About 6 and half years ago, while on vacation in Thailand, my friend Ryan and I decided to go on a tour of James Bond Island just outside of Phang Nga. We booked our tour through a small travel company the day before our excursion and were pretty excited about getting to see something that was a central focus in the movie The Man With The Golden Gun.
The morning of our tour, a songthaew (a passenger vehicle that is basically a pickup truck where the passengers sit in the back on benches) came and picked us up at our hotel and started to drive us back to the tour company where we would meet up with the rest of the people on our tour and depart from there.
As we started driving, we noticed that our driver wasn’t really slowing down at the stop signs and would just roll right through and continue on. We both thought it was a little odd, but since there were no other vehicles on the road didn’t think much of it. As we pulled up to the meet the other tourists, our driver let off the gas and pulled on the hand brake to come to a complete stop. Again, pretty odd, but we figured this was the end of our stop in this vehicle, so no need to question it.
However, that wasn’t the end of our trip in that songthaew. As we attempted to get off, thinking we would board a more reliable form of transportation, the owner of the company stopped us and told us we would be continuing on in this same vehicle. A little shocked by this, and thinking he was unaware of reliability of the vehicle, I told him I didn’t feel too safe riding in a vehicle where the only time we stopped our driver had to yank on the emergency brake. He assured us that it was safe and that if we wanted to continue on, this was our only means of getting to our destination.
That should have been the first sign to bail right there.
As the rest of the tourists piled on, a German and a Swedish couple, Ryan and I found ourselves packed in and up against the division of the back passenger area and the driver’s seat. Hoping that this uncomfortable and presumably unsafe ride would be over quickly, we cracked some jokes about our seating arrangements and struck up some conversation with our fellow passengers.
Soon after departing, we found ourselves out on the highway, dodging the many scooters that litter the road ways in South East Asia. Our driver was quickly shifting gears, and in no time we were travelling at speeds in excess of 70 km/h. It seemed as though our driver thought he was in a race, and overtaking the other cars and scooters on the highway would get us to our destination before other tourists perhaps.
As we gained speed, it became apparent that we were going too fast and that we needed to slow down. However, our previous fears about the brakes not working were soon realized.
The driver started to hit the brake as we were quickly approaching the vehicles ahead of us, but it did absolutely nothing to help slow us down. To avoid rear ending the cars ahead of us at such great speeds, our driver swerved into the oncoming traffic lane and managed to hit 3-4 road side pylons in the process, sending them flying up over the roof of the songthaew.
With every pylon we hit, the Swedish girl sitting beside me kept screaming “OH MY GOD!” as loud as she possibly could in my ear. To try to take my focus away from that, I looked out through the front window to see where we were going, but the next few minutes were a blur.
What I saw next caused time to stretch, as I remember everything just slowing down and all noises seemed to disappear. As I looked ahead at where we were headed, the only thing I could see was the front grill of a large tour bus. It was at that moment where I had the “well, this is how I die” thought go through my head. I really thought this would be how it all ended for me.
It was a strange feeling, and I can’t say I saw my life flash before my eyes, but what it did feel like was everything was happening in slow motion, and I was just getting flashes of what was happening, and then it would go dark, then another flash, and so on.
I must have been in complete shock or something (due to the thought that I was about to die), because I don’t remember the events that transpired next. From what I was told, we managed to avoid the bus at the last possible moment, and drove off the road and through a small building before finally coming to rest.
I ended up in the front left passenger side, going from the back seating area up through the front. I hit my head and had a nasty welt on my back from the impact. I came-to with a bunch of local Thai people staring at me as if they thought I was dead. To their surprise, I was alive and managed to pull myself out of the vehicle with a severe headache, some bruises and few minor scrapes.
The two couples continued on with the tour in another vehicle, while Ryan and I went to get checked out at a local hospital. We did get a refund for the tour, but being concussed, I didn’t even think about threatening to sue the tour operator. All I wanted to do was lay down in bed after that.
We spent the next couple of days nursing our injuries before deciding to move on to the next town, instead of attempting to go on that tour again and tempt fate. I am a little disappointed I didn’t get to see the island, but at least I survived…
Or did I?
What if when I came-to after the impact I was really waking up in another reality, or the so-called after-life? What if those 7 minutes of time has stretched out to be 7 years, and I’m still experiencing the dream or flash-back of my life right now? How would I know the difference?
I feel like the lyrics from Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen should be playing in the background right now, “Is this the real life, is this just fantasy?…”
It is an interesting thought to ponder, but I will continue believing that this truly is my real life, and I did in fact survive the crash that day and I am still alive. At least I’d like to hope so.