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  • Day26

    Planes, Trains and a Crazy Tuk-Tuk

    November 16, 2016 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    Tuesday 15th November &
    Wednesday 16th November

    Left early at 7am on 15th Nov to get to Dunedin airport. Despite the chaos of the last few days the airports are all operational with no problems reported. Our New Zealand airways flight was in a more spacious aircraft than the one we had on the outward journey so was much more comfortable. It was on time and we duly arrived at Auckland to catch our Emirates flight to Bangkok. It was a full flight but was doing a stop in Sydney where a lot of passengers got off. We rejoined it for the next leg of its flight to Bangkok – 14hrs 40mins, a long flight by any standard and we were not looking forward to it. However there were hardly any passengers on it so when it came to sleep time lots of people stretched out over 4 seats and spread around the plane. I didn’t but Peter did and said it was very comfy. Actually as it was so empty it would have been good if the crew had said ‘hey guys there’s not many in first class and we have loads of empty seats, how about you come up to see how you like it’ No chance! I have to say we all managed a fair bit of decent sleep and the journey sped by so before we knew it we were landing in Bangkok. It was 1.30am and we had a bit of kerfuffle finding our taxi we had booked, but finally we sorted it out with a bit of help from another hotel rep who rang our rep to find out where he was. We finally arrived in our hotel rooms at 04.00am 16th Nov. I wasn’t particularly tired, but I was weary. We crawled into bed and promptly fell asleep only to be woken a half hour later by a message coming in from Lois telling us the family meal had been sorted for 26th Nov! Surprisingly sleep returned and we grabbed a few more hours before deciding to get up and shower, breakfast and hit the road.

    The hotel is centrally positioned in Bangkok, we are on the 6th floor, the same level as the swimming pool. Unfortunately although we have balconies our view is of the next door building which does make the room a bit darker. Apart from that the room is spacious, Janet feels it is a bit tired and said she saw a cockroach scuttle across her bathroom. We suggested she ask to move rooms but she said she won’t as we are only here for 3 nights. Perhaps we are more tolerant as we have frequently shared our rooms with various creatures and bugs, I recall Colin the cockroach who lived in my spongebag when we stayed in a cabin in the Amazon rainforest – he gave me a shock when I reached in for something in the night, and not switching on the light I just put my hand in and felt Colin – made me jump. We have also shared our bedrooms with various ghekkos, lizards, beetles and centipedes in lodges in Africa. Once a centipede curled up in my trousers overnight when we were camping in the Ruaha Game Park, then when I pulled them on in the morning bit me on the bum – it really hurt and I did a frantic dance around the tent trying to see what had bit me. Bats flying round in the evening on their way off to feed are also interesting – it happens when your lodge has no glass in the windows as is frequently the case in the tropics.

    The heat in Bangkok is overwhelming, much hotter than Hong Kong. The trains are fantastic to ride in, not only do they have great graphics and drawings on the outside, they give the impression of having no windows, yet when you get in they are one way windows, so you can see out perfectly well but no-one can see in. They are also deliciously cool, with very efficient air conditioning – London Transport could learn a trick or two here! We wandered round some shops and a couple of markets before deciding we were too hot to carry on so we hailed a tuk-tuk, negotiated what we thought was a fair price and jumped in. Our chosen tuk-tuk was a smart affair driven by a smiley young chap who was keen to get us to stop at a tailor shop on the way back. We refused this offer recognising it as a sales pitch which we were in no mood to engage with. It was only when I went to get in the tuk-tuk I realised the floor at the back was higher than expected, only about 6 inches lower than the seat and polished chrome. There was not a lot of headroom either and being the first to get in I found myself kneeling on the floor and sliding over to my seat on my knees – not a very dignified entrance! We wedged Janet in-between Peter and I as we figured it would be less hair-raising for her in the middle. Our driver sped out into the traffic, obviously, a frustrated pro-racing driver. He dived in and out, between cars and spaces you would not have thought he could squeeze into. Then he was up onto a flyover, toe to the floor, roaring along, head and shoulders low over the handlebars, gripping them tightly. Now for those of you who don’t know perhaps I should enlighten you that a tuk-tuk is basically a three-wheeler souped up scooter with what sounds like a lawnmower engine. The front windscreen is optional and if present is usually adorned with rosaries, garlands, effigies of various gods, good luck poems stitched on pieces of fabric and photos. This leaves very little screen for the driver to see through. There are no glass windows around the sides or rear of the vehicle, passengers are completely open to the elements and the fumes from other vehicles. So, taking you back to the flyover, we were hitting speeds we had not thought possible from a tuk-tuk, the wind felt at g-force level around our faces, our hair flying out behind us (well perhaps not Peter’s, but he had a fixed smile/grimace on his face as we hared along). Janet was also laughing; I think it was laughter not hysteria! Thankfully we weren’t long on the flyover but as soon as we came off it we joined a heavy traffic jam on the city roads and ground to a halt. Our driver was very frustrated at this lack of progress but he had a simple solution – do a u turn in the face of oncoming cars and motor bikes bearing down on us and seek an alternative route. Janet shut her eyes, I gasped and Peter laughed. It’s obviously an accepted way of driving for no-one hooted us, no swearing or shaking of fists, other road users simply swerved around us.

    It is a source of constant fascination to me the way people, in other Asian countries mainly, travel on mopeds. I watched as a guy rode past with his girlfriend/sister/wife perched on the back riding side saddle, one dainty leg neatly crossed over the other. She was not holding onto him or the moped, instead she was staring intently at her phone texting someone!! Incredible, it had to be seen to be believed, unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough to catch a photo this time, but I will try later because they are always doing it.

    Back to our tuk-tuk, we had joined another traffic jam despite his best efforts at finding an alternative route. Undeterred he had another trick up his sleeve, positioning himself in the outside lane, as soon as there was a gap in the oncoming traffic he swung out and raced along up the wrong side of the road effectively queue jumping all those in front patiently waiting their turn. Traffic came towards us, threatening a head-on collision, but our guy had nerves of steel and drove relentlessly on. Again, this must be a common occurrence for I noticed other tuk-tuk’s following in our wake, but nonetheless it was a bit disconcerting for us at the front of the line driving into oncoming traffic. With a whoop of joy, he dodged them all, and they him and we swung round the corner into the approach road of our hotel. As we arrived outside our hotel he rode up onto the pavement outside the hotel and screeched to a halt. The doorman strode out towards our tuk-tuk, grim faced, no doubt to reprimand him and ask what on earth he was doing driving his tuk-tuk onto the pavement outside their hotel. Then he spotted us climbing out of the tuk-tuk, (climbing out was no less elegant than climbing in for me dear readers) and quickly smiled and enquired if we had had a good shopping trip. We paid the driver – tipping him generously for such an eventful and enjoyable journey and took photographs of him and his tuk-tuk. Walking into the cool, elegant lobby of the hotel with its lift music tinkling gently in the background; we were conscious of the staff looking at us, the receptionists, concierge, security and doorman. We were windswept to the extreme, very hot and sweaty and had rocked up in a tuk-tuk driven by a crazy driver! They must have wondered what things were coming to and how standards had slipped!
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