I dread long weekends. Especially when the wife and her sisters plan a ‘getaway’; I’m usually the last to know. This time is no exception. ‘Daddy, do you know we’re going to Pattaya?’ No. This is news to me. ‘When are we going?’ ‘First thing tomorrow.’ Ah. ‘And am I expected to go along, too?’ And get THE look. Welcome to forward planning, Thai style.
Her younger sister, the husband and daughter show up just before mid-morning. He’s just bought a fourteen-year old Toyota, and it’s just out of the paint shop. It seems to be in quite good shape. My wife shows up, and they get involved in the usual chatter. I also notice she’s beginning to look at me. Well, I know THE look, and I’m not going to get sucked into this. It’s bad enough that my wife grumbles when I wash the car once a week; I’m not going to end up washing two. I walk back to the house.
I’m on the Bangkok-Chonburi highway (Hwy 7), and everything is moving at a crawl. Every mother’s son and their poodle seem to have chosen this day to plan their getaway. <I drove back from Pattaya, to Bangkok, this past Sunday. The traffic jam was horrendous. On most of the motorway, that is a 70km stretch of road, the traffic was crawling – Stick> My wife, another sister and her brother are in the car, while the kids are with her other sister in the Toyota. Their conversation centers around the recent round of elections; they agree all are crooks, it’s just a matter of voting for the lot who won’t sell the country down the river. I’m fuming about the traffic; the queues to the toll booths are at least a kilometre long. You get a couple of stupid idiots driving on the road shoulders, then cutting in and holding up the rest. It annoys me, but it’s not something I care to participate in. At least my wife is occupied in conversation. If not, she tends towards back-seat driving, except that she’s sitting in the front seat. You can tell I’m enjoying the drive.
It gets better. There’s a five vehicle pile-up, and everyone is slowly moving around them. I’m about five cars away when the police start to push the last two vehicles to the side of the road. A car has smashed into the back of a pickup truck so hard they have to be pushed off as one. At least they managed to push it off; my guess is an emergency vehicle would take the best part of half an hour to arrive. The other fortunate thing is, it looks like there are no casualties. I say fortunate, because a lot of the pickup trucks are full of people sitting in the back; I shudder to think of what the situation would have been if the car had smashed into one of those.
There is a rest area about halfway down the road. It’s about the only place selling food, and there is lots of it. Fortunately toilets can be found at every toll booth, so it’s not a mandatory stop. We’re a couple of kilometres away when my wife suggests stopping there for a bite. I politely mention that everyone has had a good meal less than two hours ago. ‘Oh, but it’ll give my sister a chance to catch up, they’re a couple of kilometres behind.’ Nothing doing. ‘Not in this traffic, I think we’d better eat somewhere else on the way.’ She gives in with a bit of a pout. I point out, as we’re passing by, that traffic at the entrance to the rest area has actually come to a complete standstill. Nevertheless, we manage to find a place a few kilometres further on to stop for refreshment and wait for her sister to join us.
Back en route, my son (who has traded places in the other car with my wife’s brother) points to a guy on a small motorcycle. ‘Daddy, why is that guy red all over?’ He’s pointing at a farang guy on the bike who just wearing shorts and sporting his body tattoos. At least he’s wearing that plastic bucket that passes for a helmet. I explain to my son what sunburn is, and in a way feel sorry for the poor bloke; he had the complexion of a cooked prawn, and would in all probability really be suffering in a day or so. To his credit, I spotted him in the traffic crawl a couple of kilometres further down the road; he was actually riding his motorbike with the flow of the traffic. Newbie.
We’re almost to the hotel; it’s located on the stretch between Jomtien beach and Pattaya proper. As we approach the left-hand turn, I spot another farang in my rearview mirror (in similar attire to the first, but minus the plastic bucket) coming up really quick on the left, riding one of those oversize motorbikes. He whizzes past me on my left, and I hope my brother-in-law in front spots him too, as I see the turn signal already flashing. It doesn’t matter to Mr. Crotch Rocket, he still zooms past, ON THE LEFT. When will they realise, this is not the Continent or the US of A, and that people here drive on the left-hand side, NOT the right-hand side, of the road. A narrow miss.
Nor did it stop there. We’re driving down the small soi and are almost at the hotel entrance. A car comes out of a side road at high speed and almost hits my brother-in-law’s car. Both stop, and my brother-in-law continues slowly as he has right-of-way. As I’m right behind and also have right-of-way, I proceed. But this guy comes on and almost hits me. I mouth something and am about to lower the window when the Thai guy driving makes apologetic gestures on spotting me. His girlfriend looks like she’s in a state of fright. My brother-in-law has stopped in the meantime; as nothing happened we continued on. The guy followed at a slight distance. Hell, it was just fifty meters to the hotel entrance, what’s your hurry? Drunk? Maybe. Quarrel with your girlfriend? Maybe. But it’s not an excuse to drive like that, especially with people walking all over the hotel car park.
We get checked in to a family unit. Of course, some inconsiderate person with a dealership registration plate has blocked the entrance to the unit, as it was in the shade. Owners of new cars seem to make a habit of this.
My brother-in-law manages to squeeze through the gap behind. In the meantime, my wife and the sisters want to eat (again). I grab my brother-in-law, and when we get back, we have two roast chickens, some somtam, larb, sticky rice and (most important) the beers. At least the rule about not selling beers during certain hours seems lax in Pattaya. I park the car and indicate to the wife I’m about to start on the beers. That means I’m not going anywhere once I start. Once I drink, I don’t drive. She knows.
Three-quarters of the chicken is gone, but there’s still some sticky rice. The larb and somtam is also gone, so now the girls want to bring the kids over to the water park, and then go over to the beach behind the hotel once the place closes. I decline as I’m quite comfortable with the beers and the movie channel. All of them go off except my wife, I think she’s determined to drag me down to the beach later, beers and all. ‘I thought you’ve seen this movie before’ she says. Yes, but that was when she and the kids rented the CD. It was in Thai. This programming was in English. She eventually decides to join the rest of them, and will give me a call once they’re on the way to the beach. Okay.
Well, they didn’t call but went anyway.
My wife walks in a bit later. She looks pale.
She said, ‘The kids and my sister almost died on the beach just now.’
I said, ‘Whaaat!!’
She then said, ‘A drunk Thai on a water scooter came at full speed out of the water onto the beach; he missed the kids by inches, and the scooter ended up on the mat my sister was sitting on less than a minute before. She was lucky she was getting up to go, and I was already on my way back when it happened.’
I was livid.
The rest walk in a little while later. Both my kids are unhurt; the younger fortunately saw it coming at the last minute and jumped. The sister’s daughter, however, complained of being hurt. We were not sure if she had been sideswiped, or if she had been thrown backwards by the wash onto the beach and hurt herself. A visit to the hospital was in order, and my brother-in-law would drive.
I asked if they got his details. They said they did. His mobile phone number, and the hotel room number.
Sometimes I think they trust people too much. There are many out there who would disagree with the following statement, but in some ways I think the mobile phone registration exercise countrywide was a good thing in itself. It is in instances like this that the registration information is invaluable. I am also sure that the hotel would have provided the information (if requested) should we have reported the matter.
The water scooter guy tentatively agreed to cover hospital expenses, and was supposed to accompany us, but chickened out. I think he was trying to work the alcohol out of his system.
At the hospital, the examining doctor deemed an x-ray unnecessary; his opinion was that of some possible bruising, since she could still walk without too much discomfort. He also said that he would prefer not to subject a seven-year old to unnecessary x-rays.
I tend to agree with that; a fracture would have started to hurt long before, and using a high intensity bulb (of sorts) to make shadow pictures would to nothing to detect muscle damage. You’d probably need an MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging) for that I think.
To cut a long story short, the bill was around three hundred baht. Mr. Udom, the guy who almost ran them down, came over and paid my wife’s sister five hundred baht before quickly leaving. He swore he was not drunk. (Was too. I believe my wife’s sisters). I was all for making a police report, but most Thais prefer to avoid the issue. Too much red tape, the guy would have been sober by then, where is your proof he was drunk, et cetera. An exercise in futility. I gave up.
I was shown the spot the next day. It was at least four meters up the beach from the waterline where the scooter had ended up, right in front of the sea rescue building. When I asked my wife’s other sister if they had come to help she said ‘Maybe if somebody had died, but probably not before.’
I didn’t sleep much that night, thinking that all the kids could have gone in a split second, and would entertain the thought that there is some higher being keeping an eye open. While not particularly religious, I am thankful that the kids are still alive.
The next day fortunately went by without incident, and the sister’s daughter wasn’t hurting anymore. An extremely close call by anyone’s standards.
I won’t be going back if I can help it. People seem to take complete leave of their senses when in Pattaya. It may be paradise to some, but hey, it’s just another provincial city, not the Magic kingdom. It’s okay to go out and have fun by all means, I’m no moralist. But do have consideration for others while you’re there. While it may be your holiday, you could cut other people’s holidays short, too, for reasons totally unknown to them.
This sounded like a disaster of a weekend. Obviously the jet ski incident was the worst of it, but everything from being expected to cart the family around the countryside without consultation, the traffic jams, the bad drivers and then the water ski incident all show how what should be a pleasant weekend away actually turned out to be highly stressful and far from relaxing. And people wonder why expats often question their existence. This story is a classic example.