Moto Psycho

Rivers of motos (motorcycles, scooters, all types of motorized transportation) are everywhere in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Ladies often ride sidesaddle, and laws of physics do not seem to apply—motos are jam-packed with people and supplies, piled beyond capacity. It always seems like the moto or the load will burst at the seams and explode apart, but it works.

Besides a bicycle, I have never ridden anything like a moto (scooter) before. I wanted the freedom of touring solo, plus I wanted to stay off the beaten path when possible, so I taught myself, making sure to rent them only in smaller towns where the traffic was not insane.

(Seriously, the roads seem to have no laws. Taking a left turn is suicide—you just go and the other bikes have to slow down or you zoom around them. Reminds me of a time I was on a tuk-tuk that cut right across traffic—I could not help myself but to laugh hysterically.)

The moto I first rented cost the equivalent of $5 for a full 24 hours, and I had it for about four or five days.

With the basic idea of how to drive, I just asked the owner to remind me where the break and gas were.

At first, I was a bit nervous with the taking off bit and just rode slowly around streets and parking lots to get comfortable and practise my turns and such.

To fill up, I bought two-litre bottles of gas on the side of the road for $1 or so. There are some gas stations, but this way is much cheaper and everyone does it.

In Kampot, in southern Cambodia, I rented a moto and rode it to find a temple hidden on a mountain, which was incredible.

There were cement statues of life-sized animals, elephants, giant turtles guarding the exterior of temple. Inside was full of colour with paintings depicting Buddha’s stages of enlightenment.

“The city was busy and crazy… I did not feel comfortable getting my own bike here.” PHOTOS: Rebecca Hogarth

I adore colour. When I find a temple with vibrant paintings (and they pretty well all have paintings) I stay for a long time to enjoy it.

Another day, I was covered head-to-toe in orange dirt. The dust the other vehicles kicked up was crazy. When trucks drove by I would have to skid to the side of the road and cover my face—could not see anything if I tried, but it felt pretty cool skidding like that.

The worst that happened to me was when I gouged my leg on a sharp piece on the side of the pedal. Paranoid of infection, I took care of it with alcohol wipes I had brought along and dug all the dirt out.

Locals are very comfortable on motos. Riding in Kampot, a guy once flew up beside me to have a conversation while we were moving. He told me of his restaurant and handed me a flyer.

I could not believe that, but since then I have seen many people engaged in conversation while cruising.

Everyone (locals and non-locals) rides in flip flops. It’s risky, and the truth is I was very cautious as I did.

You do hear the stories all the time and see the wounds of people who get in accidents. (One Kiwi here has healing wounds all over his feet. He was going way too fast and is very lucky.)

The cops, however, are crazy.

In Sihanoukville (southern Cambodia), I was up early and walking around by myself when I saw these two white guys on motorcycles flying down the road. Then, I saw a cop running at them wielding a billybat thingy.

He hit one guy in the head as the bikers tried to veer out of the way.

Mortified, I went right up to the cop and said, “What was that?”

“No helmet,” he replied.

Conversely, the cops can be paid off for pretty much everything.

For example, my friend Jonny had a motorcycle and I was on the back. Although required, he did not want to wear the helmet, so I did. Passengers are not however required to wear a helmet.

Jonny was aware of the law, but the fine is only a dollar.

Of course we got flagged to pull over. Good thing Jonny thinks like I do—not worth getting hit or causing trouble in a foreign country—so we abided.

The cop wanted $5 from Jonny for having the light on his bike turned on during the day, not wearing a helmet and not having a licence. Jonny talked him down to $3, knowing the cop would pocket the money. (Cops never go after locals, only tourists, usually.)

At times I wish I had a mask to help with all the exhaust fumes I inhale when all the bikes come to a stop… and also to pretend I am a ninja with reflexes for the inevitable traffic accidents.

In all circumstances, I’ve learned that patience, especially in transportation, comes in handy.

I’ve learned it’s the journey, not the destination, when I’ve encountered delays or interruptions.

Rebecca Hogarth has been a resident of Dawson City since 2007. She feels the energy of the Yukon and the encouraging people within allow her to shine in so many ways.

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