The Hazards of Travelling…in Bangkok

It has to be admitted – Thailand is one right groovy place to travel, and I doubt any other country in the world offers such a wide variety of transportation.

The Prime Minister himself was in fine form this week during his very own TV Reality show in the middle of ‘Stickyrice-land’ up there in Thailand’s Isarn region. Wanting to prove to the cameras that “I am just a humble lad” revved up his bike and was filmed live on TV showing off his driving skills and roaring through a couple of villages whilst dodging a couple of stray water buffalo. Riding in fierce pursuit, were half the government (see photo above)

After a few brilliant wheelie-stunts to the delights of the country-folk and half the nation watching on TV, it took a certain lawyer from near Bangkok to report to his local police station to file a charge against the PM for not……wearing a motorbike helmet! It is yet to be seen however whether the PM will actually be prosecuted for..quite blatantly breaking the law.

I very very doubt that the PM himself would ever be seen dead riding a motorbike in Bangkok and I don’t really blame him. So how about walking? It doesn’t take the newly-arrived foreigner to Bangkok more than a few hours to realize that most of the local people, and especially the women here, just hate walking anywhere. Notice the way a Thai girl, on coming out of her apartment building will stand there (in the shade of course!) for ten minutes waiting for a motorbike-taxi to take her to the main road, that is instead of actually walking the wretched distance of….100 metres! Should there be no bikes around, the pitiful woman can be witnessed walking along holding a newspaper over her head and hiding her face like some moviestar. If you had ever wondered at the ‘ins and outs’ of such a spectacle, the reason lies with….the sun, the country’s darlings are more afraid of getting a sun-burnt nose than they are of getting run down by some 10-wheel lorry.

As for the foreigners coming to Thailand, there is none of this ‘afraid of the sun’ nonsense and they can be seen waltzing around the streets of Bangkok from dusk til dawn. Now, one of the funniest sights in Bangkok just has to be the one of ‘The Farang Tourist at a Zebra Crossing’. Unknown to the newly-arrived Farang, a zebra crossing here does not mean that the traffic will stop for you to cross the road – in fact you would have to be joking! Let it be known that zebra-crossings in Bangkok are just an indication where to cross – doesn’t mean however that you can’t just do as the locals do, and scarper across the road like a beheaded chicken anywhere and at any opportunity.

Pedestrians are pretty much second-class citizens, there is nothing else a car, bus, taxi or motorbike driver just loves more than, when sighting a pedestrian crossing the road, is racing right at him with a finger on the hooter and a foot on the accelerator. If that isn’t enough to have your hair stood on end, there are other life-threatening obstacles to send you into your next life early in the form of: 12 foot-deep open manholes and shockingly low cables head-high, waiting to electrocute you. Then, if you are fortunate enough to avoid such hazards, the motorbikes are back with revenge again trying to run you down on the actual sidewalks themselves. On other occasions, the sidewalks are just so awfully crowded with vendors’ carts, parked bikes, billboards and noodle shop stalls that you are once again forced to walk on the road and at the peril of the capital’s drivers.

Another type of ‘being’ Bangkok’s drivers have serious contempt for is the – cyclist. Thais are famed for their lack of patience when it comes to driving and at the sight of a bicycle slowing them up at the newly turned green lights, they are once again slamming their horns in disgust at such a defunct mode of transport. Personally, I wouldn’t advise any newbie to Bangkok to ride a bicycle. Just ride it into any old lane and half the soi’s stray dog population will be running behind in a frenzy trying to bite your ankles and pull you off the darned thing. Then, if the dogs aren’t nuisance enough, the state of the bumpy lanes and their potholes will shorten the life of your bicycle to less than two weeks. As for the pollution you’ll be sucking in at the red-lights every day, the rider himself will be dropping down dead after a three year stint.

So, what other ways are there of travelling in Bangkok? Howabout the traditional Tuk-Tuk? Well, they aren’t too bad I suppose, but if the darned driver turns a bend too impatiently, the vehicle has the unfortunate habit of doing a somersault. And i’m not joking! Apart from the obvious dangers of actually riding a Tuk-Tuk, there are the other dangers that the shifty driver will soon have you visiting an unscrupulous Gem-Shop of his choice which knocks off pieces of plastic resembling precious stones. In fact, Tuk-Tuk and especially taxi drivers are one of the significant causes of the infamous Bangkok traffic jam. With little regards for the traffic law, they often park their vehicles outside major tourist attractions, department stores and go-go bar areas waiting for tourists to over-charge. The road itself comes to a virtual stand-still before a traffic cop comes racing over to chase the parked drivers off. Then on other occasions the local boys-brown-in turn a blind-eye to such illegal parking, after they have received their monthly supply of whiskey and grilled chicken at the Tuk-Tuk/taxi drivers expense

Disillusioned on how to travel in Bangkok, there are the wonders of the boat! For a matter of pennies you can enjoy the visual pleasures of ‘Bangkok Now and Then’ on the funky Chao Phraya River Express Boat. Depending on whether you wish to take the slow or speedy express boat, well…that’s up to you. Now, there is just one part of the journey, from around Pinklao Bridge to Sathorn Bridge where the boat is completely packed out. Not just with local Thai folks, there is often a mob of beer-bellied bare-chested Farang guys stood at the back of the boat chugging away on their cigarettes and swigging a can of Beer Chang as if they were on the way to Koh Samui. Wouldn’t be too bad like if the guys could actually read; there are big signs in English that read “Please move inside the boat” and “No Smoking”. But then again, many tourists believe they can come to Thailand and get away with lotsa ho-bo behaviour which they couldn’t do back home. Getting off the boat is usually quite hazardous too, having not only to barge your way past sweaty chests you usually end up having to leap-frog from the still-moving boat on to the waiting platform – rather risky ordeal when it’s raining!

Then finally, there is the ‘Saen Saeb’ canal boat which runs the route all the way from just past The Mall Bangkapi in north-east, Bangkok, to The Golden Mount on Ratchdamnoern Road – via Pratunam Market. Quite a journey at something like 50 minutes in all, but if you were to make the journey by bus during peak time you would be looking at 3 hours in all. Great value at 15 baht, I think it still is. But once again, as travelling in Bangkok is, it is “fraught with eminent peril”. Not only are your ears at risk from blowing-up due to the noise of the canal’s boat engine, there are the occasional muddy waves that splash into the boat in the direction of your mouth! Should you ever have witnessed or tasted for yourself the water quality of Bangkok’s canals you will know what I mean! One gulp of that sordid stuff and you could be cutting short your vacation time on the islands and instead spending it in hospital.

Getting off and on one too is not for an amateur! While the boat is still bobbing around at the pier you will be expected to: jump on, cling to the rope at the side for dear life, tip-toe your way along the flimsy boat edge and finally pounce into an open seat. One slip dear readers and you’ll be soon falling into the abyss of a Bangkok canal; covered head to toe in garbage, you’ll be stinking of dead fish and sporting a used contraceptive stuck to your nose.

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