Thoughts on Thai Travel, From a Weary Traveler


Rush Hour in Phnom Penh

Who hasn’t been in a scooter accident? What’s that car doing in our lane?


Asians are crazy drivers, but they’ve adapted to the craziness. They pile a whole family on a scooter, or a whole chicken coup, or both. They drive in which ever lane they choose. When it suits them, they are speedy. Most often, they are slow.

All transportation also acts as a delivery truck, making stops for locals to get on with anything from huge sacks of rice, cases of beer, a box fan, or large tubs of children’s toys. Thus, you cannot judge arrival time by distance.

Hurry up…and wait.

No worries, I’ll wait while you run your errands. We sat in a van on the way back from Pai and watched our driver purchase fruit. He didn’t just run out and buy what he wanted. He hemmed and hawed over which where the best. He made the ladies show him more in a different cooler, then painstakingly chose the best for a half-dozen.

On our way back from Cambodia, about halfway to Bangkok, we stopped for gas. We couldn’t understand what was taking so long. Why was no one was getting back in the van? Why were there huge lines at the pump? It was because the gas station ran out of gas.

There’s a good possibility of getting hit whether you travel by scooter, van, foot, or bus. I have, since arriving, mastered the bob and weave through traffic and also timed how fast most tuk tuks approach. I am becoming desensitized to speedy passes around blind curves.I watched a tuk tuk driver demonstrate his talent for driving with his feet in fear for my life. In Bangkok, a scooter taxi wedged my huge suitcase between himself and the steering wheel to drive me over to Mochit station during Chatuchak Market traffic.

The speedometer’s broken. Seatbelts don’t exist.

On our way to Pai, in northern Thailand, we barely got on the old school, open-air bus before it pulled out.

Are those barf bags hanging from the ceiling?

I ended up in the back of the bus. They deposited my backpack directly in front of the backdoor of the bus, which was broken and open. To keep my pack from flying out, a Thai guy sat back there and used his foot as a stopper. At one point, he snuggled into the luggage and dozed off.Β  Each time we rounded one of the 762 curves, I was fully prepared to leap up and stop it from tumbling out the door and down the mountain. Carlin got the front of the bus, where, though his pack was safely stowed, he feared for his life in a head-on collision around the curves. Luckily, neither happened.

Both Thais and Cambodians pretty freely drive in the middle of the street or on the wrong side of the road to pass bicycles, scooters, tuk tuks, food carts, etc. They indicate passing with a double beep of the horn, and often pass with oncoming traffic approaching.

Thai travel is like organized chaos. Every time you book a trip, it’s a guarantee you will switch vehicles at least 3 times, maybe more. I’m just getting settled in, backpack tucked away and earbuds in, when we drive 2 blocks, get out and switch vans. Foreigners are like sheep, the mustachioed Thai driver the shepherd.

Are there any shocks left on this van?

If you end up in the very back seats on the mini bus, you’ve drawn the short straw. There’s no leg room and you and your neighbor are arm-to-arm and thigh-to-thigh. The headrests have been taken out, for what purpose it’s tough to say. All that’s left are hard little nubbins. Even resting your head between nubbins is a lost cause, the van tosses you up and throws you back down so that staying stationary and napping are impossible.

Haha, “air conditioning,” you fooled me again.

I cannot count the amount of times I have been told that I’m taking a VIP van to be stuffed like a sardine into one without aircon and windows that don’t open. Seems like it’s the oldest trick in the book, but one there’s no defense against. You’ve just gotta sweat it out.

In Cambodia, even the oldest, most broken-down looking bus has a television. On the television, they play karaoke. Cambodian karaoke. They play DVD after DVD, and some Cambodians sit on the edge of their seat and sing. Often, the videos are very dramatic with colorful costumes and some sort of love story ending in violence. This is entertaining for the first 5 minutes.

The train may well be the best option, if you can time it right. It’s air conditioned to the point of chilliness and the scenery’s great. The night train is quite comfortable for longer travel, better, in my estimation, then the cramped bus ride. The beds are comfortable enough, it’s quiet, the bathrooms have toilet paper, and, drum roll please, a sink with soap and a towel to dry your hands!

And now, to catch the night bus from Hatyai to Kaula Lumpur…



  1. Oh, come to Hong Kong! We don’t drive like this! πŸ˜› Guess Asia is so diverse that every part of Asia is very different. Even though i’m from Asia, Southeast Asia is still very very exotic for me. About crazy driving, the craziest driving I’ve seen was in India. Apart from the cars, motorbikes, bicycles and overloaded buses that come from DIFFERENT directions, there are also holy cows on the roads… If it happens to have a holy cow which wants to rest in middle of the road, then the transportation would be completely blocked. Really unforgettable journey.. πŸ™‚

    • I would love to come to Hong Kong! It’s definitely on the “places I have to travel to” list πŸ™‚ So is India – and I know that it’s pretty much the epitome of craziness in a lot of ways.

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