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Opinion: To bike or not to bike in Phuket



PHUKET: A friend of mine recently arrived in Phuket. It is his very first time in Thailand and he intends to hang around for a while so, within the first week of his stay, he bought a motorcycle.

Admittedly, anyone who wants to get around Phuket needs some form of independent transport, unless they have the time and patience to wait for a bus or ‘songtaew’ or enough money to hire a private limousine.

Alarm bells went off in my head when I heard about my friend’s new (for him) purchase of a second-hand 250cc Kawasaki off-road bike.

Sure, buying a bike was a smart thing to do in order to save time and money in the long run, instead of long-term car rental or forking out for taxi fares every day, but it was certainly not the safest option in my opinion.

I didn’t doubt my friend’s riding skills. It was everything else that I was worried about. Here we had a young man who, for starters, learned to drive on the right hand side of the road in his country, where the road rules are easier to follow, because everyone else is mostly obeying them.

Now, after a few days in Thailand, he was going to immerse himself in an entirely different and frankly, highly dangerous, driving culture; one in which he certainly would not have had enough time to become close to understanding that there is method in the madness.

Mind you, on a recent trip home to the UK, I was surprised how fast people drove over there. I noticed that drivers are confident when they know they have the ‘right of way’. They zoom along with not the slightest worry that someone might just drift out of a side road into their lane without even a glance at the oncoming traffic.

It wouldn’t occur to a British motorist that someone would stop dead on a roundabout. Nor would it occur to an American that everyone else stops a few seconds after the traffic light turns red and then sets off again before it’s turned back to green.

As a rule, when driving in the west, you just don’t expect someone to pass you on the inside, or suddenly come face to face with a noodle cart heading towards you in your lane.

Predictably, my friend, despite being a good rider, came off his new bike a few days after he had bought it. He lost it on a patch of gravel, and now has a nasty graze on his neck.

Thankfully, his driving culture of wearing a good helmet might well have saved him from a more serious injury that day. Of course I hope that was the first and only accident he has while he’s here.

Personally, after coming off motorbikes three times while buzzing about in the Big Mango, I decided it was time to trade in the bike and make a down payment on a car.

It might take longer to get places on four wheels, but it’s certainly a lot safer.

— Andrew Nicholson


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