Bangkokians’ holiday woes: Navigating the perils of Rama II

SUNDAY, MARCH 03, 2024

Hua Hin has for years been a favourite escape for Bangkokians seeking a family-friendly alternative to the red-light town that is Pattaya.

Sure, the sea in Hua Hin may be brownish, and sometimes oil residue can be found on the beach, but the food is delicious, the hotels are top-notch and it offers a weekend respite from the hustle and bustle of the capital.

However, recently there’s been an outcry of “I’ll never go to Hua Hin again” on many social media sites – a sentiment echoed during every journey to the seaside haven, albeit reluctantly.

The reason for this lamentation is Rama II Road, the only viable route to the southern town that has been plagued by perpetual construction. Ask any Generation X Bangkokian, and they will tell you that the road has been blocked by construction since they were toddlers. As for people living along the road, they will recount decades of enduring construction dust.

A journey that should take no more than three hours can take nearly five hours. During public holidays, the journey becomes an endurance test beyond imagination.

Rama II Road has earned the moniker the “seven-generation road”, a sarcastic joke suggesting construction began in the Ayutthaya era.

A journey down Rama II has been likened to traversing a war zone – the road is filled with potholes akin to landmines, construction equipment protruding into lanes like ambushes and the looming threat of equipment falling on your car from the elevated tollway construction overhead. There has been at least one construction-related accident a year over the past four years, and these are only the ones that have been recorded.

The chronic delays and hazards raise the perennial question: Will Rama II ever be completed in our lifetime? Many baby boomers have pondered this question before passing on, underscoring the grim reality of a seemingly interminable construction saga.

So what is the problem with Rama II? Gross incompetence and corruption are the two words that often come up in conversation about this subject. Under the jurisdiction of the Transport Ministry’s Department of Rural Roads, the road has become synonymous with patronage politics – where government concessions are awarded to construction companies with ties to influential politicians.

This culture of patronage politics, pervasive for the past 50 to 60 years, remains a scourge upon the kingdom. Despite the Rama II tribulations, the allure of Hua Hin endures, beckoning travellers to return despite the ridiculously long, dangerous journey.

This frustrating problem should also give people a reason to wait and think before casting their votes. Patronage politics is certainly not healthy for anybody, but definitely fills the pockets of certain people.