1/08/2010

01-08-10 - Driving in Thailand

The last part of our trip we went up to Chiang Mai because we were getting sick of beautiful beaches all the time, and wanted a change of scenery to see some hills and forests and whatnot, and everyone we knew had told us Chiang Mai was great. First of all - WTF were you all thinking? Chiang Mai is fucking gross, by far the worst place we went in Thailand (I'm sure Phucket and Pattaya are worse, but I would never consider going to either of those). It's absolutely mobbed by Farang, it's super touristy, the Thai people are the meanest I encountered anywhere because they hate all the dumb tourists who flock there, the restaurants suck and are expensive, it has no character, no real local life, the whole town feels geared toward tourism, it's just fucking bollocks. What makes it worse is the fact that is just mobbed by single white men and bar girls and sex tourism, and lots of old expats and their Thai wives, and lots and lots of heroine addicts; there are methadone clinics scattered all over Chiang Mai and tons of older white men wandering the streets who are just eaten up and hollowed out by drugs. It's really depressing and awful.

Anyway, so that sucked so bad we decided immediately to rent a car and get the fuck out of dodge. I've never driven on the left before, and also never driven in a crazy asian swarming traffic scenario before, so I was a little scared but figured WTF, push my boundaries, conquer a challenge, go for it. Driving on the left was no problem; the actual driving on the left is no issue at all, you get the hang of that immediately, I never once steered towards the wrong side of the road. There were a few little funny issues that got me - the hand controls on the wheel are mirror imaged, so I kept putting on the window wipers when I wanted to signal a turn. The bigger one was that when I got to an intersection, I instinctively looked to my left first then my right; in left-hand-drive places you need to do the opposite; I never fully got the hang of that.

As for driving in the swarm of scooters, it's really not that bad ; basically you just go slow and let them go around you. I mean, if you freak out when people swerve around you in the US, then I do not recommend it, but if you are comfortable with swerving around and merging and flowing around obstacles and making your own lanes, then it's not really a big difference. Lane lines are just vague suggestions; a two lane road might be three or four lanes. If you're slow you need to cling to the outside (left) of the lane. The thing that scared me the most was that when you need to pass a slow scooter, you just pull out into the "middle lane" and you rely on oncoming traffic to go wide around you. There's a very high level of trust required. It's really amazing how well the traffic flows in Asia - they merge so much better than US drivers; you'll have ten lanes of traffic of all kinds of different vehicles merging together, and people just keep swerving and flowing and they don't freak out the way we do.

Anyway, we took off to the south to go to Doi Inthanon. It's a wonderful feeling having your own car in a foreign country, you can see whatever you want, stop at roadside markets or food carts. We had some of our best food that day as we just saw people on the side of the road doing rotisserie barbecue over open fires and we'd pull over and point at things (out in the country you will run into people who speak no English at all, and who are the most friendly and polite people we met the whole time). We bought a bunch of good maps which I highly recommend; we had three different maps and they were all very different, I highly recommend not trusting any one map if you are heading out into the country. We randomly decided to turn on some road and wound up basically doing the "Mae Wang Loop" which is somewhat well known ( See : GT rider , ChaingMai1 , Travel and Life ) but not yet very often visited by tourists, presumably due to the rough dirt road.

We rented a Honda City which is a fantastic little car. The 1.5L engine is a bit too weak, it struggled up the mountain hills, but the small size is very nice in dense asian traffic, the interior is very roomy, and it has that wonderful Honda feel - it doesn't beep at you unnecessarily, everything feels very manual and direct, the switches all click into place, the steering is immediate and provides good feedback. I guess I'm a Honda fanboy, I just love the way they keep things simple and direct and do that well.

Anyway, the Mae Wang Loop scenery is just absurdly gorgeous; it's lush and very dense, with a huge variety of plants; there are tons of tribal villages and rice paddies, terraced fields and flower gardens. This time of year is the "spring" there and there are these pink flowering trees in bloom. It's highly recommended.

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old rants