If I had to sum up driving on Samui, I would say that it equates to being transported inside a Play Station Game. You are the main character, and have to drive yourself from point A to point B dodging obstacles to reach the next level. As you go along, the game becomes more challenging: here a dog runs out in front of you, there a Singha Beer truck overtakes a fruit seller and is now driving towards you – in your lane – you need to swerve towards the drains ... oh no!
In a game, you have many lives, and it is easy to just press the restart button. Real life doesn’t work this way – there are no second or third lives, no restart button, and no flashing on screen messages saying ‘nice try, better luck next time!’ Driving on Samui is a challenge to say the least. Talking on a cell phone while driving is not an option, which I must admit, I did do back in South Africa. Here you need your wits about you – all the time.
The dreaded metal drain covers. Oh how I hate having to go around another vehicle and drive over one of those. Some seem to be precariously balancing over the holes; others are missing and have a palm frond protruding out of the hole ‘warning’ drivers of the danger. This is all very well and I am grateful to the people who put the palm fronds there, but someone must have been the unlucky Play Station player to drive over the grid, causing it to cave in, ‘game over, try again?’ This drain problem has been worse after the recent floods, and where motor cyclists used to keep to the sides, now they are forced to ride in the middle of the road or lose lives, literally and in the Play Station analogy.
Road markings and signals are not the same here, it seems universal ones have been adapted to Samui. I have yet to see a stop sign. Sure, there are painted white lines at cross roads, along the Ghost road for example, but what exactly does this mean? Who has right of way, is it a four-way stop? There doesn’t seem to be a consistency with this, with some drivers assuming right of way, and others treating it as a four way stop. Everywhere else in the world, if traffic lights are out of order, the rule of thumb is that the intersection is now treated as a four way stop; not here, just take a gap. Here I have seen white lines painted along the edge of the road, and yellow lines down the middle, again a contrast the universal system, where the opposite is true. Should I even mention that there are no street names, anywhere?
It would be unfair to write about driving on Samui, without mentioning the positive aspects too. I love the fact that the traffic lights (we call them robots in South Africa) count down, and you know how long you have to wait until it is your turn to go. Somehow, this makes the waiting less stressful. There is a complete lack of road rage here, something I am finding very hard to get used to. I have always hated pulling out into the traffic, against the flow, having to cross two lanes. Before, I always rather turned in with the traffic, and went around the block, so that I could enter the traffic with the flow. How do you go around the block on an island? You can’t, this would mean travelling the entire circumference of the island along the Ring Road. I have learnt to do as the Islanders do – pull out into the traffic, wait half way, and edge your way in. The hard part about this is that I expect hooters, fist-shaking drivers or worse. Back in South Africa, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, a stunt like this would have infuriated other drivers, causing untold levels of road rage and verbal abuse. Here the other drivers just stop and wait, no problem, take your time. This complete lack of road rage is refreshing.
I am off to fetch my daughter from school. Press start, let the game begin. I hope that the flashing on-screen message is ‘Congratulations, you have reached the next level!’ and not ‘Nice try, better luck next time.’