The tragic death of Floris Wever

Sunset at the Buddha statue of Wat Klang in downtown Pai

Wat Klang in downtown Pai. Picture by Frans Betgem

Last week 21-year old Floris Wever passed away in a hospital in Chiang Mai after having been involved in a motorbike accident in Pai, North Thailand. He was on his holiday. It is a tragedy. My thoughts are with his family and friends. I have read several articles about him on Dutch news websites, and they fill me with deep sadness. The Floris Wever tragedy should raise awareness of the dangers of riding a motorbike in Thailand.

Motorbike accidents happen very often in Thailand. According to an article in the Straits Times, about 5500 people die each year in accidents involving motorbikes. That is an average of 15 people per day. The Newspaper calls Thailand the “Deadliest country for motorcyclists”.  Many tourists have also lost their lives or become injured in such accidents, and it’s ongoing. Pai is a lovely tourism-oriented small town, about 150 km northwest of Chiang Mai. Unfortunately, it has become the hotspot of motorbike accidents involving tourists. Riding a motorbike from Chiang Mai to Pai and touring Pai by motorbike has become very popular activities for tourists. You can find numerous videos on Youtube about these trips such as this one. It looks like great fun and adventure. The brainless bloke on this video is not wearing a crash helmet though.

This citation comes from an article on motorcycle accidents in Pai: “Mrs. Banchongchit Channual, a nurse at the emergency unit of Pai hospital, said the number of foreign tourists visiting the hospital for treatment of injuries from road accidents had steadily increased. According to the hospital records, there were almost 6,000 road accidents in Pai district over the past four years from 2014-to 2017, mostly involving foreign tourists using motorcycles. During the same period, 4,750 foreign tourists and 1,818 Thais – both locals and tourists, were injured from road accidents.”

Shops rent out powerful motorbikes to people who have no experience riding them. They are not used to driving on the left side of the road. Often they are unfamiliar with the condition of the roads and with Thai traffic behavior. This video just shows what can happen. It is common knowledge to most people working in the tourist industry in this country. I always advise our guests against renting motorbikes. Most tourists I meet are unaware of the dangers of riding a motorbike in Thailand.

You would also expect a stern warning, supported by statistical evidence and reports of past accidents, on the travel advisory page for Thailand from the Dutch government. There is no such warning. Instead, there is a step-by-step guideline that they advise you to follow in case you want to rent a motorized vehicle. It’s a kind of “do’s-and-don’ts” presented as “Tips of the Embassy”. It’s just more evidence of the fact that the Dutch embassy in Bangkok and the Department of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs that is responsible for these travel advisories are both out of touch with reality. Other government websites such as from the UK and Australia have more and better information on hiring motorcycles but stop short of advising tourists against renting motorbikes.

I had a motorbike accident myself in 1999. I just had started learning to ride my motorbike. On a Sunday morning on Sridonchai Road in Chiang Mai, I ran into the back of an unexpected traffic jam. I damaged a couple of cars as well as my motorbike. Fortunately, I escaped with a couple of bruises. It was my mistake. I drove too fast to break in time. Most of the resident foreigners I know have had at least one motorbike accident. If you live in Chiang Mai, you are often confronted with motorbike accidents, either from witnessing one or reading or hearing about them.

My advice would be: rent a bicycle if you are not going to the mountains. Riding a bicycle is also dangerous but considerably less than riding a motorbike. There are more obvious advantages: you see a lot more, and it’s healthier. Overall it is a much more pleasant experience. If you are with younger children, just forget about renting a motorbike. Few rental shops have helmets that fit the head of a child. In short: if there is alternative transportation, either bicycles or a car, go for it and avoid motorbikes. There is nothing wrong with walking either.

Chinese tourists on rental bikes in Chiang Mai

Chinese tourists on bikes in Chiang Mai. Picture by Frans Betgem

Monks in the main street in Pai in the early morning

The main street in Pai in the early morning. Picture by Frans Betgem

Anyway, don’t let the tragic death of Floris Wever be for nothing. Avoid motorbikes on your holiday as much as possible. Rest in peace Floris Wever.

Frans Betgem, Chiang Mai, August 17, 2018