There were three essential modes of transport in my version of Bangkok: motorbikes, tuk tuks, and longtail boats. Each showed me a side of the city and were intrinsic to my experience of the city.
I took a train from the airport, but it dropped me off 13km away from my hostel, so I set off in search of a taxi. As I walked, I had a few people on motorbikes shout at me, asking if I wanted a ride, which I totally ignored, because that seemed illogical! I, afteral, was sporting my large backpack and my smaller ‘front’pack, so getting on a bike didn’t seem like the logical mode of transportation.
However, I realized finding a cab was going to be harder than I realized, and the intense heat was already starting to melt my brain, so I decided to hop on with the next motorbike cabbie who shouted in my direction and seemed totally un-phased by my packs.
I hopped on the back and he swiftly zipped off the sidewalk and into the thick, heaving Bangkok traffic, giving me my first taste of the chaos and thrill of this city. What a whirlwind introduction to the city! We sped by elaborate temples and wove our way through the central neighbourhoods, joining hundreds of others on motorbikes.This was clearly the way to get around, as most of the traffic was gridlocked around us, and the motorbikes flowed into the cracks between cars.
It did feel a little bit like traffic anarchy. There seemed to be much more flexible interpretations of the rules of the road here and there were definitely no helmets on the bike (sorry mom). Slightly worryingly, as I got off, I noticed that his left-side mirror was broken off.
It was a pretty perfect and yet insane introduction to Bangkok, but I was exhilarated. My driver asked to take a selfie with me, and I took one in return. Here was the first person to welcome me to Bangkok, and give me a glimpse of the astonishing city.
After stashing my luggage at the hostel and changing my clothes, I met a friendly fellow traveler, and we set out in search of breakfast and other adventures. After wandering around by foot, we quickly learned that taking tuk tuks is the best way to get around in central Bangkok. We arranged for a driver to take us to several points of interest (which I will discuss in more detail in a coming post).
These little vehicles sound like lawn mowers (and I am sure they would struggle to pass emissions tests!), but again they are perfect for the dense city – able to navigate tight streets, thick traffic, and busy pedestrian areas. Also, having a driver for the day is incredibly inexpensive, particularly if you consider how much a cab/uber in the UK costs! You can barter with the tuk tuk drivers (and our balking at a quoted price at one point unintentionally haggled it down), however, the ethics of bartering over the cost of services rendered in less developed countries from the position of being a privilege traveler didn’t sit comfortably with me, and we ended up adding a tip to bring the reduced price back up to what was originally quoted. It seemed apparent that many of the vendors and service providers didn’t live in circumstances of excess, and the idea that saving a few BKK could be at the expense of providing fair remuneration to those providing a service didn’t seem like an appropriate thing to do. In perspective, 50 BKK is approximately equivalent to 1 GBP, so while I do try to mind my pennies while traveling, I am happy to pay for the goods and services I receive [stepping off tiny soap box now].
Some tourist sites will claim that Bangkok is “The Venice of the East,” and while I rather disagree with that, exploring the city on a longtail boat seemed like a fun thing to do. You can see these colourful boats motoring along the river and into the system of canals, with their multi-coloured wooden sides and their comically large motors balanced on the end of a long metal rudder of sorts.
Gemma and I were pretty excited to take this tour, but shortly after getting to the canal it started to monsoon rain! There is a bit of a protective rubber roof on the longtail, but that proved to be inadequate, so we were handed an umbrella, and for a bit, we took shelter under a bridge. At a certain point, our skip decided that we were gonna keep trucking through the rain showers, which thankfully had abated somewhat.
The longboat took us through the canals, which was a whole new experience. Elaborate temples line the side of the canal, alternating with barely standing houses. Many of the houses and porches are on stilts, and we saw several people fixing up their dwelling by wading into the murky waters. The canal also has floating market vendors (probably my biggest regret from Bangkok was not purchasing a beer off the floating market vendor). There were so many other odd and creative ways of moving people and things through the hectic city streets. You can definitely not think that Bangkok is boring, as even the most benign activities, like transit within the city was a fun adventure.