On the face of it, the dense traffic in any Thai city seems chaotic, dangerous, frantic and disorganised. In reality, it isn’t. Almost 80% of Thai’s ride motorbikes of one sort or another and they begin riding alone from as early as 8 or 9 years of age. The sheer density of bikes brings with it an awareness from car drivers that you simply wont find in Europe of America. There is no 'Shoulder' in the cities, so bikes generally keep to the left, undertake on the inside of cars and the system works beautifully well. "Sorry I didn’t see you" ( Sia jai, pom mia hen ter - เสียใจ ผม ไม่เห็น เธอ ) is a phrase that you’ll seldom hear in Thailand … mai pen rai
It’s a busy road, but due to the Thao Suranaree Festival, tonight it’s actually quite quiet. A Thai Lady, riding towards me on her red Honda Wave, a bag of shopping dangling from the handlebar and wearing the inevitable Thai smile. She’s doing nothing wrong, riding slowly, within the correct lane and seemingly paying attention. From the opposite direction, a Thai man travelling quickly aboard a silver Honda Sonic, talking on his mobile phone and overtaking a slower moving car on the outside. The bikes collide with a sickening crunch that seems to shake the buildings at either side of the road. A split second later, as the Thai Lady and her Honda Wave cartwheel through the air, you hear every shard of broken plastic as it hit’s the ground, and then the sickening ’Crump’ of metal and bones on concrete.
A middle-aged couple dash from the pavement towards where Lady and Bike have landed. I look to my right, the other Bike has stopped in the centre of the road, somehow the rider’s managed to stay upright and seemingly unscathed. I walk towards him but instead of rushing to assist, he starts hurling insults at his victim. And then he’s off. I catch hold of his flapping jacket but it just tears from my hand and he’s away down the road to anonymity. I turn around and the Lady and Bike are alone on the road. The middle-aged Thai couple hadn’t been rushing to her assistance, they’d simply taken the opportunity of a temporary break in the traffic to cross the fu**ing road. They’d totally ignored her.
A pool of blood is spreading out across the tarmac like something from a horror movie. Fortunately she has a crash helmet, but unfortunately when the other bike had hit her it was being carried in the forward basket and not on her bloody head. She’s hysterical and screaming at me ….. "rong-tao …. rong-tao". Rong-tao is Thai for 'Shoes', so she either has serious concussion or I have an awful lot more to learn about Thais.
A new packet of Kleenex Balsam Travel Tissues in my pocket, wrapper off and press the entire wad against where I think the blood is spurting from. It’s hard to tell, too much screaming, too much bloody hair. Bollocks. I’m trying to remember my First Aid and how to speak Thai at the same time, I might as well try to recite Homer’s Iliad while I’m at it. It’s bloody useless and nobody at all is looking to help. Screw this. The, dressing’s pressed against the wound, she’s still entangled in the bike but all of her limbs seem to be pointing in the right direction. She’s screaming at me now, and from what I can tell, the whole accident was entirely my fault. That’s gratitude for you. I suddenly realise that I’m an alien here, a stranger in a strange land and I need help. The traffic is just circling us so I stand up, walk in front of another bike and hope to hell that he stops. Thankfully, he does.
A second bike then stops to help, but only because he’s a mate of the guy that I‘ve just hijacked. The still screaming Lady is carried to the side of the road, she’s found her lost shoes and somebody is dragging her Honda Wave to join her. She’s loaded onto the first bike that I’d stopped and the riders friend jumps on behind her to make sure that she doesn’t fall off the back. They’re off to the hospital which is only 100 yards away, but no they’re not. The bike stops, she’s screaming about something else. The guy jumps off the back, runs towards me and picks up her crash helmet .. horse, stable door and bolted.
As my mind returns to planet earth, I stand at the side of the road covered in blood and wonder WTF has just happened? Quite possibly the most surreal five minutes of my entire life, but not quite. Then, to round off the experience, another unknown guy is now riding off down the road in the opposite direction on her swiftly resurrected Honda Wave. Thief or Good Samaritan? I have absolutely no idea and quite frankly, I’m beyond caring. Bring me some beer …. mai pen rai