Delightful Northern Thailand (1) – With Nora And Vitara
Delightful Northern Thailand (1) – With Norah and Vitara
By Hans Meier
"You think we will see Buddha soon", I ask Norah as I try to steer the jeep out of the narrow parking lot? God, this 4WD car has such a lot of enigmatic buttons and controls! Am I an engineer? The steering wheel's on the wrong side! Our
Vitara's too high, too big, too heavy. Is this the reverse gear? Cars block us everywhere!
Norah only smiles.
There is the exit! I made it. Now into that narrow soi. I start the windscreen washer. It's a beautiful blue sky day in Chiang Mai, so I get a quizzical look from the my Asian lady.
"Sorry, darling – I needed the indicator, but the stupid switch is on the wrong side, so I hit the windscreen washer." Norah remains silent. "By the way, darling, the stupid steering wheel is on the wrong side, too!" Norah remains silent. Unmanly behaviour.
I manage to get the heavy car around the corner. Please, no oncoming traffic in that narrow lane down to River View Lodge! Guess what – a tuktuk comes… Now, I have to give way to which side of the road?? Feels so wrong to give way to the left.
The exterior rear-view mirror noisily rattles along a fence. "You think we will see Buddha soon", I ask Norah?
Norah only smiles.
The car rental guy who came to the hotel had murmured something about we could give him a ride back to his downtown office. This would mean a side trip to Chiang Mai's busiest road. I just didn't hear him.
Good lord, there is the main road, now we have to turn right into Charoen Prathet. I start the windscreen washer again. Then the indicator. Windscreen washer off. Quickly, into Charoenrat, hui, we made it!
A little later, we are on highway 108 towards Doi Inthanon. The radio delivers white noise only, and cassettes we don't have. The bare left loudspeaker rattles in the door covering. Then the heavy thing with its metal frame falls down onto my shoeless foot. Arrgh! I shove it back into the recess.
It's a super smooth, wide, empty road. No major losses so far. We are on our way. Just for a joke, I turn on the windscreen washer again.
Delightful adventurous mountainous Northern Thailand – here we come!
— Getting A Car —
Flown in from Phnom Penh, a beaming Norah jumps into my arms at Chiang Mai International: "Oh my darliiiiing! From airplane I see wonderful-wonderful mountain! But!! They have nice *beach*, too?"
Our car search starts on Moon Muang road, the tourist strip along the moat. I fancy a Honda Jazz, the compact kind of car I am most familiar with (if only in the west). We check Northern Wheels, the most formal of the car renters. A Honda Jazz is 1600 per day, more with automatic. Norah's face gets cloudy: She is not willing to let me pay 1600 or more per day for us.
As for the car: I have Norah by my side, and it's a strange, confusing country; so for once I prefer automatic. I want station wagon style, so that luggage can be reached from inside and outside. I definitely do not want a 4WD jeep, and I don't want four doors. I have no plans to do any dirt roads. (Ha, little do I know.)
We end up with a 4WD Jeep with four doors – they are cheaper and easier to get. Our four doors edition of the Suzuki Vitara is ugly as a brick – actually, it looks like a brick: reddish, no sexy round curves like the newer jeeps and pickups. It's much too big for my limited driving skills. But it *does* have automatic, and lots and lots of space. Another plus: It has no rental agency stickers.
When we enter the small, but recommended rental shop, we hear this car being offered for 1300 per day. The customers leave without interest. We get the same offer for 1300. Tired of smaller, but more expensive sedan type cars, I am about to agree; but Norah looks cloudy again. Suddenly the price drops to 1100.
In the ensuing discussion, the price changes every three minutes. We finally agree on 1100; but if we keep the brick more than ten days, each day will be charged with only 1000 – starting from day 1. I tell them we need ten days or a bit more. An insurance is included as follows: For any damage we cause, I myself have to pay 5000; everything above that is covered. They proudly point to the insurance sticker on the car window, but I cannot ultimately check if everything is in good order. I have to pay five days in advance. They copy my passport, the international driving license and write down my mobile number.
— Highway 108 —
Highway 108 towards Doi Inthanon is flat and dull. But that's a good start for my very first car-driving in Thailand, and my first left-side car driving in 20 years.
The left bare loudspeaker rattles in the door covering, then falls down onto my shoeless foot again. It's still connected with two scrawny cables. I shove the speaker back into the recess.
That's a road sign. How much do I have to reduce? How fast may I drive on the highway? And what within city limits? I know nothing.
When in Rome, do as the Romans. There's a local car ahead. After the "city limits" sign, the white Isuzu pickup slows down from 100 to 90 km/h. I go back to 90 km/h too. So that's the speed within city limits, I figure.
It's not only my first self-driven car in Thailand – it's also my first holiday with Norah in a self-driven car and outside of her country. What kind of co-driver will she be? The typical wife, pestering the driver with useless alerts, "traffic light 500 meters ahead!!!", "there's a beautiful lady on the left, but don't you look!!!"; like that?
We've left the city limits, so I can accelerate to 100 km/h again. So far there have been no comments from Norah. Maybe she's not the typical stressful co-driving wife?
I look over to Norah. She sleeps.
Hans, a familiar writer….