Thai Traffic Jam

Transportation Adventures in Southeast Asia

Dante Scarano

Dante Scarano

Dante Scarano is a Contributing Editor at Global Storybook.
Read more about me here.
Dante Scarano

Leaving my cozy and comfortable hostel in Bangkok, I embarked on a journey within the city, to traveling to the hotel I booked.  Setting out with most of the staff waving to me and wishing me safe travels, this revelry and fanfare made me feel like a hero, going off to a 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).  

On Thai streets mopeds are king

On Thai streets mopeds are king

Like any ordinary day in Southeast Asia – the temperature was as equally hot as it was brutally humid.  Waiting for the number eleven bus, a 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 his tiny scooter.  With constant and consistent effort I assured him that 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. In Thailand and most other cities in Southeast Asia, no matter where you are – it is always a rush hour and the bus will be stuck in it.  Whether it’s 1am or pm the constant speed is always dead lock.

Gazing down the strip of cluttered asphalt and steel and no eleven in sight, as a bead of sweat dripped down my brow, two simple words crossed my mind: “Screw 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 a 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 a cab.  We were stuck in a sea of blaring horns and exhaust fumes.

(Before I pen this next bit believe me I have nothing, but respect for the 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 was chatting through his iPhone headphones, and watching porn on his phone all while trying to get me to watch too.  I thought it was a bit too much for me as a quick attempt to become fast friends. (I mean I don’t even watch porn with my own friends)

When the meter ticked to 200 Baht, I took a long look over my shoulder out of the back window, and there was the motorbike taxi waving, smiling, like he knew something that I didn’t.  Though through my cowardice, I still couldn’t take him up on his offer for a ride, especially 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: “Screw it!”, and I was back on the street in the brutal Bangkok heat.

While passing down various side streets, it soon became a quite feeble attempt to find my own shortcut through the vast circuitry of infrastructure. Unknowingly forging down the various street networks I had the feeling a hundred eyes were looking at me, asking each other: “What the hell is that guy doing here, and why the hell is he covered in sweat?” Knowing that my inexperience in these alleyways would get me nowhere. Begrudgingly I headed back to the main road, and the dreaded sea of cars. While looking over my shoulder to see how far I came – thankfully the motorbike taxi and his scheming ways were nowhere in sight.

Looking Back

The quiet side streets of Thailand

Two hours had gone since I left the bus stop and the hotel room.  The end of my great journey now seemed impossible.  Then at last, 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 there was no ordinary roundabout, what I failed to notice was that 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 it out.  I was sure that this would be the ultimate deterrent for me not to take a ride.  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. “Screw it” I thought one last time, as jumping on the backseat racing off helmet-less 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 a rush hour.  Racing through the streets and weaving effortlessly through traffic. While narrowly avoiding mirrors, and popping up onto the curb driving on the sidewalk.  Maxing our speed out at 40 km per hour (trust me, on the streets like these – it was almost “hyper speed”) and at 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.

A view from behind

A view from behind

Finally my destination came into the view, and I drew a heavy sigh of relief thanking whoever watches over us. Getting off the bike and paying the driver with my shaky hand full of bills, that more than covered the price. Just like that he sped off into the deep dark Bangkok night, not knowing where it would take him.

These four hours were nearly over, while walking up to the train platform there were an overcrowding of people. Sighing, as nothing could be easy for me today, the train was a welcome respite nonetheless.

I knew that the journey wasn’t over, but that particular leg of it – was one hell of an adventure.  With everyone packed in a subway like sardines, I reached for my phone. Putting in my headphones and pushed play on an old Beatles song, ‘Get back’ began playing and I waved one final goodbye to the city of Bangkok.

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