Gas. Clutch. Biting point. Release.
Gas off. Clutch. Break.
I repeated this mantra, and the associated hand movements, to myself again and again throughout my very first motorbike lesson. It became a little dance with my hands, an attempt to erase the muscle memory of using breaks on a bicycle.
Uncle Tom – named as such for his striking resemblance to Tom Jones – was our teacher for the day. A good ‘ol Welshman living in Kasi, Laos, he has made a business for himself teaching people to ride motorbikes and taking them on trail rides up in the mountains (depending on your ability).
I’d been nervous. Really nervous. Riding a motorbike is never something that I thought I’d do, or be good at, but today was David’s day. He hasn’t ridden a motorbike since leaving the U.K. and in some ways I feel that by coming to Canada he had to give up something that he really loves to do. So, Uncle Tom’s Trails it was.
Tom was insistent that I’d be fine. After checking that David knew what he was doing, Tom sent him off on the road, and we concentrated on getting me up to snuff. Thank god for rollers! Tom has built a set of metal rollers so that you can learn to start the bike without the fear of it whipping out from under you – a truly terrifying prospect that I didn’t need to worry about.
Within an hour I was doing (slow) figure of eights around his field and David came back to see his newbie bike riding wife in action. I was doing it! First gear. Second. Brake. No, brake hard! Okay, so I stalled a few times (more than a few times), but that’s what learning is about. I may have also been repeating “look where you want to go” aloud to myself, but it works.
And then we headed out on the open road. My stomach was a bundle of nerves, and not just because of the Beer Laos consumed the night before. But Tom has a way of calming the nerves. He talks you through each movement, step by step. Without even realizing it, we were up a mountain. A bleeding mountain! I’d gone all the way up to fourth gear and down again. I’d dealt with traffic, turns and going uphill. There may have been one sticky bit where my brain went blank and I tried to stop the bike with my feet (not my proudest moment), but instead of freaking out and crying (a very Victoria like thing to do), I got it together and then we went off road. Weaving around potholes and getting splashed by mud, I couldn’t keep the grin off my face.
By the time lunch rolled around, it felt like we’d been out an entire day and not just for four hours. I couldn’t believe how much I’d learned and done in such a short space of time, all thanks to Tom’s tutelage. When I asked David what his favourite part of the day had been… he said it was watching me riding in front of him, seeing my big smile in my side mirrors. Thanks Tom.
How to get there:
When you look up things to do in Vang Vieng, you find Uncle Tom’s Trails. Well, he’s no longer in Vang Vieng, but in Kasi, a small town 1.5 hours north of Vang Vieng. David and I took a local bus from the Northern Bus terminal in Vientiane for 50,000 kip each and it drops you right in the centre of Kasi. Tom can usually pick you up for your session, but if you arrive early (like we did) he can provide you with directions to walk. It took us maybe 15 minutes. Be warned, the locals were NOT super helpful when we asked for directions. One man just said “No” and laughed at me as I tried to figure out if we were going the right way. Thankfully we figured it out on our own and I didn’t need to pass the arrogant man again. Win!
Where to stay:
Tom is linked up with a guesthouse in Kasi, so I’d highly recommend staying there. That way you’re right on site for your session and you get to hang out with Tom for a beer and dinner in the evening, as well as for breakfast in the morning. The man has some great stories to tell, and spending time with him is as much a part of the experience as being on the bike.
Things to know:
- Wear long trousers and proper shoes.
- Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. It’s HOT!
- If you haven’t had Beer Laos before… it can hurt your belly. Don’t let this be your first Beer Laos experience, or you’ll end up with your head in a toilet the night before a motorbike lesson… like me.
- The guesthouse is lovely, but basic. A.K.A. cold shower.
- Tom is an awesome, hard working guy. One of the best ways to support him is to give him yet another excellent review on TripAdvisor, making people realize that it’s worth the trip to Kasi.
- Be warned… he’ll make you do karaoke.