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At the mercy of a madman

THAILAND | Friday, 19 January 2007 | Views [1255] | Comments [1]

Adam & Gemma resting peacefully on a ride that was anything but peaceful.

Adam & Gemma resting peacefully on a ride that was anything but peaceful.

If the beautiful city of Chiang Mai had not been the destination of another trip on the insomniac express, I would be dictating this story through a lawyer, having told another Khao San Road travel agent what I thought of their lies in the language of uppercuts. And this particular rogue was supposed to be a friend, having taken care of me on previous trips. She generously offered me a bargain price, that just so happened to be the advertised price. But what's a few dollars if it equates to a greater degree of comfort?

Unfortunately it didn't. Surely one agent somewhere is honest enough to show a picture of the bus you were really going to be riding in. Or better yet, actually put you in the luxury titanic on wheels depicted in their photos. It all started promisingly enough, with the obvious exception of our bus resembling the photo only in function, with me sharing a seat with a pleasant Israeli guy named Costa. On his first trip to Asia, and his first time out of Bangkok, he was obviously concerned about what dangers lurked in the wilderness beyond Bangkok's skyscrapers. Quite a bizarre concept from someone whose home country has been at war since its inception. His fears about not being able to rest on the bus were quickly proven to be unfounded when my inane banter bored him to sleep and he slept through most of the following adventures.

Struggling to achieve any degree of comfort in the velcro covered seats, I was wondering about this strange alternative to seat belts when the driver started to give reason to believe they were a necessity. Speeding, dordling, fish tails, random lane changes, u-turns, this guy had a vast repertoire of dangerous driving techniques, which he spent the next few hours practicing. In a part of the world that doesn't seem to have road rules, only rough guidelines, he managed to clock up speeds of 130km in an 80km zone. Indicators were a novelty, stop signs were loosely recommended courses of action and white lines were a waste of paint. The lack of seat belts meant that even though the bus didn't have an accident, I nearly did.

Our first 'dinner' stop was at a closed petrol station that had no dining establishments within walking distance. There was plenty 5 kms down the road where every other bus was parked though. Conversation slowly gave way to fitful napping, punctuated by peering out the window to watch the same scenery pass a few times as our driver inexplicably did a number of long distance u-turns. We eventually stopped at a place serving what could have once been called food, but not any longer, thanks to the lateness of our arrival. Having eaten some Phad Thai from a street vendor before leaving, I opted for an ice-cream only. I never thought I would ever have the pleasure of eating a wasabi flavoured cornetto, and believe me, I derived absolutely no pleasure out of something that tasted every bit as bad as it sounds, and more.

Jet lag was taking its toll on my system, and a cramped overnight bus was not what the doctor ordered. I'm pretty sure he recommended being gently fanned and fed grapes by near naked nubile princesses, but while grapes, fans and babes were in abundance, none were willing to fulfill my prescription. By 4am, loud shouting by the passengers at the front woke everyone from their dozing. Apparently the driving had become so erratic to be seriously life threatening, and those able to see the road ahead were no longer prepared to stare death in the face. For some bizarre and previously unseen reason, there was no back up driver, and the goggle eyed expression and speedy mannerisms this guy was showing lead all to the conclusion that he was loaded to the gills with drugs. Mouthing probably racist obscenities at his totally Western cargo, and at the same time demonstrating a complete lack of English skills, his behaviour induced someone to call the cops. Their arrival didn't result in an arrest, or a baton induced reality check, merely the hunting down of a back up driver. One appeared after an hours wait discussing alternatives should cops nor driver reappear.

The remaining hours of darkness were spent in the relative safety of a sober driver and all aboard were lulled into a false sense of security. With a 3 hour stint accomplished though, the ring-in was dropped somewhere in the middle of nowhere and Mel Gibson hoped behind the wheel again. Most of the night had been spent shivering under the penguin pleasing air conditioning, and only repeated requests had eventually resulted in it being turned off; permanently.

As the heat of the day came upon us, our coffin like fridge on wheels turned into a rolling sauna. Long after we were supposed to arrive and even further from when we did, the driver tried to apply his completely absent mechanical skills to fixing the air conditioning. An hour later we set off again with no change in the interior climate but a serious decline in passenger tolerance.

A few more wrong turns were taken, right in front of signs saying which direction to take, and the driver just stopped at a service station not far from our destination. A particularly vocal group of Italians took it upon themselves to yell the entires buses displeasure at the drivers performance. Obviously not one for accepting criticism that well, the driver wigged out and started randomly tossing bags out onto the road. One Italian not wanting to be outdone, wigged out as well and threw the driver against the side of the bus. The driver then unanimously claimed the trophy in the wig out stakes by pulling a meat cleaver from under his seat and brandishing it in the face of all within butchering range.

By some amazing stroke of luck the taxis awaiting our arrival in Chiang Mai happened to locate us at the service station and intervene. The last 25 kms of the journey was made in the comfort of a mini van, with Mad Max left in the hands of the police who didn't seem all that concerned about his homicidal outburst. So instead of having the difficult task of finding a place open at 6am when we were supposed to arrive, we had little difficulty in securing a place at 1130am. I never got the chance to ask Costa what he thought of his first trip into the Thai countryside.

Tags: Misadventures




How do you find yourself in such situations? I suppose a journal filled with entries of swanning by a pool and drinking cocktails would certainly be less entertaining for us!!!

I can't believe the driver pulled out a meat cleaver - what a f***in nutter!!! :-)

Hire a car me love and steer clear of boring passengers and crazy drivers...

Love Zoe xxx

  Zoe Champion Jan 30, 2007 1:00 PM

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