AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Musings on … Motorbikes

Motorbikes are a common form of transport throughout the continent of Asia. In China the chosen variety is the moped. They are used on the pavements, the roads and in any space that exists to get around. The Chinese usually wear a motorbike helmet and even the passenger has one, plus it’s usually on their head not in the front basket. Most of the bikes are fairly new. They cost less than cars and as you can ride anywhere you can navigate around the traffic.

In Vietnam you have just as many bikes on the road as people. The bike is king in Vietnam. Why buy a car when you can fit your whole family on a single bike? You can even transport a buffalo on a moped! Helmets are compulsory here, unless there are more than two people on the bike, then the rules seem to change. Bikes are not as new as China but Honda is still number one in both countries’ closely followed by Yamaha. In Vietnam, motorbike tours are big business and as a foreigner you can hire 800cc bikes and Harley’s, if you should wish. Road etiquette follows China but give the Vietnamese their due – they are fantastic at dodging pedestrians as they cross the road. Spacial awareness is also impressive. If you go to Hanoi, watch the motorcyclists as they ride a few centimetres apart whilst swerving past the market stall and then the westerner who steps into the road to avoid the restaurant on the pavement, it really is quite astonishing that there are not more accidents. Astonishingly, we only heard one accident where a bike mowed down a pedestrian.

Cambodia has barely any bikes because they are just so costly. The bikes that do exist are used to ferry tourists and residents around by fitting a carriage (far too heavy for the poor little 50cc engine) to the back of the bike. Helmets exist, but only to be placed on the head if there is a police officer in sight.

Thailand has lots of motorbikes but such is the wealth of the nation that the car is king. Motorbikes here are big beasts as well as scooters and they are generally new. Due to public transport being efficient in Bangkok locals use the Sky Trains when they can, rather than their own form of transport. This doesn’t mean bikes and cars don’t exist because they do. Driving in Thailand is very different to the rest of Asia. For example, when crossing the road here you need to wait for a gap in the traffic. In Vietnam there would be no gaps in the traffic meaning you have to just walk and hope the bikes and cars avoid you. To do this in Thailand is a mistake, the riders get confused and just stop or nearly kill you. We made this mistake just once and assumed the rider would just dodge us, instead he was so confused that after some swerving he had to stop in the road and wait for us to cross. Bike helmets are also a must in Thailand and you see less families on one bike ( why have a bike when you can afford a car!)

The Philippines has much older motorbikes than South-East Asia. The tourist bikes on offer are in a much poorer condition than both Vietnam and Thailand. They also cost a lot more. Here the locals do not wear bike helmets. Instead they choose to store their helmet in their front basket, a practise which usually blocks the light making the bike even more dangerous! Why wear a piece of plastic that strangles you and offers no protection if you don’t have to …until you see a police officer and then you can swiftly plop it on you head.

Kathmandu prefers the Suzuki swift to a motorbike. Here unlike the rest of Asia the bikes are indeed motorbikes rather than scooters. There is a stark contrast between Kathmandu and Pokhara. This contrast highlights the disparity of wealth between the two cities. Kathmandu has a lot more taxis and cars than Pokhara; it is a bigger city but Pokhara has better quality cars from multiple manufacturers. The motorbikes in Pokhara are newer and bigger than Kathmandu. Here in Pokhara people drive on the road as there are footpaths. In Kathmandu they drive at you – at least in Thamel.

By looking at the transport of various countries you learn a lot. China is the richest in regards to their whole economy but in GDP it is much closer to Thailand and Vietnam than you first imagine. All 3 are countries of the automobile. People want to avoid public transport when they can. In the Philippines they avoid public transport because it is in such a poor state and in Manila you just can’t move. Nepal demonstrates that with wealth everyone turns to buying some mode of transport to avoid the horror of the cramped bus. Driving here reflects the culture. Thailand is eratic and fast-paced just like Bangkok and the full-moon parties. Chinese traffic goes in all directions – on the one hand Communist but still a Capitalist nation. The Philippines’ traffic is slow and clunky just like it’s economy. Nepalese drivers zigzag everywhere on all sides of the road in the hope they will get a break to play with the big boys. Cambodia is devoid of much traffic and this reflects its history – the nation was wiped out by genocide. Maybe I am reading to much into motorbikes and cars!

Posted from Pokhara, Mid-Western Development Region, Nepal.

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