Listen, and understand.
The Honda Wave is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear.
And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you have been chauffeured safely from A to B in reasonable comfort while enjoying pretty much unrivalled fuel efficiency.
My Honda Wave (125s, for your information) set me back the princely sum of 34,000 baht — brand new.
It remains, to this day, over a decade after the time of purchase, the best 34,000 baht I have ever spent.
Over the last 10 years I have piloted this precision piece of engineering well in excess of 100,000 kilometres.
That’s 2.5 circumnavigations of the planet. That’s London to Sydney and back three times. That’s 60 north-to-south lengths of Thailand. That’s – hang on – that’s nine-thousand-and-ninety-one trips from Lad Prao to Soi Cowboy – and that’s, I think you’ll probably agree, a veritable sackful of VD.
Now, while I didn’t use my Wave to embark on triple world tours, or flit between Sidcup and New South Wales, or even fill my boots on an hourly basis at some neon-lit knocking shop, I did, however, set out on myriad excursions of my own making – here are a couple I deem worthy of recalling…
It’s so fucking hot.
It’s heat like I’ve never known it.
The South-East Asian sun is a thug in mid May. A real hooligan. I feel like an insect under the malicious scrutiny of some hateful kid with a magnifying glass. Slowly burning.
I’m riding through a scorched Isaan backwater in Surin province. The paddies are parched. Thickets have been reduced to kindling.
A rat snake suns itself by the side of the road. Or is it dead? Yes, it is. Roasted like a Sunday lunch.
Before and behind me there is little human life to speak of. The occasional tractor, piloted by a forlorn farm-hand, beaten once again by the severity of a Thai summer. A car, maybe one every 10 minutes…
The sight of a large, white foreigner blasting a Honda Wave through the Siamese wilderness never fails to instigate a mini furore within the vehicle.
“Pai nai?” they’ll enquire from the window.
Having become accustomed to local mannerisms, I purse my lips and gesture with them to a place somewhere out of sight over the horizon. This usually seems to quell any confusion and off they drive in air conditioned comfort.
I look down at the speedometer. 90kph. Can’t this thing go any faster?
I twist the accelerator and subsequently watch the dial move steadily clockwise: 92,95,98,100. A grumble from the engine signifies that I’d probably be wise to stop doing that and I reduce the pressure on the throttle and ease it back down to 85.
I cannot be blamed for my haste. According to the odometer I have already ridden 450 kilometres today.
I’m on a border run you see, and eschewing the minibus option I instead decided that riding my Honda Wave through three provinces — Nakhon Ratchasima, Buriram, Surin — to O’Smach in Cambodia and back, a journey of around 600 kilometres, would be the least painful way forward.
Presently the unthinkable happens.
An added spring to my rear suspension immediately followed by a metronomic ‘thud-thud-thud’ from the back wheel can only mean one thing: I’ve got a puncture.
Looking around me there is no one; nothing.
The sun catches the iridescent skin of a skink scuttling across the road. Nothing else moves. The trees, the sky, the air is totally, eerily still. I stop my bike amid this far reaching and desolate scrub land, close the engine, and think.
Minutes later I conclude that the only possible outcome of this unfortunate little incident is that my charred remains are going to be found here next March.
Just as I’m preparing to offer myself to the sun gods, a most unprecedented turn of events transpires.
I hear an exacting rustle from within a nearby thicket which I initially suppose — considering my current luck — is a fucking Asiatic black bear.
But to my utter disbelief, an actual human being walks forth from that bush holding aloft a bottle of Lau Khao. He is dressed in threadbare, somewhat revealing attire — very little concerning the structure and capacity of his nuts is left in question — and he sports a shaggy rug of matted grey hair.
I’d probably put him somewhere in his mid 130s. He offers up a “Wadee” which I return before pointing towards my back wheel.
“It’s fucking flat,” I inform him.
“No problem,” he counters. “Follow me…”
I wheel the bike behind him into the jungle. Not down the road. Not along a footpath. Actually into the jungle.
He offers me a sip of his bottle which I accept and immediately wish I hadn’t. If you’ve ever tasted boiling hot Lau Khao you’ll understand why.
For a geriatric with an apparent predisposition for getting pissed up at every opportunity, my new pal is making remarkably gainly progress, and for a minute I think the drunken-old-man is just an act and I’m about to get buggered to death here on the paddy field perimeter.
But then, from behind a cluster of scrawny coconut trees, I can just about make out the outline of a small hut-cum-house, and moving nearer it begins to sparkle with a kind of Utopian aura. There are tyres hanging on the wall of this hut, and I can even see an air compressor. A mechanic!
I’m ecstatic. Overcome with happiness. This is nothing short of miraculous. I look around for my new friend. I want to squeeze him and fill his pockets with enough cash to buy every bottle of rice whiskey in the province, but alas, he’s gone. Nowhere to be seen. Vanished into a vacuum of tropical humidity.
Perhaps he was my spirit guide, my guardian angel.
This I couldn’t tell you. But several things became abundantly clear that day: a) in Thailand you’re rarely more than half a mile away from both booze and bike repair shops, and b) for making that journey – especially in May – I’m an idiot.
To ride through a monsoon on a Honda Wave is to be as wet as you are ever likely get — I’ve had drier baths.
This story starts in the provincial city of Saraburi. I’d just finished the world’s tastiest lunch which inevitably came in the form of Pad Krapow Moo Grob with a cheeky Kai Dow (mai sook, of course) dumped unceremoniously on top.
Concluding the repast with greedy gulp of Cola, I paid the kindly serving wench 45 baht and made haste for my motorcycle which sat shimmering expectantly in the parking bay.
Gunning the engine into life now, it idled, emitting a throaty lion-cub-like growl as I pulled on my full face helmet – incongruous, some may say, with an engine of such lowly proportions.
Kicking the bike into first gear I sped up the road. My destination? Korat city, some 120 clicks north-east of here.
The journey started well. The sun shone high in the late June sky and, save for one recalcitrant little shit on a twist-and-go Honda Nouvo who almost broadsided me, a traverse of the city centre was made without hinderance.
However, as I met the Mittraparp Road, the clear sky became sullied by a portentous sheet of cloud cover.
Throwing caution to the burgeoning breeze, I closed the visor on my helmet, and, with perhaps a little more urgency now, began to twist a little harder on the accelerator.
I was 30 minutes into the trip, on the outskirts of a little town called Muak Lek, when it started to rain.
And this wasn’t a polite shower either. Certainly not the indifferent drizzle we’re used to in the west.
No, this was a blitz, a sustained aerial invasion, a continuous volley of spiteful precipitation.
And due to the fact I was dressed in my usual Wave-riding attire — shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops — each droplet stung like a wasp — rat-a-tat-tat. This was all hugely distressing stuff.
But with jungle to my left, and paddy fields to my right, I had no other option than to keep riding.
Needless to say I was wet — very wet. I mean, I was starting to shrink for fuck’s sake.
The inclement conditions had also rendered me blind. I was unable to open my eyes for more than half a second at a time. Any attempt to keep them open for any longer than this immediately resulted in a severity of pain not dissimilar, I’d imagine, to that of an introduction between one’s genitalia and an active hornets nest.
Therefore the salient facts of the matter are this: I was riding my motorcycle, in the eye of a fucking hurricane, on one of the busiest highways in South-East Asia, with my eyes closed.
But me and my little Wave, we bobbed and we weaved and we ducked and dived, and, after riding the tidal waves generated by Siam City Group sixteen-wheelers, we just about managed to negotiate our way to a small roadside eatery where a huddle of other motorcyclists stood, shaking under their ponchos.
We silently congratulated one another for not dying. The feeling of relief was palpable here in the restaurant.
Checking my pockets now, I noted that my telephone had become waterlogged, my cigarettes had perished and my money had evaporated.
But my money seems to do that a lot in Thailand.
The trusty Honda Wave, though — Harriet, I’ve decided to call her — sat patiently under the awning, eager to embark on another outing.
Photos via Steve Edwards. Featured image is in the public domain.