I enthusiastically responded, "I've been thinking the same thing! Maybe we should all go out to a movie on Wednesday, or get up early on Saturday to go hiking, or try a new restaurant..."
Mom interrupted, "He was thinking something like Vietnam or Thailand."
Oh. Different level of adventure. I see. I can work with that.
That is how we ended up going on a road trip to Thailand over Christmas break.
Wait, I skipped a step. First, Dad and I sat down with computers a couple weeks before Christmas and started looking up plane tickets to Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok and Chiang Mai and said, yeah, no, those prices aren't going to work. That's when I said, "Why don't we just drive to some part of Thailand that's not too far away?"
The Malaysia-Thailand border is less than 3 hours from where we live, but we'd never driven across the border ourselves. Something about crossing international borders in your own vehicle is a bit intimidating. I'd been to Thailand twice, but it had been 10 years since my last trip.
Crossing the border in our own car was a little scary. And confusing. Here's some advice: Don't simply try to drive into Thailand without looking up detailed info on how to legally cross the border with your car. We are really glad we researched the process ahead of time! It's a little complicated, and there's a bunch of paperwork and customs and insurance stuff to consider. The border crossing ended up taking nearly an hour both on the way in and on the way out, so you have to plan extra time into your travel plans to take into account the border crossing.
After successfully making it to the other side of the border, Dad bought a SIM card with a data plan for 7 days and with the help of Google maps, we were all set for our road trip in Thailand!
And then the adventures began!
Just kidding--for people used to driving in Malaysia's big cities, driving in small town Thailand and through the countryside was relaxing. At some points, my littlest sisters said, "Something about this place reminds me of America." I think they must have been referencing the wide open plains, the well-maintained, traffic-free divided highways, and fast speed limits.
We've done a lot of traveling on the roads of Malaysia and the USA, and Thailand wasn't quite like either of them. It's pretty interesting what you can learn while looking out your car windows for several hours at a time.
We spotted a lot of buffalo being walked down the side of the road--we believe many of the buffalo work in rice paddies. It can be a little unnerving passing a big guy just a few feet away!
The pick-up trucks of Thailand seemed miniature when compared to my dad's minivan. But they can carry huge loads!
Something we noticed was that comparatively very few motorcyclists were wearing helmets. In Malaysia, it's the law to wear motorcycle helmets, so nearly all motorcyclists wear them--we usually only ever see children without helmets on motorbikes (which always makes me sad to see!). I'm not sure what the law is in Thailand, but more than half of those on motorbikes, at least among those we saw, we not wearing helmets.
In Malaysia, we're used to seeing palm plantations where palm oil is produced. In the part of Thailand we were in, palm plantations were replaced by endless rubber plantations.
Tourist-type attractions are sometimes clearly signed in English along the road. But not always. Perhaps it depends on the popularity of the destination with foreigners. I'm not sure. Coming from a country where the local language uses the Roman alphabet and is at least decipherable and pronounceable, driving in a place where we can't even begin to understand how to read the Thai script is a totally different experience. We did, however, learn that the sign above most probably means something like "Bridge ahead is out. Cars, don't drive down this road because there is no more bridge." Because...Dad kept driving down the road in spite of the sign (Google maps told him to keep going straight) and we came to a river with a broken bridge that had fallen into the river. Sometimes Google maps is wrong.
We also learned that Angel does not look Thai. At least that's what a friendly man at the barber shop Angel and Dad visited during our stay said. "But," the man continued, "it looks like you are a tourist and he is your tour guide." while talking to Dad. Which probably explains why people kept speaking to Angel in Thai throughout our stay. Actually, at the border crossing, one of the awkward experiences was that there was no real place to park the car, so we left it in an inconvenient place as we went to line up for immigration. When we returned to the car, a security guard walked up to Angel and started scolding him in Bahasa. Angel just looked confused and we all pointed to Dad, the actual driver and owner of the car and the best Bahasa speaker in the family--when the security person saw Dad, he just froze, waved, and walked away. So...we probably weren't supposed to park where we did...but that's the difference between being Angel and being Dad in this part of the world.
Here's a bit of a vlog with a preview of some of our adventures in Thailand...and snippets of the sort of music we listen to while on the road, ha!
So, that's the beginning of our tale of being on the road in Thailand. More tales to come of our adventures in Trang and the nearby islands!