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The Thrill of the Open Road

2011 April 5
Vang Vieng, Laos

Sunset in Vang Vieng, Laos.

If you ever get a chance to rent a scooter, do it. It’s a rush.

February 2009

I looked down at my watch: 7pm. The sun was already starting to drift behind the karst limestone peaks of Vang Vieng, Laos. Soon it would be dark and too dangerous to ride. I knew this was going to be the last ride of the day. The rest of my crew had gone ahead and it was now just me, my motobike, and the open road.

“Well… I still have time left on the rental and more than enough fuel. Let’s see how fast this baby goes…”

I gently squeezed the throttle and the 125cc engine began to rattle. There were little bits of gravel on the sides of the road, all little land mines for my tiny scooter wheels, so I made it a point to stick towards the middle. I cut through the warm, humid air, and as I picked up speed, the landscape around me began to blur. 40… 60… 70… 80… the shoddy plastic odometer unsteadily crept up like a hobbling geriatric. I kept cranking the throttle until my right hand was locked forward. I was still gaining speed. 82… 85… 90…

“Holy shit, I’m going nearly 60mph on this sucker!”

The wind now felt like a full-on hurricane and my eyes began to dry up behind my sunglasses. Adrenaline coursed through my veins and I concentrated intensely on the middle of the road. The Laotian countryside warped into a stream of colors and all I could hear was the howling wind and the high-pitched whine of the engine. Shaking and creaking, the motobike strained but seemed to hit a wall.

I was satisfied with my pursuit for speed and eased off the throttle. 90kmph max it is. As I started slowing down, the front wheel ran over a stone and I felt a jolt reverberate through the entire length of the bike. My heart stopped. Time slowed down as I pictured myself crashing, hitting the pavement and bleeding out on some road in Laos.

It didn’t happen. I hit the brakes and stopped the bike.

What the hell was I thinking? I was dressed in a t-shirt, swim trunks and flip flops. The “helmet” I was wearing would be considered a plastic pail in any other country: good enough to scoop up my brains in the event of an accident, if it didn’t shatter immediately. The road I was riding on was shoddily paved at best and full of the aforementioned gravel bits. The wheels on my bike measured in at ~10″ in diameter. It was getting dark and I still had my sunglasses on for the sole reason of blocking bugs. And I had floored the throttle for what must have been two minutes straight.


Stupid, stupid, stupid.


But it makes for one hell of a story.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. April 19, 2011

    Dude …I don’t think I will ever take a motorbike again after seeing the accident coming back from Sapa. The absolute most horrible thing I have ever saw …and I saw a lot in Sudan and Afghanistan. A woman must have been going to fast, put her leg down I guess, there were three or four bikes on the ground …must have been going too fast, leg ripped …and I mean ripped at the pelvis so her foot was above her head. We passed by. She must have had an infant on the back. All I saw was the top of the childs head and a hand under the woman. The child must have been alive for at least a few seconds after the accident, from the hand almost trying to grasp at something, but stuck under the “ripped” body. I’ve never seen so much blood. Everyone was standing around laughing…

    I guess the moral of that story is it’s fun until you rip your body in half and kill a few kids. Something I will never forget. I didn’t even think of taking a picture …that is the ultimate in bad for me. Too sad. Sorry for the story!!!
    Happypoppeye recently posted..Travels through Myanmar XI – Bagan

    • Paul permalink*
      April 19, 2011

      Holy. Shit. That is terrible. I can’t imagine seeing something like that. And my last day in Vang Vieng, I heard that two locals had died after a pretty bad crash.

      Riding motobikes is kind of suicidal if you think about it. When you’ve got 4 people loaded on a 150cc scooter, no one wearing helmets, weaving around traffic with other people carrying 12 chickens or 2 pigs off the back of their bikes, it’s pretty ridiculous.

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