I didn’t realize how much I missed my moped. They’re such fun, dangerous, nimble little toys. Especially out here when you rent a 125-150cc, it’s like putting a V8 engine into a Smart car. It’s like having a “get out of traffic free” card. Sidewalks, splitting lanes, and navigating through gridlock is easy. As a highly impatient person who can’t stand traffic, it’s a dream come true.
While the driving here looks like complete chaos from the outside, I think it’s safer than driving on a freeway in Los Angeles. Having no rules somehow makes things safer. When everybody expects people to follow the rules it gives them a false sense of security and they don’t pay attention. When you think nobody will follow the rules everybody keeps their head on a swivel. They always pay attention because they have to.
And driving a 2-wheeled vehicle teaches you to never let your guard down. It’s how everybody would drive in a perfect world, defensively and attentively. After 3+ years of riding 2-wheeled vehicles, I’ve become the one of the most conservative, cautious drivers you will find.
Until I got to Chiang Mai.
I met a crew of homies at the Haus Hostel and embarked on a journey out to the country on mopeds because why not? It’s better than paying for a guided tour and the second you start riding these things the fun outweighs the fear. It’s hard to be scared doing something this joyous.
We chose the Samoeng loop because it had a bunch of especially scenic stops along the way. I stupidly opened my mouth before the trip and said “YOU CAN DOWNLOAD GOOGLE MAPS AND USE THEM OFFLINE. ALSO YOU CAN PUT HEADPHONES IN AND HEAR THE DIRECTIONS!” Now I was the navigator. Why can’t I ever shut up?
After paying a mere 250 baht to rent each moped, we head out and make it about 2 miles before hitting a police checkpoint that might as well have said “white person toll”. They literally saw us coming from a mile away. It cost us each 500 baht which in the grand scheme of things isn’t that bad. I just prayed they wouldn’t get us again on the way back.
I forgot that I was leading the group and really open this moped up on the highway. I’m going 100kmh and zipping in between traffic before I realize that I’ve completely lost everybody. I stop, they catch up, and we finally get the hell out of the city. No more shakedowns, at least until we get back.
Once we make it to the country, the ride is serene bliss. The landscapes actually look a lot like Hawaii. There are temples, elephants, and lush, cloudy landscapes in every direction. No matter what I do I can’t escape that place.
Smiley faces to protect the innocent
We then get to the Mae Sa waterfall and spend some time hiking and swimming that gave us some much needed relief from the unreal heat. Coming here in the summer may have been a mistake. My body is void of water at this point.
The waterfall was a relaxing break but I think it may have made us too comfortable. Well, at least one of us.
One of us Almost Dies
After the waterfall we’re starving because we underestimated how long it would take us to get here. Google Maps didn’t account for half our group being very new to this and going much slower than the speed limit. We head to this lookout point at Mae Ram where you get an unobstructed view of the valley that has a restaurant literally called “Local Restaurant”.
The trip has been going smoothly up to this point. Too smoothly. One of our group members, we’ll call her C, was a newbie to mopeds. The journey up to this point was challenging but manageable. The roads getting up this hill were narrow, steep, and filled with potholes. I have years of experience and I was struggling.
As I go to make the last left before the summit, I look back and realize that none of the group is in sight. Oh boy, this can’t be good. Unless they decided to collectively ditch me (understandable) or disappeared into thin air, something bad must have happened.
I get back down to see C’s moped in bad shape and C in worse shape. Her elbows are missing a few chunks and bleeding pretty profusely. Not hospital serious, but it looked pretty painful. She apparently slammed into an SUV coming up the hill and careened off into somebody’s driveway. The people in the SUV, thankfully, were unharmed.
The SUV driver was super helpful, he didn’t even care that his car got hit, and the neighborhood people came out of the woodwork to disinfect and bandage up her wounds. All the locals were more concerned about C’s well being than anything. Still, the crash was terrifying. What if the moped didn’t work? What if C was seriously hurt? She really lucked out.
She was more embarrassed than anything but we assured her that the important thing was she was alright. That’s what happens when you choose to do something risky and way out of your element. You grow as a person but sometimes you lose a few pieces of skin in the process.
Unfortunately, it happened when were 90 minutes away from home, she had no choice but to soldier on. And soldier on she did.
The view from Mae Rae is incredible. The landscape is filled with lavender and rice paddy fields as far as the eye can see that create these perfect geometric shapes and make the whole landscape look as if it had some grand design. I suppose if you believe in God then it does. To me, it’s a beautiful coincidence.
We wander around and make fun of C for crashing her moped for a while before FINALLY eating something. It’s been 6 hours between meals at this point. We found this rickety ass local restaurant on the hill where you could literally see through the planks in the floor. This spot was local, and perfect.
My strategy since I’ve been here is to look for restaurants packed with Thai people and wait for a table to leave. It hasn’t steered me wrong yet.
We each order two entrees (10 total) including pad thai noodles and pork broth noodles (I think). I just point at the picture on the poster that looks good and pray for the best. Whatever we ate, it was exactly what we needed. Also those 10 entrees cost us a total of 150 baht ($1.61). I love this country.
I’ll have the one with the squiggly lines with a side of *points to menu*
Our bellies are full, time to see if we can make it home without incident. I doubt C was surviving another crash.
Ride Slow, Homie
The ride home was thankfully uneventful. We had our fill of near death experiences for the day. It also took fucking forever because we went much slower for obvious reasons.
C’s adrenaline had worn off and she was hobbling around the hostel like she had….well like she’d been hit by a car. We mocked her some more because that’s what friends do and then headed to the night market and got some more local food and beers to end the day. We debated going out for a total of 5 seconds but we were dead.
Everything’s Scary Until You Try It
What’s the worst that could happe…oh yeah, that. Worth it.
When I told people about our adventure they thought we were crazy. But everything only seems crazy until you actually do it. That’s one of the first things I’ve learned out here. All of those travel advice websites and people you talk too are overly cautious. Mostly because they care for your well-being but also because people tend to focus on the negative aspects of things rather than reinforcing the positive ones. Self-preservation is our #1 priority.
Others are quick to warn you against anything that carries risk and forget that it leads to personal growth. It’s laughable reading the TripAdvisor reviews on certain hikes or activities once you do them. It almost seems like these travelers are trying to scare you rather than being truthful.
This trip seemed insane until I actually got here. Being a freelance writer seemed impossible until I did it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t heed warnings in every case, only when they get in the way of what you want to do. Don’t let other people’s fear turn into your fear. You may get a few bumps and bruises along the way but I guarantee it will be worth it.
I’ve been easing my way into this trip, this moped adventure showed me that it’s time to take the training wheels completely off.