A Measure of Life in Thailand

The first time I saw someone die in front of me was in Thailand in May of 2007, I was taking a motorcycle taxi to walking street when a baht bus rammed into a motorcycle taxi in the next lane. The passenger, a Thai woman, was killed instantly. It all happened so fast that it left me wondering later in the evening if I had really saw someone die, or was my mind playing tricks. The fact that life went on so quickly after the event probably played into my uncertain thoughts because my taxi driver went on as if nothing had happened, as a matter of fact the only people that stopped were those behind the accident.

The second time I witnessed someones death was in Thailand as well. I was returning to Pattaya from Mukdahan by bus in 2008; the bus gets into the pattaya station about 5am and I took a baht bus back to my hotel. While thinking to myself how quiet Pattaya seemed at this hour I closed my eyes for a moment to take it in when the silence was broken by the sound of crunching metal. A truck had come up behind the baht bus and decided to pass by swerving into the next lane hitting a motorcycle taxi driver head on killing him instantly. Again, the whole thing happened in the blink of an eye and another life was gone. My baht bus driver stopped for a few seconds that seemed more like hours as I sat there staring at the carnage and the clearly dead body of a man who just a minute before had been alive. As before,  the first people at the scene moved on, my driver hit the gas and I watched the accident scene from the back of the baht bus until it disappeared from sight.

Life goes on.

Yesterday I needed to hit the ATM and pick up a few things so I headed down the street to the Avenue. It was a beautiful sunny day and I figured I would head down to the beach and go for a long walk. As I stood on the side of second road waiting to cross I couldn’t help thinking that Pattaya really needs to install walk bridges across second road. The traffic is always so dense and hard to navigate. As I stood there I noticed an older gentleman, maybe in his 70′s, with what seemed to be his Thai wife or girlfriend  slightly up the road from me…they seemed happy…she seemed concerned for him, holding his arm tightly. Still waiting for an opening to cross second road my attention was diverted by a very beautiful 20 something Thai woman with impossibly short shorts…I smiled…she smiled…and the moment was interupted by a loud thump and screams.

Looking back up the street I saw a red motorcycle on the ground, a baht bus stopped with damage to it’s front end and the once smiling old man laying in the street, dead. I didn’t actually see the accident but it seemed that the motorcycle driver was probably cutting around traffic and struck the man pushing him out into second road and in front of the baht bus. I stood there for a few minutes as people gathered to help and traffic came to a short lived standstill, and then I crossed the street. More on that in a moment.

In 45 years living in America I have never witnessed a death such as these and yet in 5 years coming to and now living in Thailand I have witnessed 3.  Unlike the United States there is no law on the books in Thailand that I know of that compels an accident witness to stop and render assistance. The reason most people move on quickly is the mere fact that those first to the scene can and have been charged with everything from causing said accident to causing the death of accident victims by trying to render first aid. Money is usually the determining factor as to who is responsible and if you are white there is a good chance you have money and caused the accident.

But, Thailand is a Buddhist country and isn’t life sacred to Buddhists? It has always seemed to me that most Thai’s have no regard for their own or anyone else’s personal safety. If you ask any Thai person why they wear a motorcycle helmet the answer you receive 99% of the time is because the police will give them a ticket if they don’t wear it…not because they care about their own safety. Maybe it’s the belief that there will be a next life that makes Thai’s fearless, I would have to assume they believe there is a next life for me as well as on more than one occasion I have had the distinct feeling that Thai drivers have been playing chicken with me on the roads against my will.

And what about me? The first 2 accidents I witnessed I had no control over in any way shape or form. I was a passive observer who was a witness only as long as the drivers remained at the scene. When they moved on they took me with them. The third accident bothers me though, while I was still only a passive observer and didn’t actually witness the accident, this time I was in control and I moved on of my own accord. There was nothing I could do, the man was clearly deceased, I didn’t see the accident so I have no information to give and for once I saw people come to the aid of the people involved in the accident.

Instead of trying to help in some way I chose instead to cross the street, it didn’t seem to be a conscious decision at the time but a decision all the same. What does that say about me? I don’t like to think this mentality has been ingrained in me as well, I’d like to think if there was a possibility that my actions would have helped that I would have done more. I’d like to think that if someone is in need of assistance I would do the right thing…I’d like to think that the human part of humanity still dwells inside me.

I live in Thailand and this scenario and many like it will play out again. I am quite certain I will be presented with another accident in due time. Maybe the next time there won’t be a death just someone in need, What will I do then? I don’t know. Even as I write this I see the error in my thinking and it scares me; there was no help for the old man but clearly there was someone in need of help…I saw it in her tears, and then I crossed the road.

Be Sociable, Share!

    2 thoughts on “Making Merit in Thailand tourist style

    1. There is three basic basis of merit making in buddhist tradition. They are:



      Bhavana(mental development)

      I think that some people in thailand may not have any notion about these topics, and hold a very extrict vision on making merit practices in buddhism. In this way, I put this clarification to help people to undertand more the buddhist tradition.


      May all being be well and happy!!!

    2. Hi!

      Thanks for this article. I live in Thailand and I have a meditation center on Phuket. I found making merit in Thailand is often misunderstood by the locals themselfes. They give with the intention to recieve which is good, but not that good actually. For one it will dissapoint you if you don`t recieve in return and it will make you kind of greedy since you are only expecting to win from your actions.

      Due to a lack af proper buddhist education and willingness to attain teachings (which are sometimes heavily mixed up with lottery-techniques and spiritual rituals to get your husband back or something Nowadays Buddhism in Thailand is a way too often seen as a money-making strategy rather then an effort to change oneself. Of course, I speak only for the part of Thailand I know a bit but I listen to Thais and their friends and their oppinions on Buddhism now and then.

      Your article is great by the way. Precise and well-written.

      Best regards from Phuket


    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>