There are times you find yourself rolling down a mountain in a friend’s SUV. These things happen.
(There was actually more spinning and flipping than rolling, but for simplicity’s sake…)
What’s that? No? That’s never happened to you?
You should know that I still haven’t told my parents this story. My mom and aunt were terrified for my life the minute I boarded the plane to Thailand. The entire time I was there, the two of them watched Thai news channels via satellite every night, making sure I didn’t turn up dead (because my death would surely make headlines?). Every time I Skyped home, they updated me with the latest developments regarding the Red Shirts and crimes against tourists.
So let’s just keep this between us, alright?
I had this particular fear – the fear of rolling down mountains – when traveling to Luang Prabang because of the winding vertical roads. I never actually thought it would happen.
About 15 kilometers from Chiang Mai City, nearly at the top of Doi Suthep, visitors will find Wat Pra That (temple). DP and I made three attempts to visit this temple, over the course of three months. The first time, in the spirit of adventure and budgeting, we took a motorbike that we were renting from Goodwill Guesthouse. The bike was our usual mode of transportation around town, and we should have known the pitiful thing would stall out at the base of the mountain. (I think it had one gear. )
The second attempt to go up Doi Suthep ended with us coming back down in a tow truck, having made it 3/4 of the way. Our friend P– and I were in the cab with the driver; DP and our two other friends sat in the wrecked SUV, which was strapped onto the flatbed. Only in Thailand…
You know how the Universe sends you signs sometimes? And you don’t listen because these so-called signs seem like erroneous or mundane occurrences?
That day – the day we flipped over on a mountain – there were so many signs that we changed our minds about going several times, even as we got in the car.
We arranged to meet with P– (who was driving) and her husband at a restaurant called Pun Pun, located inside the walls of Wat Suan Dok temple. (Side note: Pun Pun is an amazing vegetarian restaurant, and I highly recommend it if you are ever in Chiang Mai.) On the way there, our stupid motorbike (yes – the same one that failed us on the first venture) blew a flat. We pushed it the remaining distance and decided to deal with it later.
The second sign was that Pun Pun’s service was extremely slow. Nearly 30 minutes passed after we sat down before someone took our drink orders. When we finally ordered our meals, it was another hour before the food was ready. They are never that slow, especially considering how empty the place was.
Third sign: our friends were very late, the type of late that makes you think they aren’t coming. Since they are notorious for tardiness, it was easy to overlook.
When they finally arrived and we headed up the mountain, we noticed the asphalt was a little wet from earlier rains. DP and I felt uneasy, especially since (for some unknown reason) P– was driving a bit recklessly…
I am not sure how other people experience those moments before a wreck, just as the vehicle whips out of control.
P– had come to a sharp curve. As I felt the first wobble of the steering wheel- the first sign she had lost control – consciousness switched to slow motion. I remember looking at the trees – the lovely trees – and seeing the guard rail to the right; beyond that was a very long vertical drop off the face of the mountain.
I sat between DP and our American friend, Tim. I had time to realize DP had reached for the roll bar and was bracing himself. “Hold on…” he said to me. But there was nothing to hold onto, so I just closed my eyes.
And then we were whipping around a full 180 degrees. The SUV tottered on two wheels a second before flipping on its side in a ditch. Luckily, Thais drive on the left hand side of the road – otherwise, it would have been a much different trip back to the bottom of the mountain.
Everyone remained perfectly still for a few pounding heartbeats. I was crushing Tim; DP clung to the roll bar so he wouldn’t crush me. Somehow, he hoisted himself up and out of the rear passenger window. Then he reached in and pulled me out. I had to push off Tim’s shoulder with my foot (sorry Tim).
No one was hurt; the SUV was kaput. We waited for what seemed like hours for the tow truck, and it was dark by the time we reached our motorbike outside of Pun Pun… which still had a flat tire.
We left the bike behind a sketchy building and found a late night place to eat before walking slowly to the guesthouse (on the other side of town).
You know how terrifying, near-death events will change your life? I think some of the fear receptors in my brain burned out that day (only to be rekindled by encounters with wild hogs – but even then I can’t seem to “freak out”). When people lament about their First-World problems, I remember lying on my side, inside that car on a mountain in northern Thailand.