Like many cities around the world, Chiang Mai is a city of bike riders. Motorbikes, scooters, bicycles, bikes with side carriages/cages – thousands and thousands of bikes. The number of bikes is probably equal to the population of the city and every day I am fascinated by the bikes on the roads. Often it seems like utter chaos to me, but familiarity brings understanding and I now realise that every bike rider is courteous and careful and highly skilled at weaving their way through the mayhem of vehicles on the roads.
At every intersection the riders gather in a group at the front of the cars and trucks. They squeeze through the traffic to be first off the mark with a green light and it does not matter if the road has three or four lanes, riders will congregate together often 10 or 15 across the lanes and several rows deep. As a pedestrian, it is always difficult crossing a road as the bikes extend out to the walking lane. In Thailand, a motorbike licence can be obtained at the age of 15 years, so it is common to see hundreds of school children on their way to school with their classmates as passengers. How the young girls keep their school blouses so brilliantly white amazes me.
The grounds of our condominium complex cover such a large area that staff ride bicycles to carry out their duties.
These are some of the fascinating sights I have seen involving bikes:
- Four people riding on one bike – I believe five is the record
- Motorbike Taxis in Bangkok – why walk when you can hop on the back of a bike?
- Riders using umbrellas while riding in the rain – is one hand enough to control the bike?
- Toddlers standing between the rider’s legs on the platform of the scooter – with such confidence and without fear
- A cage on the side of one bike stacked high with scrap metal – finally cleaned up the back yard then off to the rubbish dump on the bike!
- Home-made canopies over the bike for protection from the weather – so obviously home-made and very original
- A bike fall over when the rider dismounted because of the weight and height of the parcels he was carrying on the back of the bike – was it inappropriate for me to laugh?
- A disabled woman sitting in a wheelchair in the side carriage operating the bike solo – truly courageous and determined
- A man riding a bicycle behind a 4 x 4 utility carrying building materials which were longer than the vehicle; the vehicle was travelling in the wrong direction in the stopping/emergency lane of the highway; the bike rider was “securing” the load with one hand while holding a mandatory safety flag – SAFETY FIRST is the motto here
But the best I have saved till last –
ME ON A BIKE!
After my recent haircut, as I was leaving, my hairdresser (New York New York Hair Studio) asked where was I going to and I told her I was walking about 1.5kms to meet my husband and friends at a restaurant. So before I could blink, she had me on the back of her bike and off we headed. It was so much fun and the first time in my life I have been on a motorbike.
In the time I have lived in Chiang Mai, I have not witnessed any accidents or road rage. I would think that to ride a bike would demand nerves of steel as it is a physically demanding form of travel requiring total concentration. Deciding where to park the bike is a challenge and as a pedestrian I soon learnt that bikes can be parked ANYWHERE. It is quiet simple – arrive at your destination and park your bike. There is nothing else to it. It can be on the street, on the footpath, in front of the shop door, in a car park with thousands and thousands of other bikes, in fact, just park it anywhere you can find space or as indicated on this sign –
From time to time I have witnessed riders mounting a bike, only to realise it was not their bike and off they go to search the enormous number of other bikes nearby in the hope of finding their bike. Every day is a new adventure for me as I see sights not previously seen and I am constantly surprised and amazed at how riding a bike in Thailand is just a normal part of every day life which everyone does.
“Life is like a ten speed bicycle. Most of us have gears we never use” – Charles M. Schulz