Month: March 2015


Check out this terrific review from fellow Signal 8 writer Giacomo Lee for The Worst Motorcycle in Laos: Rough Travels in Asia:

‘I’d failed both my wife and myself, and vowed to never let that happen again.’

There’s a point halfway through this travelogue which really hits the reader in the gut. It comes when the writer returns to his hotel one night to find his wife highly distressed, and unusually quiet. Unbeknownst to him, she had been followed by men in a car, who then proceeded to hang around outside the couple’s hotel room, calling for her to come out to whatever foul end they had up their sleeves. While all this was happening, the writer had been out enjoying the nightlife of a new country, innocuously drinking in a bar with fellow travelers. He’s of course overcome by tremendous guilt upon finding out, and it’s put across with a brave and brute honesty that’ll make you take stock a little. The reason it really hits hard though is because up until this point, Chris Tharp does what all great travel writers should – he stays out of it. He paints the scene, shows us the locals and the ex-pats, gives us a little history. He himself rarely strays into the picture, and when he does, it usually hits the funny bone with some sort of hilarious observation. When that moment in the hotel comes though, you’ll be impressed by the sobering honesty of it. I couldn’t have put it down on paper, not for anyone.

But it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise, for The Worst Motorcycle in Laos never pulls any punches in its 400 page trek across the Asian continent. Some of the scenes I will never forget for their haunting depiction of life on the extreme end of the poverty scale. There are moments when you’ll have to put the book down to think about what Tharp has just seen – a deformed child in a cart; a foul mouthed nine year old; the squalor of public defecation. This is important information, and it helps the book show a world that is changing, or very much needs to change.

The title should tell you this is writing by someone who skipped the planes, and traveled on the road, seeing life from ground level. It gave Tharp a chance to observe, and observe he does. He sees things which you and me would otherwise miss: the North Korean official on mysterious business in Laos; the travel agency advertising archaic fares; the invasion of a seaside village by rich Russians where once there were none.

He sees beauty too, with vivid descriptions of rural China in one of the book’s finest chapters. It’s fascinating enough to get a look into pre-Olympic China, but when we are later taken to the volatile Uyghur region of the country, it becomes a vital kind of reportage about somewhere that will most likely be whitewashed in the years to come. Another reason to read these very rough travels in Asia.





In The Worst Motorcycle in Laos: Rough Travels in Asia, author Chris Tharp recounts his misadventures in countries across the region he’s called home for the last ten years. He takes us to the back-alley restaurants of Vietnam on a quest to eat cobra; to the neon streets of Japan, where he goes on tour with a jazz band, gets lost in the depraved depths of a comic book shop, and nearly causes a riot at a punk rock bar; to far Western China, where he narrowly misses a terrorist attack and endures a harrowing drive on the world’s highest highway. Whether he’s losing his lunch on the boat ride to the disputed Dokdo islets, surviving a bus wreck on a Korean highway, eating chicken embryos in the Philippines, or riding a dilapidated motorbike through the dirt tracks of Laos, Tharp delivers his tales with a mixture of honesty, wit, and humor that will inspire readers to strap on a backpack and hit the road.

But don’t just take my word for it. Hear what some other folks have to say:

“In The Worst Motorcycle in Laos,Tharp takes us on a wild ride from the neon streets of Tokyo to the dirt tracks of Indochina. The essays are insightful, humorous, and
unflinching. A great read for the active and armchair traveler alike.”

– Michael Breen, author of The Koreans

“Tharp’s done it again. He’s got a knack for finding himself in, shall we say, interesting places and situations: from fake flowers and monks to persistent touts,
these are the stories few can experience for themselves. Make no mistake, Tharp makes life happen on his own terms.”

– Chris Backe, travel blogger at One WeirdGlobe (

“The Worst Motorcycle in Laos is a thoughtful rampage through the backwaters of Asia. Tharp writes about his travels with a refreshing, humble honesty, unafraid of
exploring the gritty and the grimy, the seedy and the sublime. Witty, poignant and at times even disturbing, this is a great read for both the seasoned journeyer and those
content to enjoy from the comfort of home.”

– Brandon W. Jones, author of All Woman and Springtime

“Illness, whether his stomach, or his motorcycle, forces Tharp to destinations he hadn’t planned. Going off the beaten path leads to revelations that aren’t just culinary ones, but philosophical quandaries that push toilet seats as well as his conscience. In that sense, the dynamic of Tharp’s journey isn’t so much that of Asia as it is the landscape of humanity. At the same time, his mix of visceral pain, self-deprecating humor, and unique cultural idiosyncrasies pervade throughout the travelogs and make for some damn good conversation.” – Peter Tieryas, Entropy Magazine

“Tharp’s writing is sharp witted… casual and inviting, I feel like I’m along for the ride. After finishing the book I felt like I always do after reading a good travel book, ready to hit the road.” – Laura Bronner, travel blogger at An American Abroad