Scooters Save Lives

Trip Start Jun 01, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Monday, October 16, 2006

"What you got?"

-- Rebel Without A Cause

Khanon is a small town on the east coast of Thailand, just south of Surat Thani (the main port town for jumping to the holy trinity of Kho's Tao, Pha-Ngan and Samui) and managing to be thoroughly off the beaten track.

We had taken a night boat from Kho Tao to Surat Thani, and then it was less than an hour in a mini-bus to our destination. We knew that the girls were staying on the beach, about 7km from the main town, so endeavored to find our way there. We were immediately set upon by motorcycle taxis, all offering to take us to the beach for a princely sum.

Now, we don't have a problem with motorbike taxis per se, but all these tiny scooters didn't really appeal to us. Considering we were carrying our bags we probably weighed around 18 stone each and weren't really ready to sacrifice our lives just yet.

Rather than look around for a taxi with more than two wheels, Whim shone down on us and we decided to just start walking - it was still early, and the sun was barely warm let alone hot. Besides, it had been a while since we had walked more than a couple of kilometres with our bags on our backs.... it might be fun.

After nearly an hour of walking the sun was beating down relentlessly and we were getting more than a little annoyed by all the scooters that would stop and offer us both, bags included, a lift down the road for a few pounds.

Then an American guy on a motorbike stopped, introduced himself as the manager of a bar down the road (next door, in fact, to where we were headed) and offered us a lift. Again we politely refused, happy with the fact that we were more than halfway there, and trudged onwards.

Five minutes later the same guy, Mike, reappeared, this time behind the wheel of a jeep. The legend had got back to his bar, switched vehicles, and returned simply to pick up a couple of sweating backpackers. This time we accepted readily.

We met up with the girls again, Katherine now sporting a nice bandage around her wrist. We found to our great pleasure that the whole area around us was covered in mountain paths, waterfalls, caves, beaches, bays, villages and practically no tourists whatsoever.

And we were finally able to realise our dream - and hire some motorbikes! Well, I say motorbikes, but I mean scooters. We got some spanking great scooters for a couple of pounds a day and went rip roaring around the whole area, from beach to beach and from mountain path to mountain path.

The first day we did this Vinny decided to be health conscious and while we hired scooters, he hired himself a mountain bike. And to give him his dues, he did a remarkable job of keeping up throughout the day - even pulling into the lead when Katherine and Catie (who were sharing the one bike) would stop to have one of their special conversations about who was riding this bloody thing anyway. The next day though he felt the pull of the engine, and we became a fully fledged biker gang.

The roads around Khanom are great - there's everything from freshly laid dual carriageways to mud tracks at forty five degree angles - and there is practically no traffic. You know those car adverts where someone's having a great time driving around a deserted road at high speed? Well that's here. Sun beating down, wind in your face, palm trees lining the road at each side..... good times all round.

The weather around Khanom is freakishly localised. When we rode to the top of a mountain we were inside a thick black cloud which promptly soaked us to the skin, but by the time we were down again we were bone dry. You can turn a corner and find yourself in a storm, or carry on straight and be under blazing sun and blue skies. It becomes a great game of cat and mouse with the clouds, which in turn try to sneak up on you or lay in wait around the bend.

The most important thing, the thing that I am in fact most proud of, is that none of us fell off. It's always a concern - especially when you're wearing (don't look mothers) shorts, a t-shirt and no helmet. But we managed to get through the two days without ripping the skin from our bodies and having to spend the next few weeks soaking in iodine. Or, you know, dying.

One evening Vinny had decided to go off up the coast in search of the perfect sunset, and the ladies and I revisited a popular road that doesn't really lead anywhere but is fantastic fun nonetheless for its potholes, steep hills tight bends.

We happened upon a truck that had come of the road and was being pushed, rather unsuccessfully, by five or six Thais. It had come down the hill a little way, and they now faced the prospect of getting it back up a forty five degree angle while the tyres slipped through loose rocks and dry mud. Being three people of intense moral fibre we stopped to lend a hand. For half an hour or so we pushed the truck with no luck whatsoever, and all we got for our efforts was a lungful of exhaust fumes, a few spiders scuttling over our feet, and three and a half thousand mosquito bites.

Night was drawing in so Catie and Katherine bowed out of the epic struggle between man and machine and hill (the roads have no streetlights and it is no fun at all riding along them in the dark... ok, so maybe it is a little fun). I had an idea, so said some reassuring things to the Thai family and toddled off on my scooter.

Mike, proprietor of One More Beer, saviour of us the other day, and all round quality bloke had a house just down the road from where we were. I dropped by and he was only too happy to lend me some rope. So I put-putted back, rope slung over my shoulder Indiana Jones style (well, it was at first but then it started to unravel so I put it under the seat).

Rather than being met with cries of joy, I was met with a rather forlorn look of bleak desperation. It transpired that my reassuring words that I would be back soon had been interpreted to mean I would be back soon with a jeep and tow cables, not a length of rope and a smile.

Undeterred, I tied the rope on and, reluctantly, the Thai family made a line with me as the anchor. I even (my father would be proud) had the foresight to get the guy to turn the steering wheel so that we wouldn't get run over should we succeed in pulling the truck out.

So we heaved, and the truck moved, and then it flew out from the ditch and the entire Thai family fell on top of me.

It was really nice actually - I'm happy with the idea that there is no altruism, that nobody does a good deed for no reason at all. I was equally happy to get a lovely warm feeling from the protracted thanks I got from my charges. As I was getting on my scooter to leave, the family made a kind of corridor for me to ride through, and they were all shaking my hand, hugging me and doing the Thai thank you as I rolled my bike through trying not to run over anyone's feet.

I was invited for dinner, but I had to decline.

My work there was done. For all I knew there was someone else out there, waiting, praying, for a bloke to turn up on a scooter with a rope wrapped around his neck and no real idea which one is the brake.

Katherine and Catie made their exit yesterday, heading back up to Bangkok and then on to Cambodia to continue their adventure.

Vinny and I have to leave too - things are brewing in the field of travelling to Australia without flying, and we need to get to where the action is.

It's just hard to go from talking about leaving to actually leaving.
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