That Time We Almost Got Squashed By A Semi In Phuket

There are very good reasons why Thailand ranks 3rd in world-wide road fatalities per capita. Phuket is a big contributor to that problem, killing one person every three days, many (if not most) of them on a scooter.

In the thick of the city, traffic gets rather... intense. Scooters buzz around like wasps with directional targeting systems. Double parking is routine. Lane dividers are mere suggestions, and any expectation of speed consistency, let alone limits, is laughable. Street maintenance? Well... This is Thailand. 


Dismissing all these issues out of hand, we rented a scooter and drove around Phuket for three days without becoming a statistic. But we came close.

Zipping along Chaofa East road at a healthy clip, we crested a rise to find the three lanes of northbound traffic ahead of us relatively clear. Sure, the left-most (up against the sidewalk and buildings) lane was half-blocked with parked -- and double-parked -- cars, but there was enough room for scooters to pass. A flatbed semi occupied the right-most lane (the "fast" lane up against the double yellow separating north and southbound traffic), signaling his intention to switch to the wide-open middle lane with his left-turn blinker.

We were some 50 meters behind, scooter laden with a jam-packed Marmot Urban Hauler 2* in the front basket, another bag stuffed with snacks and a tripod wedged between us, and Sheila's I-will-photograph-the-world-and-so-I-might-need-every-lens-imaginable camera bag on her back. One of us might have overpacked. But that's beside the point. 

Overweight by a good hundred kilos and projecting to arrive at the bus station with only a minute to spare, I slowed down to let the trucker move left, so I could pass him on the right. 

(Side note: It's never OK to pass on the left in Thailand. Unless of course traffic is slowing down for an intersection. Then scooters go into the aforementioned wasp-mode, and any gap is fair game.)

Though the left lane was wide open, the truck never changed lanes. After several seconds, I surmised he'd forgotten to turn off his signal, and accelerated along his left side, taking advantage of the open lane to add to my holy-sht-we're-going-to-miss-the-bus buffer. There was a green light at the intersection some hundred meters away, and I didn't want to get stuck when it turned red.

Now approaching the halfway-mark on his trailer, the truck began to slow down for the green-lighted intersection. A part of my brain thought this odd. But the this-is-Thailand part of my brain quickly overrode the worry and had my wrist increase torque to eek out a bit more speed to efficiently zip through the approaching intersection. 

In microseconds, the sounds of the truck's brakes engaging hit my ears at the same time his cab swung into my lane, directly in the middle of the intersection, single-digit meters away from our overladen two-wheeled death machine.

(Side note: Astute readers will have ascertained that the traffic flows in the opposite direction here, much like in the UK and Australia. In America, everyone knows that tractor trailers make wide rights as to not overshoot into the opposing lane of traffic as they complete the turn. In Thailand, that's backwards.)

The trucker hadn't forgotten to turn off his signal. He was signaling for his wide left, and the open lane the result of Thai people acknowledging and respecting his intentions. Not the stupid fucking overladen Americans, however.

Clamping down on the front brake grip and stomping on the rear brake pedal, inertia won out over friction, and the Marmot Urban Hauler 2* continued forward for a moment, until the feeble-yet-unrelenting force of gravity pulled it toward the center of the earth, skittering across the asphalt as friction regained its dominance. Meanwhile with ears ringing from the shriek/gasp combination immediately behind me, I struggled to a) keep the bike upright, b) hook the Marmot Urban Hauler 2* with left foot, c) avoid slamming into the cab of the truck, and d) preserve my dignity. At least one of those was a lost cause.

Time kicked back up to a normal tempo as we veered just left of the truck's front bumper and came to a shuddering stop, the bike stalling out from the violence at hand. With bag dangling from my left foot, my right leg took on the solo job of balancing/limping out of the intersection back the way we came while the light was still green. And before the still moving and now quite verbally abusive trucker ran us over.

Safely on the sidewalk and to the fading chorus of creative Thai expletives, a much more safety-minded group of scooter riders waiting at the now-red light and chance pedestrians on the sidewalk met us with a mix mild applause, head shaking, and pointing/laughing. 

Once the adrenaline had stopped coursing, we were delighted to find that not only had the Marmot Urban Hauler 2* survived the experience, but had nary a scratch on it! Coupled with the lack of involuntary bowel evacuation and the whole not-dying thing, we counted ourselves as fortunate and continued on our way.

I'm pretty sure I can still hear the truck driver swearing at us from some 400 km away.

(And yes, we still made it to the bus on time!)

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