Just when you may have thought that i had given up on my ‘Travelling in Thailand’ series – i decided to… come back and write..yet more. Though perhaps a little delayed due to recent work and family duties, it’s back to blogging again with some more weird and wonderful ways to make that trip of yours to Thailand just that…. little bit more special!
Once upon a time, hitch-hiking was an absolute fad amongst those hippy dreadlocked herb-smoking travellers seeking a bit of mystical enlightment on the overland Asia-Europe trail. These days though, such mode of travel has become virtually defunct in this part of the world and Thailand is no exception.
Bit of a pity really as yours in name can admit to having some wild times hitch-hiking along the unbeaten tracks of Thailand to the bemusement of the local population. Instead of a freebie ride, it didn’t take me long to decipher that most of the drivers thought that you were a willing sponser of their petrol tank! and the only reason you were hitch-hiking was that there was no public transporation around!
I once resorted to hitch-hiking with a few Farang buddies of mine after we had got lost somewhere in the jungles of Kanchanaburi. Since most of the drivers passing-by hadn’t a clue what we were up to sticking our thumbs like a bunch of clowns; just sped on past while giving us a friendly gesture of a wave. Fruitless in our endeavours and almost dark by then, the only Farang girl in the group decided to do the gracious thing and plonk herself on the side of the road and flag over some car…..alone. The next pick-up to come along stopped for her and it was a cop’s. The driving officer, probably thinking it was his lucky day, looked pretty pished-off when he witnessed a bunch of monkey-like Farang males run out from the back of a tree and jump into the back of his pick-up.
Talking about pick-ups.
Now, Thais are famed for a lotta things: covering themselves head to toe in baby powder after having a shower, singing karaoke for ten hours on the trot or falling asleep on a bus within the space of ten seconds. But unquestionably, Thais are applauded most for miraculously managing to fit the entire population of one village into the back of a single pick-up. Just when you think the truck is already completely full to the brim, there is always space for dear-old grannie and a couple of newly-born babies to dangle off the back bumper grasping on for dear-life.
Travelling by pick-up in Thailand, like most other modes of transport in the country, is not the safest way to navigate one’s life. I can remember just a couple of years back. While out celebrating the Water-throwing Songkran Festival on the back of a friend’s pick-up i did the truly unwise thing, and pretending to be a Thai decided to sit on the barrier of the darned vehicle. Great fun it really was until; after getting into a water chucking fight with a bunch a saucy looking girls in another pick-up, i slipped up head over heels, and completely fell out of the thing. I was left bruised and battered flat on my backside in the middle of the road. Whilst fearing for my life at the possible onslaught of incoming traffic heading my way, the locals at the side of the road were in complete hysterics. On returning home and seeking some sympathy from me girlfriend, all i got was “Serves you darned-right for staring out other girls”
Outside of the nation’s capital there isn’t that much in the way of transporatation around little towns besides the ‘Songthaew’. For all you foreigners who may not be so familiar with such vocabulary, a ‘songthaew’ is one of of those funky looking roofed-pick-ups with two benches in the back – ie… the word ‘songthaew’ literaly translates as ‘two rows’. Once upon a time you just had to bang the roof when you wanted off the wretched thing but due to technological development most now have a ‘buzzer’ you can ring – I mean, if it works!. Just like the country’s bus drivers, ‘songthaew’ drivers are another fine species that is reknowned for slowing down to pick up passengers but not actually stopping. It is left to the passengers own devices, yet once again, to hazardously jump into the vehicle, one slip and he’ll be flying head-first onto the main the road.
‘Songthaews’, like buses are usually synonymous with happily charging foreigners the same fare as the local Thais. Go to the east coast and Pattaya however, and you may find their ‘songthaew’ drivers to be the most wretched uncivilized beings to walk the earth. For years now I have avoided Pattaya’s ‘songthaew’ drivers like the plaque because of their two-teiring price system. Of course, there is a lotta ‘over-charging the foreigner’ at every tourist destination in Thailand but if you haggle a bit you’ll often get away with paying the Thai price. As for Pattaya’s ‘songthaew’ drivers, they are in a habit of physically assualting any foreigner who even tries to get away with paying the Thai price!
My last confrontation with a Pattaya ‘songthaew’ driver ended with this fine species being arrested and shifted off to the local cop box to pay a fine. Don’t blame me! I had been in Pattaya for a month or so and had got into the fine tendency of putting 5 baht in the driver’s hand (the correct local fare) and dashing quickly across the road before the monster could even complain. On one occasion however, I wasn’t so quick and the freak comes running out of the ‘songthaew’ bellowing “You pay 10 baht!” (The Farang price). Pretty pished-off with his remarks, I retorted in English that I had lived in Pattaya for years. The driver wanting nothing to do with my feeble explanation, reached for a huge plank of wood concealed under the driver’s seat and started waving it around threatening to smack me over the head with it. Unfortunately for the driver, I spotted a couple of ‘Thailand’s-finest boys-in-browns’ driving past on their bikes and flagged them over. By the time the cops got off their bike the scheming driver had replaced the huge plank of wood under his seat and started defending himself by waffling off to the cops that I had refused to pay the fare.
Just when the driver thought he had won, I started blabbering away in Thai to the cops and explained that the driver had threatened to wallop me round the back of the head with a nasty plank of wood which was ……..now under his seat. In no time at all, the impressive policemen had the driver on the back of their bike and waltzed him off to the station for carrying …… a lethal weapon. Serves him right I say! There were even a couple of English tourists in the back of the songthaews with their thumbs in the air shouting “Good on ya mate!” I would however, recommend the readers to be a little more cautious than me – and not so darned-cheeky! From that day onwards, I only ever travel Pattaya on a motorbike-taxi and golly-gosh…..they always charge…the Thai price!
Even at Pattaya Bus Station the ‘songthaews’ had up a huge sign (probably still there now!) in English advertising over-inflated prices, rather ironic though when the police down in Pattaya had explained to me that “It is an illegal offense for ‘songthaews’ to over-charge foreigners!”
Now, what other awesome way to get around the islands of Thailand is there besides the ‘Rickety Thai boat’? The ‘long-tail boat’ is real favourite of mine but once again your life is truly in the hands of the driver! Not only are you in fear that the 30 year-old termite-infested vehicle may run out of petrol in the middle of the open sea, but if the thing suddenly does a somersault on a high wave; there is only a single life jacket for a total of seven passengers! Long-tail boat rides are full of risk and not for the faint-hearted but if you are daring enough they are a fun way to zip off to some remote island or beach. Be warned though – the long-tail boat driver will be more interested admiring topless-sunbathing ‘lady Farangs’ than he will be with the direction he is supposed to be taking.
‘Motorized-rickshaws’ in Suphanburi
In Bangkok, ‘Rickshaws’ have been banned for years but in the provinces they are still a popular mode of transport. If you fancy trying one out for yourself just pop up to Nonthaburi or Kanchanburi provinces and you’ll see scores of them. The flimsy vehicles are usually half falling to bits and their riders – well, they are so unbelievably skinny that you’ll be amazed at how they manage to cycle up-and-down hills all day at such a speed!
You may have read from ‘Richard the Webmaster’s’ latest blogs that he ventured up to my home province of Suphanburi over the Chinese New Year Weekend. Well, one of the first things he was quick to notice was the existance of ‘motorized-rickshaws’. Talking about a bit of technological deveopment! The rickshaw drivers here had the sense years ago; instead of having to peddle the darned things, just attached some make-shift engine to them! The motorized-rickshaw may chugg along the road at the grand speed of 10km/hour but at least the drivers aren’t so knackered and energyless that they look like sunburnt-chopsticks.