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