Besides his passion for motorcycles, Danish Ambassador to Thailand Mikael Hemniti Winther wants to demonstrate the importance he places on road safety.
The ambassador is joining in a Bangkok-Phnom Penh motorcycle trip to raise awareness about road safety. The five-day “Go4 Charity ride” will start on February 15.
“Because of my interest in bikes and my wife’s work that promotes the use of helmets when riding motorbikes, we will take our motorbikes to get attention to talk about it,” the ambassador said.
His wife, Ratanawadee, whom he met the last time he worked in Thailand, 15 years ago, is the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation’s country director for Thailand, where Mikael said the next such charity project would be held.
Tommy Christensen, a member of the Harley Davidson Owners Group of Thailand, which initiated the project, said about 12 riders will start the trip in Thailand and about 40 more would join at the Thai-Cambodian border in Poi Pet.
As a partner of Go4 Intelligent Bunkering Solutions, Christensen said he went to Cambodia many times last year and saw many small motorcycles ridden with up to seven people on them but nobody wore a helmet and the drivers often violated the law. He also learnt that a lot of young people die in road accidents there.
“We decided we would focus on primary schools, with the youngest children 6-12 years old. We believe we can [convince] them there to put on nice helmets and understand that [wearing a] helmet makes the difference between death and life,” Christensen said.
“The challenge is to find a way so that when the mother and the father say, ‘Hey, we have to go biking,’ the child will say, ‘Wait, I need my helmet.’ We bring in famous actors and musicians who they can relate to. We follow them and give them 10 months’ education,” Christensen said, adding that the helmet must be taken as part of the dress code and that children be rewarded when they follow the law strictly.
The US$10,000 (Bt310,000) raised from the ride will go to Asia Injury Prevention Foundation and a primary school, where 500 helmets will be distributed. The agency will be in charge of training young Cambodian riders to keep safety in mind.
Winther’s passion for biking started when he first came to work in Asia. In the Philippines, he found riding motorcycles to be a good mode of transport.
“It’s the feeling of freedom. I get out and feel the wind. It’s like creating a contrast between my daily life and work. [It’s] something completely different, something that relaxes my mind,” he said, adding that Southeast Asia had a climate well suited for motorbike riding.
“It’s the warm weather and most of the time you know when it’s raining and when it’s not. The worst thing for riding is rain, in my opinion. In my country it rains a lot so I don’t want to ride a motorbike there.”
Seeing the scenery outside the capital and talking to people are also favourite parts of motorbike riding for Winther, who likes to practise his Thai language skills.
“In Thailand especially there are so many things for me to see. I just go outside Bangkok. I go to Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi, to Phra Praphadaeng, Samut Prakan. For me it’s exotic, new and interesting. I go on small roads, I stop at small restaurants and I speak to people that I wouldn’t speak to when I’m sitting in my car or sitting in my living room in Krungthep.”
Winther said he always goes out alone on weekends.
“My wife is a Thai and thinks it is too hot. She’s ‘glua’ [afraid of] motorcycles too, so she is a little worried when I go out.”
He doesn’t forget to put on a long-sleeve shirt and wear sunscreen, though, he said.