The first time I ever tried riding a motorbike I lasted all of 15 seconds before I crashed head on into the nearest tree (side note: don’t worry the tree was fine, I checked). I was 19 years old on a small island off the coast of Thailand. I didn’t get back on; I didn’t try again. I simply admitted defeat and convinced myself that riding motorbikes just wasn’t something I was good at.
After trying all of ONE time, I had come to the conclusion that not only was I not good at riding motorbikes, I would also never be.
Fast forward five years. I’m back in SE Asia, this time in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It’s the second most dangerous country in Asia in which to drive, and the streets of Ho Chi Minh city confirm the truth of that at every intersection. I was ready to give it another shot.
There’s no rules here, or if there are no one is following them. The motorbikes drive as they please. They go against the flow of traffic, move to the sidewalks when the streets are too congested, run red lights, and weave in and out of cars and pedestrians as if it was all just a game. And yet, I haven’t seen a single accident the entire time I’ve been here.
Which is why I came to the conclusion that there actually is ONE rule that all the drivers in this city vehemently adhere to: don’t cause an accident. You can do practically whatever you want as long as you don’t hit anyone else. Make a left turn on a red light? Sure. Weave through pedestrians on a crowded sidewalk? Absolutely. Drive the opposite direction on a one-way street? Why it’s practically commonplace… as long as you don’t hit anyone else.
With only one rule there was practically no way I could mess this up, right? Well, I lasted all of 40 minutes before I broke the only rule.
The entire walk to the motorbike rental place I was internally freaking out. My brain was on repeat, looping the moment from five years ago when I crashed into that tree in Thailand, and all I could think was, “What if it happens again? Only this time, what if I’m not so lucky?”
It was all I could think about as the lady explained to me how the bike worked, and the only thing I saw as I sat down on the bike and slowly gave it gas. I was more scared than I’ve ever been about getting on/into a vehicle.
At this point, you’re probably asking yourself, “Then why the heck did you go and rent a motorbike?!”
- Because I love motorbikes. I’ve wanted to be able to ride a
motorbike since the first time my big brother drove me around on the back of his. I was maybe 9 or 10 years old, and he only took me around the block, but I will never forget it. My 10-year-old self was hooked the second my brother turned the corner of the street and hit the gas on the straightaway. (I’m pretty sure my mom had no idea he did that or he would have been in so much trouble.)
- And because I don’t ever want to let fear control my life. If I did, I would almost never do anything, because I’m afraid A LOT – I just try not to show it.
Now there’s two ways to look at my accident. You could choose to focus entirely on the fact that I DID crash my bike – through a wall of other cyclists red-rover style (#90skidsthrowback) – and was subsequently dragged under it for about a foot into the middle of an intersection. Or, you could focus on the fact that I had driven around, no problems, no accidents for 40 minutes before this happened.
In full honestly, the second I crashed I really wasn’t thinking about anything but getting up off the ground, because I was in the middle of a giant intersection with motorbikes surrounding me on all four sides waiting for a light to turn green. But after I had gotten up off the ground and picked my bike up, I had a decision to make.
A HUGE part of me wanted to walk my bike over to the nearest curb, cry for about 20-25 minutes and then pay someone to drive me back to the motorbike place so I could return it.
But a smaller, yet stronger part of me really wanted to get back on that motorbike and keep driving just as I had been doing for the past 40 minutes.
I went against everything I was feeling in that moment (fear, pain, embarrassment) and I chose not to walk the motorbike to safety. I chose not to cry. I chose not to give up… because if I had given up that day, I probably wouldn’t have gotten back on a motorbike for another five years, and I would have regretted it.
*But real quick, I got to hand it to the people at that intersection. They were super on top of it and everyone stopped while I was on the ground, no one drove past. And I truly believe that if I had wanted to walk my bike over to the curb about 75 feet away, they would have waited until I made it safely before they started speeding down the road again. I’m pretty sure they took one look at the stupid white girl and her bleeding feet lying there on the ground under the motorbike and thought “We don’t even want to chance being around her if she decides to get back on that thing,” so they kept their distance.
I mean these people clearly eat fucks for breakfast.
So, in the middle of an intersection in Ho Chi Minh City, with bloody feet, slightly torn leggings and much less confidence, I got back on that motorbike and I drove it for another five minutes before I allowed myself to pull over and assess the damage to both me and the bike.
Later that same day vs. 3 days later
Oh my god did I get lucky.
I got soooooo lucky.
And I will always be the first to admit that. Nothing was broken. I didn’t lose any of my toes (and let’s be honest, the pinky toes seem like they’d be the first to go). Nothing was fractured. In short, nothing required immediate medical attention. The worst of it was that my feet were pretty garish – since I had been wearing sandals when the accident occurred – and my left shoulder and left hip were showing signs of slight bruising. That’s it.
My left foot did end up swelling up to twice its normal size and the cuts are still healing 10 days later; but they are healing. I know it could have been much worse, but it wasn’t. And I’m not going to focus on every “what if” scenario until I convince myself out of doing anything even slightly dangerous for the rest of my life. Because just by being alive, you are at risk of dying every day of your life. You might as well live it up and do the things you’ve always wanted to do.
Once I realized the blood was the worst of it, I drove my motorbike 3 more hours to the beach and, apart from the rain (I hate rain), it was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. Each and every moment I didn’t get into an accident was a serious accomplishment, and I felt it. By the time I got back into the city the next day I had driven for over 8 hours without even once coming close to causing an accident. I can’t even begin to describe how proud I felt when I arrived back at my apartment.
I would have missed out on this if I had never gotten back on that motorbike!
If you’re thinking about learning how to ride a motorbike anywhere in SE Asia, but especially in Vietnam or Thailand, the only thing I have to say is: Go for it. If it’s what you really want, then do it. You’re a capable human being. Trust yourself: learn from your mistakes, don’t quit because of them. Oh, and also wear a helmet; That shit is important.
I am now in Thailand and I can’t wait to rent a motorbike and drive around the island of Phuket.
And guess what? They drive on the left side of the road here 😉
*For those of you that want to know how I got in the accident in the first place, well: someone ran a red light and I wasn’t paying attention, so I ended up driving right through everyone in front of me who had stopped to let this guy go. Once I realized what was happening, I freaked out and hit the back brake without letting go of the gas, which ended up with me being dragged under the scooter for about a foot in the middle of the intersection.