Inspiring People: Terence Tay – Singapore’s solo motorcycle nomad

Some of my favorite travelling experiences have been when I have been solo.  Today we catch up with a very cool cat, Terence Tay to talk about his passion – solo motorcycle touring around Asia.

[AXE]  Hi Terence – Can you tell us about your passion for ESMT? (extreme-solo-motorcycle-touring)

[TERENCE]  I’m not entirely sure if what I do can be considered extreme motorcycle touring, Axe. But I enjoy pottering around on a motorcycle, visiting places, meeting people and learning more about their cultures. Perhaps the only thing extreme is the food I put in my mouth! 

One man's meat is another man's delight. Sampling some rat meat, 100km outside of Bangkok. (Jan, 2015)
One man’s meat is another man’s delight. Sampling some rat meat, 100km outside of Bangkok. (Jan, 2015)

[AXE] How did you get into riding motorcycles in the first place?

[TERENCE]  It all started in college, many years ago. During my first week of school, I spotted some older boys, fooling around in the parking lot, on their dirt bikes. They were trying to do donuts, burnouts and wheelies on their bikes, if my memory serves me right. They weren’t very good, to be honest, but boy, they seemed to have loads of fun on their machines. 

We became friends later and they sort of got me interested in riding. We would meet up at night – school days or not – and go riding into MacRitchie forested area, prohibited, of course. Or race along Orchard Road(town) on weekends, also illegal. 

Motorcycles, to me, symbolise freedom and mobility. And a great way to start a conversation. It’s also a relatively cheap way to get around. For that reason, it’s a popular way to get around in an expensive city like Singapore.

Stuck in the Dawna Mountain Range, moments after clearing customs, at Mae Sot border, Burma.(Mar 2014) Teaches patience in a hurry.

Stuck in the Dawna Mountain Range, moments after clearing customs, at Mae Sot border, Burma.(Mar 2014) Teaches patience in a hurry.

[AXE] What gave you the idea to start motorcycle touring?

[TERENCE]  Before I sold my car in 2010, I was driving up and down Malaysia on my own. However, I wanted a better connection with the places that I’ve visited, as I felt that the sensory input bit was missing. It was like watching a movie inside a car. So I made a decision to sell the car and purchase a motorcycle so that I could “participate in the movie”. Now, I could feel the heat, smell the road, taste the rain and sometimes, touch the sky. 

I started riding on my own to Genting, Kuala Lumpur and Malacca in that order, before venturing out to Cameron Highlands that year. Then I rode up to Hatyai, Thailand with some other bikers. That was a breakthrough for me. Once I crossed into Thai soil, it sort of broke the mental barrier. My mental map expanded from just Malaysia to include Thailand. Now I’ve a build-in GPS for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in my head as well. 

Taking a rest in the mid-day sun, en route to Mae Sariang, northern Thailand (Dec, 2012)

Taking a rest in the mid-day sun, en route to Mae Sariang, northern Thailand (Dec, 2012)

[AXE] Whats your largest adventure todate? Is this also your favorite adventure? If not what is and why?

[TERENCE] That’s a tough one, Axe. In terms of scale, the 15,000km, 82 day journey of Indochina would be my grandest. I travelled across Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam before returning home to Singapore. It left me broke financially but a richer person, spiritually and mentally. I traveled really slowly on my motorcycle and experienced many things most tourists wouldn’t. I received kindness from locals less resourceful than myself and even took a step closer to mastering the art of non-verbal communication. All in all, I’ve a better feel of what our neighbours are doing up north, as it happens on the ground, and not as reported in the mainstream media.

15,000km, 82 days, a route map showing Terence's favorite adventure to-date.

15,000km, 82 days, a route map showing Terence’s favorite adventure to-date.

It’s arguably my best adventure, if not for the one that followed. Last December, I was able to share my love for motorcycle touring with my partner Cher who has never toured on a motorcycle before. So to push and prod her around Thailand on a 6,700km journey over 23 days and return her safely to her parents…that felt really special. It felt like an achievement.

It’s one thing to be able to do something you’re passionate about. To share that passion with the person you love, priceless.   

Cher right, me left. Sampling Chinese style dim sum near Golden Triangle. Nothing like sharing one's adventure with a partner. (Jan, 2015)

Cher right, Terence left. Sampling Chinese style dim sum near Golden Triangle. Nothing like sharing one’s adventure with a partner. (Jan, 2015)

Making sure that our armpits receive an equal amount of sunlight, and airing in Pai, Thailand. (Jan, 2015)

Making sure that our armpits receive an equal amount of sunlight, and airing in Pai, Thailand. (Jan, 2015)

[AXE]  Why do you normally choose to ride solo?

[TERENCE]  Ah, that’s a simple one. When you ride alone, you’re the boss. You get to make all the decisions, and accept all the consequences. Life’s easier that way. When you ride in a group, more often than not, you’ve to share that responsibility. 

Also, riding alone reduces the barrier between others and me. I may become an easier target for crime perhaps but the distance between two strangers shrinks very quickly too. So if I become a victim of a crime, it’s also easier to get help.

At Vientiane, Laos. The Arc de Trioumph or Patuxai Arc. Can't afford the real thing in France so this will do for now. (May, 2015)

At Vientiane, Laos. The Arc de Trioumph or Patuxai Arc. Can’t afford the real thing in France so this will do for now. (May, 2015)

[AXE]  What are the three best things that undertaking these massive adventures has taught you?

[TERENCE]

1) Life’s about making decisions. Better decision, better quality of Life.

2) You can only control what you can only control. So always start with that first.

3) If nothing happens, nothing happens. No worries!

Dealing with corrupted border/custom officers in Poipet, Cambodia. Part of the experience. (Apr 2014)

Dealing with corrupted border/custom officers in Poipet, Cambodia. Part of the experience. (Apr 2014)

[AXE] Terence – I understand some of your trips you have given back to the local communities – what have you done, what gave you the motivation to do this?

[TERENCE]  Yes, I may have been alone on trips but I couldn’t have done it alone. I’ve received much kindness and generosity on the road, from random strangers mainly. So I try to give as much as I receive so usually, towards the end of a trip, on the return leg, I’ll seek out the homeless and destitute along way and leave pieces of clothes(freshly laundered, I might add!) with them. 
 
The last trip, however, Cher and I decided to take a more organized approach and adopt an orphanage in Mae Sot. The goal was to raise awareness and funds during the ride. The response was very encouraging and we met our fund-raising goal quickly. We even received 2 solar cells from Third Wave Power, a local tech company, and 4 amazing adventure books “From Peak to Peak” from a Kiwi author (who chose to remain anonymous) to donate! How about that!
Traveling via a motorcycle allows me to take a glimpse of everyday people on the ground, and witness how they go about their daily business. At a kampong or village house in Central Cambodia. (Apr, 2014)

Traveling via a motorcycle allows me to take a glimpse of everyday people on the ground,
and witness how they go about their daily business. At a kampong or village house in Central Cambodia. (Apr, 2014)

Giving a random stranger a free ride over the Hai Van Pass to Danang, 30km away. Sometimes you help others and sometimes, others help you. (May, 2014)

Giving a random stranger a free ride over the Hai Van Pass to Danang, 30km away. Sometimes you help others and sometimes, others help you. (May, 2014)

[AXE]  Riding motorbikes is risky in Singapore. Let alone around Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar – how do you handle the risk personally and how does your family handle the risk?

[TERENCE]  Gee Axe, that’s a tough one. I’m generally a risk-taker. The greater the risk, the greater the rewards, presumably. If there’s a 80% chance of survival, I would usually accept the challenge. Not sure how that would sit with my parents but they stopped worrying about me since the Indochina trip. 

On the national highway in Laos, built by the same people who worked on the Cambodian national highway.

On the national highway in Laos, built by the same people who worked on the Cambodian national highway.

[AXE]  What is the hardest thing about any motorcycle adventure? 

[TERENCE]  For me, it would be to stop. I enjoy life on the open road. Perhaps too much! So whenever the end of a journey draws near, I will start to feel a tinge of sadness in my heart. Then I dream about the next adventure. 

[AXE]  How would you recommend people to get started motorcycle touring? What would you tell them if they said they were worried about the risk?

[TERENCE]

1) Start with a motorcycle that you can pick up over and over by yourself.

2) Pack light to go farther.

3) Have a plan but prepare to make changes along the way.

As for risk, Life’s too short to worry about dying. Start living today!

Riding along a bamboo bridge in central Cambodia. It's only good for 6 months.  (The monsoon will wash it away, only for the villagers to rebuild after that. Talk about resilience.)

Riding along a bamboo bridge in central Cambodia. It’s only good for 6 months.
(The monsoon will wash it away, only for the villagers to rebuild after that. Talk about resilience.)

[AXE]  Whats your dream journey?

[TERENCE]  Right now, it’s a toss up between circumnavigating India or running the length of Americas, from Argentina to Alaska! Thank you so much for the thoughtful questions, mate.

One of the many sunsets on the road. It's usually the last reminder to stop messing about on the road and find a guesthouse quickly.

One of the many sunsets on the road. It’s usually the last reminder to stop messing about on the road and find a guesthouse quickly.

[AXE] Terence thanks so much for taking the time to share your adventure’s.  To follow Terence please like his facebook page: Facebook.com/anywherebutsouth
This interview features in the Inspiring People section of my website.  Not ‘inspiring’ in terms of making billions of dollars from raping the planet and the earth’s resources, but tales from ordinary people who do extraordinary things, who get out and make positive impacts, who send positive messages through the way they live their lives.  We all have a part to play in our future.  I am very excited to share these stories with you and if at least one of them can touch and inspire you to make positive changes then I will be very happy!
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Posted on February 22, 2015, in Inspiring People, Interviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Great piece. Really enjoyed getting a snap shot of a whole different kind of adventure in different culture. Interesting pics too.

    Like

  2. Would be glad to know, the procedures of permit.

    Like

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