Zen & the Art of Motocy Riding in Bangkok: Part 1

For this series I’m featuring a guest writer, Reid, a motorbike extraordinaire and personal chauffeur to yours truly. After riding motorbikes through various cities, towns, jungles, and islands over the last 2 years in southeast Asia, he still considers himself a beginner in the culture and rules of driving motorbikes.

The streets of Bangkok pulse with untamable energy. Vehicles appear in endless forms  – cheap sedans, huge SUVs, fancy coupes, decked-out trucks blasting music or political ads, psychedelic semis, pink and yellow and blue taxis, choose-your-color songthaew, murderous minivans, wheezing buses, meandering soi dogs, idling pedestrians, royal motorcades, police extortion blockades, and of course, the ten thousand varieties of food carts. Amidst this overflowing barrage of flesh and metal in motion, only one vehicle has the flexibility and vitality to emerge as master: the ubiquitous motocy.

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While you’ll see hordes of farang tourists wobbling their rented scoots around Chiang Mai and the southern islands, it is relatively rare to encounter a farang on a motorbike in Bangkok. There are good reasons for this.

Here’s one:

A tangled mess of motos trying to cut around the closed train tracks (illegally)
A tangled mess of motos trying to cut around the closed train tracks (illegally)

Here’s another:

Note that we are driving in the opposite direction of these cars on a one-way
Note that we are driving in the opposite direction of these cars on a one-way

Know what you’re getting into

Other than the sheer terror of witnessing such traffic, there are several strong arguments against driving a moto. Thailand has the third highest rate of road mortality in the world. On the forums of Thaivisa, many long-term expats adamantly advise that no one should ever ride a moto in Thailand, let alone Bangkok. They have simply seen too many deaths and life-changing injuries happen on motorbikes.

After over a year’s experience riding throughout Southeast Asia and ten months of commuting in Bangkok, I have to agree that driving a motorbike in the big city is very dangerous. Three out of my four moto-riding co-workers have been in accidents. In fact, just this week a farang teacher at my school was in two separate accidents, one of which left a woman in the hospital. Fortunately, my own collision with an ice-cream food cart was fairly minor (but that’s a story for another time).

Source The person on this motorbike died, just so you know
Source The person on this motorbike died, just so you know

My point here is that this guide is not for tourists. It is not for beginner riders. It is absolutely never safe for you to drive a motorbike in Bangkok without experience. I imagine this guide might help foreigners living in Thailand who are considering obtaining a motorbike, or anyone who is curious about Thai driving culture.

The danger of riding a motorbike is very scary and very real. However, if you are brave/crazy enough to saddle up on your own metal pony and dive into the chaos, the rewards are manifold:

  • The pleasure of zipping through kilometers of standstill traffic.

  • The freedom of true mobility in one of the world’s most diverse and fascinating cities.

  • The opportunity to explore the many charming neighborhoods and hidden sois far away from the overexposed, overdeveloped BTS and MRT lines.

  • The time and money you will save.

  • The thrill of dodging and ducking through an unpredictable urban terrain like a cyberpunk cowboy.

  • The euphoric tranquility of mindful riding.

  • The confidence you will gain, secure in the knowledge that you are truly badass.

Near Chiang Mai, Thailand
Near Chiang Mai, Thailand

But before you go hop on a BKK bike, you need experience and knowledge so you don’t end up eating pavement. I’ve provided a guide here for the daring few who want to ride like a local.

Disclaimer: Once again, I do not advocate riding a motorbike in Bangkok to anyone. It is a personal choice of mine. I hope this information helps keep you safe and discourages reckless driving!

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5 thoughts on “Zen & the Art of Motocy Riding in Bangkok: Part 1”

  1. Way to go, Reid! Reid rides reigiously! Mindfulness is the key to enjoyment AND survival. I’m glad I was able to support you in becoming legally certified as a two-wheeled moto maniac. Remember, keep the rubber side down.

    1. And a moto maniac he is! Did he tell you he got an international motorcycle permit? Watch out world…

      Stay turned for part 2!

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