Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Modes of Travel in SE Asia

One of the best parts of traveling in SE Asia is cheap transportation. I was always amazed when I’d pay $1.50 for a ride to Bangkok, or $.60 for a motortaxi ride to the supermarket. The low prices generally come with a certain level of service, however. I spent many hours sitting on curbs in the blazing sun waiting for my bus to arrive or dodging a creepy guy that kept inching closer and closer to me on a van. Here are some of the ways to travel in SE Asia:

Mini-bus/ Mini-van- This was the most common way to get anywhere. Good luck finding a schedule, but I came to know the Victory Monument station in Bangkok very well. Vans generally leave when they are full, this could be 10, 12 or 15 people, you just never know. The worst seats are at the very back when you’re crammed up against the seat in front of you. A close second is that weird middle seat in the front when I would just picture myself flying through the windshield at any moment.

Motortaxi – Before I went to Thailand I vowed I would not get on a motorcycle. That lasted about a week. Whether you drive a motorcycle yourself or hop on the back of a motorcycle taxi, they are incredibly dangerous. One of the teachers at my school made me ride side saddle once and all I could think of was my brains splattered all over the hot pavement. There’s no way to avoid motorcycles and it’s definitely not unusual to see a family of four (including a newborn) and a dog on the back of one. Riding on the highway into oncoming traffic on the back of a motorcycle was easily one of the stupidest things I did. Be smart and wear a helmet, and hold on tight!
not my photo - but this is typical
Buses – I learned there are two kinds of buses. Regular busses and VIP busses. Always choose the VIP option for the air-conditioning. Buses in SE Asia aren’t that much different than buses in any other parts of the world, but some do have Karaoke!
this is NOT a VIP bus
The back of someone’s pickup truck – I resorted to this option a couple of times when I had no idea where I was going, there weren’t any motorcycle taxis and whoever driving it seemed halfway (?) normal. If you are backpacking through SE Asia you will end up in the back of someone’s pickup truck.

Tuk Tuk – These are more common in Bangkok and other tourist destinations. Tuk Tuks usually ripped me off and had obnoxious music and blaring lights.

Songthaew – This is essentially the back of someone’s truck with benches in the back. You can easily stuff 20+ people in the back and outside of one of these. Your back will be bruised and there’s a good chance you’ll get carsick. These are great for sharing rides and are almost always super cheap.
I'm in here somewhere!
Regular taxi – Usually reserved for Bangkok when the subway ended up being more expensive for the number of people going along. Be prepared to get extremely frustrated with traffic.

BTS – The Bangkok Transit System. Surprisingly clean, efficient and air-conditioned!

Airplanes – When traveling long distances or when you’re feeling rich, airplanes are the way to go. I’m partial to Air Asia and Tiger Airways, but there are plenty of low-cost options and deals available.

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