We Didn’t Make it to Bangers, But Krabs it is (with Ants in our Pants)
After a very pleasant evening eating curry, intestines, banana leaves and drinking lots of coconut juice, we had high hopes for our final day on the road. We were not to be disappointed.
It all began when our tuk-tuk resolutely refused to start as we reversed it out of its parking spot. We thought we’d give it its usual running start. No joy. Not even with the help of several strong men. We then turned the tuk-tuk into oncoming traffic so we could let gravity have a go. It growled slightly more reassuringly but still refused to fulfil its destiny. Our friendly guides then insisted on pushing our dear dying steed down a long sloping soi/alley. It was still not to be, and as we proceeded down the side road, some of our older helpers started to tire and peeled away. We emerged from the alley onto the main road worried that the tuk-tuk had finally reached the end of its long illness, and with heavy hearts decided we’d give the rickshaw a final heave and run before calling it quits. Just then, and as if it could sense our disappointment, our engine reluctantly returned from across the River Styx and spluttered into life. And off we went.
This was to be a short-lived success. Just before Wang Wiset, about 20km outside of Trang, the engine made an unsettling gurgling noise before rattling again into expiration. Tom was convinced it had finally given up the ghost. Along came a man with more than a passing resemblance to Jafar from Aladdin (minus the robes and parrot), who offered, well, insisted on towing us all the way to Ao Nang. We thought we’d see where we’d get to – perhaps he was the living incarnation of the Good Samaritan (we are in Thailand) or, more likely, he was going to take us on a bit of a ride – literally. Either way, he was probably going to drag us further on than we would have got waiting on a hill pass.
On arriving at a suitably deserted patch of road closer to Wang Wiset, our friend’s true motives soon became apparent. He asked us for 5000 baht (100 pounds/200 SGD) for the privilege of pulling the carcass of our warrior stallion to its final resting place in Ao Phra Nang. Aghast, we refused to let him have his filthy way with us – and certainly not in front of his two very amused young sons. Fortunately, two strapping young men came to our rescue. After some fiddling, they rapidly came to the realisation that repairing our roadwreck was beyond their expertise, and one of them left on his motorbike to enlist the services of the village mechanic. He soon arrived with a handful of spanners and screwdrivers as well as an expression of great concern. This turned out to be somewhat unnecessary, as he swiftly excised the tumour that was ailing our (un)trusty steed with yours truly as proud and reasonably competent scrub nurse (I do have some practice). Our newfound friends refused to accept any payment for their efforts, and we zoomed off with big smiles on our faces. (We do still wonder if we could have done the same if our tools hadn’t been stolen on the ferry from Belawan).
These smiles soon melted into frowns as the engine once again decided to let us down on the battlefield just 50km from the finish line, choosing this time to choke right in front of a massage parlour. Thinking it prudent to let the engine cool, we pushed the unconscious rickshaw to the side of the road and topped it – and ourselves – up with some fuel for the road.
Tom soon attracted the attention of the massage parlour staff who were certain that he had time for a massage before heading for Ao Nang. In the meantime, our fallen spaceship was slowly sliding into a nearby ditch – to our horror. But as we rushed to reverse its trajectory, we gave the ignition a hopeful twist to see if it would respond and it unexpectedly roared to life.
The state of the rickshaw was by now bordering on catastrophic. Its initially comforting engine rattle had become a constant deafening clanging. Driving it felt like manoeuvring an airport trolley across the tropical jungle with a couple of Asian elephants as cargo. Passengers had to grapple with getting flung out of the vehicle each time we made a right turn (the right door could no longer close properly), having their limbs swell and tingle from the violent rocking, and having to avoid getting left behind or run over each time we had to give the craft a running start before jumping in while rolling it down a slope. One other worrying thing was that we could longer stop the tuk-tuk for any period of time without having it stall. Like a shark, it had to keep moving or die. Red lights, therefore, were deemed extraneous to our journey. Every time we approached one, we slowed the tuk-tuk down as much as we dared and slowly inched forward until a gap appeared in traffic, before saying a prayer and flooring the accelerator to limp through the intersection. This all culminated in the final four-way junction of our journey, which involved a sharp right turn through the red light into oncoming traffic where the right door flung open and the tuk-tuk felt like it was going to roll over, its engine screaming and coughing in protest.
In order to find the finish line, we had to rely on directions supplied by The Adventurists, which were charmingly incongruous. (I personally wouldn’t nickname the Thais’ currently flood-ravaged holy city of angels ‘Bangers’, for a start). We were told to “go up Ao Nang High Street”, make a turn at “the shabby little restaurant on the corner”, look out for a McDonald’s billboard, and to “bump 2km down a dirt track”. Presumably, they forgot to mention we should make a left at the pub, drive past the cricket pitch, and watch out for sheep.
We decided to rely on our iPhones instead and easily found the dirt track leading to the finish line. “Bump” barely described what the rickshaw had to go through, as it plunged into water-filled potholes, crawled up steep slopes, tumbled down sudden drops, and tossed us around as it bounced over the extremely uneven track. As it hit a particularly steep section of track, the engine stalled and we began sliding backwards. We arrested our downward and backward progress by jumping out and physically halting the slide. I slid behind the wheel, and Tom and PJ slowly pushed the rickshaw up the slope until we gained enough momentum for the engine to splutter back into life one last time. Afraid to slow down for fear we’d stall again, I kept the accelerator down, forcing Tom and PJ to dive in to the rickshaw head- and backside-first respectively, various limbs and other body parts dangling out of the rickshaw as it resumed its rollercoaster ride over the track. After another minute or two of tumbling about, we took a left turn and suddenly there it was – the finish line. The rickshaw staggered under the banner, rolled past the rickshaws that had arrived before us, and slid smoothly into a parking spot before, appropriately, stalling for the very last time.
We staggered out of the rickshaw, slightly hysterical and delirious. After a long journey, we had finally made it.
Anyway, my bum is flaming from the very long ride. Time for a dip in the sea, perhaps?