Wrong! Sure, driving your own car means that you are in charge of your bathroom stops, but you also have to worry about things like road works, traffic obstacles, queues at the border and bad drivers. When you are a passenger, you can sit back, read a book, have a snooze, and all of these issues become the driver’s problem. Considering all, I would still rather drive, unless having to do the run alone.
It’s amazing how important toilets become on a road trip, and by that I mean GOOD toilets; to most of us, that means Western toilets. Using an Eastern toilet is a skill I have yet to master. Squatting above a wet floor, and trying not to stand in countless previous occupants’ contributions, while your thighs develop an uncontrollable wobble, and your legs threaten to cave in, is not fun. This is probably the only time I envy men, who can (and do) relieve themselves just about anywhere. After two self-drive trips to Penang, I now know which toilets are good, which are barely acceptable, and which to avoid at all costs. I think that a guide book on public bathrooms with a grading system, would be a best seller, even if only bought by women – perhaps I will make this an assignment… any contributions and suggestions welcome.
I always try to see the funny side of difficult situations. Often this is only possible in retrospect. At the time, tears, frustration and despair cloud our vision and positive outlook making it very hard to find a funny side. Take this for example: After eventually arriving at the Thai border around 8:00pm, in a 2-hour bumper-to-bumper queue, an official waved us through. We showed him our passports, that needed stamping, and he was insistent that we drive straight through. Carrying on in the slowly snaking queue of cars, we crossed the no-man’s-land strip and arrived at the immigration booth at the Malaysia border – only to be told that they could not stamp us in to Malaysia, as we never received a stamp exiting Thailand. Just imagine it. The traffic is backed up, it would take two hours to drive the 2km back, and then sit in the traffic again, to enter Malaysia. We asked if we could park the car, and walk back to Thailand, which they allowed us to do – suspiciously monitored by police along the way. My husband’s new bar story is, ‘My wife made me walk to Malaysia and back again!’
If anyone decides to drive to Malaysia, be warned – there are practically no petrol stations along the highway. Unless you like the challenge of seeing how far you can drive on fumes, fill up before you leave Thailand! Not even the bottle stands of petrol, that we see every 100m in Thailand, exist. It’s amazing how different Malaysia is to Thailand, and it is evident the moment you cross the border. Yes, perhaps there is better infrastructure, but the quaint things that make Thailand so charming disappear. No more dog passengers or entire families on motorbikes, no more children playing football on the side of the road, no more water buffalo, chickens or roadside stands. But it is the people that denote the biggest change, and your reason for smiling when crossing the border back into Thailand. It is easy to see why it is called ‘The Land of Smiles’. It is so good to hear ‘Sawadee ka’ again when you cross over. No more grunts as a greeting, which is all you get if you are lucky, in Malaysia.
So for all the hassles, tears, frustrations and hiccups that go along with a visa run, the warm welcome back into Thailand makes you realize why you settled here for a while, and makes the unbearable trip a little more bearable, in retrospect that is.
© Rosanne Turner