…And then the brakes failed

road to chiang mai

It was the final day of our Northern Thailand road trip. I had ridden close to 1500km on a scooter over the space of a week and I was delighted that the end was finally in sight.

Even so, when I awoke on that final morning I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness in my heart. This adventure had grown to be such a huge part of my life over the past week, and I was worried about returning to the real world. I really didn’t want to go back to lying in my room on my laptop for 12 hours a day.

Looking back over the fantastic memories I’d accumulated over the week, I smiled slightly. We’d been fortunate on this trip. I’d been apprehensive before our departure. Feelings of paranoia creeped over me as I imagined crashes into mountains, plummeting off cliffs and the breaking of various body parts.

Against the odds, though, we’d survived.

Unable to avoid it any longer, I eased my sore, aching body onto the scooter one last time and prepared myself for our return to Chiang Mai.

road from lampang to chiang mai

Given the option between taking the shortest route via the main highways or riding for much longer through the backroads and mountains, we were obviously going to choose the latter.

Not long after turning off, the road had narrowed to that of a width that only a scooter could ride on. 

I found myself grinning inanely as we slowly began our ascent. We were the only vehicles for miles and with the exception of the whine of our engines, there was silence all around. I was really going to miss this.

Taking my eyes away from the brilliant blue sky for just a second, I noticed goosebumps forming on my arms. I shivered slightly. The heat and flatness of the rice paddies were now far behind us as we rode ever higher into the mountains.

And as much as I was enjoying the scenery, I couldn’t help but notice the road becoming steeper with every passing second.

mountain road to chiang mai

This was not going to be an easy ride.  

As if to confirm this, seconds later our engine was groaning and spluttering, filling our lungs with deadly exhaust fumes. The sharp gradient coupled with my heavy bag had me gripping tightly onto Dave so as to not fall off the back.

Our speed was already well below 20km/h and we were barely even half-way up as the scooter threatened to topple over at any second.

…And then it happened. 

Approaching a slope at least twice as steep as the previous ones, I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from crying out. I didn’t want to continue. This felt wrong. Even if we did manage to reach the top of this hill, there were going to plenty more of them – some even steeper than this. And on the way down…? It didn’t bear thinking about.

There was no time to voice my opinion as I nervously watched Dave grip the throttle and rev the engine to an ear splitting level. There was no turning back now.

As we raced uphill, I watched the speedometer slowly decrease from 30km/h to 20… to 10…5… and then nothing.

It was if time was standing still as the engine furiously roared and our wheels battled to move.

We were stationary on the side of a mountain and there was nothing left to do but jump.

mountain trees lampang

“Jump! Get off! Now!”, Dave yelled.

Fighting the urge to scream, I gritted my teeth and forced myself to leap off the back of the bike.

A strangled cry escaped my lips as I landed on my knees. Biting down hard on my lip, the sharp pain and taste of blood distracted me from the burning sensation that was quickly spreading through my legs. I squinted through the agony, looking up to see Dave sharply accelerating over the hill and out of sight.

As I silently cursed the scooter, I picked myself up and began the long hike uphill. 

Wincing under every step, it felt like my bag was increasing in weight while my will to go on was rapidly decreasing. When I finally caught a glimpse of our scooter around the corner, I almost cried with relief.

We reached the top of the mountain just a few moments later, and my thoughts now turned to the descent. As predicted, the hills were just as steep on the way down and I was beginning to feel extremely uneasy.

“Good thing we’ve got brakes, hey?” I muttered to Dave. I wondered why he wasn’t responding.

road to chiang mai

I suddenly shot forwards as Dave slammed hard on the brakes, giving me no option but to peer over his shoulder and down.  My scream caught in my throat, strangled and almost soundless, when I saw the huge drop in front of us. There was no way of stopping now, the strength of the brakes were fading with every minute and we were beginning to pick up speed.

…And then they failed. 

Hearing a strange clicking sound as the brake lever flapped uselessly in Dave’s hand, a disgusting smell filled the air around us. We lost all control of the bike and began careering down the mountain at scarily high speeds.

We were unable to stop.

I didn’t even have time to think as we built up speed. I wrapped my arms tightly around Dave, closed my eyes and winced, waiting for the inevitable sensation of plummeting to my death.

bike crash mountain chiang mai

But it never came.

Instead I felt us slowing down, wobbling slightly and jerking to a halt.

What had just happened?

I cautiously opened my eyes and surveyed my surroundings. I was sat face to face with a large bush. Fortunately, Dave possessed enough common sense to think to stick out his feet and drag them along the road, creating enough friction for us to slow down. He was then able to navigate us safely to the side of the road and into a bush. We had survived.

But now what do we do?

In possession of a scooter with no brakes, we would surely have to walk all the way back to Chiang Mai, but fortunately, this was not the case.

It soon became clear that the brakes had overheated, and that the only thing we could do is sit on the ground and wait for them to start working again.

It was a long wait and took over twenty minutes before they began to come back. Needless to say, the rest of our journey was spent driving very slowly and very cautiously, with our feet dangling a few centimetres from the road.

I still can’t believe we managed to ride 1,500km around Northern Thailand and been absolutely fine and yet almost died just an hour away from the finish point….


  1. Kieu ~ GQ trippin
    April 23, 2012

    Why do these things always happen to you?! LOL, poor Dave. ;) Did your knees recover?

    • April 23, 2012

      I think you mean POOR LAUREN! Yeah, my knees were fine within a few hours!

  2. Jen
    April 23, 2012

    Oh my god Lauren I was wincing as I read this – how terrifying! You’re brave getting back on the scooter afterwards! Well done for surviving (lol that sounds ridiculous but seriously – well done!) xx

    • April 23, 2012

      Well, if I didn’t get back on, I would have had to had walked 50km back! ;)

  3. Beverley | Pack Your Passport
    April 23, 2012

    Lauren have you ever thought about just not leaving the house? Every time I read a blog post you’re dicing with death!?

    It all makes for good reading though….and a good adventure for you :-)

    Glad you made it back ok x

    • April 23, 2012

      I know… There’s been a lot of near-death moments lately!

  4. DebbZ
    April 23, 2012

    How frightening ! I think I would probably choose to walk, lol :p

    • April 23, 2012

      For 50km?

  5. A Montrealer Abroad
    April 23, 2012

    You seem to have a history of almost dying in Thaïland. :-P Once again, glad you’re ok!

    • April 23, 2012

      I know! Although this and the tsunami ordeal were spaced 5 months apart, so it’s not so bad :)

  6. D.J. - The World of Deej
    April 23, 2012

    Just another adventure for you it seems…I hope the next few weeks contain a few less “I was certain I was gonna die” moments:)

    • April 23, 2012

      Well, I’m still two months behind on writing so I can tell you the next 2 months have zero near-death experiences!

  7. April 23, 2012

    Yikes! You’ve certainly had your fair share of scary experiences lately, haven’t you??

    • April 24, 2012

      Haha, well this happened in January, and the tsunami was a few weeks ago so they’re spread out over a few months :)

  8. Anita
    April 24, 2012

    Ouch! Quite the story! Beautiful photos though and I’m glad you lived to tell the tale!

  9. rose
    April 24, 2012

    A near death experience. Glad you had helmets on!

  10. Carol
    April 24, 2012

    Thank God you safe. It is indeed really scary experience.

  11. Jeremy Branham
    April 24, 2012

    Dang Lauren!! First the tsunami and now this? I don’t think I can travel with you. I am not ready to die! :)

    You’ve had some crazy experiences lately. Thankfully you are safe and have these stories to tell.

  12. Naigel
    April 25, 2012

    This is proven that God is always there to lighten us and guide us for the greatness…

  13. Audrey | That Backpacker
    April 26, 2012

    LOL, Lauren, misadventures sure seem to follow you! :D I was once on a rickshaw when the brakes failed – quite the unnerving experience!

  14. Torre – Fearful Adventurer
    May 1, 2012

    Our breaks failed yesterday on a hill. Fun times.

  15. Houston Siding
    July 29, 2012

    You are one if the toughest persons I’ve ever known. If that was me, I would have died from a heart attack. Glad you are okay.
    Houston Siding

  16. Hannah White
    August 17, 2014

    Your love for exploring the beauty of this world and passion is great. Very happy to see you safe and best wishes for your whole life and passion.

    • August 29, 2014

      Thanks, Hannah!