Thursday, 12 May 2011

Rules of the Road

Road rules and traffic regulations are a little different here.  Insurance is optional, driving licenses easily obtainable (...), the larger vehicles rule the roost and the rules are more like guidelines.  The old "mirror, signal, manoeuvre" mantra is fairly irrelevant, since many vehicles do not have mirrors, or even signals for that get the picture.  Due to their more accessible price and relative speed, motorbikes are the vehicle of choice for most families, and by families I mean families: limited public transport means 4 or 5 family members (plus dog!) squeezed onto a single motorbike is not an uncommon sight. Other passengers sighted include 20 live chickens, masses of market produce and newborn babies!

bike and motorbike
Since the outset my plan was always to get a motorbike; following the advice of a previous IrishAid volunteer I faithfully schlepped a massive UK-safety-regulation-meeting helmet through four airport security controls and 6000 miles from Belfast to Vientiane and I'm now the proud owner of the largest helmet in Vientiane!  The initial sight of the traffic put me off a little and for the first three weeks I suffered the long and sweaty cycle to work until I finally caved and took some informal lessons from a friend and bought an "entry-level" Kolao (cheap Lao brand). Whilst I've gradually learnt a bit more about motorbiking, my Lao vocab for transport has stalled somewhat, resulting in any problem with the bike (ranging from needing petrol, to the engine not starting) typically being solved through a combination of pointing, miming and a frantic game of charades.

Even after more than two months on the motorbike it is still scary sometimes, but once you grasp the basic principle of keeping your mind on what's ahead (because they will almost certainly NOT be thinking about you or your ability to react as they pull out from a side street/slam the brakes on/suddenly turn left) then it gets a bit better.  Unfortunately there is still a very high rate of traffic accidents so it never pays to be too careful, that said, I do think it's safer on a motorbike than a bicycle provided you're not going too fast.

Ultimate goal would be to hire a dirt bike at some point for a road trip - maybe in a few months!

A mother's delight! Not My Bike (a friend rented this beast)

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