Tina has been wanting to learn to ride a proper motorbike for a while now, so on a cloudy Saturday morning in Chiang Mai, I gave her some lessons in the road that we live in.
Earlier this year we spent some time trying to find an official driving school in Chiang Mai where we could both learn. In the end, having searched everywhere, we came to the conclusion that not only were there no driving schools geared towards foreigners here, but that there were no driving schools at all. This realisation fitted well with the general level of road chaos in Chiang Mai.
On the BBC website, there is a guide to ‘Driving Etiquette’ in Thailand. It states:
The first rule of driving in Thailand is: Don’t!
The second rule is: Don’t!
The most incredible thing about driving in Thailand is that a people who are so lovely, friendly and forgiving turn into complete monsters when sitting in a car or complete idiots when sitting on a motorbike. Actually driving in Thailand isn’t quite so bad as its reputation would have you believe, but it still is not to be undertaken by the faint of heart.
Despite know this, I ended up buying a bike to learn on, the bike in the photo – a Honda Phantom 200cc. I had already been driving mopeds around Chiang Mai for a year. After a quick lesson from a friend, and a few thousand kilometres in the surrounding countryside (including a mountainous trip to Pai) I decided it was worth trying to get my Thai Motorbike license. I drove on my moped to the test centre, and immediately got issued with a car license based on the fact I had a UK car license. Easy!
However, as I didn’t have a motorbike allowance on my license, I was told I would need to do a motorbike test. They sat me in a room and tested my reaction time and eyesight with various archaic-looking contraptions, before taking me to a room full of computers. I had 30 minutes to answer 30 multiple choice questions chosen randomly from 80 questions in the system. To cut a long, frustrating story short, the pass mark is 23 out of 30, and I got 21 the first time and 22 the second time I took the test. I therefore failed.
To compound my misery, I realised that some of the questions I had got correct had been marked as wrong – for example – a picture of a blue circle with ’30’ inside apparently means “You must go a minimum of 30km/hour” in Thailand. When I questioned the examiner on these surprising answers he replied “Haha! Computer in Bangkok wrong….you want to do test again?”
I left the test centre on my moped, promising myself I would never return. I could now legally drive a V8 Toyota Landcruiser out of the test centre, and park it illegally on a junction just like everyone else, but alas, not my 100cc moped.
For more information, check out the Golden Triangle Rider website for excellent maps and tips on some of the possible motorbike trips in Northern Thailand. Take it from us, don’t go on a ‘elephant trek’ in Chiang Mai – hire some bikes and head out into the mountains!