A Cautious Tale
By M H
I have visited Thailand on quite a few occasions and have benefited from advice given to me by my brother, who has lived there for quite a few years and also from other tips I have gleaned from sites like this, which I have found to be excellent.
On the basis that it is better to learn from other peoples experience rather than take all the risk yourself, feeling altruistic and also wanting to pay back for the advice I have received, I thought I would pass on one of my experiences, which could assist others.
I was visiting Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand, in November 2000 with my girlfriend from Bangkok and two British friends. As I was staying longer than them I decided to hire a bike. I have ridden bikes for years both in the UK and in Thailand, so was not too concerned, but knew there were risks.
The first Honda step thru offered by the rental co, had very poor brakes and was rejected. An almost new model was offered which after a brief check over was fine. They accepted a photo copy of my passport, which is much safer, so I would recommend getting one, including the immigration card, in case you are stopped by the police.
We were staying at the Chiang Mai Gate Hotel, which is fine, but a little way from the action, so the bike made things a lot easier, plus allowed trips out of town..
One evening, my friends wanted to go shopping at the night market, so got a taxi and I was to follow with my GF on the bike.
The traffic was quite congested, but I kept behind the taxi so we could meet up at the market.
A youngish Thai guy and his GF in a car decided he had to get ahead of me, despite not being able to go anywhere and the fact that I was not holding him up.
The traffic slowed right down and I overtook him on the inside so I could follow my friends. This did not go down well, maybe it was a loss of face being beaten by a motorbike, I’m not sure. He responded by accelerating hard across my path cutting me up. My arm caught his wing mirror which flipped back.
I wasn’t too fussed as it was all low speed, but he cut right across me forcing me to stop.
He jumped out of his car shouting in thai and squared up to me. I’m quite a big guy an ex rugby prop forward, and have also worked part time in my youth in security at bands etc, so was not too worried. I thought it was over then.
The only problem was I was still on the bike, so a little restricted. He was quite a small guy, probably normal by Thai standards, so I was not too concerned and shouted back at him, telling him that it was his fault.
He walked back to his car and I thought it was over.
I was wrong, he quickly returned wielding a large machete.
This was getting serious, my GF was screaming and my friends were nowhere to be seen.
I had two choices, I could either try to get the machete away from him or try to calm him down.
As I didn’t know how proficient he was with a machete and he seemed very upset, I decided to try to calm him down even though my Thai is minimal.
I changed my body language from confrontational to submissive, with my hands low with the palms raised and my face passive.
I showed him that the mirror pushed back with no damage and he seemed content with a few more insults and went back to his car and drove off.
At that point my friends arrived as the taxi driver had noticed I was not following and thought I had been knocked off the bike.
I realised then what a near miss I had had. I felt lucky that no one, especially me ! had been hurt and how nasty it could have been. Even if he had been caught, it wouldn't have helped me minus an arm or head!
I thought about reporting it to the Police, but the car didn't even have a registration number (why do they seem to allow this?) so ended up not bothering with all the hassle I could expect.
I have since spoken to ex pats who confirm the violence amongst Thais within their own groups and their ready use of weapons.
I have visited since and it has not put me off, just made me cautious.
There may be plenty of smiles around but you have to realise that it is what is behind the smile that really counts.
Driving in Thailand can be a bit hit and miss and confrontation with the Thais should be avoided at all costs, even if you are not in the wrong.