Spending a substantial amount time in SouthEast Asia means you will inevitably end up with a rather unique form of tattoo: The mark of an exhaust burn.
A characteristic burn on the right leg that comes from hitting or grazing a hot motorcycle exhaust pipe. Also known as the Thai Tattoo.
Exposed, hot exhaust pipes are difficult to avoid. Most motorcycles and scooters do not have exhaust covers and you often forget about the danger until accidentally brushing against one, leaving a very distinct burn mark.
Backpackers often see the burn tattoo as a rite of passage; a mark that says you have been around long enough and taken enough risk to get burned. Locals just shrug and point you in the direction of the pharmacy.
Photo taken: May 17th, 2017
The exact moment of receiving my Cambo-Kiss wasn't that spectacular: I was a passenger on my own bike and my foot slipped off the back peg. Now, when I notice the mark on my leg, I don't think back to a foot peg mishap, but to the events that happened before and after.
I just arrived in the town of Koh Kong, which is mostly known for its small border crossing to Thailand and a handful of casinos. To celebrate the Cambodian King's birthday, everyone had a holiday long weekend. My friend Nick, a very skilled motorcycle rider, had invited me to a local celebration for the evening. His bike was getting fixed and instead of taking a taxi together, he offered to give us both a ride to the party on my bike.
On route is a large toll bridge with normal payment windows and a barrier so you can't blast through without paying. Nick paid the fee and we started to ride away when we heard the toll booth guards yelling and saw them waving their rifles around in the air. Nick suddenly stopped and slightly turned the bike in order to look back and see what the problem was. It took me by surprise when he turned and that's when my foot slipped off the back peg, placing my skin directly against the hot exhaust pipe. Instantly searing my leg, the white flash of pain then numbness then skin turning black meant I officially received the Cambo-Kiss.
Not the most exciting story so far, eh?
As I lost feeling of my leg and foot, Nick and I deciphered that the toll booth guards thought we didn't pay. I can count on one hand the number of times I have actually been given a receipt of payment in Cambodia and, luckily, this was one of those times. The guards went over the receipt multiple times, turning it over and holding it up to the light, while chatting with each other. Eventually, they shrugged, handed it back, and waved us on.
It was starting to get really dark and the four lane road we were on didn't have any streetlights. My front light isn't great (actually, it's complete shit at lighting anything which is why I don't ride at night) so I brought my headlamp along to help just in case. I wrapped my arm around Nick and with the headlamp-in-hand, tried to keep steady and light up the road. He made fun of me for that for a good 5 minutes until we ran out of gas.
This is and was the only time I ever ran out of fuel. Despite wondering out-loud why he ever got on my bike with me in the first place, he was a good sport about it and laughed a lot while expressing his true feelings. After shaking the bike around to get the last drops of fuel, I then had to push him (while running) down the road so he could jump-start and cruise as far as possible. The bike barely went faster than me running alongside it, but we made it to a small shop with fuel before he had to walk.
The last 6 minutes of the ride was problem free! Then we pulled up in a sort of apartment complex suburb and onto a lawn where everyone's big front doors (more like garage doors) were open and facing. Nick's friends are used to seeing him own and ride a proper dirtbike. So when he puttered up on my little 110CC Vietnamese Honda Win with me on the back, their laughter was probably heard all the way to Thailand. Good thing he could laugh about it while telling the full tale of our adventure so far that evening.
Even though I had a great time up to that point, I did feel pretty bad for putting Nick through one of my misadventures. The next day, I apologized for not warning him about the front light and for not ensuring I filled up before going anywhere far. Waving his hand as I spoke, he interrupted my apology with: "Well, at least you had these problems while I was around to show you what to do and you weren't on your own. And you didn't kill me. Or leave any permanent damage....oh wait. How's your leg anyways?"