Boonie Biking in 1960s Thailand

Don Way and Joe Wilson – Khon Kaen, Thailand in 1969


Boonie Biking in 1960s Thailand

This is a story I’ve told many times, but it’s worth repeating. In 1969 while stationed in Thailand and shortly after I got married to my lovely wife of almost 53 years I bought a blue Honda 125cc motorcycle from a sergeant in my platoon.

Over the course of the next 10 months I experienced a series of adventures/misadventures while riding in the Northeastern portion called Issan and around Sattahip.

Many of my rides were with Don on his 175cc Honda and Everett on his 90cc Honda.

I remember doing some crazy “don’t try this at home” stuff like riding in a local cemetery and no we didn’t go around knocking things over or tearing up the grounds, but riding there was probably not the best place to ride.

Another place was at the local Royal Thai Army firing range where we’d start at the firing positions and race to the top of the first mound of dirt where we’d stop on top before heading off to the next mount. It was on one of these days I simply forgot to stop on top of the mound and became airborne. I was scared spitless as the front tire landed slightly ahead of the rear tire. I brought the bike to a stop and had to wait while my nerves settled down and vowed never to do that again.

We’d often head out of town and follow the dirt paths that lead to some of the rice farms, where we’d ride atop the dikes separating the rice paddies. We’d often change directions and stop when we ran out of rice paddies.

As we sat there discussing where we’d just been, kids would come along offering us Pepsi’s with a straw in a bag of ice for the equivalent of 7 ½ cents. The bag was secured by a rubber band which we’d hang over and let it dangle from the mirror or we’d finish drinking it before proceeding on to a new adventure.

One ride was just Don and I riding on top of the dikes. I was in the lead and had just crossed a place where the water had pooled up as it moved from one rice paddy to another. All of a sudden I heard Don as he crossed the spot I had just covered, but then I heard a strange sound like “blub, blub, blub” I stopped and looked behind me and there was Don and his bike submerged to the handlebars and his bike was still running……for a few moments and then there was silence. I quickly ran back to help Don pull his motorcycle out of the water and onto the dike. He pulled some tools out of his tool bag and loosened the exhaust pipes, cranked the engine a couple of times to clear out any water that might remain, secure the pipes and after checking the plugs, started it and let it run until it idled smoothly again. We then continued our ride.

There were times we both took our wife along and did our figure eights and generally had a good time riding together.

Then there was the time that Don’s wife was admitted to the Air Force hospital at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base for appendicitis. Don went to see her after the operation, but hit a water buffalo that had crossed the road directly into his path. The water buffalo died on impact and Don suffered two broken collarbones and found himself in a hospital bed in the same room as his wife.

When we were returning home after visiting them my bike had a flat tire, at 50 MPH as I was passing a gasoline truck. As I laid the bike down at the edge of the pavement my wife slid off smoothly, while I and the bike went down into the ditch. I got up to check on my wife and survey the damage a Thai Police Officer riding as a guard in the gasoline truck, came running down to see if I was okay and help me push the bike back onto the roadway. It was then we saw the valve stem had been torn off the tube. Soon a songtale (small bus) came along and we loaded the bike and ourselves into the back. The nearest village had a tire shop facing the highway. The bus stopped and we unloaded the bike and pushed it over to the tire shop. At first he said he didn’t have any parts for a motorcycle tire, but ended up fusing a new valve stem to the tube, airing up the tire and we were back on our way home, after suffering a bit of road rash.

In early 1970 I was transferred to another unit south of Bangkok and when it came time to leave Issan we climbed onto our motorcycle and rode over 300 miles south and through the mountains south of Korat to the port town of Sattahip. I was an all-day ride and we got to the hotel we were ready for a long night’s sleep.

I made a couple of changes to the bike in Sattahip. First I changed exhaust pipes by fitting a Mercedes Benz tailpipe with baffles that gave it that throaty kind of groveling sound and later I changed the rear sprocket. The gear ratio was such that you couldn’t get into high gear without the engine bogging down, but 4th gear would bring the engine speed up to the red line on RPMs. It was a good selling point when I got ready to come back to the states and needed to sell it fast.

I miss riding in Thailand as it was back then, but today the traffic is a lot heavier and drivers seem to be crazier than ever before. Small motorbikes of 90cc are a way of life to many Thais today, but are a constant source of accidents, tragedy and loss of life. I’ll stick to motorized vehicles where you have a bit of steel protecting you. –


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