The Last Leg : The Tuk Tuk Diaries V
On the last leg of their journey through Northern Thailand with The Tuk Tuk Club, Mark and Jen leave Pai and take the long road back to Mae Vang.
I awake to the sound of cockerels crowing in the neighbouring fields – this really is rural Thailand. Today is not only our final day’s drive, it’s also the longest. We will travel some 178 kilometres taking the scenic route to Mae Vang, avoiding the heavy traffic that plies the road to Chiang Mai.
Graham says that this is the best day’s driving.
Initially I question his judgement. Yes, the road is devoid of traffic, but this seems largely due to its general state of disrepair. Up to now the condition of the roads has been excellent, and this is the first time we’ve had to slalom our way around potholes. Accustomed to driving in rural Cambodia, this is familiar terrain for me, but not for my companions. Nigel comments upon the road surface when we stop for a coffee at Wat Chan, which is a beautiful teak temple, and where we topped up with petrol for the last leg of our trip at an old-style station which still used a hand pump.
So far Smithy has driven Jen, as I had a late night watching Liverpool thrash Spartak Moscow. But now it’s my turn to take over.
We are taking Jen and Flo on roads that no self-respecting urban tuk tuk would ever dream of driving
For the first time on our trip the clouds start to roll over and there is a genuine possibility that I may have to use the windscreen wiper – there is only one – for the first time. But as snow is predicted for the UK upon my return this seems a minor concern. A bunch of bikers pass us on the tight bends. Then we climb some more before pulling over to the side of the road to enjoy the view at what Graham helpfully describes as “the viewpoint” about half way to our destination.
The bikers have arrived here first. They all congregate around Jen, needing little encouragement to pose for the camera.
This will be my most biding memory of the trip; the way that Thais have welcomed the crazy foreigners driving their orange tuk tuks around Thailand. I have never felt so truly welcome in a country in all of my travels. There is a genuine warmth but also respect for what we are doing, especially as we are taking Jen and Flo on roads that no self-respecting urban tuk tuk would ever dream of driving.
Shortly afterwards Jen starts misbehaving. Smithy thinks we – namely I – have been over-revving the engine as we descend the steep slopes. I suspect that, like myself, Jen has no desire for our adventure to come to an end. He takes over driving relegating me to a role on the bench for the rest of the trip.
What at first feels like a slur on my tuk tuk driving skills – after all I am now a ten-day veteran – soon seems a reward. Sitting in the back I can enjoy our welcome as we pass through some idyllic villages where locals smile or wave at the most unexpected visitors. Now, I realise what Graham had meant when he said that today was a special day’s drive.
Eventually, we turn onto the road where we had started our trek, and I recognise landmarks we passed a week ago. With the chequered flag almost in sight, Smithy rediscovers his trust in my driving ability and allows me to take Jen home.
The hotel where we stayed our first two nights now in clear view, I indicate left and pull Jen into the grass verge by the side of the road, stalling her for one final time as I forget to apply enough clutch and we slam to a stop. At least some things have not changed.
Enough time for one final photo beside Jen, before I take a shower and remove the dust I have collected along the route.
That night as we have our last supper together, I feel slightly melancholic that our adventure has ended, which is only slightly relieved by the bottles of Leo and some Singha – Graham’s mistake – that we consume.
A wonderful trip through a beautiful part of the world, though I doubt that if I ever need to find a new career being a tuk tuk driver is a viable option. That is unless I can find a niche with customers who like mangled gear changes and juddering halts.
If you have enjoyed the last leg of Mark and Jen’s exploits, then read them from the beginning here.
The Tuk Tuk Club runs day trips from just outside of Chiang Mai as well as the longer 11-day trip, for more information, visit here.
Mark Bibby Jackson
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