Jim and Jane on a motorbike (CONTAINS VIDEO)
Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
115Trip End Mar 21, 2008
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Our stomachs awake fully recovered from yesterday's trials and tribulations, and we have one sunny day to explore this exotic island. Despite an increase in tourism over recent years, Koh Tao still feels undiscovered. There are no highrise apartment buildings or flashy five-star resorts here and no busloads of retired Japanese arriving everywhere you do. You even get the feeling you could stumble on a spot that no tourist has found before.
To do any of this exciting stuff, you need a motorbike. The roads, as mentioned, are very rough, particularly any road that is not the main road that runs from the piers down to the little bay where we are staying, and walking is hard work in the heat. Everyone zips around on motorbikes or little Nifty-Fifty scooters or sidecar bikes or little 4WD buggies, so we decide to hire a bike/scooter for the day. It's a bargain at 200 baht (about $6) for the day, the only problem is that neither of us know how to ride one.
The guy points out the ignition, accelerator and brakes and sends us on our way. Before we both jump on, I decide to take it on a test drive 50 metres down the street and back. The 'street' happens to be one of the bumpiest on the island, almost exactly like driving on those moguls that skiers bounce over. The vehicle seems manageable so we speed away down the road. Within minutes we have scooted through the main town and into the outer regions of the island. Koh Tao is a mountainous island an the road quickly becomes very steep. The poor little scooter strains under our combined weight and, even though I have it on full throttle and we are both leaning right forward, we are only moving at about 5km/h when we barely make it to the top of the hill.
Most of the roads lead to quaint little guesthouse resorts and end there. You can go into the resort to eat at the restaurant or swim in the bay, everything is pretty relaxed. For a couple of hours we drive around, exploring new side roads and throwing the poor little scotter-bike up and down these lumpy dirt roads. On a couple of occasions it gets just a little too hairy and Jane gets off to walk while I try and negotiate the large holes. Jane has a great laught when I come unstuck on the motorbike. Turning off the main road on to an especially steep and deformed track, I lose balance and veer into a rut. Because I'm still not completely comfortable with the controls, I panic a little and, instead of braking, I gun the accelerator some more, causing Jane to fly off the back, laughing hysterically, and me and the bike to jerk up the hill a little more. "Brake! Brake!" cries Jane in between fits of laughter. So I squeeze the brake, only it's the brake for the back wheel and because, for some reason, I'm still pushing the gas, the bike starts to fishtail around and I continue to drive further into this bush on the side of the track. After a few seconds I come to my senses and just let go of all the controls and stop where I am. Jane is doubled over laughing, I'm stuck in a little ditch with an over-matched scooter bike and I notice an elderly lady sitting on a chair by the side of the road, looking at us with a slightly bewildered expression.
The sideroad eventually leads us to the top of a steep and precarious hill, far away from the main road and from any other people. A couple of motorbikes are parked there, next to a sign that says "road not safe for motorbikes from here". The reason for this is the steepest path I have ever seen, which plummets down towards the coast. Even walking down it is difficult but it leads to a delightful little resort called Coral View, protecting a small golden beach. Because everyone is into diving out here, the resorts are nearly deserted during the day, so we have a quiet lunch and a wee frolic in the water without seeing many other people at all.
In the evening, Jane takes us for a spin on the bike. It's our first experience driving in the dark and things are a bit different. There are no street lights so the potholes only appear just before you are about to barrel into them and they are felt a lot more when driving with two people on a little Thai Nifty-50 than when you're in a car, trust me. You can't see pedestrians either and it is even sometimes difficult to gauge how far away other motorbikes are. In addition, there are no traffic lights or road markings and we haven't worked out how to use our indicators yet.
On our way back to the hotel we come down a long hill and have to turn right at a T-junction. As we are approaching the intersection, I shout to Jane from the back, "Okay, when we get to the bottom, just slow . . ." Before I could finish, Jane twists the handlebar throttle to full bore, sending us flying out in front of traffic coming in both directions. It's only a narrow junction, so we also have to turn. With a 'hail Mary' attitude, Jane continues to accelerate while also making a 90 degree turn. This causes us to career violently in several directions at once, but mainly towards the fence on the other side of the road. An instant before we would have slammed into the fence, we miraculously lurch back into the middle of the road, very nearly into the path of an oncoming pick-up truck. The whole thing probably only took about four or five seconds in its entirety but it felt like an age, particularly for me, holding on for dear life at the back. Jane, meanwhile, again reacts by laughing hysterically. This is not so bad when you aren't driving, but if you are trying to regain control of a wild motorised vehicle that is bucking like a rodeo bronco, it doesn't help much. We slide from one side of the road to the other, all the while picking up speed and causing other bikes to pull over for their own safety. Somehow, and I will never known quite how, Jane regains control and continues on down the road, back to the hotel in relative safety.