“You’re going to Malaysia?”
“On a motorbike?”
“You’re driving all the way to Malaysia on a motorbike?”
“On a motorbike?”
Unlike the last disastrously adventurous road-trip to Malaysia, there was zero visa drama, no swarms of bats, or police checkpoints. Instead, I experienced some extreme fifth-wheeling, with two slightly older Russian couples; Andrei and Irina, and, Andrei and Irina.
After one of my wondrous students trustingly handed me the keys to his new Honda (a ‘real’ motorbike! Chill, Dad), I am excitedly, nervously, and painfully waking myself up at 3am. Disorganization and the fact I haven’t packed threaten to ruin my whole trip already, ahhh, my house is an embarrassing tumult of wildly thrown belongings and finding things is proving… interesting.
But, I manage to not forget anything, and at 4am I’m picking up snacks and driving to the ferry. 5am is, naturally, time to write an email to work colleagues reminding them of everything they need to do whilst I’m gone. And, 6am is capturing the glorious, sleepy sunrise.
We’re underway! Driving, exploring! So far, this is actually one of the most pleasant experiences; all problems are being discussed and resolved in Russian, all plans, route, accommodation, is organized. I feel like the small child of the family, who has strangely been trusted with an actual motorbike for over 1,000km of bizarre, slightly rule-ignored South-East Asia road. It’s a looooooooooong way to Malaysia.
I sometimes wonder how people from home would react to seeing so many dogs and cats one after each other, dead, in the road, would there be huge outrage? As a vegan, and human being, their dead bodies affect me greatly, but not any more than seeing a dead pheasant on a Yorkshire country road. It’s a strange reality where the dead bodies of beings that used to alive, used to have a point of real consciousness, become a dulled sadness in the pit of our stomachs that we soon forget about and leave to rot in the road.
We’re driving, driving, driving. Two, three hours, and we stop for a quick coffee. Oh no, wait, all real coffee places are still closed! Cue spending about two hours looking for coffee. The Andrei’s are on a mission, they will not be swayed from finding true, real, manly man coffee.
We find coffee, eventually, in a 7/11. Somewhere we could have gone two hours ago.
Irina (which Irina is a mystery for you to solve) is worried. About my alienation due to the onslaught of Russian, as Irina can’t speak English, and Andrei (again, take your pick of Andreis) can only speak a little. But, it’s more than okay. I am utterly happy to submerge myself within my own thoughts whilst still having the comfort of company, I’m totally free from any social pressure to converse, something a native English speaker doesn’t experience much. We are always so lucky that groups of travellers generally speak English, and I can’t imagine what it’s like to be on the other side of that, of not being able to converse in a group of people speaking English. I figure it’s a completely different experience to the one I’m having right now.
Six, seven hours, we made it through the border! Eight, nine hours of driving, things are a bizarre, sleepy-alert kind of blur as I’m only thinking about how my right hand is about to just seize up, pack up, and vacate it’s position as my right hand.
And then, I turn, and I see, to my right, another motorbike zooming past me at over 100km/h. It’s occupied by a young teenage boy, who was simultaneously driving, and planking.
Just laid flat out, on his stomach, and driving a modified, old motorbike on a MOTORWAY. Planking! I wish I had gotten a picture, but, you know, I was concentrating on DRIVING.
My face has a layer of dirt. I’ve been awake for 16 hours. I just saw a pack of teenagers planking on motorbikes. But, we made it, we made it to the pier. Just in time for the last boat and a sunset I have absolutely no energy to photograph.
Leaving our bikes on the mainland, I’m content to know I probably won’t have to do too much driving for the next few days, and I’m scribbling away in my notebook whilst the Andreis and Irinas are asleep in each other’s arms. Okay, now, now I wish I had a Ben to fall asleep on.
I do spend a lot of time alone, but this kind of solitude is difficult to explain, because how do I convince you it’s solitude when I’m on a trip with 4 other people?
This is a certain kind of freedom, a freedom to be quiet and gather my thoughts. And being the fifth-wheel, while reminding me that Ben is so far away, does give me a feeling of liberation without too much of the romantic loneliness. I feel a little peaceful at my ability to separate myself from it all, with nothing but the expectation to just hang out, oh, and drive a silly amount of miles to Malaysia and back, for no reason.
Wait. Scratch that. This almost anonymity I’ve been harping on about this entire trip has finally crumbled! Not, necessarily, in a negative way. Rather… I’m not sure how to feel about it except from a little displaced. Motorbikes forsaken across the sea, we are vehicle-less in Langkawai. The only way to get around the island is by manual drive car: a rickety thing with layer upon layer of rust and an extremely questionable brake.
And who is the only person who can drive a manual? Ah, that would be me. I think it’s okay, but I’m truly wondering if I even remember how to drive, a panic that consumes me every time I get into a manual car after an extended period of time, and also occasionally when I’ve been at a set of traffic lights a little too long.
As I slide into the driver’s seat of this car, with four expectant older Russians, I feel transformed into a parental figure, looking down at the pedals and forgetting which one does what. Oh God. What is a pedal?
But, as I put the car into gear, it all falls back into place. And, after an excruciating 22 hours of being awake, we manage to fall into bed (no, not together, it’s not that kind of trip. Be ashamed of yourself).
Langkawai. It’s boring. The fruit farm and cable car aren’t awful, black sand beach is not black, and I now have more trust issues about what people put in my food than ever before.
The journey back, however, is an altogether more wonderful adventure.
Hat Yai: a night market, a weird mall morning of ice-skating and Japanese food, a beautiful park celebrating Chinese New Year, and, more driving.
And more; the cutest vegan spot, hot springs, and a hot waterfall.
And now, I’ve split off from the group to grab an evening ferry home to Koh Samui, with a couple hundred km to cover. It’s fine. It’s also excruciatingly windy. I’m going to get this ferry. I’m going to make it. It’s the last ferry. I have work tomorrow morning. I will catch this ferry.
Good time. Amazing driving. My hand is about to fall off again. It’s getting a little chilly as dusk settles in.
Suddenly, my bike starts to shudder. Juttering and halting as I drive. Whoaaaaaaaaaaaaaa no. Please, do not do this to me. Do not. Do not. It’s broken. Oh my god, I broke Yury’s motorbike.
I look down and realise that the bike isn’t broken. Relief.
Rather, I’m totally out of gas. 20km from the pier. With less than 30 minutes to go. On a random motorway.
So, naturally I just roll down the verge at the side of the road to a house, garage, pet fish strange place.
In half Thai, half English, half wild hand gesture, my problem selfishly is shared with the confused couple who don’t really know what to do with me.
Their dogs attack me.
Very easily, they could have left me to be eaten by their dogs or to be stranded on the way to the nearest petrol station.
What do they do instead? Bring round their own bike, some rubber tubing, and suck the gas out of their own bike into mine, ensuring I get to the station safe, to the last boat on time, and into my own bed.
It was a trip I’d agreed to, but spent the time leading up to it fretting and being disorganized, stressing about the cost, the spending time with just couples thing, finding a motorbike to use. But, as always, I was saved by the kindness of friends, and, in the end, strangers too.