When a Rookie Rents a Scooter
A couple of years ago now, Julia Gillard’s “$1000 textbook allowance” and continuous Centrelink payments bought me my flight to Bangkok and funded my Asian backpacking adventure. Sure, it’s not the most original of trip destinations for a 20-year-old university student, but the tropical climate, delicious street food, “real” Gucci handbags and low prices were just too appealing to resist.
My older sister had done a similar trip with her friends when she was my age. My parents had to pay for her to come home after she’d spent all her money, got food poisoning and wound up in a Thai hospital with a broken arm after she drunkenly fell over a staircase railing. I should really have thanked her for this. In my parents’ eyes, as long as I came home to Australia with no broken bones, I could basically do whatever I wanted and still be seen as the golden child.
So one night in Krabi, when we met some Brazilian boys on the hostel rooftop where we were staying who suggested we hire scooters, I nodded with enthusiasm. By this stage, I’d spent a couple of weeks in Thailand and still had all bones intact.
After spending the next couple of hours together, table dancing and sinking Changs, we finalised plans to rent the two-wheelers and explore the surrounding beach town the following day.
By the time we clambered out of our bunks the next morning and staggered to meet the boys at the rental shop across the road, it was nearly midday. This meant that although to us, the day was just beginning, plenty of keen tourists (who weren’t preoccupied with taking advantage of the low-cost alcohol) had already come and gone, so there were only four scooters left. There were seven of us.
Carmen, the most uncoordinated, was first to be eliminated. She’d had her fair share of being ridden, but struggled to even command a bicycle. Laura was next. She wasn’t keen on becoming part of the alarmingly high “tourist killed in road accident” statistics for Thailand and decided to accompany Carmen, opting to catch the public bus. That left Hannah and I, who would ride alone, while the Brazilian boys fought over who got to double our gorgeous friend Rachel.
Within 15 minutes, we had met Shirlay the rental shop owner, organised bikes and helmets and were ready to go. We each paid around the equivalent of $20AUD for the day and agreed to return the bikes by nightfall.
The tanks were empty, so the first planned stop was the petrol station, 300m down the road. Shirlay was out the front of her shop, waving goodbye as she waited to watch us join the hundreds of motorbikes already hurtling along the street. Shirlay was a nice little lady and to our dismay there was no chance of her retreating inside her shop anytime soon. We couldn’t stall any longer and had no choice but to hop on our bikes and get going.
Like that time in year nine when we were about to smoke our first joint on the school ski trip, we were confident, but had no idea what we were doing.
The boys had spent years riding motorbikes and sped off first. Not wanting to get left behind, I quickly accelerated, swore aloud and joined the buzz of traffic. I thought I was picking it up quite well. Hannah was also fine, taking the more conservative slow-and-steady approach. For whatever reason, the boys decided to detour, turning around to do a blocky before heading to the petrol station. Naturally, we followed. Han was behind, and we headed back to the main road, which would take us in a straight line to the servo.
“Yo, it’s time to u-turn. Can ya hear me?”
I was ready to merge back into the stream of traffic, when I looked around to see if Han was with me, just in time to witness her go full-throttle, straight into a parked scooter and then into a shop window. Apparently a manoeuver not as easy to learn as Usher believed, at least not for Han. She was dux of year 12, yet couldn’t quite manage to differentiate between the accelerator and brake. Forgive her, it mustn’t have been in our syllabus.
I could not contain myself. I nearly dropped my own bike I was laughing so hard! The shop owners, however, didn’t find it quite as funny as I did. Now I don’t speak Thai, but unfortunately, I’m pretty sure they weren’t saying a friendly, “Ah, good price for you my friend! Lucky! Just for you!” as they came out yelling and screaming with their hands flailing in the air.
After apologising profusely, the next 15 minutes became a game of negotiation. We would tap a series of numbers into the calculator and then show the shop owners whilst nodding our heads, as if to say that the final number indicated was more than enough money to fix their ENTIRE shop front and motorbike. They would simply respond, “NO! NO!” and grab the calculator back, frantically shaking their heads and punching in some numbers of their own.
Despite the fact in high school I once achieved 5.5/50 for a Maths B exam, at this point in time I was holding the calculator with so much authority I may as well have been Pythagoras himself. Mind you, I could have been typing in “55378008 (boobless)” for all it mattered. We went back and forward and back and forward.
In the end, we came to an agreement. We got totally ripped off in terms of Thai bartering, but when we stopped to do the conversion from baht to Aussie dollars, we realised how insignificant the price was for us and how important it was to them – especially considering the damage was 100 per cent our fault. We paid the equivalent of $50AUD (less than ¼ of my next Centrelink payment), and later that night bought them a six-pack of Chang beer to lessen the pain. They were stoked. So were we.
We decided to ride on this high. A few band-aids fixed up Hannah’s cut legs and $2 bought us a new tire for her scooter. We successfully made it to the beach, with all scooters and drivers unharmed, and ended up having one of the greatest days of our trip – swimming, drinking and eating local cuisine before we raced each other home, on the windy, bumpy Thai roads.
Technically Han lost, but when we returned the scooters that night, Shirlay was none the wiser.