I felt trapped on Khaosan. A little road with not much else to do, probably in the least Thai place in the country surrounded by countless touristy places like temples, the Grand Palace – and lots of foreigners.
Taxi rides, though inexpensive at about 80 – 100 baht into town, do add up, especially for many locals who make only 300 baht a day.
It’s easy to experience Thailand with the larger foreign currency, but I believe we can have a much richer experience if we try to match our budgets with that of the locals.
Then just three days before I left Bangkok, I noticed something on Google Maps that wasn’t there previously. A little piece of information that would be the most helpful the entire trip.
They had bus routes!
Bus routes on Google meant I could explore the city, heading on random bus rides around town! While I have boarded a few busses to with Thai locals, having Google Maps with me meant I could navigate my way despite not being able to read the Thai script.
As I soon discovered, the bus routes indexed by Google were mostly the non-airconditioned old rickety busses with the wooden floors.
Riding the bus was an adventure
These busses with wooden floorboards seemed pretty sturdy even when we hit the curb not once, but twice, as the bus attempted to navigate the narrow alleys in Bangkok. The two local Thai girls sitting in front of anxiously peered out the window each time.
It might be somewhat challenging to drive your car in these areas, not to mention a full sized bus – one that seemed to come to life from a 1960s history book.
In another instance, the bus stopped and over a minute passed as the driver tried to decide how to pass between two cars parked on either side of narrow alley way barely wide enough for two cars much less a bus.
Given that many roads were closed due to the protests, I’m sure there were many cars behind us and backing up was not an option.
Just as I thought we had to abandon this bus, the driver started to inch forward. He somehow managed to carefully squeeze by the car on my side with inches to spare.
The “Asian driver” stereotype came to mind again. Just because Asian drivers come so close that they “almost” hit you, it isn’t a show of weakness. Actually, it’s a show of skill: negotiating tight spaces with low margins for error.
Ok, bumping the curb kinda puts a hump in that theory. Or maybe it was necessary to get into the alley.
Regardless, I wonder how they even pay for the damages that might occur to the busses.
Of the five times I boarded the bus, I was charged 6, 7 and 8 baht, while twice, it was free! It seems like if there is no ticket money collector available to board the bus, they just take off without one and the bus is free.
I have heard of the “free bus”, but I took the same bus number at around the same time and got charged 7 baht once and free the other time. Weird? I think so. But no complaints for a free bus. Even at 8 baht, I wouldn’t complain.
The other inconsistency though, could be a little more of a hassle. See, the bus number 2 that I took was supposed to turn down Ratchademri. Google said so, and if you are going to tell me you “can’t trust Google”, the number two is also posted on the bus stop on that street.
Except, today it didn’t.
“Bpai ti nai?” asked the money collector in Thai. I actually understood enough Thai to know she was asking me where I was going.
“Central World,” I replied.
She waved her hand in front of my face.
“Mai bpai,” she replied. “Pantip?”
Again, I understood enough Thai to understand she said it wasn’t going there. In my arrogance, I thought she didn’t understand enough English to know what “Central World” was, and suggested “Pantip” instead.
I just nodded and went along with that. After all, I had seen number 2 head to that stop, both ways, just two days before.
As the bus approached Ratchadamri, it simply went past the street and did not turn. To my dismay, it continued on and appeared to mount a bridge.
“I hope it doesn’t run onto the highway,” I thought to myself.
I immediately sprang up and hit the buzzer. Fortunately, the bus then stopped somewhere not too far from Ratchadamri.
Mounting and dismounting
I was the only person alighting from the bus at that stop. I stood at the door, that had opened while the bus was still in motion, until the bus came to a complete stop. However, as soon as my front foot left the step, before it even touched the ground, the bus started moving again.
Equally as exciting as not knowing how much to pay for a bus that takes you to a place you weren’t expecting, is mounting and dismounting from the bus.
Getting on and off a totally stationary bus is such a mundane task that should be saved for first world countries.
I had this theory since I visited Taiwan, that the general population in developing nations have superior agility to those in developed nations. The lack of safety gear as workers effortlessly navigate scaffolding or roof tiles high above the ground is astounding. I went to a fort and walked to the edge of the platform. There were no rails or walls and at least a 20 foot drop below. I think to even make it to your 20’s, agility was of utmost importance then.
In a developing nation such as Thailand, there is excitement and a sense of achievement as you run after a moving bus and hop on, hopefully before the doors close. Fortunately, the bus tends to open its doors prematurely and close them late.
Equally exciting is jumping off a moving bus. As long as your foot doesn’t land in a pot hole, or any other obstacle that ends with your head, or other body parts, under the wheel of that bus, you are all hyped with adrenaline to head to your next appointment.
It seems like hopping on and off moving bus might be a trend for developing nations but I would have expected the Thai busses in Bangkok to come to a complete stop – much like their Kuala Lumpur counterparts.
I look forward to my next Thai bus trip!
Been on a developing world bus ride? Please share with us your first impression!