Stickman Readers' Submissions March 15th, 2008

Express That!!!

I’ve been extremely busy lately which for me is unusual. When I get busy for weeks on end I’ll tend to feel run down and in need of a break, even if it’s a brief break. One of my favorite things to do is load up the cameras and head
to Pattaya for an overnighter. I’m just minutes from the Chon-Buri Expressway so it doesn’t take long before I’m cruising down the expressway looking forward to a period of relaxation and perhaps meeting with some friends
who live in the area. You still need to choose the right time of day if you want to avoid the worst traffic once you turn off the main expressway and head towards Pattaya, but the construction on the new section of road is nearing completion and
there’s now significant time savings over even just a few months ago.

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I stay in the Pattaya Bay Hotel which varies from 1200 – 2400 baht a night depending on the season. This hotel is new, medium sized, very clean, has friendly staff, and perched on top of the bluff
“out of the garbage” of central Pattaya. The view of the sea is always spectacular and when I wake in the morning lifting my head from the pillow isn’t even necessary to see the ocean. The way the rooms are set up you get
a great view from almost any position. Perhaps the only drawback to this place is it’s a good half click or so from Walking Street so you’ll need to call for transportation if you don’t have your own, but I personally consider
this a positive because it keeps the foot traffic unusually low and gives you a feeling of being off the beaten and hectic path.

I’m not your normal Pattaya tourist. My favorite things to do would be a morning dive or two with my favorite Aussie dive captain, followed by plonking myself down in a beach chair and enjoying the tasty treats the hawkers bring by,
and just slowly watching the world go by. When I tire of that I’ll head to the Sanctuary of Truth to see any new work they’ve done or if the weather will provide a unique sky to use
as a backdrop. If I still have time I’ll head over to Sriracha Tiger Zoo to see how my favorite tigers are doing and if they’ve filled up their trough with water. They love running and playing
in water.

Later I’ll clean up and rest in my room and perhaps have dinner with a local friend. The bars and Walking Street hold little allure for me so only occasionally do I venture into the nightlife areas. What’s made this worse is
the influx of Russians into the area since Thailand granted them VOA (Visa on Arrival) privileges. Almost everywhere you look you can now see signs and menus printed in both English and Russian and you can’t be sure what language any given
farang will speak. There are obviously many Russian business interests in the area from storefronts to hookers and more than enough customers. I’ve heard people ask “who would come to Thailand to engage with Russian hookers?”
The answer is simple.. Russian men. They seem very pleased to employ the services of these ladies and it often looks like “Father Daughter” night on the town. I know a few people in the Pattaya hotel industry and they all tell me
dealing with the Russian tourists creates new challenges.

On the subject of Russians.. Can you imagine a few generations of rural Thai women who speak only Thai and broken Russian? Visiting small Isaan towns where the only farangs will be Russian? Sitting down in a local restaurant and the only
other language on the menu besides Thai is Russian? English has long surpassed French as the most common international language and perhaps we’ve taken this for granted, imagine if in the corner of the world we enjoy the most.. if Russian
becomes the language of choice? Imagine getting a traditional Thai massage and the cute young thing from Roi-Et holds up the bottle of oil and says “счастливое окончание???”
Think about it..

More often than not I’ll need to be back in Bangkok for a morning meeting so it isn’t unusual to leave about 4 – 5 AM. On one such occasion I found myself following a sawng-tao with two farangs and their “dates.”
What was special about this sawng-tao was the sex show going on in the back. One girl had hiked up her skirt and was sitting on her customers lap having a great time, and the other turned her back on her customer and seated herself on
him that way while holding on to the hand supports. You’d think when I pulled up behind them and turned on the high-beams for a better view they might have been a bit self-conscious, but no.. they just waved and increased their cadence
and became more animated. It really looked like something out of a wild movie. It was also interesting to note that the driver wasn’t stopping and leaving angry looking citizens behind, perhaps the fornicating foursome wanted privacy?

When I finally stopped laughing at the free show I noticed my GPS estimated my arrival back home in Bangkok at 110 minutes. The program in the GPS assumes you’re driving at the posted limits. Does anyone drive at the posted limits
at 0400 on the expressway? No-one but the overloaded lorries.. As you drive faster than the posted limits the estimated time changes to reflect a shorter overall time. I was curious if I could actually make it home in under an hour! Picking up
speed wasn’t a problem as far as traffic is concerned, and we haven’t had to worry about any sort of “Highway Patrol” on the expressways, after all when was the last time you’ve actually seen a “police
CAR” on Thailand’s highways? Pretty rare indeed. Or is it?

What you do need to worry about is the “interesting” way the Thai construction crews mark construction zones, leave equipment in different lanes, or even route detours. It’s not uncommon to come over a crest in the highway at 150+kph
and discover someone left a tractor in the fast lane less than 100 meters ahead, or someone delivered a new order of lamp posts and decided the fast lane made a good delivery point. Even in the best of conditions you’ve got to pay strict
attention when driving in Thailand, but in the darkness at 150+kph you’d better be very focused and not miss a thing. Did I make it in under an hour? Yes. And it’s not the first time. Express that!

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Not long ago I was up near Chiang Rai with my uncle who is a retired LAPD Commander and heading home going through Lampang. Nice big highways, no traffic, most people were easily going 140 – 150+kph and me right along with them, so imagine
my surprise when I came upon a well set up speed trap! The Highway Patrol division was funneling all the offenders (virtually everyone) over to the side of the road where a sharply dressed officer would approach your car and ask you to go take
a seat (if you can call the small plastic green stools a seat) over at the table so the other nice officers can quickly write you a ticket and collect your 200 baht thereby saving you the trouble of having to reappear in that town to pay your
fine and collect your license another time. This wasn’t your standard graft scheme, they were actually writing tickets on legit forms and then sending you to the other end of the table to pay your fine on the spot. Still, I wondered if
the money was going to the government or some high ranking police Commander's pocket. When my turn came I took the seat and they’d just started writing my ticket when the sharply dressed officer came over and told me he decided to
give me a warning instead. Seeing no one else was getting a warning I was a bit confused until I turned around and saw my uncle talking to another officer and showing them his retired LAPD credentials with a big smile on his face. Who knew the
brotherhood extended halfway across the country? Express that!

Ever since this happened I wondered if this was something we’d see more of, after all the expressways have been relatively lawless for as long as I can remember, and it only made sense that sooner or later they’d figure out
what a goldmine enforcing the laws could be. I didn’t have to wait long. Heading back to Bangkok from my last trip to Pattaya a few days ago I was approaching the first toll station and had my 30 baht ready when I noticed a sharply dressed
Highway Patrol cop in the center divider area with a radar gun mounted on a tripod and radioing in license plate numbers. As I passed him I was going 130kph so I expected to be pulled over at the toll station where approximately 15 officers were
busy writing tickets and collecting fines. Oddly enough they let me go on by, so either they’re missing speeders or the enforced limit is higher than was my speed. In three years of driving to Pattaya and back this was the first time I
saw any enforcement on the expressway. Express that!

In both of the above cases the Highway Patrol cops were sporting not only flashy new radar guns, but lined up at the side of the road where brand new patrol cars! Uniforms, tables for processing, radar equipment, and even personal weapons
all seemed brand new and top of the line. Right now it appears they’re happy to set up these speed traps right before toll booths where they know they can easily wave you over, or in the case of outside Lampang right where the road funneled
into another and you had to slow anyway. But give people a chance to figure out to slow down a click early to avoid the traps, and I’ll bet we’ll see those shiny new patrol cars in our rear view mirrors with lights flashing! The
only thing that surprises me about any of this is that it took them so long to figure out the huge source of revenue they could generate. Express that!

Folks, in the last few months it’s become apparent the new equipment and new highway/expressway enforcement procedures have been deployed and are probably here to stay. The patrol cars are maroon with big gold letters. Is this just
a small sign that Thailand is coming more under the rule of law, or have they just found another way to collect additional revenues? Perhaps both. Will we start seeing radar detectors sold at Pantip and MBK? I brought my Escort Passport from the
USA and will start deploying it on the highways and we’ll see if it works. Times are a changing. Express that!

Until next time…

Stickman's thoughts:

In the 5 years that I have been driving I have noticed that enforcement of traffic laws on the highways and expressways has increased markedly. Within cities they seem more concerned about motorcycles and the wearing of helmets but with more and more radar guns being distributed amongst police districts, speed is something they are now targeting.

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