At the the age of 28, I rode a motorized vehicle for the first time in my life. I chose Pai for a maiden voyage, because of its low trafic, excellent roads and scenic views. I was tempted to ride a motorbike on Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, but poor condition of roads, extremely hilly terrain and a high number of accidents put me off. I did not have a chance to explore the islands (taxis are expensive there), but personal safety is far more important. Learning process was surprisingly easy. The first attempt: an automatic bike, a crash course into basics, extremely slow driving. On the second ride I drove more than 100km in one day and the third rida was a nighttime driving with a passenger on the backseat. On the fourth try I switched to a manual gear bike and rode in somewhat busy traffic of Chiang Rai. Much more intense than sleepy roads of Pai, but nothing extraordinary. The learning curve for a manual gear bike was a little bit steeper, but essentially it is just like a bicycle with gears, except that you do not have to do all the hard work. Then I had a chance to test substandard Laos dirt roads with a passenger on the backseat too. That followed by an 185km ride from Tha Kaek to Kong Lor cave and back the next day with a passenger on a backseat. And finally a three day tour around Bolaven Plateau. The highlight was riding 71km on a dirt-road after heavy raining the night before. It took almost four hours of very intense and cautious driving. When we hit the paved road and I thought the hardest part was over, the final 45km ride to Pakse proved even more intense than the dirt road part. Darktime driving, crappy light, millions of wasps aiming for the eyes, wandering dogs, a very agitated snake on the road and finally busy traffic of Pakse. At some point it started feeling like a computer game progressing from one level to another and ever-growing intensity. The weirdest thing was three people on a tandem bicycle appearing out of the blue. No accidents nor near-death experiences.
I remember reading an article about Saudi women and how they were not allowed to drive cars. Saudi women have been trying to obtain rights to drive in the recent years, but the Saudi patriarchy resist these motions, as the right to drive is closely linked to freedom of movement and subsequently emancipation. Having learnt to drive a motorbike, I can fully relate to that. Being independent from public transit, overpriced taxis or own physical capabilities is truly liberating. Distances which are too long for walking or cycling are easily doable with a motorbike. After a couple of days on a motorbike in Pai, I rented a mountain bicycle just to see how it was. The lesson I learned here was that going 6km uphill in the +30C heat was not an enjoyable task by any means. A similar thing happened in Vang Vieng, I had a chance to compare to a) a crappy bicycle b) a less crappy bicycle c) and a motorbike. The motorbike came out as a winner here as well.