Some Facts About Transportation

By this point, the linear nature of my narative sort of breaks down. We came back to Bangkok, the organized portion of our vacation ended. Reed and I then had a week to ourselves to do with as we chose.

Our first choice was a hotel and some sleep. We said goodbye to everyone and exchanged contact info for the week with the one or two people who were staying in Bangkok. Then we crashed.

Our next day or so involved finding some way to do laundry in Bangkok and figuring out where we wanted to be based for the rest of our week. The logistics of this are, worth relating, I think.

First of all, there’s transportation. When we first touched down in Bangkok, we had to catch a cab to the trekkers’ hotel and all the rest of our trip involved transportation that had been arranged for us. We learned a lot by observation, but now we had to put it into practice.

There are four ways for the average tourist to get around Bangkok. Two are pleasant, and reasonably priced but slow. The other two are varying shades of fast but unpleasant having elements of life risk, temperature, odor and price control that add a special something to the trip.

In no particular order, I give them to you here:

The Metered Cab
In Thailand, there are cabs with meters. The fact that I stress the ” Metered ” part should leave you with the suspicion that there are also cabs without meters. This is true. They’re called tuk tuks. Metered cabs are:

  • clean
  • air conditioned !!!
  • price controlled by the government

These cabbies don’t make a lot of money, and they don’t usually speak much English, but you can be sure that if you can ask a concierge to write an address in Thai, you’ll get there with a minimum of fuss on your part.

The Tuk Tuk
The only really viable alternative to the cab is the tuk tuk. These little three wheeled covered scooters account for 90% of the polution in Bangkok. The drivers all speak great English because their favorite pasttime is fleecing tourists. The tuk tuk is fast, but you have to be willing to

  • breathe the air in traffic
  • put your life in the hands of a madman to whom time is money
  • bargain for the price of the trip.
  • firmly decline your driver’s earnest offers to help you see the city

Fact is, tuk tuks are kind of fun. They’re also kind of necessary if you’re in a hurry. It helps if you’re going someplace you’ve been before in a taxi since then you know what the regular taxi ride costs. The air is unbreathable, but if you need speed, you just have to put up with it.

The River Ferry
Bangkok is on the banks of a river. The ferry is cheap. The ferry is moderately paced. The problem is, it only goes up and down the river. There are lots of places you can’t get to using the ferry. There are canals, but the ferry does not use them.

The Water Taxi
I saved the one that’s the most fun for last. The water taxi is by turns, cheap, fast, amusing and completely disgusting. Like the tuk tuk you risk your life, but only if you’re the last person into the taxi as it’s about to take off. (This happened to me.) If your feet are not firmly in the taxi you WILL be dumped into the canals. (This did not happen to me because Reed hauled me in.) This would at the very least make you want to take a bath and at the worst could give you parasites or some horrible thing. The water is toxic. No two ways about it. The fun doesn’t stop with the mad taxi drivers, though. Water taxi riding is a participatory sport. You see, the canals all have bridges over them. These bridges vary dramatically in height. Water taxis have awnings on lowerable pulley systems overhead. At times, everyone has to duck. I think I also forgot to mention the boat’s low sides. Remember that toxic water? You have a canvas awning at your side you have to hold up in order not to be splashed. All in all, this is fun, but the water is frightening and of course the canal system is pretty limited. The water taxi was the fastest way we got anywhere in Thailand.

There are other transport options, but none of them are much use to a tourist. Bicycles might be rentable, but then you’d be responsible for them. The train is great, but only for getting out if the city. Next time, we’ll talk about Sanitation.

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