they did. We clambered up no less than seven separate sets of falls, each more stunning than the last, churning and spraying in the midst of thick hot rainforest and flickering sunlight. The young girl and I jumped in at every opportunity as the pools below each set of falls were more inviting than any luxury health spa.
When we got back to the house on stilts I was invited up the ladder for tea and a sort of poppadom. Through a mixture of hand gestures and drawings in my notepad, we managed to exchange the basis of who we were and what we were doing.
It turned out that the young girl was the granddaughter of the hosting couple and that the young woman was not her mother at all but a refugee from Cambodia. She and her husband, who also appeared and joined the little group, had apparently trekked a long way to get to this point and it was not at all clear what their options were going forward.
From what I could make out, it seemed that they were not even related to the old couple but had simply been taken in out of decency and natural hospitality.
- The Motorcycle Diaries / Part 1
I can’t remember precisely when my obsession with motorcycles began. Possibly via my neighbours on the shores of the St Lawrence River.
© 2019 Deacon Martin