Thailand Road Trip: Checkpoints, Elephants, and Near Death

Even though Kyle and I were slight concerned about being able to make it all the way through to Phuket on our own without sleeping, it was good to know that we had the support of our loyal friends in case we needed it…

Thailand Road Trip Sleep

We didn’t realize this at the time, but once you start heading west from the east coast of Thailand you have to travel through a LOT of nothingness before you see something familiar again. It’s mostly comprised of farmland, unlit roads, and road signs exclusively written in Thai squiggles. It’s also home to military checkpoints.

Due to border disputes on the Cambodian border, conflict spillover from Myanmar, and drug money and terrorism in the south near Malaysia, there are checkpoints all over Thailand’s highway. It is important to note that despite all of the issues with their neighbors, the majority of Thailand is actually quite safe. Regardless, there are checkpoints on nearly every major highway. When you’re cruising at highway speed you can’t see them coming, but every single one is marked by a large white triangle light. The first one had flares and every other car was asked to pull over to the side of the road. Please, no.

We didn’t have anything of real concern in the car except for 5 white kids who speak a collective 1.5 words of Thai and even less of a clue of where they actually are on a map. We did have one phone with a local number just in case something went wrong, but that was more for a flight tire. It didn’t have enough minutes to explain any sort of imprisonment. We get through the first one, then the second, and the third all without incident. In fact, we didn’t get pulled over once.

“Wait, was that an Elephant on the side of the road!? Dude, turn around!” It didn’t take much for me to realize that the large elephant shaped figures on the side of the road near the elephant preserve were in fact plastic forms of advertisement and not a minivan trampling disaster waiting to happen, but there we were in a car full of 4 hopeful students making one U turn, than another, slowing down to half the speed limit to catch a glimpse of the mystery that lies ahead. I took a video with the knowledge of the upcoming disappointment, but in a way I was also curious. I mean, it’s Thailand. Maybe there really are elephants just chillin’ on the side of the road. That could be possible, that could actually be really amazing. I mean, could you imagine pulling over to pet an Elephant? No because this is Thailand not a fairy tail. They were plastic.

Several mundane hours passed until we started getting a little unsure about our directions. I remember the numbers 44 and 41 from reading on a forum. Those were the highways we were to take. We made the transition to 44, and it seemed okay on the map as well, but then we hit a snag. In the middle of the highway we arrived and a blocked road. There was a sign ahead that seemed to be similar to an American detour sign, but we couldn’t read any of it. To the right of it there was a barrier that a car had most certainly driven through. It was pushed aside quite conveniently. The sign pointed right, but who knew what that meant or where it would take us. The worst part was I had no idea of how else we could get Phuket other than this road. Any other option would require hours of backtracking and travel on roads that were very local and possibly unpaved. Here’s the kicker, we hadn’t seen another car, or even light, in at least half an hour. Now it’s decision time.

Since the highway was empty and we were nowhere near anything, going down the wrong side of the road was an option, and my first thought. We could have gotten back onto to the road and traveled maybe half an hour to a gas station where we could try and figure it out better and make sure we had enough fuel to get wherever we were headed. Nobody seemed to keen on the wrong side of the road, but the idea still stayed as an option.

The second choice was to follow the detour. We had no idea where it was taking us or if it would actually get us back to the road we were on. For all we knew it said road closed, you’re shit out of luck. We had no means to decipher the squiggles and only an idea of where we actually were on the map anyways. You have to remember that the majority of the drive was spent hoping we were on the road we thought we were. Seeing signs for the next highway was always reassuring, but we didn’t ever really know which road we were currently on. Any split or major exit just brought curiosity. But, we could follow the sign and try and figure out our location when we saw the next town name or highway intersection.

The final choice, and the one that I actually pushed for at the time, was to follow the path of the drivers before us and go through the opening in the barrier. I know that this is dangerous, and I would have proceeded with some caution no doubt, but if I was driving that’s what we would have done. I would have told them not to worry, slowly picked up a little bit of speed once we saw nothing really changed, and then we would have all f***ing died.

You see, Kyle was driving and we chose option two rather than 3. It turns out it took us to the other side of the very same highway and eventually across a bridge that was under construction but still intact. To the left we were able to gaze upon another bridge, on the side we were just on, under construction and very non-intact. In fact, there was no bridge at all. There was a large opening where a bridge was supposed to be.  It had been demolished. It was just far enough away from the barrier that I would have started to drive a little faster, and plenty wide enough that we would have fallen straight into the river below. If the fall didn’t kill us, which there is no doubt it would, we would have been trapped in our Honda Freed in a river in the middle of nowhere. Our passports have plastic covering on the ID page, so they probably would have been able to identify us that way.

After all the excitement, we ended up following the detour squiggles back to the original side of the road and on our way once again. I generally saw myself as the responsible one during this trip who made sure we all got from A to B in one piece, but if my friends had trusted me as they did for much of the trip we would in all likelihood be dead. We’ve continued to have some crazy adventures since this trip and will probably do so until we depart for America, but no matter what happens or what we do everything always seems to work out in the end. Things end with a smile, and whenever it’s about to turn seriously bad it all gets better. That is until we drove straight into a Typhoon.

To be continued…