We had just spent an amazing week in Luang Prabang, Laos, but our time in the country was coming to an end. With only a couple of days left on our visas, we began our journey to the Thai border, two days away via a slow boat up the Mekong River.
It was raining quite heavily on our day of departure, and, like we had done countless times before, we hopped on a tuk tuk to take us to where the boat leaves from, a couple of kilometres north of the centre of the city. We were the first passengers on the tuk tuk, but it was nothing new to us when we went around gathering up other passengers that were also heading to catch the slow boat. We were crammed right at the front of the tuk tuk, along with everyone’s luggage. All up, there were seven of us crammed into the back of the tuk tuk as the driver sped through the streets of Luang Prabang.
The speeding and swerving tuk tuk didn’t bother us either, as after three months of travel in Southeast Asia, it was almost an everyday thing for us.
We were all chatting happily about our travels as the tuk tuk drove along the wet streets of Luang Prabang, and everything seemed as normal. Suddenly I felt the tuk tuk swerve to the left, making some of the passengers gasp and hold their seats. I just presumed that we were swerving around a car into oncoming traffic, which again didn’t bother me as it had become quite normal. Suddenly, I felt the tuk tuk hit something, thinking that it was the curb on the other side of the road. Hitting the curb had made the side of the tuk tuk that I was sitting on lift up in the air a bit. Everyone in the tuk tuk gasped as I expected to feel it fall back down to the ground. All of a sudden, I realised that the tuk tuk wasn’t falling back down to where it was. It was continuing in the other direction.
It was tipping over.
It all happened in slow motion for me. The realisation of the tuk tuk tipping over made me grab the bar on the roof to brace myself. I heard my wife, who was sitting opposite from me, scream as the tuk tuk slammed into the ground on its side, forcing everyone over. I managed to stop myself from falling, but hit my head on the roof in the process.
All I could hear was my wife, Veronika, in a panic yelling “Oh my god!” repeatedly. All of the luggage, which was piled up next to us at the front of the tuk tuk, had landed on top of her. As everyone bailed out of the tuk tuk, I seemed to suddenly become the hulk as I lifted four backpacks off of her at once and threw them outside of the tuk tuk. Veronika was all tears as the shock of the accident and the luggage falling on her set in, and it wasn’t until I got her out of the tuk tuk and across the road to some shelter out of the rain that I actually looked back to see what had actually happened.
All traffic on the road had come to a stop. Our tuk tuk driver had tried to swerve around a car into oncoming traffic as I expected, however he hadn’t given himself enough time and had hit the front corner of an oncoming pickup truck. The force of the impact made the tuk tuk – which is basically like an extended three wheel motorbike – unbalanced and tip over. Luckily, the cage that we sat in in the back of the tuk tuk protected us from the fall, and surprisingly, the driver of the tuk tuk wasn’t injured at all. In fact, apart from a few bumps and bruises, no one was seriously injured.
Once what had happened had actually sunk in, we all realised that we still had a boat to catch, and the only way to get there was to get on another tuk tuk. This was probably the worst tuk tuk ride that any of us had ever been on. The look on Veronika’s face said it all. She was terrified. But it was the only way to get on with our journey.
Eventually we did make it to the boat landing without further incident, and we all peeled our fingers off of our seat to make our way to the boat.
I reflected on the day’s events as our boat slowly chugged along the muddy waters of the Mekong River. In all of my travels in Asia, I must have taken a hundred tuk tuk rides. Almost all of them are kind of crazy. Out of all of those tuk tuk rides, this was the first time that one resulted in an accident. That’s not too bad really. If I only get to be in one tuk tuk accident in my life, then I’m glad it was this one. It could have been a lot worse.
Have you ever been in a tuk tuk or car accident in Asia or anywhere else in the world? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.