Saturday, August 18, 2007

Transportation in Thailand

I find that it is strange that I have not yet explained the transportation system in Thailand since it is in such a sharp contrast to that in the U.S. Let me now indulge you :-)

There are a few main modes of transportation: walking, taking a song tau or tuk tuk, buying a motorbike, riding a bicycle, or driving.

Walking: No one in Thailand walks... ever! I have been walking to school everyday, a trip that usually takes about thirty minutes each way. Thai people stare at me and are almost horrified when I relay this to them. They cannot believe how anyone could walk anywhere in this heat. They do have a good point, that it is insanely hot here, but I think the exercise is good for me and it is the cheapest mode of transportation. While walking home I am occasionally spotted en route by students of mine who immediately pull over their motorbikes and insist on taking me to my destination. I explain to them that I enjoy walking but they never seem to believe that anyone would choose to walk anywhere. I’ve also found that it’s best not to be running late for class since I’ve been stopped up on more than one occasion by a crowd of students moseying their way to class. The bunch usually takes up the entire width of the sidewalk leaving no room to circumvent them. When this happens, I am usually slowed at least another five minutes. Besides the heat, there is another deterrent to walking: the sidewalks. Sidewalks here do exist, however there are usually trees and road signs in the middle of them. It is usually possible for one person to walk somewhat comfortably along one but quite awkward for two or more people to walk side-by-side.

Song taus: Song taus are the red trucks found all over the city. They are convenient for tourists or people who do not own any means of transportation. Passengers sit facing each other on the two side walls of the inside of the truck. The back of the song tau is open to allow the passengers to jump in and out quickly. When the song tau is on a bumpy road you get jostled around a little bit since there are no seatbelts but I haven’t yet experienced any situations where I’ve felt like I was in danger. A fear of mine though, is that we’ll get hit or the driver will make a sudden stop and someone will go tumbling out the back onto the street.

Tuk tuks: Tuk tuks are the open-on-all-sides, three-wheeled vehicles with a little man driving in front and a bench for the passengers in the back. I have to say, the scariest driving experience that I have had yet, was in tuk tuk. Coming back home from another university a few weeks ago, I had to take a tuk tuk on the highway. As we began to drive, it felt like the engine could hardly pull its little frame along, let alone its driver and a passenger. If we slowed down in the heavy traffic, the engine died and as the driver weaved in and out of traffic I became more and more certain that I was going to die. I would either fall out since there are no walls on tuk tuks, or we would get run over by some larger vehicle. Luckily nothing happened and I arrived unharmed at my apartment. I think I’ll avoid tuk tuks now though, at least when I have to get home via the highway.

Motor bikes: I haven’t had much experience riding these but from how the traffic is here in Chiang Mai I can tell you that they are not much, if any, safer than tuk tuks. Because they are so small they can conveniently weave in and out of traffic. This makes getting from place to place much quicker but they cause the traffic to be unbelievably crazy. I have only ever been a passenger in one of these but it has always felt like a challenge to hang on, especially wearing a skirt since then I have to ride sidesaddle style. While riding as a passenger on the highway a few weeks ago, the feeling of certain death began creeping into my mind, probably the reason I have avoided buying a motor bike despite my desire to independently get around the city.

Bicycles: Something I have just done. Not that I think I will avoid the craziness of the road, rather I’ve put myself right in the middle of it. I wanted to be mobile in some way and this just seemed to be the best option.

Cars: To enter into a lane because the traffic is so thick, people inch their way closer and closer to the middle of the lane until cars eventually stop. I’m always afraid some person will not look up in time and these cars will get side-swipted. Parking is another crazy experience. The first time I went to the mall, I noticed in the parking garages that people would park each other in. I couldn’t figure out why they did this until I saw some people trying to get to their parked-in car. They were pushing the car that was blocking them out of the way. When I asked a friend of mine how this worked she explained that the cars who parked perpendicular to the cars in the parking spaces simply left the car in neutral. When someone needed to get out, all they had to do was push the other car out of the way.