The Little Truk-Truk That Couldn’t

If you’ve travelled outside of the Western world, you know driving can get a little… hectic. In some eastern countries, like India, while the honking never stops, it’s not a swath of insults. It’s just a courtesy. It’s a way of saying, “I’m here.”

But in Bangkok, we noted the silence. Cars and trucks and motorcycles weaved through the swarm of traffic like bees in a hive, orderly and with purpose. What first appears as chaos on the surface is actually incredibly organized and calm. You learn to just sort of trust the system, even if you don’t fully understand it.

That said, if you ever find yourself justifying the thought “Maybe going 180 kilometres an hour is normal here” while skirting razor-edge jungle cliffs in a tipsy truck with no seat belt or helmet or hope, please stop the vehicle and walk.

We found ourselves in such a predicament on the outskirts of Lampang. What began as an innocent request to our driver to stop lollygagging—i.e., no more miscellaneous stops for gas or permits or coffee or seeing that guy about a horse—turned into a NASCAR race through a jungle mountain highway while being followed too closely by a cement truck in a truk-truk held together by our prayers alone.

And so began our dilemma.

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The Tan Your Mind team hard at work in the pickup—before things got too dangerous to keep the cameras out. (Photo: Outpost/John Price)

It seemed that, yes, all vehicles on the highway were going outrageously fast. So perhaps slowing down would somehow muck up the system?

But, jeez, we remarked. We’re going really fast.

Then we looked into the cockpit: there was our driver, going 150km an hour, smoking a cigarette in one hand, posting to Facebook in the other, while about to overtake a transport truck on a sharp turn.

Risk threshold maximized.

Usually it’s marked by a torque in my gut or a pang in my temple, but this time it was the desperate squeeze of silver bar my hands were gripping onto. I was white-knuckled.

We had a choice:

  1. Hold on tight, pray to God, trust that “this is just the way things are here,” say nothing and potentially die, or…
  2. Flail our arms out the side of the truk-truk, slapping the side as hard as we can while trying to get our crazy driver to pull over and risk being stranded on the side of a jungle mountain highway with no service.

We went with the latter.

As our driver moved in the opposing lane, positioning himself for the overtake, Mike hung out the window, slapping the side of the truk-truk, yelling, “STOP THE VEHICLE. STOP RIGHT NOW!”

“You have to think from the perspective of yourself on the road, skinned, broken and dying, thinking, ‘Why didn’t I say anything?’ He’s a nice guy, our driver, but not offending him isn’t worth dying for”

We felt the truk-truk shift back into the lines, gradually slowing and pulling over to the side. Mike and John piled out of the car towards our driver, who was already apologizing profusely. Sternly and with fatherly authority, they articulated the urgency of their request.

SLOW. SLOWWWWWWWWW. NO OVERTAKING.

As we took off again, we went at the slightly more comfortable speed of 100km per hour, hanging onto sharp turns with three wheels instead of one.

All this, of course, incited much conversation in the back about risk. While Sue wasn’t as perturbed by the speed, what scared her was the trailing cement truck. Our photographer’s risk threshold was maxed on the overtake. Our videographer, who’s about to be a dad, was ready to jump ship from the beginning. Ever the calm voice of reason, here his demeanour almost cracked.

“You know, it’s one of those things. You can’t think from our perspective right now in the back of the truck, hopped up on adrenaline. You have to think from the perspective of yourself on the road, skinned, broken and dying, thinking, ‘Why didn’t I say anything?’ He’s a nice guy, our driver, but not offending him isn’t worth dying for.”

Words to remember.

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At least the views turned out really pretty. (Photo: Outpost/John Price)

Just as we thought we were in the clear, our designation in view, we began climbing up a steep hill, the engine revving, momentum slowing. Sure enough, the truk-truk put-putted, crawling up the slope until it stalled completely.

“EVERYONE JUMP OUT!” our photographer screamed as we all piled out the back. “MOVE TO THE SIDE!”

And just as we cleared the path, the emergency brake released and the truk-truk went flying down the hill like a rollercoaster released from a slow climb. The four of us stood there in disbelief as our truk-truk driver leaned out the window and gave us a thumbs up.

We paid our driver in full, and later took a taxi home.