The Alumni from the higher secondary school that I went to had planned the 2012 year reunion at Bangkok. I was therefore scheduled to travel to the far east. To my dismay, my buyers had invited me to Holland around the same time. When I was about to cancel my Bangkok trip, a wonderful idea stuck me. A trip to my sister in the US was due and so I figured that by adding a stopover at San Francisco, I would be able to negotiate for a good Round The World ticket fare. Emperor travels, Coimbatore had organised a nice Bangkok to Mumbai RTW ticket with stopovers at San-Francisco and Amsterdam. I was now going to be able to spend the 11th with my friends at Pataya.
So there I was at Chennai on the 10th October morning joining all my school friends. We laughed and talked and talked!! Later that day we took the flight to Bangkok. The flight reached at about 3AM on the 11th. Took until 6AM to get out of the airport. Journey to Pataya was another 4 hours, stopover at the zoo for brakefast and also to kill 3 more hours because the hotel at Pataya would't check us in until 2 PM! After check in, had a short nap and left for the russian show. Man, this show was more pressure than fun. I could not believe the kind of investment required even to run a strip show business!!!!! Extravagant it was not the girls but more so the infrastructure!! The skyline in Bangkok would easily give European cities a complex. Toyotas in different shapes and sizes seemed to have painted this country in its colors. Bus coaches were far better than what we have here. Drivers out here have a common habit of idiling the engine during the waits to keep the AC going. Motorists out here seemed to be polite and well mannered. I spotted rentals with both exotic cars and bikes. Did not have the time to rent any though.
My friends who were staying back for a few more days had organised for me a splendid taxi for my ride back to Bangkok. It must have been like 2300 hrs on the 11th evening. The ride back to Bangkok was some 200 odd KM. I had dozed away at the rear seat all stretched out expecting a 4 hour drive. Around 1 AM, the driver woke me up at the airport! My check-in at Sworna-boomi airport was not until 0300 hrs.
I was going to fly to San Francisco via Tokyo. This trip was going to cost me less than 4 hours by the clock, thx to the dateline I was crossing from the east to west. The trade-off however is that, every other time you travel in this direction, you actually spend far more time on the clock than the actual travel time. Of-course the jet-stream available along this direction must be helping the aircraft gain speed because the travel time is nearly an hour quicker this way than a identical voyage on the reverse direction. I was under the impression that travel from the east to the west would be longer than travelling from the west into east because the earth's rotation would be aiding the later. But I guess at 30,000 feet there is no escaping the earth’s relativity. I now like to think of the jet-stream as the final guard of relativity. It was 1500 hrs noon at Tokyo during my 2 hr wait for the transfer. I was wondering if I should have planned my trip in such a way that I would have been able to take at-least a non-stop bus round trip in & out of Tokyo during this stop-over. But boy-o-boy, the Toto was right there at the airport to experience the technological marvel of Japan ;)
I reached SFO on the 12th morning 9 AM. My sister had come to pick me up in her cute little mini-cooper car. We then drove to her apartment. I was there to spend some time with her. Which I ensured I did. Visit to my friend’s house was awesome. So was the chat I had with few of my other yesteryear buddies settled out there. We rented a Porsche Boxter for a day and all hell broke loose in California!! I was touching 200 KMPH on all the freeways and drifting on almost all the corners. Though I would have loved to say all that, US cop uncles everywhere made sure that I could not drive the Porsche even as fast as I drive my Innova out here :'( .
I would like to tell you something about US traffic rules. Remember the stop indicators painted before 4 crosses? Out there you are expected to bring your car to a complete halt over this line before proceeding. When you want to let a vehicle behind you pass, you are expected to move to shoulders on the side of roads, bring your car to a complete halt, let the vehicle behind you to pass, indicate again to get back to the road before driving. About the speed limits and their strict enforcement, you already know. The one time I touched 50MPH, a patrol car was tailing me. I indicated then stopped at a shoulder and let him pass, that’s probably why there was not an issue. In dynamic two lane roads, there are different zebra markings, each of it having a meaning of its own. All red signals need not necessarily mean to stop. There are some where you are expected to drive on, I’m still figuring that one out! The drive along coastal California in the Porsche with the roof down was still breathtaking. The Porsche was a 260 HP, DSG gearbox car. I’m not a big fan of the auto box but the way the car changed gears or stayed in one was awe inspiring. During our halt at a café, a German walked up to us with a huge grin and said that the sound was familiar, I however did not think much of the drool from that boxer engine. It sounded more like the silencer had inadequate glass-wool in it.
The Toyota Prius is immensely popular out here. The numbers of these cars both as cabs and in private plates were unbelievable. It looked like as though these cars were being sold in ration shops out there. No seriously, if Toyota had not subsidized these cars as compensation for the tussle they had with US courts last year, these cars must be really good! Roads in California were pathetic. Honestly, we need to be proud of our roads. I don’t know if they are waiting for the returning war veterans to fix them but if you are planning on a driving holiday at US which you can postpone, you will not regret postponing it.
On the 15th noon, I left for Holland. Though this flight was only 10 hours, I would reach Amsterdam only on the 16th morning, 9 AM. No driving experience here but I was happy to see both men and women take-after the Manual gearbox brilliantly unlike in the US where Autoboxs seem to be omnipotent. One of my buyer here has recently purchased the Toyota Prius. He explained how it made sense even without the environmental conservation tagging. At 15000 Euro and 25 KMPL petrol mileage, he explained that this car was good savings too. Ofcourse, you know that in Holland Diesel fuel is not subsidized and is about as expensive as petrol.
On the 18th morning I boarded my flight back home. Upon arrival, like for many of you would have also experienced, our road manners hit me. Not that we don’t have our own ways of politeness. While raising the middle finger seems to be a common practice among drivers in the west, out here raising the 1st finger with a pleasant smile can almost always win you a way.
I've got a valuable tip for any of u planning on a round the world trip. Start with the far-east, fly into the Americas then to Europe before heading back home. I noticed that flights were always on schedule or ahead of schedule to the destination this way. Jet-lag is almost non existent. The last time I did a RTW beginning from Europe, Jet-lag kept nagging me for nearly a month! If you are planning on a driving holiday, home is best. Thailand could also be nice because of their keep left lanes.