9 Stitches… The Tale of Why You Should Always Wear a Helmet

Nina was drunk.

So was her friend Vicki.

To my delight they were all over each other.

Without really thinking about the consequences, we headed out of the trendy downtown bar (and away from its terrible music) in search of an Uber or a taxi to get us all home.

The streets were totally deserted and Uber kept crashing. The girls were keen to leave and I was keen to do whatever the fuck they wanted.

“Can you just drive us all Will?” Said Vicki.

“Erm, yeah, OK” I responded.

It was a stupid decision that was to be the first of three that night.

Act One: In which I smash my head open and ponder the meaning of life. 

Being a gentleman, I handed the girls the two helmets and we all crammed onto my sapphire blue scooter and took off into the night. Red pickups and one hundred and one motorbikes zoomed past on either side as the girls moved around a fair bit on the back of the bike, making it a little difficult to control. In truth, I was a little intoxicated myself and probably shouldn’t have been driving.

We paused at a crossroads and waited impatiently for the red light to turn to green.

Boom! And we’re off!

I gunned the accelerator and sped to the front of the traffic.

It was at this moment that two things happened.

Vicki decided she wanted to be a bird and stuck her hands out mimicking flight. This small change of balance caused me to veer slightly to the left and, without warning, a passing car clipped my mirror.

We veered sharply to the right and everything descended into slow motion.

I squeezed the breaks, attempting to slow our inevitable doom as I wrestled to keep the bike upright.

The ground rushed to meet me, I dimly registered Vicki and Nina were no longer on the bike and had half a second to think ‘where did they go?’

This was instantly replaced by a mental flinching as the bike finally smashed to its side and I was flung over the handlebars.

Act Two: In which we assess our injuries and seek help from a ladyboy. 

I sit in shock in the middle of the road. There’s something in my eye and my whole face feels wet. I reach up and touch my forehead, my hand comes away soaked in blood.

I look around, spot Nina and Vicki, and limp towards them.

Vicki is miraculously unscathed, somehow she has managed to jump from the bike with just one small injury to her foot. Nina has a nasty case of gravel rash all up her left leg and both feet as well as swollen bruises on her forearm.

I am instantly filled with guilt. Nina takes one look at me and takes charge, a good thing as I am feeling unbelievably light headed. I notice that I am leaving a trail of red droplets in the road as blood runs down my face and through my beard.

A Thai ladyboy runs over and starts moving my bike out of the road, gotta love the Thais; they are always so helpful. Another couple of Thais shepherd us to the roadside and try to call an ambulance.

The ladyboy rushes over and starts fussing about my head, dabbing at it with tissue paper and trying to wash out some of the gravel.

I turn my phone camera on to survey the damage; I have an open wound about three centimetres long and a centimetre wide just above my left eye, it looks angry.

I am going to blame the following actions entirely on shock…

Act Three: In which I snort some painkillers and attempt to stitch my face back up.

The ladyboy calls an ambulance and we pile in to head back to our flat.

The ambulance wants to take us to a hospital but I refuse, as Nina does not have travel insurance and we are broke.

I figure that we can treat ourselves at home and Nina agrees.

We stumble into the room and I crush up some ibuprofen and valium into lines.

I open Youtube and Google ‘how to do your own stitches’

I pull out my knife and find some thread and watch, dim-eyed through the painkillers and shock, as some dude stitches up his hand… Surely stitching up one’s face can’t be much harder right?

When I look back on this I can only presume that the shock had gotten to me because frankly, I was acting like a total imbecile – I hadn’t yet managed to properly clean the wound so even if I could stitch it up it was going to be full of gravel.

I decide I’ll attempt to sleep it off instead, everything will be better in the morning.

Act Four: A Good Samaritan and nine stitches.

I awake with the worst headache of my life and my head partially glued to a pillow.

Nina looks knackered. My alarm goes off, reminding me that I have a meeting set up in an hours time with Alex, a guy I met a week back at some digital nomad meet-up thing…

I drop Alex a quick message.

‘Hey buddy, sorry but I’m going to have to cancel, had a motorbike accident last night and need to stitch up my head’ 

Fast forward a couple of messages and Alex has picked us up in his car and is driving us to a hospital.

We head on inside and instantly a welcoming party of friendly Thai nurses is scrubbing at our legs and arms to clean out the many scrapes and cuts we have from our battle with the tarmac.

Nina bites her lip and alternates between shooting daggers at me and smiling at me reassuringly as I am wheeled off for X-rays. I apparently have a small hairline fracture to the skull but nothing serious and after an hour a hefty Doctor rocks up and informs me she will be doing my stitches.

I lie back patiently, dosed up on painkillers, and enjoy the weird experience of somebody poking around in my skull and pulling my skin back together.

An hour later and I am fully repaired plus I have a cool new bonus scar about my left eye…

A huge thank you to the extremely professional service of Bangkok Hospital (Chiang Mai Branch) and the unexpected generosity of my good friend Alex who insisted that I do not do my own stitches, drove us to the hospital, waited patiently, insisted on paying for my brain-scans and then took me and Nina out to lunch. All in, not a bad day!

On the road again

So what did I learn from this experience?

If I had been wearing a helmet (and I always do – I just didn’t have three helmets with me) I probably would have gotten off absolutely fine.

Not wearing a helmet is one of the single stupidest things you can do whilst riding a motorcycle, especially if you are abroad and especially if you are inexperienced (or intoxicated).

I’ve been driving for over ten years and have done thousands of miles by motorbike across South East Asia. I’ve driven in Tehran, Delhi, Istanbul, Mumbai, Lahore and plenty of other manic cities around the world. I have only ever had one accident prior to this one, about seven years ago in Vietnam and that experience was enough to teach me to wear a helmet.

My second mistake was not having travel insurance for Nina (we have since bought her a very comprehensive package) – if she had been properly injured, this would have been a very expensive affair.

Travel insurance is an absolute must for any backpacker. I’ve had to claim a few times on my insurance and it’s always been a lifesaver…

To find out about picking the cheapest (and the best!) backpacker travel insurance – check out this detailed comparison guide on the best backpacker travel insurance.

For some epic travel safety tips, check out this post.


Want to learn how to travel the world on $10 a day? Check out the Broke Backpacker’s Bible…

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