Our first introduction came right outside our hotel. We walked out onto one of the busiest streets in the old city area of Bangkok – hoping to get across. It was one lane in one direction, but about four in the other. Being a fair distance from any intersections, there were no real breaks in the traffic, just a steady stream of roaring tuk-tuks and taxis.
No problem – just half a block away we spied a pedestrian crossing and headed over, confident of success. A minute or so later, we were still waiting. It seems stopping, or even slowing down, at a pedestrian crossing is completely optional.
We had struck this sort of thing in Beijing. There is a technique for negotiating traffic, which involves launching yourself into the traffic without looking… you just trust that it will be alright and more often than not, it is. Beijing traffic, however, was a good deal slower and more gentle than the torrent that swept before us now, there was no way I was going to simply trust them to miss us, so we completely failed to convince the traffic that we were really going across… and they in turn ignored us.
Just when we were about to give up, a local came to our rescue. The helpful lady pointed out a bucket of flags nearby. Apparently, holding a flag in front of you as you cross renders the traffic helpless and they part like the waters of the red sea as you stride across… or not! Despite the flag, traffic simply sailed on by, though emboldened by the weapons we now held and the presence of a local, we did finally manage to cross. I think the flags’ only use would be to whack tuk-tuks that came too close.
Now, all of this is highly amusing, and similar tales could be told by any visitor to Bangkok, but it’s a serious problem. Consider this:
The road toll over the week-long New Year travel period, which ended on Wednesday, exceeded last year’s record levels in all categories, Deputy Prime Minister Kosit Panpiemras said yesterday. This year saw 449 people killed and 4,943 injured in 4,456 accidents, higher than the same period last year by eight deaths, 171 injuries and 262 accidents, he said. (Bangkok Post, Jan 5 2007)
… yep, you read that correctly – 449 road deaths in seven days! In a country with just over three times the population of Australia they exceed our road deaths by about nine times.
You definitely need that travel insurance!