• 13 . 02 . 11
  • Day one of Monkey And The Benj Hit The Road almost stops before it starts at a Qantas check-in desk, then picks up the pace with alacrity on arrival in Bangkok.

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The Getaway

The bright pink taxi ride into Bangkok from the airport was about 40km and took 20 minutes, most of which was spent on a long, fast 5/6/7 lane highway. The lines, where they existed, were ambiguous to say the least, and the occasional Hummer took up more than one lane anyway, so it’s hard to say for sure how many lanes there were supposed to be. We passed a pickup truck with a wooden frame on the tray, housing 5 small children who bounced with every rut and pothole. The tailgate was up at least, I think.

We weaved through traffic going at what felt like 200kph, making a mockery of speed signs forlornly blinking 60kph for all to ignore, while being overtaken by BMWs on both sides doing even more. I say felt like, because apparently speedometers are optional in Thai cars. As are seatbelts. As is indicating. After a couple of close encounters (of the merde kind), I can certainly say the brakes worked though.

Cars change lanes at high speed without warning, without so much as a glance over the shoulder. I can’t work out whether that makes them excellent drivers, or appalling ones. Kevin Pieterson would enjoy it at least. In town, the traffic lights that counted down the seconds to the next change seemed designed to support drag racing, and even more frantic drivers than ours duly obliged.

Luckily I was too tired from the previous 15 hours to think about all this too much at the time, because I’m reasonably sure I would have been as green as my knuckles were white. Instead I focused on the single mosquito buzzing inside the cab, which I imagined a harbinger of the swarms we are soon to encounter.

An extended day had started with farewells from friends who also acted as welcome magpies, taking the shiny stuff from boxes that would otherwise have been thrown away. The journey to the airport was soundtracked by Hall and Oates and the lovely Queensland sun, absent so many days these last few months, was out in full to bid us adieu.

If this was our practice trip for The Amazing Race, we hit our first roadblock in the first few minutes at the check-in desk. Though our plans take us out of Thailand into Laos after a couple of weeks, we aim to overland it and had no proof that that is what we are intending. Instead, from the paperwork alone, it looks like we’re heading to Amman after 2 months which is inconveniently over the 30 day maximum that you are allowed in Thailand without a visa. A polite but over-zealous Qantas official kept us waiting for 10 minutes while she discussed with colleagues over the phone whether or not she could let us on the plane. She acquiesced only after insisting that we purchase a ticket in Sydney that demonstrated we would be leaving Thailand within a month, otherwise she “wouldn’t be held responsible for the consequences.”

14 hours later, an immigration officer waved us through into Thailand inside a minute with a smile, politely declining to look at our itinerary and the proof of a $100 per-person dummy flight we’d booked from Bangkok to Hanoi for February 28th, purchased online from Sydney airport’s departure lounge. Pro tip: save your money, they don’t care. 5 minutes in and over budget already!

After collecting our luggage, which mercifully made it all the way without incident, we headed out into the muggy midnight air to join a queue for what we hoped would be a sedate taxi ride into town…