Following on from yesterday’s peccadillo proclamation, I might as well get this confession off my chest now too.
When I somewhat poetically described the most incredible moment of my 2018 life so far, high up on the hills of Doi Suthep at sunrise watching Chiang Mai wake up, I may have forgotten to mention my first real minor crime as a resident in the Land of Smiles.
the leather runs smooth On the passenger’s seaT
In Thailand they drive on the left hand side of the road just like in the UK, but their traffic etiquette is worlds apart.
According to a report by World Atlas in early 2017, Thailand was home to the world’s highest road traffic death rate. The figure is around 36 per 100,000 but it’s not all down to the chaotic congestion of course, it’s also down to poorly maintained road networks, lack of legal enforcement and inadequate medical assistance.
Apparently the government and media are trying to do something about it. A year or so ago they filmed a coffin maker’s stockpile of coffins leading up to the holiday period when they have the Seven Dangerous Days of the Year and death-by-driving rates hit an annual high due to speeding or drink driving.
All of this I have learned after spending a month bombing around the Northern city streets on a two-wheeled wonder.
On a typical dual carriageway there are nine vehicles spread across the narrow lane at any given time. You’ll see a car, a songthauw, a tuk-tuk, three mopeds, a bicycle and the occasional absent-minded pedestrian.
Punctured bicycle, On a hillside desolate
The first time I cycled in Chiang Mai was a seven kilometre distance from my home in Wat Ket all the way around the moat, past the old town and over to Nimmanhaemin.
I like to consider myself naively brave and perfectly reckless when it comes to cycling abroad; my philosophy has always been that hesitancy is what leads to accidents, not confidence.
But here I admit the core of my body was tense with the concentration that flooded my mind. I had no idea what to expect. I was giving it 360 degrees of attention with all my senses and pedalling speedily fuelled by nerves.
Motoring manners differ wherever you go and in Thailand, unlike places like India and Bangladesh, there doesn’t seem to be that irritating and unnecessary use of the horn – just the occasional polite and friendly beep of a songthaew touting for business. Indicators seem to go on for a variety of reasons, including but not exclusive to turning.
Even though it looks chaotic from afar, when you’re amongst the roaring engines chugging chassis, everybody seems to be aware of their surroundings and there’s some sort of contrasting slow-paced politeness to it all.
So on my return journey, I was much more relaxed. The sun was setting and the city was a blurry, buzzing haze of headlamps and exhaust fumes. The tenseness in my stomach had disappeared and I was in my own little Thai computer game, weaving in and out of the whirring traffic.
When in this charming car
It didn’t really surprise me that after dreaming up my perfect situation here in Chiang Mai that I should be handed the keys to a beautiful dark green car.
The car looks older than me, doesn’t lock and is definitely not far off its pilgrimage to scrap heap heaven but it was my keys to freedom in Chiang Mai and I loved it.
And this is where my naivety and recklessness could do with a light slap.
I do have a UK licence but not necessarily an international one and god knows about insurance, but I decided to take my new little green love up to Doi Suthep with me for that magical morning.
Once the sun had finished creeping over the horizon, I got back behind the wheel and put the key in the ignition ready to head further up the mountain towards the temple but the car wouldn’t start.
I’ve never had to change the wheel of a bicycle before, never mind jump-start a car, but here I was, three quarters of a way up a giant mountain in a foreign land, illegally in possession of a banged out vehicle that wouldn’t wake up.
I had no choice but to put it into neutral, push it to face the road, hurl myself back in and start freewheeling down the winding roads of the Thanon Thong Chai Range.
I spun down at serious speed, not even fully confident that the brakes would work if I needed to use them, dodging the deep gutters to my left and the temple-touring tuk-tuks to my right.
After about thirty seconds I started to turn the key but nothing happened.
I sped further, spun faster and the rush of adrenaline was racing through me. I began laughing loud and uncontrollably. I was high from a strange concoction of excitement and death-dodging fear. I held onto the steering wheel tightly with my left hand while my right kept turning the key relentlessly.
Finally it worked. The engine came alive and I started howling like a deranged hound shouting woo at the top of my voice and drumming the steering wheel vigorously with the bottom of my palms.
I was more than alive…I was not dead.