It’s fun being in a big city and using public transportation again. But Bangkok can be a little complicated. It takes a combination of taxi, tuk tuk, water taxi, Skytrain, bus rapid transit, bus, subway and motorcycle taxi.
We’ve taken every one except the regular bus and the motorcycle taxi, the latter because frankly we’re too scared. The bikes weave in and out of traffic and lane split, threading through cars at stoplights to hang out in a pack up up front so they can gun it soon as the light turns green. Motorbike passengers also don’t wear helmets unless they bring their own. Imagine taking a taxi in New York City and having to bring your own seatbelt.
We’ve watched men and women ride, lots of women perched precariously to one side, riding sidesaddle. Motorbikes also run red lights with impunity, as we learned last night trying to cross the street.
Pedestrians are worse than second class citizens in this city. There are no crosswalks and cars do not stop for you. You have to watch the stoplights on the road (usually only one signal, and not very big or visible, by American standards). Unless you step out onto the road first, the bikes won’t stop at red lights. We hesitated for a second and lost our chance. You can spot the motorbike taxis by their bright orange or purple vests.
In Bangkok, we’re lucky to have a friend’s condo to stay at. His place is a little outside of the city, about 25-30 minutes by BRT, Bus Rapid Transit. It’s kind of the boonies (to us), not much going on around his apartment.
It’s like living in Red Hook or some other slightly faraway part of Brooklyn where you try to “head to the city” for the whole day and hopefully take everything you need with you. The one problem is that it’s blazing humid here, into the 90s during the day, so carrying around a backpack is a recipe for a sweaty mess.
But it’s fair to say we’ve become seasoned BRT riders. Funny enough Karl is always the only white guy on the bus, so we know we’re really living among locals.
We’ve managed to ride the bus, Skytrain and subway all at rush hour some days. Interesting experience. Everyone lines up so nicely at the station and then packs in like sardines. On the BRT, there are two security guards at every stop, one for each direction. They makes sure the boarding of the bus remains civilized, although they could sure use some extra buses during rush hour.
Our river experience came in the form of a hotel shuttle to brunch the other day. A niche novelty, more for tourists than commuters it seems.
There are four or five riverfront hotels that spend a lot of fuel on these little shuttles running back and forth between the water taxi depot and the hotels. They look like floating Thai teak houses and attendants give you hot towels on your way to the hotel. Very fancy. The Mandarin Oriental is a famous one (Hemingway and Conrad lived there for a time). It’s on the same side of the river as a Skytrain (BTS) stop, but since it’s more than four blocks, they run a water taxi that delivers their well heeled guests straight to the water taxi depot, which hooks up with a BTS station.
We caught a water shuttle to the Anantara, which I saw on a map and mistakenly thought was a riverside market where we’d find a smattering of restaurants. Lo and behold it’s a fancy five-star resort. We made the most of it and had a look around, ate some seriously overpriced but delicious noodle soup for brunch in the tea cafe, read the newspaper and went back on our merry way. At least the shuttle ride was free!
We saw lots of run down houses along the river propped up on stilts. Many with river taxis parked outside them. Apparently there is a plan to build a raised concrete highway along both sides of the river.
Environmentalists are aghast, saying it’ll isolate riverside communities and ruin river views. Probably true, but strangely, Bangkok is one of those cities doesn’t seem to give a rip about old historical buildings or districts. For better or worse, the city prefers to bulldoze and plow ahead.
Few more photos from our rush hour adventures: