Every year, during the summer holidays, I usually go on long road trips around the country. The two biggest trips I have done were to Phuket in the south and Chiang Mai in the north. Since moving into my own home last year, I haven’t been away for longer than one night. This was partly due to the fact that it was like a holiday being in my first home. I was living at the school before and during the summer holidays I wanted to get away. But, this year I was comfortable in my own home and didn’t really want to do more than day or overnight trips. Actually, I think the main reason at first was that I was worried to leave the house all alone. I thought maybe there would be a fire or a thief might break in! So, it was a bit of a surprise to everyone that I agreed to go on this four day road trip.
Traveling by car in Thailand is not really that difficult. They drive on the left like we do in the UK. Most road signs in the cities and on major highways are bilingual. Most cars are also automatic. The only difficulty is sometimes with navigation. Even the best map book of Thailand isn’t really that good. If you stick to the main highways you won’t get lost. But, if you are looking for something in the middle of no-where, you will have to keep stopping to ask the locals.
It is also best to make sure you fill up your petrol tank before you leave the main roads. It is quite easy to do this. You don’t need to know much Thai. All you have to say is what kind of petrol you want and how much petrol. I use “95 petrol” which is slightly higher grade. I just say “gao haa” and “dtem dtank”. The latter means full tank. They might then ask if you want a “bi-set” which means a receipt. Just shake your head. Sometimes they will offer to clean your windscreen and empty any rubbish bins. You can also ask them to check under the hood and fill the tyres with air if needed. All for free.
Our road trip to Koh Chang was quite simple. The length of journey was about 300 kms. I started the trip on the Bangna-Trad Highway. Here I chose to go on the elevated road which runs above the normal road for about 55 kms. It is a lot faster up there as there are not so many cars. This took us all the way to Chonburi in less than an hour. This is where we came before to visit Bangsaen Beach. This is the nearest beach resort to Bangkok. We then followed the signs for the “Pattaya and Rayong” bypass. After a short distance we turned off onto highway 344 towards Klaeng.
This was the slowest part of the trip as there weren’t so many lanes and there were also some traffic lights. Even though I was traveling much slower, I got pulled over by the highway police for apparently speeding. I am not sure how he would have known that as he didn’t have one of those laser guns. But, then I saw them pulling over other motorists behind me, even the ones driving in the slower lanes. Then it became obvious what was happening. A modern version of highway robbery.
The policemen said that he was going to take my license and issue a speeding ticket. I would then have to go all the way back to Bangsaen to pay the fine. Then started the song and dance routine. Can I not pay here, I asked. “Not really”, he said, “you have to go back to Bangsaen.” But I don’t live around here. I am on my way to Koh Chang. “Well, maybe I can let you pay your fine here,” he said. I asked him how much it would be. He said that 100 baht would be enough. I gave it to him and he quickly put it into his pocket.
I don’t really like bribing policemen as it just encourages them to pull this scam on other motorists. I have only been stopped twice before by policemen in Thailand and on both occasions they wanted a bribe. Admittedly, the first time I was at fault as I had gone down the wrong way on a one way road. That is quite easy to do in Bangkok. Anyway, the policeman pulled me over and took me into his police box. He did exactly the same routine of trying to emphasis how difficult it would be to pay the fine. He said it would be easier to pay him 300 baht. The actual fine would have been 500 baht.
I got the money out and flashed it around and asked him if I could have a receipt. He then started panicking and told me to put the money down on the bench. Obviously he didn’t want people to see me giving him cash. Then a kind Thai gentleman saw what was going on and came to my assistance. He told me in English that I shouldn’t bribe the policeman more than 100 baht. By this time the guy was so nervous that he decided to write me a ticket! It was a bit of a pain as I had to go back into Bangkok the following day to pay the fine and pick up my license.
The second time I was stopped I just played dumb. The guy tried to speak to me in broken English so I decided not to understand him. It was obvious by his sign language that he wanted me to give him a bribe. But I ignored it and continued my pretense of not being able to understand him. Finally he got bored and waved me on. When I got stopped this time, I decided I had no choice. He could have made it difficult for me and it would have spoiled our holiday.
At Klaeng I turned left onto highway 3. For those who don’t know, this is actually Sukhumwit road which starts in Bangkok and goes all the way to Trad near the Cambodian border. The length is about 400 kms in total. This was a better road and so I could now speed up. However, I had to put my foot on the brakes when I saw two more police checkpoints up ahead. I got my one hundred baht note ready but these ones seemed to be more honest and weren’t really that interested in me.
Near Chantaburi we started to pass many fruit orchards and pick-up trucks full to the brim with fruit such as rambutans and durian. Chantaburi is famous for its fruit and at this time of year they have a popular fruit festival. I have passed through Chantaburi once before and the thing that I remember the most is the large white cathedral in the city centre. I remember noting that it looked strangely out of place. We stopped to buy some rambutans. They were less than half Bangkok prices and much more delicious.
About 30 kms later we decided it would be wise to fill the tank up with petrol. We weren’t sure about the availability of petrol on the island. Then, just before entering Trad, we turned right onto road 3156. This then took us to the car ferry at Ao Thammachat. There are other ferries along this road but we went with this one because there was only ten minutes before it was due to leave. From here it was a 30 minute boat ride to Koh Chang. I will tell you more about what we found on the island soon.
[The next story is called “Holiday on Koh Chang Island”]