I traveled to South-East Asia for the first time recently and was surprised that I liked it so much. I traveled to Thailand with no expectations and wishes, other than to get away from the stifles of daily routines at home, and to get over a post-holiday depression that I was still nursing several months after coming home from Japan. Thailand was a vastly different experience to other places I had been to, from the quaint tree-lined avenues of Paris, to the neon lit lane-ways of Tokyo.
The bustling streets filled with scooters and lack of sidewalks was difficult to get used to at first- I spent the first few days walking around in Thailand feeling as if I could die at any moment. When I did get used to it though, it felt thrilling and exciting to be walking around in a place like that.
Transportation in Thailand was different to any other place that I had been to. During the entire trip, my friends and I either rode scooters or caught taxis to get to where we were going. Scooters are one of the most popular methods to get around in Thailand and South-East Asia in general. During my trip, I even saw lots of groups of 3 people riding on one scooter, and even did this myself on two occasions- it was definitely one of the best experiences of my life.
Our first experience with a taxi in Bangkok was definitely an experience, as discussed here.
My friend M was not at all pleased with our first time taking a taxi, and she wasn’t the only one of us who had serious doubts as to whether we would survive that first night. Catching cabs in Thailand was completely different to catching cabs anywhere else. Unlike Australia and other places, many cab drivers in Thailand are unregistered, which was likely the case with our driver in Bangkok. One of my Thai friends told me that cab drivers who are unregistered will never use the meter. This explains why so many cab drivers refused to take us across town after clubbing at Route 66 that night- they were either unregistered or wanted to make money from not putting on the meter.
It was relatively easy to find rides home in Thailand. One night, S and I left Green Mango club in Koh Samui and went for a midnight snack down the street. While we were walking to Mcdonald’s, we passed a group of men on the road with scooters, one of whom called out to us asking if we needed a ride home. If we were in Sydney this kind of behaviour would not have gone down well, but it was Thailand- anything goes. S and I agreed to a ride home for 300 baht, which S said was cheap. We told our scooter driver that we were going to Mcdonald’s first, so he dropped us down the street at Mcdonald’s and even waited until we finished our meal. That night was the first time I did a 3 person scooter ride, and I loved the initial thrill and excitement of it.
The next time I had another 3 person scooter ride was in Phuket, again after a night at the club. This was another similar situation in that my friend and I had decided to get something to eat after clubbing and had spotted a group of men with scooters on the side of the road and negotiated a fee to go home. I’ve been told it’s common to fit 3 people on one scooter in South-East Asian countries and to also cram as many people as you can fit into one car. For the duration of my trip, I never wore a seat-belt in the car, and my friends and I would also often cram 5 people into one car, 4 riding in the backseat with no seat-belts (it was thrilling).
During my trip, I noticed that a large number of ‘taxis’ were just plain vehicles. I’m unsure of whether this was because they were unlicensed drivers or this was the norm for taxis in Thailand. When going home after shopping in Phuket one day, I walked out of the shopping centre to where a security guard had informed me there would be a lot of taxis. Instead of taxis, I was surprised to see a large number of tourist coach buses and plain vehicles. After seeing a few men asking foreigners if they wanted taxis, I saw a group of men standing around the cars chatting and approached one of them and asked if I could get a taxi to Phuket town. After some confused chatter amongst the group as to directions to Phuket town, one of them agreed to take me for the price of 350 baht which we agreed on before going. Thailand also taught me to always ask for the price of rides before getting in the car or on the scooter.
The cab driver I met in Phuket was one of the nicest I met during the trip. His name was Att, and during my cab ride he did a good job of promoting himself with a tourist brochure, saying he could take my friends and I around to those places for a fixed price. I asked him if he was available to drive my friends and I around that evening and the next day, which he was, so my friends and I booked him for our evening plans from Phuket town to Cape Panwa, and from Cape Panwa to Bangla Road, all for the price of 1400 baht. I thought this was a good deal as it was a half an hour trip from Phuket town to Cape Panwa, and then 45 minutes from Cape Panwa to Bangla Road.
The next day, when S, J and I were checking out of the hotel, Att had said he’d be there at 11am to take us to the airport, but instead he called to tell us that his brother would be taking us instead, for the same price we had agreed upon before.
Cabs in Phuket and Koh Samui were more expensive than in Bangkok- this is where bartering really came in handy. After eating lunch at a restaurant in Phuket one day, I asked the waiters to book me a taxi to Central Festival, the main shopping centre in Phuket. After they had booked it for me, they showed me a receipt for the taxi and said I needed to pay them 800 baht for it on the spot, to which I adamantly refused, although they persisted in trying to make me pay. After spending a week in Thailand, I was conscious of local Thai people trying to make more money from undiscerning foreigners- this had already happened to me once before and I refused to let it happen again. After refusing several times, I heard the waiters speaking Burmese (little did they know I could understand) saying that I wouldn’t listen. After waiting about 30 minutes the cab finally arrived, and the waiters asked the driver to make the price slightly cheaper as I had been waiting so long. It took 30 minutes from Kata Beach to Central Festival in Phuket town, and when I got there the cab driver asked me for 500 baht which I bartered down to 400 baht. I felt like I had won a private battle and was so pleased that I didn’t pay the 800 before.
Traveling in Thailand taught my friends and I to barter for rides and items. By the end of the trip, we were bartering successfully and I felt high on my own sense of independence and street smarts that Thailand had given me.