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Re-discovering Public Transport in Bangkok – a Short Train Tide



I have been getting lazy of late. As my home is out of the city proper, as is my place of work, I just jump into the car and drive. The only time I step out of the car is either at home, the office, or the petrol station. Okay, maybe Foodland for breakfast sometimes. My work and other commitments do take me to the provinces a fair amount of time, so much so that it has come to the point where I have totally lost the feel of the public transport system in Bangkok.

Having suffered a foot injury some time back, I was relegated to taking taxis, but that’s almost the same as driving to your destination – same route, same scenery – with the exception that you now see the route and scenery. But I digress.

As it happened, I had some unfinished business in Bangkok’s embassy row, and I don’t particularly like to drive in the city proper. Sure, I have GPS in the car, but that doesn’t work well in built-up areas. Parking is always a problem in the inner city, and as I was unsure as to traffic conditions I ruled out taking a taxi as well.

That left the trains.

I like the trains. I remember the days before the service commenced. It would take four hours to get from On Nut to Phloenchit by bus or taxi. Taxis did not have meters back then; you bargained with the driver for a fare. If either party would not agree, you just waved the next one down, though you’d have to wait quite a while as there weren’t too many around back then. The fare also depended on the time of day. Local knowledge was a must. Metered taxis are a definite improvement, though I still can’t get around the sign on top that says ‘Taxi Meter’ and not ‘Metered Taxi’, though in all fairness it was to differentiate them from the unmetered ones that did have the ‘Taxi’ sign on top.

Getting a train to your destination and getting transport to the train station are two different things. Having had the misfortune of being stuck in a taxi for twenty minutes in bad traffic with the train station in sight can be a frustrating experience. I finally gave in to the urge to walk to the station, paying the cab driver and leaving him stuck in the midst of it. Life is never fair, is it? This time around I decided on something a little faster, and a lot more suited for bad traffic conditions.

The motorsai taxi.

I’m not a big fan of this form of transport, but they do go where most either won’t or can’t. You can’t beat them for local knowledge either. Some moonlight as a messenger / delivery service; there’s one trusted guy our office uses on occasion. I’ll only use them if it’s too far to walk and there’s no other viable mode of transport to my destination. Which is very, very seldom.

There’s a fairly large motorcycle queue (also known as ‘win motorsai’ to the locals) near the office; I tell one guy where I want to go, and the next guy in the queue comes to the front. The pricing to the standard destinations are usually set so no worries there. I don’t like the fact that most don’t use helmets, but then again I don’t like smelly used helmets either. As long as they use the back sois and don’t go too fast I’m okay with that.

The ride was cheaper than a taxi and much quicker. The rider was surprised and amused at my command of the language; he gave me a big grin and a salute after I’d settled the fare.

I’d arrived at the entrance to the Underground just behind two girls, one a Thai and the other a farang. The farang was expressing surprise over this mode of transport so I would have assumed it was her first time. It made me smile.

Now, one of my pet hobbies is people-watching. I have fond memories of one time sitting outside the Golden Beer Bar with the likes of Phet, Union Hill, Marc Holt and Fanta watching the world go by, before moving on to the outside area in front of Tilac and continuing to do more of the same. The beauty of this hobby is that it happens anywhere and everywhere. It just so happened that the two girls were going in the same direction as I was, and while not intentional, I did get to hear most of their conversation. The young Thai lady spoke English well, with a slight American accent. I detected a slight sneer in her tone of voice. It wasn’t her usual stop, she’d told her companion, I live further down the line. From that, I surmised that the acquaintance must have been fairly recent, and the motorsai ride probably meant she stayed over with her farang companion the previous evening. Hmmm. Ah well, to each their own.

The trains do get rather more crowded these days than I used to remember. I also note that there are more people plugged into their mobile phones; listening to music, playing games, or talking to someone else.

I get off at Asok and make my way up to the Skytrain. From there on down to the Siam interchange where I change to the train that takes me to embassy row.

The open-air platform reminds me of how it used to look like in Singapore years ago. Those open-air platforms have now been fitted with automatic doors, presumably to prevent accidents. Wonder if it’ll take something like that for those doors to get fitted up here?

It’s interesting to see the mix of people you get taking the train during the day; most of the office workers are already at work by this time so you get to hear many different languages and observe the odd couples making their way down to the Chinatown area. I do have some uncompleted business, so a brisk walk is in order.

On the return trip I stop off at Asok again. However, as it was quite close to lunch, I decided to pop into the Aussie place that used to be known as Down Under for a meat pie and mashed potatoes. Nice. Used to be a while ago that some members of a Thai-centric web board would meet up once a week; I’d go more often but other commitments tend to take precedence.

I took a walk through Soi Cowboy to get back to the train station; it’s absolutely dead during the day and is quite a sobering sight if you’ve only seen it at night.

On the short train ride back, I spot one last odd couple; he looks like he’s left his walker at the last train station, and the lady he was accompanied by was probably named Lucy (Australopithecus). To each their own.

I grab a cab back to the office, glad that I don’t get into town too often. Hopefully it’ll be a while before I have to do that again. Must be my imagination, but there seem to be so many more strange people out on the streets these days. Or, maybe I’m getting too old.

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Stickman's thoughts:

All of the different, local transport options is one of the things I really like about Bangkok. I can remember using the Saen Saeb Canal boat a lot in the early days, and also remember using the buses before the skytrain opened. Traffic really was a lot worse back then!