Last night, I rented a motorbike to ride to Krabi to meet up with Conrad. After a walk around town, a great conversation, and some wonderful street food down by the riverfront, I hopped on my motorbike for the 20km ride back to Ao Nang. As soon as I’d gotten a bit outside Krabi, just when the streetlights went away and the road darkened, I felt the rear tire start to wobble a bit. I didn’t think much of it at first, but a short distance later, it was clear… I’d gotten a flat tire.
I pulled off the road, dropped the kickstand, and took a look at the tire; it was a flat as a pancake. I was out in the middle of nowhere, was a good 10km from Ao Nang, and didn’t have a clue what to do. Back home, I’d just call AAA and wait for a tow truck, but that wouldn’t do here.
I vaguely remembered a gas station further along the route, but couldn’t remember how far it was, if they had a service shop, or whether they’d even be open at 9:30 at night. After mulling my options for a few minutes, I started pushing the motorbike in the hopes that would signal distress to any passing motorists. A few slowed down to gawk and one clever fellow even came to a complete stop ahead of me and watched for a bit before speeding off. Thanks!
After a few hundred meters, a couple on a motorbike pulled up alongside and asked if I needed help. The Thai woman, Bo, and her Swiss husband, Peter, hopped off their bike and I showed them the problem. Peter said, “Just ride on it. It’s a metal tire and will be okay.” I was pretty skeptical about riding on a flat, especially since it was a rental and I really wasn’t interested in paying for any damage. Bo suggested I lean as far forward as possible to put all my weight on the front tire while riding. That seemed like a better idea and I crouched as far forward as possible and started off. Feeling like I couldn’t control the bike very well, I stood up and leaned over the handlebars looking like Travis Pastrana ready to do some insane trick. Goofy as I’m sure it looked, it worked well and I kept it slow to reduce my injuries when I veered into the ditch, which seemed highly likely on such a curvy road.
After seeing I was managing alright, Peter and Bo took off down the road and left me to ride back. They were very nice to stop and seemed genuinely sorry they couldn’t do more to help. After a few hundred meters riding Pastrana style, I rounded a bend and saw Peter and Bo stopped on the side of the road standing in front of a darkened shack with Peter waving at me to stop.
Apparently, much to my good fortune, the shack was actually a mechanic’s shop. Even though it was dark inside, Bo had knocked on the shack (there wasn’t a door that I could see) and had woken the owner up and asked for help. A few minutes after I’d arrived, a man emerged limping towards us. Because of the darkness, it took me a few seconds to notice that his legs were missing below the knees and that he only had a prosthetic for one leg. He ambled over to the bike and plopped himself on the ground. A soon as he’d hit the ground, out rushed two small boys: one with a bucket of tools and the other with a single light bulb on a long cord. The boys ran back into the shack and brought out chairs for the three of to sit on. Customer service at its finest!
I have to admit, looking at the shack I was a bit leery about letting him work on my motorbike as it was in quite a state of disarray, but I didn’t have much choice. Communicating proved quite interesting and took a little effort as I don’t speak Thai. Peter spoke a little English and German. Bo spoke a little more English, German, and Thai. The mechanic, only Thai. It was a little like a game of telephone and I hoped what I was saying was getting through. I started by asking everyone’s names, introduced myself, and went from there. Luckily, I didn’t have to say too much as Utet saw what was wrong and started right in on the rear tire. While I wondered about how much this would cost me, I was afraid to ask figuring it would be rude since Utet was clearly asleep and Bo had woken him to assist me.
Instead, I started talking with Peter and Bo about where they were from, what they were doing in the area, and then swapped motorcycle stories and pictures with Peter once I learned he was a Triumph owner too. Any excuse to show pictures of my bike back home. I already miss it and every good parent has a brag book…
After a few stubborn bolts, Utet finally got the exhaust off and replaced the inner tube. He had a little more trouble getting it back together, but managed to get the rear assembly back together with help from his sons. As I sat and watched him work, I noticed he was quite thorough as he checked and rechecked each bolt twice to make sure they were tight. After he got it reassembled, one of his sons skipped over to a dark corner of the shack and after a few bangs and clanks, fired up an old compressor that wheezed and coughed with every cycle, but did the job just fine as the tire slowly started inflating.
After everything was back together, I asked Bo if she would find out how much I owed Utet. Being used to mechanics in the US, I got ready for a big hit. They conversed for a moment in Thai and she turned to me and said “160 baht.” I was shocked and asked her if that was for both the inner tube and his labor. She nodded yes, but suggested I throw a small tip on top. Happily, I handed over what amounted to a few lattes at Starbucks, bowed, and thanked him profusely for his help. I asked if I could take a picture of him and his sons as well, which made his eyes light up. He hopped up on a chair, grabbed his sons to pose with him, and gave me the biggest smile I’d ever seen.
After my bike was fixed and everyone went on their way, I couldn’t help but stand on the side of the road and marvel at my good fortune. 30 minutes earlier, I’d had a flat tire in a country whose language I didn’t speak and was looking at a long, hilly walk while pushing a motorbike and then world presents me with an incredibly helpful couple and an honest mechanic. I smiled and thanked the travel gods before heading down the road.