Transportation Adventures in South East Asia

By: Dante Scarano

Leaving my cozy and comfortable hostel in Bangkok,  I embarked on a journey within the city, to travel to the hotel that was booked by the airport. I set out with most of the staff waving to me and wishing me safe travels. All this revelry and fanfare made me feel like a hero of old, going off to do battle in a foreign land. Though I was no hero and my destination was the hotel by the airport (nothing widely out of the ordinary).  Like any ordinary day in South East Asia the temperature was as equally hot as it was brutally humid. Waiting for the number eleven bus, the motorbike taxi ‘pusher’ eyed me up, not unlike a hawk looking at the field mouse before it attacks. Through continual effort he assured me that he could get my fairly large pack and me onto a tiny scooter. With constant and consistent effort I assured him I would be better off just waiting for the bus, rather than riding on that death trap. However, the highly sought after mode of transportation never came, nor did I stick around to wait for it. The thing is in Thailand and most cities in South East Asia is that, no matter where you are it is always rush hour and the bus will always be stuck in it. Whether it’s 1am or 2pm the constant speed is always dead lock. I gazed down the strip of cluttered asphalt and steel and no eleven in my sight, as a bead of sweat dripped down my brow, two simple words crossed my mind, “Fuck it.” Jumping out of my makeshift flower planter bench, I raised my hand to hail a cab, to seek solace in the dreadful evening heat.

Hopping in the taxi, I instructed the driver to take me to the subway station. He punched the dials and flipped the switches of the meter, much like that of Han Solo, I guess that’d make me some sort of backseat Chewbacca. Only we didn’t soar off to hyper speed, the thought that didn’t cross into my thick skull was that the rules of rush hour did not magically stop as soon as I got into the cab. We were stuck in a sea of blaring horns and exhaust fumes. (Before I pen this next bit believe you me I have nothing, but respect for taxi driver profession in Thailand, they are for the most part professionals who drive us home on drunken nights out and listen to us sing shitty western pop out of their vehicles). My driver however was less than optimal; he was lewd, loud and pretty perverted. At various points throughout the ride he chatted through his iPhone headphones, and watched porn on his phone while trying to get me to watch too. I thought it was a bit too much for me as he attempted to become fast friends (I mean I don’t even watch porn with my own friends). The meter ticked to 200 Baht and I took a long look over my shoulder out of the back window, there was the motorbike taxi waving, smiling, like he knew something I didn’t. Though through my cowardice, I still couldn’t take him up on his offer of a ride, especially not in Bangkok. Quickly I began to realize that this taxi would soon become my personal tomb if I waited around any longer, two niggling words came racing back into my head, “Fuck it!” and I was back on the street in the brutal Bangkok heat.

While passing down various side streets, soon became a quite feeble attempt to find my own shortcut through the vast circuitry of infrastructure.  I forged unknowingly down the various street network I felt as though a hundred eyes were looking at me, all asking to each other’s peer, “What the hell is that guy doing here, and why the hell is covered in sweat?” While knowing that my inexperience in these alleyways would get me nowhere, I begrudgingly headed back to the main road, and the dreaded sea of cars. I looked over my shoulder to see how far I had trekked; thankfully the motorbike taxi and his scheming ways were nowhere in sight.

Two hours had gone since I left the bus stop and the hotel room. The end of my great journey now seemed impossible. At last though, I came to my final right turn (What I failed to mention while writing this was the fact that there was only one turn in the whole route, after that turn there was still at least five more miles to go). Where I stood was no an ordinary roundabout, what I failed to notice was I was at the doorstep of the Grand palace. The majestic structure filled me with a strange sensation of just wanting to be somewhere that was completely out of the heat where I could rest my head in comfort. That vision though was an hour or more walk and a long subway ride away, but just at that moment everything changed.

From across the street there was a little scooter horn honking its way towards me. The Thai moped driver pulled up to the curb, he knicked it and nearly wiped out. I was sure that this would be the ultimate deterrent for me to not ride with him for the final stretch of road. However, I could not pull myself away from the idea, maybe it was the thrill or the excitement, maybe it just was that I wanted to be in air conditioning, but I had no time to contemplate such trivial matters. Pointing to my bag to make sure the bike wouldn’t throw me off on any bump, he simply shrugged and said, “100 Baht” a verbal contract that I couldn’t disagree with. “Fuck it” I thought one last time, as jumping on the backseat racing off helmetless in the evening sun, unknown where to put my hands.

While taxis may have been safe and secure, they could not match how nimble a motor scooter was during rush hour. We raced through the street weaving effortlessly through traffic narrowly avoiding mirrors, popping up onto the curb and drove on the sidewalk if the need arose for it. Maxing our speed out at 40 km per hour (trust me streets like this it was almost hyper speed) every dreaded railway crossing I could feel my stomach drop, as every bump that we’d hit I had the sudden sense that I would fall off. My destination coming into view, and I drew a heavy sigh of relief thanking whoever watches over us. Getting off the bike I tipped and paid the driver with a shaky hand and a wad of bills, that more than covered the price, and just like that he sped off into the deep dark Bangkok night, not knowing where it would take him.

Overjoyed this hellish four hours was nearly over; I walked up the steps only to be greeted by an overcrowded train platform. Sighing, as nothing could be easy for me today, the train was a welcome respite nonetheless. I knew the journey wasn’t over, but definitely this  leg of it was one hell of an adventure. Everyone packed in the subway like sardines, I reached for my phone, putting in my headphones and pushed play on an old Beatles song, ‘Get back’ played and I waved one final goodbye the city of Bangkok.

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