Driving In Thailand

Early on I used public transport of every kind. I was very young and it gave me a better view of how “city” Thais lived. They didn’t have motorcycle taxis back then, but you could still hang on the outside of a bus, if you were in need of an adrenaline rush. When the bus was full all you needed was enough space for a foot on the bottom step and a hand hold on the railing. At each stop you could put one foot on the ground but not two as that would put you in danger of losing your spot. Over the years several people got scraped off the sides of busses and the authorities decided it didn’t look good.

Eventually I got a car and mastered the Bangkok demolition derby. After years of driving I moved to a more central location so I could live without a car again. Living near the Skytrain made it easy to get around. I was quite happy living without a vehicle for the last several years but all that changed when we started our house project. In Bangkok it is actually easier without a car but up here it is very difficult to exist without transportation. Driving in Thailand is not for the faint of heart, no matter where you live. Driving upcountry is, however, much different from Bangkok.

The country roads are often in need of repair so you must watch out for potholes. You also share the road with motorcycles, bicycles, various farm equipment and animals, dogs, children and old people. People build right next to the road, so often use the road directly in front of their houses, as an extension of their living area. Village dogs will glare at you incredulously as you attempt to drive through their space and are slow to move out of the way.

Local drivers seem to have learned their driving skills by watching Hollywood chase scenes on TV. It is not uncommon to approach a corner to find the guy coming from the other direction has preempted your lane in his attempt to maintain a proper racing line through the apex of the turn. Passing, it appears, is best done on blind turns or hills with double yellow lines. The rule seems to be that the passer has the right of way and all others must pull off to the side of the road to let him continue in any lane he chooses.

Keeping all this in mind, we decided to take the new truck on a shopping trip to Chiang Mai. It took us a little more than three and a half hours and a great deal of agility to get there. We were looking for light fixtures for the house and by the time we were finished the back seat was full, from floor to ceiling, and the back of the truck was overflowing. I had never driven a full truck before and found it a little unnerving, not being able to see out the rearview mirror.

The heaviest item was the 55 meters of underground cable required for our 3 phase electrical system. The last item to be squeezed in was the TV that we received as a free bonus for spending so much money that day. One reason for the expense was that we ordered a couple of beds for future delivery. We have no place for them right now. They were the same kind we sleep on in Bangkok and were unavailable in Chiang Rai. My wife’s relatives seem to be able to sleep anywhere and under any conditions. The same can’t be said of us, however. Alas we are spoiled and need our comfort.

The plan had been to spend a couple of nights in Chiang Mai and enjoy each others company but by the middle of the second day there was no more space in the truck and we were afraid to park it anyplace overnight. We did manage to stop by and visit a friend for a couple of hours before driving home the second evening but ended up not doing any sightseeing or relaxing. Next time we will have to remember to do things differently.

We have tried to go on some sightseeing drives closer to home but have found that some of those great signs for waterfalls and cultural sights are nothing but a dead end. Things either didn’t workout or haven’t been completed yet. We did win on one drive, however. From our village one can see a road going almost straight up our nearby mountain range. My wife has looked at those mountains all her life and never been to the top before.

The road is extremely steep but as we reached the ridge line at the top, a mere 20 kilometers from home, it felt like entering another world. The views were spectacular in both directions, back down into our valley and across the next valley toward another mountain range famous as the home of Phu Chi Fa. The hill tribe village located at the top didn’t feel very Thai at all. My wife observed that it felt very much like some of our overseas travels, like a foreign country.

In-spite of everything I much prefer driving upcountry to driving in Bangkok. It takes 50 minutes or so to get to town up here but it can take you that long to travel a couple of blocks in Bangkok. There are trees, mountains and rivers everywhere and it is so green this time of year. The views are great and the pace of life is much more to my liking. In a few more months our living environment will improve too, as the house edges nearer to completion.