Honda Dream 125cc

The motorbike climbed the empty curving mountain road until I reached the cloudline. Here, an old couple, a few stalls. There was a view of the land around, but this morning I only looked down upon clouds.

The weather was dry, not very hot. When the Honda went fast, I needed my coat.

No one else on the slope roads. Sunlight, canopy of trees, an unbroken yellow line. The line spun upwards around and around the mountain. I drove slowly, carefully, guiding the Honda around the next corner.

Butterflies, flashing. Yellow ones in pairs. One with brown colour on upperside, yellow colour on underside. A great dark one, looks black at first, on closer inspection it’s a deep brown. For a moment they appear in front of me, like the spots of sunlight that emerge from the gaps in the foliage, making eyes squint, just for a moment, then as the road rolls on, new spots of light and different things appear.

A smile and a sense of wonderment, a slow ride on an empty highway. Something happens that leaves my eyes wide and my mouth open with glee. A little sparrow sits on the unbroken yellow line in the middle of the empty road, twenty feet in front of the Honda. I approach directly towards him. As I near him, he leaps into flight, dashing back and forth just a few inches above the road, just in front of the bike. He’s playing with me. He darts ahead and again settles twenty feet in front of the bike. Again as I bear down upon him he leaps into the air and flies ahead. This happens three or four times, he could play this game all day. Where else could this happen, but on the Doi Thung mountain road, 30km north-west of Mae Chan?

Border police checkpoints, a small hut, two or three uniformed guards, a flimsy striped barrier. Sometimes they ask for your passport, sometimes not. Sometimes they ask where you are staying and where you are headed for, often they will just wave you through. At first I am concerned that I am actually crossing the border into Myanmar, but actually the official station is 20km down the road in Mae Sai. Presently I see barbed wire in the ditch marking the border. In the opposite ditch, huge Rhododendron trees beget glorious flowers of such size and of such deep red I have to stop and look at them to believe them.

The Rhododendrons remind me of England. As I climb higher, something else. The dampness from the overnight rain is still here, trapped in a bed of leaves and plant matter. The smell is of a European forest, of pine needles. The trees up here lose their leaves. Somewhere, a fire, woodsmoke.

A sign in English tells me which way to the temple. The Honda keeps climbing, looking for Wat Phra Tat Doi Thung, a temple in the clouds. I reach a sudden end to the road. The tarmac is replaced by clay. A huge blue mechanical digger has scooped out the mountainside, a team of twenty men mill around. I turn around and drive back down the road, stopping to ask two passers by the way to the temple. Yes, that is the road to the temple. I return to the building site. I see a man on a moped ride on a path high above the digging. They have scooped a great trench from the mountain, leaving a one-metre wide shelf of clay. This is the road to the temple.

‘Keep going, 500m up there’ shouts one of the workers, in Thai. ‘Be careful’ and many of the group laugh. They watch me with amusement as I walk the bike up the shelf path, around the building site and on to the tarmac at the other side.

Down a great hill with my brakes on the whole time, and I’m at the foot of the temple steps. A couple of Thai guys sitting around, no tourists.

A long way up to the temple. Many steps, guarded as one expects by the long painted concrete dragons on either side. At the top of the steps, something unusual. Two colourful statues of demons guarded the threshold of a long path, lined by hundreds of bells. Ornate bells of brass or iron, each up to two foot tall, suspended from wooden railings on either side of the tiled walkway. Grass and fungus sprouted between the terracotta tiles.

Finally I reached the twin domes of the Wat Phra Tat Doi Thung. The expected golds, statues, paintings that I had grown weary of seeing, but this setting was different. No-one here. Mountainous mist drifting in and out of the grounds. I approached the entrance of the temple to see a lone monk in orange robes, dozing in the doorway. He woke and smiled at me.

Later, the Phanon Yothin Highway takes me directly home. As the sun sets, the three lanes heading west are largely empty, so I open the modest 125cc engine as far as possible and ride towards the sun. The landscape is open now and I race into a beautiful painting, the sun dropping quickly into the horizon, the sky dissolving from blue to orange to red to brown to grey to dark. The Honda not making a noise to my ears but emitting a drone, a monotone, the sound of travelling at one speed in one straight line, the undertone of my meditation driving sight, the eyes follow the road, the road is constant, the Honda is constant, the markings on the road approach in a stream, the life at the side of the road hurtles past me at speed, my peripheral vision is the sunset, the mountains, the far-off lights, and if there is something there I cannot see I can see it, my awareness fills the vision, my head presents the whole picture, a huge, wide, beautiful, red, grey and orange sound.

Is it fruitless to try and evoke it, put it into words, or a painting, or photograph it, film it, try to capture it? This immersive, psychedelic, hurtling experience? When the senses combine as closely and harmoniously as the elements of a musical quintet, to produce the kind of unique experience that leaves you humbled with streaks of moisture from your eyes, or laughing like a goon, or your heart rising from your chest. One moment when your awareness peaked, and sights could be more than seen, sounds could be more than heard, riding your motorbike westwards at speed on a deserted highway at sunset, in the landscape and life of Northern Thailand.

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2 Responses to “Honda Dream 125cc”

  1. Elizabeth O'Neill Says:

    Zen and the art of Honda maintenance ?

  2. Daniel Parish Says:

    You are developing a wonderful style of prose that has a genuine simplisity, uncomplicated, it transports you there, paints a picture, I felt like on was on the back of the Honda with you. Keep true to your the rythmn and style you have created.
    All the very best catch you soon.
    Dan x

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