We had already ridden motor scooters in Hanoi but we wanted to explore the countryside outside of Chiang Mai with the same freedom. So rather than booking a tour bus we opted for cheap scooters and a loose plan of how to get to a nearby national park. With Sachin in the lead we headed towards a national park outside of the city. After riding scooters in Vietnam we all felt more comfortable on the road so Sach wasn’t shy about passing semi’s and tour busses alike on the narrow two lane roads. Goose and I had no choice but to keep up so we pulled back on the throttle and weaved dangerously around traffic.
As we neared the national park the roads got empty. Fields of crops became more common than houses and the road went from two lanes to one. I was in the lead now and with less traffic and windy roads I decided to have some fun with it and push my riding skills more than before.
No more than five minutes after we left the highway for small back roads we came across a tight bend in the road. I put my motorcycle training to the test and took the turn in textbook fashion (outside, inside, outside). The problem with pushing my riding skills, though, was that I failed to impart the same knowledge on the other two.
I slowed as much as possible before leaning into the turn and pulling on the throttle as I rounded out of the curve, grinning at having used my little bit of motorcycle riding know-how successfully. That’s when I heard it: the telltale scraping of a motorcycle on asphalt. I looked over my shoulder just in time to see Goose skidding along the pavement behind his yellow scooter.
A slammed on the brakes and gunned it back towards the crash where I helped Goose stand up while Sach picked up the fallen scooter. After a moment of shock, I pulled out my travel first aid kit and tried my best to help. As we poured water on his five patches of road rash we realized just how deep the scrapes were.
I was on my last disinfecting swab when a truck drove past us on the side of the road and came to a stop as the driver asked us in Thai if everything was ok (I think). We mimed out a scooter crash to the best of our ability and the man pulled his truck over and got out. It was then that we noticed he was a fireman. He looked Goose over and I tried to ask if he had a first aid kit, mine was used up. He didn’t have any kit in his truck but he got busy on his walkie-talkie as we looked at him in confusion.
After some more miming we figured out that he had called the station and a paramedic crew was on it’s way. Goose, Sach, and I looked at each other and finally let out all of the pent up stress with a sigh. It was a bad turn of events but we couldn’t have been luckier than having a fireman drive past.
Goose’s shock dissipated and the pain started to kick in as we waited 15 minutes for the paramedics.
After what felt like an eternity of Goose pacing back and forth anxiously a red pickup truck with two guys pulled up and dropped the tailgate. Goose sat down on the back and the medics got to work. He let out groans and screams of pain as they poured disinfectant on his bloody scrapes. Thai and Americans alike looked at each other and started to chuckle at his funny pained noises.
No one spoke the other’s language and all we could do was laugh at how ridiculous the moment felt.
After a few minutes of expert care from the Thai fire crew their work was done: tons of disinfectant and a handful of taped on gauze strips. We tried to pay them but they refused any money. Instead, they agreed to take a picture with Goose all patched up.
After the photo the guys piled into their trucks and pulled back onto the road, no doubt laughing at the dumb American tourists who don’t know how to ride. We gave Goose a few more minutes to calm his nerves before we climbed on the scooters and continued on our way to the national park.
The real reason we were set on going to Chiang Mai wasn’t more scooters, but elephants. The city is nestled amongst the mountains in northwestern Thailand, in the heart of elephant territory. We’d heard of the inhumane conditions of many of Thailand’s elephant parks so after finding one that was known for it’s fair treatment of the animals we booked a tour.
It’s hard to imagine the unique fear associated with standing next to an animal that could kill you by sitting down. But when we first stepped up to the elephants that thought was definitely in the back of my mind. We watched as our guide roughhoused with little babies and within minutes we were hugging their trunks and getting surprise hickeys; most of the fear of the animals replaced by joy.
We spent the rest of the day helping out with the caretaker’s daily tasks. We fed them sugar cane snacks and helped them walk off the food after. Then we watched as they played in the mud and then jumped into the pond with them to scrub the dirt off of their backs.
It was surprisingly tiring work, especially when you have to wrestle one of the beasts in the right direction on the trail. After a thorough shower we climbed back on the bus and passed out after both a long day at the elephant park and an exhausting 17-day adventure around Southeast Asia.