Travelling, it leaves you speechless then turns you into a storyteller…

Travel Tips: Advice for a motorbike roadtrip around Thailand

If you’ve ever driven in Thailand’s capital city, you’ll know first hand how the Bangkok traffic engulfs you. Your nostrils are overwhelmed by the stifling pollution as swarms of two stroke engines blast out dense clouds of soot into the smoggy air. The glare of the sun against the tarmac and overbearing glass buildings causes your eyes to squint behind the screen of an oily visor. As you make your way, the gaps between rusty pick-up trucks and rickety old buses seem to shrink rapidly while the incessant danger of over and undertaking vehicles creates an ever present tension. So, with my fresh Thai driver’s licence and second hand Yamaha Mio 125CC, I figured this would be a good place to learn to drive.


After a couple of months commuting to work through “rush” hour queues and getting used to the hectic sprawling system that somehow beautifully seems to work, at least for the motorbikes, I decided to take my newly named scooter “Ruby” for a longer trip around the Land of Smiles (and incompetent drivers). Firstly, Ruby and I headed east to Khao Yai national park then north via the ancient cities of Ayutthaya and Sukothai to Chiang Mai. We followed the twisting mountain roads of Doi Inthanon up to Thailand’s highest peak then pursued the infamous Mae Hong Son loop, passing spectacular valleys and waterfalls. After a break at the Golden Triangle, we returned south until we eventually reached the islands and beaches on both sides of the peninsula. Looking back at the 6000km+ journey, there were many things that surprised me about driving in Thailand that I wish I’d known before setting off. So, here are some thoughts to consider for others planning to undertake a road trip by motorbike in Thailand.


1 Be Prepared

Plan your route in advance. My favourite app is definitely which allows you to download and use GPS maps offline. Also, you can pinpoint interesting pit stops along your route such as viewpoints, waterfalls, hot springs and of course gas stations.

Before your departure, take the time to gather and compile emergency equipment in your seat storage compartment. For example, a couple of waterproof ponchos for unpredictable torrential rain and some back-up petrol in case you run dry unexpectedly. Also consider taking a hammock and silk sheet for an excellent plan B accommodation option.


2 The Road Surface is your PRIORITY

Thailand’s transport network ranges from immaculately smooth, well-lit stretches of highway to dirt track and crumbling concrete; it really is a country of inconsistent road surfaces. I learned the hard way that hitting loose gravel or a deep pot hole unexpectedly, can spell your doom. If you move too swiftly and don’t have the time to spot and avoid the issue, you’ll likely lose total control of the machine, leaving you at the mercy of the law of abrasion. Furthermore, in the sleepy countryside towns you’ll need to keep an eye out for hidden speed-bumps which, like the potholes, aren’t usually signposted and are often obscured by shadows. So, keep your beady eyes on the road surface and make every effort to spot and avoid the darker patches in your way. On a side note, the road might also unveil a whole host of animal obstacles, such as roaming cattle, wild boar and packs of stray dogs. In fact, many a brave/dumb pooch has chosen to hog the junction, sprawled out and basking in the heat of the sun. Do not be fooled into thinking these furry obstacles will budge if you sound your horn, just swerve and smile.


3 Expect the Unexpected

The first thing that might strike you about many Thai drivers is their apparent reckless nature. However, it seems there are general patterns of behaviour which, once accustomed to, will save you being caught off guard. For example, you should expect people to pass you on either side seeing as undertaking is legal here. Also, people will happily drive against the flow of oncoming traffic along the hard shoulder of highways, and one way streets, watch out for them and accept that this is apparently “normal”. You’ll even come across people driving at night without any lights on. Although this behaviour may appear to be absolutely insane, once you notice how often it happens, it turns out to be another common hazard to pay attention to. So, when someone decides to cut in front of you without looking or turn suddenly without indicating, why bother getting angry? You’re in Thailand! Laugh it off, just try to get into the habit of expecting the unexpected, as quickly as possible.



4 Highways

It may seem rather foolish to undertake the main highways of Thailand on a little 125CC scooter and it is. However, if you find yourself in this situation it’s a very exciting and cheap way to cover large distances through the gateways to the north and south of the country. One key piece of advice, stick to the hard-shoulder and middle lanes! If you stray into the far right, you’ll be caught up in the rush with tailgating minibuses and occasionally you’ll need to slam on your brakes to avoid u-turning queues that pop up without warning. If you stay in the left lane, you’ll soon realise it’s also the favourite stomping ground for all the lumbering HGVs that have warped the tarmac into pits, dips and ridges over time. The hard-shoulder, to the left of the solid white line, is usually a safe haven but you’ll probably need to do a lot of overtaking while other mopeds (and occasionally an old woman on a bicycle) trundle along at a leisurely pace. Try to avoid using this channel around left bends, since every once in a while some wise guy, or a wandering buffalo, will be parked on the blind corner, just to remind you of the need to “expect the unexpected”. What’s more, intimidating lorries occasionally drift into the hard-shoulder, I’d consider overtaking them on the outside. Generally, for most of the ride the middle is your best bet. You’ll bear witness to the flatlands of Thailand, the endless green paddy fields and remote communities that dot the roadside. You’ll also experience the wind and the weather like no other road user and you’ll notice the blur of the grey ground as your speedometer needle rises. Of course, don’t forget to keep an eye on your mirrors for any coaches, pick-up trucks and minibuses that approach excessively fast. If you don’t anticipate these guys, you’ll be in for a shock when the wall of wind left in their wake hits you.


5 Dealing with the Police

Checkpoints, marked by red lights and white triangular signs, are littered all across the country but are very rarely manned. However, on the off chance that they are, 95% of the time you’ll simply be waved through by the guard on duty or the odd decoy left to cover their shift. The rules only seem to be strictly enforced in very touristy areas and the big cities like Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Wear a helmet to avoid becoming an easy target for a quick 200 baht fine. If you’re caught without a licence, they’ll charge you 400 baht and let you drive off as soon as it’s in their pocket. I had a legitimate Thai Licence which is very cheap to acquire, a friend used a fake international licence bought at Khaosan Rd which he said worked well too. In some cases you may find yourself the victim of Thai roadways through no fault of your own. For instance, I was caught and fined for driving on an express way road in Bangkok, even though there were no obvious signs prohibiting motorbikes where I joined the highway. Thankfully the cop accepted a 500 baht cash offering on the spot instead of the usual 1000 baht ticket and trip to the police station. It’s worth carrying a 500 and 1000 baht note on your person at all times, just incase you need to use the unofficial “express service” that most Thai police are happy to offer. However, don’t offend the officer in question by calling it a bribe or saying it’s for them personally, just ask if you can pay now in cash and say you don’t need a receipt. Generally, you have nothing to fear from the police if you act respectfully around them and abide by standard road laws, like carrying a valid motorcycle licence and wearing a helmet.


6 Drive like a Thai

Since you’re in Thailand, it makes sense to embrace their way of life, which includes their driving habits. It’s certainly worth adding some local manoeuvres to your repertoire. Ignoring NO U-TURN signs, since they’re probably only meant for bigger traffic, might save you a few seconds. Hopping onto the pavement at traffic jams could be your best option in some situations. Persisting the wrong way up one way streets will almost certainly lead to finding more short cuts. Building your experience and confidence with undertaking will lead you to weave in and out of traffic more effortlessly. Best of all, if you begin to drive like a Thai, you’ll find yourself more able to expect the unexpected. You’ll be more able to predict the irregular actions of other drivers and be better equipped to anticipate and evade road hazards. However, whatever you do, don’t drive like a Thai mini-bus driver, they have a reputation for being the most reckless drivers on the roads. It seems too many among them take negligent driving to its most lethal. Overtaking around blind corners or tail-gating within inches of another vehicle travelling over 100kmph. Make sure you watch out for these guys and give them plenty of space!

Although driving a motorbike around Thailand isn’t without risk, it is certainly the best way to get around if you like to travel with ultimate freedom and enjoy finding places that other tourists will never see. So, enjoy every minute of your two-wheeled adventure and have a safe trip!



“It’s better to see something once than hear about it 1000 times.”


Wat Muang -Thailand

Close Call Cambodia

pub street


“Shit! Sorry mate!” I shouted, having missed the pocket entirely and leaving the white ball with a range of easy options.


My friend laughed at me, at least I assumed he did, the blaring music made it hard to talk, or think, which is why we decided to play pool in the first place. I never claimed to be good, I was far from it, but I never liked missing easy shots, especially when a dozen or so people were watching. It didn’t matter anyway, most of the strangers around us were blind drunk, with the exception of the Cambodian girl we were playing against.


Tim took the next couple of shots and sunk two stripes, but it wasn’t enough. Our opposition was playing for money, not for fun, and she had clearly been hustling travellers for years to make ends meet. As she lined up her turn on the black, a playful smirk revealed she felt it was too easy. Pausing for a moment, she took one long drag on her spent cigarette, winked a cheeky glance at us, then sunk the winning shot one handed. After a shriek of delight and scattered applause from the people surrounding us, we gladly shook hands and handed her the money. “Let’s go get some fresh air,”  I suggested.


Outside clouds of cigarette smoke hung in the hot air like tropical morning mist. Pub Street was rammed; crowds spilled out of their bars and sprawled as far as the drunken eye could see. We took a table on the main strip and watched the ever-changing mass of travellers stumble by. Tourists the world over had come to see the unforgettable temples of Cambodia by day, only to drink their way towards memory loss by night. There was an incessant drone filling the air as the numerous bars blasted their competitive bass lines into the mix and a multilingual hubbub struggled to make itself heard.


Two German guys from our hostel came to join us round the table. We ordered another round of 50 cent beers and the bearded, tattooed man, who called himself Long John Johnson, sparked up a joint. He passed the spliff around as we drank, joked and people watched. It was the busiest night of our stay in Siem Reap and there were some really eccentric characters out on the prowl. As I took a deep leisurely toke I noticed the German guys looking behind me in shock. “Police! Quick, get rid of it!”


I hastily exhaled a stream of smoke and stubbed out the spliff under the table simultaneously. But it was too late. An old policeman was already standing over me. He wore a dark green outfit, darker still around the chest and armpits, with an official looking hat and badge. This skinny man, who looked as if his uniform were a size too large, quickly scanned the table for the source of the not so subtle scent.


Worryingly, I still had what remained of the joint in my hand, so I dropped it to the floor, stepped on it and hid it with my flip flop. Then I hoped for the best. Of course, his beady veteran eyes noticed the movement instantly and turned to me. He proceeded to investigate under the table and gestured for me to lift my feet. Hesitantly, I tried to kick away the joint end, aiming for a drain, while trying to look as innocent as any suspicious backpacker could. The officer swiftly turned to search the dusty ground for his evidence. Tim leaned in to me and whispered, “Sorry mate, I’m going back to play pool. Good luck!”


After one painfully slow minute, the old man triumphantly turned to me, holding the very same spliff we’d been smoking. I saw the German guys share a concerned glance and Long John Johnson promptly left for the bathroom. With a satisfied grin on his face Mr Cambodian narcotics cop grabbed my arm and tugged, “Police station. You come. Now!”


For someone who was intoxicated on alcohol and cannabis, my mind started working surprisingly quickly. I looked at Basty across the table who was visibly sweating, then thought about Cambodian jail and how it wasn’t somewhere I was hoping to visit tonight. I also considered making a run for it; this old man could never keep up with me and I’d probably lose him in the crowd. However, I’d have to run barefoot, no doubt stepping in glass, and if I did get caught by other policemen or locals I’d have a hard time claiming to be innocent. That’s it! I thought. I’m innocent. Just rely on a stubborn refusal to cooperate and the claim of innocence! So that’s what I decided to do.


The policeman looked annoyed and tried to grab my arm again.

“Police station. Now!” he persisted. I shrugged his weak grip off easily and tried out my new tactic.

“I’m innocent! I’m staying right here!” I protested, while maintaining eye contact.

The man seemed astounded by this unexpected denial of authority, he held the spliff before me again and pointed at me, “Cannabis!” he proclaimed.

“I was smoking a cigarette!” I replied. Then in a feeble attempt to change the subject I assured him, “I love Cambodia. Great country! Lovely beer!” I wasn’t sure that it had worked, but surprisingly he left me in peace and disappeared down the street with a look of disappointment.


A sigh of relief came over me and I ordered another beer, plus one for Basty since he didn’t abandon me. Within a minute, Long John Johnson was back, he had had a concealed bag of weed in his sock and had rushed to go stash it in the toilets for fear of being searched. The beers tasted of victory, so I started to relax again and celebrate with the guys. But we really should’ve moved location, that was a dumb move, because within five minutes our friend the policeman was back, but now with three more of his colleagues.


This time a younger policeman grabbed my shoulder, signalling for me to go with them. The intimidating men crowded round the table, looming over us. Clutching the guilty spliff butt, the first officer gestured at me while speaking frantically in Cambodian to the other officers. Hoping these new guys might speak better English, I tried to argue back. “That’s not mine! He just found it on the floor, it could be anyone’s! I’m innocent!” The other men started to talk it over. I realised I was screwed if they demanded a drugs test. It took all of my self restraint not to leg it while their attention wasn’t directly on me. Again I figured sitting in one place had worked before so it might just work again.

Surprisingly, the officers decided not to physically remove me. They were now clearly waiting for a bribe. Unfortunately for them, and me,  I’d already lost my bank card the day before. An ATM had given me cash back before the card and due to force of habit I’d walked off in a hurry, leaving my card to be swallowed by the hungry machine. That meant I was totally broke and relying on Tim to bail me out, I certainly couldn’t afford to bribe these guys, nor did I want to. But since it seemed they weren’t going to arrest me just yet, I figured I had a good chance of blagging my way out again. In an effort to appear totally at ease and innocent, I took a long sip of my beer and continued chatting with the German guys.

After another ten minutes with the group of officers loitering around us like defiant teenagers, I was starting to wonder when these policemen would get bored and leave us alone. Eventually, the manager of the bar went to the cops and had a quiet word with them. He’d surely noted that the gang of cops out front was deterring potential business from his bar. I don’t know what he did but the local law and order must have realised we weren’t worth their time. In the end, as if nothing had happened, and without even saying goodbye, they finally left! I actually felt bad for the man who caught us; he was just doing his job, quite well too, but we weren’t destined to be added to his arrest quota. Making sure we didn’t make the same mistake twice, we got up to move locations. The next thing we did was order some celebratory beers and join the heaving dancefloor, re-energised by the recently acquired sense of freedom.

There’s a race of men that don’t fit in…


“There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,

A race that can’t stay still;

So they break the hearts of kith and kin,

And they roam the world at will.

They range the field and they rove the flood,

And they climb the mountain’s crest;

Theirs is the curse of gypsy blood,

And they don’t know how to rest.”

Robert W. Service





He longed for her, every fibre of his being yearned to run away and leave this corner of the world in pursuit of her. She was like a drug and he was the hopeless addict, driven by primeval urges to follow her into the horizon. With each new sun she occupied his thoughts and by moonlight she tormented his dreams. Driven by wanderlust he craved to see where she may lead him, what adventure and memories they might share. For she was the unfolding road ahead…



Bucket List: In search of the Northern Lights

The aurora borealis is a natural phenomenon that has drawn people throughout the ages to admire it’s mystic glow. Since I was a young boy I had always wanted to see the northern lights with my own eyes and recently I travelled to Iceland to look for them. As a result I thought I would write a short piece about my experience, for others who are also lured to the land of Vikings.

An important factor to consider when planning your journey is the time of year you intend to travel. You should go in the winter for the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights and it is advised to go from late November to early February. I set off on the 19th of December for a five day trip, I thought that staying during the winter solstice, and hence the longest night, might improve my chances.

Upon arriving in Iceland I quickly realised I’d underestimated how expensive everything would be and my budget was optimistic to say the least. I stayed in a hostel where I could cook food to save money but it was clear that renting a decent 4X4 vehicle was way beyond my price range. After researching different options and speaking to other tourists at the hostel I decided to join a northern lights tour. To be honest I had half expected the green flashes of the aurora borealis to dance across the sky as soon as night closed in. In reality, you need to get as far away from the towns and light pollution as you can, so renting a car or joining a tour are your best options.

One further complication I faced was waiting for the correct weather conditions. Unsurprisingly the night sky must be clear and free from clouds or mist. You can check the weather reports online: If you’re footloose and renting a vehicle, just drive in the most hopeful direction and cross your fingers (but check the road conditions first to be safe: With our tour the driver seemed to do exactly that. We stopped at three different destinations, driving for an average of 45 minutes between each location. We were lucky with the clear skies but the final hurdle was simply waiting for a solar flare.

The northern lights are caused by charged particles, emitted by the sun, hitting the atmosphere and causing ionisation of the night sky. There is a scale of how intense the lights are likely to be, rated from 1-9 ( 1 being the least bright). Our guide explained that the forecast was for low luminosity and that maybe we would be unlucky this time (you can use the website above to check the aurora forecast too). Making the most of being in the Icelandic backcountry during mid-winter I was instead mesmerised by the endless clusters of stars that littered the sky. I sipped thick hot chocolate and munched on Icelandic doughnuts called kleiners with my gaze fixated on the heavens. We waited patiently, staring bright eyed into the darkness. After a long while, feeling cold and disappointed we headed back without success.

At 2:30am we were woken up on the coach and I noticed we weren’t yet back in Reykjavik. The driver had pulled over because the aurora had finally decided to make an appearance. The tour was supposed to end at midnight so I was impressed that the tour guide was so persistent. I stepped out into the cold and watched the pale green streaks move slowly across the darkness. Around me, people were hurriedly setting up their tripods and adjusting their SLRs. The excitement of my younger self flooded back to me and I felt incredibly fortunate to catch a glimpse of this ghostly glow.


It seems that the best way to see the aurora borealis would be to spend a few weeks living out in a remote part of Iceland or northern Scandinavia and being patient. If you have a short window in which to see them, like I did, you must remember your experience relies on a good amount of luck and prepare your expectations accordingly. Whether you see the Northern lights or not, there is so much natural beauty to be admired in the landscape and geology of Iceland that is is undoubtedly worth the visit!


Travel tips: Sleeping rough

If you’re the spontaneous traveling type it is not uncommon to find yourself stranded in a mysterious city without a place to stay. Maybe the hostels were fully booked, maybe your couch surfing plans fell through or maybe you’re just too broke to pay for a bed! Whatever the reason may be do not despair, here’s some advice to help you get through the night!

1. Locate a decent spot

Spend at least a half hour wandering around looking for the best place to hunker down. Also the longer you look the better the spot you’ll find and the more tired you’ll be; this will all help you get to sleep more easily. When searching you’ll need a place that is sheltered from the rain, a place raised off the ground if possible and also away from busy areas. Bus shelters are usually a good shout, in hot countries benches in parks aren’t too shabby and the occasional doorway might do the job.

2. Scout out supplies

Once you’ve established a basecamp it’s a good idea to search around for two things: dry cardboard and newspaper. Many shops recycle their cardboard and leave boxes outside overnight, see what you can salvage to use as a makeshift roll mat. Free newspapers are usually left outside train stations in large stacks, if it’s getting cold see how many crumpled sheets you can stuff under each layer, it will provide you with extra insulation.

3. Stay safe

There are clear dangers involved with sleeping in the streets so do what you can to mitigate the risk. Make sure your valuables and passport are hidden, if you’re using a sleeping bag keep them inside and at your feet. Remember don’t sleep rough in areas that look particularly dodgy or areas where drunk people may be walking past.

4. In the morning

You’ll probably wake up extremely early and if you haven’t done this sort of thing before you probably didn’t get much genuine sleep. There are two things I’d recommend to stop this from ruining your day. Find somewhere to grab a tea or coffee straight away for a little morale boost. Then later it’s worth going to a gym or swimming pool so you can use their showers and get refreshed.

Having slept rough myself in several countries and weather conditions I have to say it really makes you appreciate a simple bed and a roof over your head. Also in warmer climates it can be breathtaking to sleep under the stars and wake up fully immersed in the outdoors. But if you’re unlucky it will rain and unfortunately it’s always shit when it rains!


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