I Get Around*

I thought today would be a good day to describe the modes of transportation that move this particular lump of farangness around this particular corner of Bangkok. When I’m not drinking coffee on my couch or lurking around various orthodontic offices, I am constantly ON DA MOVE.


This happens a lot. I like to think that I’m a good walker, but the weather in Bangkok does not make for pleasant strolling, particularly when you sweat like I do.** Walking occurs when I missed the Song Taew, or I’m too cheap to pay for a taxi, or when I feel the need to reacquaint myself with the highway that borders my neighbourhood. Whenever I walk next to the highway, the timeless words of Johnny Cash (“I went out walkin’”) run through my brain, putting me into a strangely meditative state as I dodge motorcycles that are driving on the wrong side of the road/sidewalk.

Ahhhh. Nothing says “home” like a good stretch of highway

Song Taew

Literally “two benches,” this is basically a pick-up truck with a cage on the back. The place where you would ordinarily expect to find chickens or some milk crates is where passengers sit. Todd and I keep hearing rumours of these contraptions taking people to malls and other prime destinations, but we usually just end up at the neighbourhood dump, or under a bridge.

Clambering into the Land of Two Benches

Not my neighbourhood Song Taew, but pretty close.


Buses are some of the cheapest and most rickety transportation that Bangkok offers. Imagine taking an ancient school bus, torching the interior, and replacing the floor with old wood planks. Some of these are reliable, but others groan and heave like a seasick whale. I have experienced some mighty loud gear-shifting in my day,*** but nothing on par with what takes place in these tanks – think “migraine in clutch form.” That’s assuming that the gears work – on one memorable occasion, Todd and I found ourselves rocking back and forth and chanting as we tried to “help” our bus crest a gentle incline.

Rocketin’ down the streets of The Big B.


The taxi is a favourite Bangkokian mode of transportation, and they are everywhere. If you’re ever in need of a lift, just look for a car the colour of Barbie’s lipstick, and bob’s your uncle. Taxis offer an exciting ride, because they have a certain penchant for hurtling down the freeway at 120km/hour, and weaving in and out of traffic. This generally occurs when you don’t have a seat belt, which is only 99% of the time.

An older model – the pink has faded.

Motorcycle taxis

These are my new secret addiction. Motorcycle taxis are as easy to find as taxis, and charge much less. They’re not great for long distances (call me a coward, but I don’t have any great interest in sitting side saddle on the back of a bike that is manoeuvring through impossibly tiny gaps at 100+ km/hour), or if you’re carrying lots of stuff, but for short jaunts, they are great. There are a few hazards involved – the drivers have a penchant for driving on the wrong side of the street, they like to hop on and off the sidewalk, and sometimes they take off too quickly – the other day, I got a burn on my leg from the motorcycle tailpipe when the driver was a little too rarin’ to go. Don’t worry though, moms. I always insist on a helmet.

And I do mean “insist.”

I look just like this on a motor-taxi, except more glamourous.

After using any and often all of these on a given day, I’m ready for another coffee on the couch.

* A tribute to that great and profound Beach Boys’ classic – I Get Around

** Presenting Exhibit A: The Fire hydrant

*** Exhibit B: My father learning to drive a standard. Every Saturday, I would wake up to the unique and special sound of a clutch being ridden into the ground as dad drove his poor Toyota up and down our steep driveway.

7 thoughts on “I Get Around*

  1. Do you see people riding “side saddle” on bicycle bars? That was very common in Barbados when I was a child. My sister once got a burn from a motorcycle muffler, much like you described. How long are you guys there for? Have you had any tamarind yet?

    • I sometimes see people riding side-saddle on bicycle bars on quiet streets, but it doesn’t seem to be a big trend, at least not on the busier roads. Motorcycles seem to be where it’s at. We are here for a minimum of two years (that’s the contract period, but Todd may re-sign). I’ve only tried tamarind sauce (mostly sugar) – is it worth seeking out the actual fruit?

  2. It’s not a BIG deal but for someone as precise as I am, it can be confusing: i.e. your asterisking system was just a little off, sorry to say. Otherwise, a very entertaining post, as usual.

    • Dang! You’re right. Should be fixed now.
      You wouldn’t be my mother if you weren’t more concerned with my asterisks than my penchant for motorcycles. 🙂

  3. you should have heard your dad drive a standard on his first road trip east. dad was getting angry and mom was laughing. the gear shift had a crack in the handle which snapped when we reached our destination. can’t wait to drive my next victim:a maxima. sorry for the lower case letters-my left arm is in a cast- thats why i ca’t drive the standard yet

  4. Motorcycle muffler and tail pipe burns are also very common in Vietnam (the veritable land of motorcycle transport). The burns were affectionately called Saigon tattoos. Dad

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