Transport Mania: Tuk-Tuks, Motorbikes, and Haggling

Current Location: Cha-Am, Thailand
Current  Weather: 90° F (feels like 107°F)

Days Gone: 5
Days Remaining: 210

I had just finished dinner and was enjoying the rest of my liter-sized bottle of Chang (a Thai beer) when I struck up a conversation with a Scottish fellow named Keith. He was surprised to discover I was from the United States, and I agreed that Americans seemed scarce. Despite being in a major backpacking hub for three days, I had yet to me a single other person from the US. He explained to me that this was because I was especially distinguished, and broke down my rarity with statistics (though no sources were cited, these estimations are probably accurate enough). Let’s say 15% of US Citizens have a passport. That number used to be 5%, but since Canada now requires a passport for entry the number jumped. From that 5%, subtract anyone who wanted a passport for Spring Break in Cancun or any other pleasure-centered respite on a white beach or cruise ship. Then from that number subtract anyone who has a passport for business reasons. Keith estimated that the remainder, those US citizens with passports for “real” travel, was about 1 in 400. He went on to say that, based on these estimations, an American traveling abroad has, by default, overcome greater odds than the same traveler from Australia or Europe where international adventures are seen as commonplace and even expected. Thus, being an American traveling abroad is not only disturbingly rare, it is also something to be proud of.

After this chance meeting, I ended up indulging in the local nightlife with some other characters around Khao San Road. Eventually I found my way back to my guest house room which was located on top of a restaurant on the main strip. It was basically just a room with a fan, but it cost a mere 200 baht ($6) per night. 

As all the best dive spots and beaches are to the South, I decided to start working my way towards the Southern islands. I figured because I have time, I’d just city hop my way down. But now that I’m staying a night in the lazy (and mostly empty) coastal town of Cha-Am, I’m feeling a bit anxious to get to a locale that’s a bit more….social. I did get the opportunity to flex my old travel muscles by taking a public bus from Bangkok to Cha-Am. While private mini-buses were available for 400 baht ($12.30), I knew that a regular bus would be far cheaper. I decided that even if I broke even cost-wise, I’d at least have the added experience of getting myself to/from bus stations, acquiring a ticket, and actually boarding the bus and getting off at the right spot.

Here is how I managed to navigate the shaky world of public transportation. Only read these next four paragraphs if you are truly curious about the process, because I’m going to get technical. After packing up all my gear and making sure I had small bills available, I checked out of my guest house and flagged down the first Tuk-Tuk driver (which really means I just answered his cry of “Hey, sir, where you go?”) His original demand was 200 baht ($6) to the bus station 20 minutes away. After some debate, we agreed that he could take me to a ticketing center 5 minutes away and, if they had a ticket and a bus leaving soon, he would take me on to the bus station itself for a total charge of 50 baht ($1.60). If they didn’t have a ticket he could bring me back to Khao San and I’d pay 10 baht (30 cents).

The ticketing center was government operated and the friendly Thai working said the tickets he sold were a rip off and just to get one at the bus station for 150 baht ($4.60), and that buses left every 2 hours and were never full. Props to this guy for his honesty, it’s great when someone isn’t paid on commission. I told the Tuk-Tuk driver to head on to the bus station and off we went. I knew something was wrong when he pulled back onto Khao San. He claimed the bus station was too far so, after more debate, I just got off without paying as he broke the contract. I walked up to the next taxi (an actual car) I saw and negotiated a fare of 120 baht ($3.70) to the bus station. Some Bangkok taxis are metered and some aren’t, and as such people usually stick to the metered ones. From my airport taxi ride I knew that metered taxis ran about 100 baht per 10 minutes, so 120 baht for a ride that I knew was greater than 12 minutes was in my favor. It ended up taking about 20 minutes to get to the bus station, which was also a shopping mall.

I walked around the side to where dozens of buses were parked and searched for a ticket booth. I went up to a booth with a window and asked about a ticket to Cha-Am. A uniformed officer led me into the mall, up not one but two escalators, and past several booksellers and vendors, to a line of tons of tiny ticketing booths. I bought my ticket and wandered around the mall, noting prices about half that of the Khao San district. I also bought a small “Muslim pizza” for 60 baht ($2) that had a strange variety of toppings including corn and (I think) imitation ham. The mall also had a KFC – it’s hilarious to see international chains because the menus are spliced. I’ve seen Subway and KFC both offer slightly different versions of the normal stuff, but they also have Thai additions to the menu, like chicken and rice.

Anyway, I finally board the bus at the last second, pizza in hand, and settle in for a 3.5 hour ride. The whole ride went smooth except for a 30 minute unexplained stop in front of a massive superstore called “The Big C”. Eventually the bus stopped at a nondescript part of a main street and the driver stood up and called out “Cha-Am” a few times, so I grabbed my stuff and disembarked. Having no idea where I was, I sat down at a sidewalk table to see if my guidebook had a map. The town is so small there is no map, but there was the name of a hostel (Cha-Am Villa Beach) with AC, a pool, and wi-fi for 500 baht ($15). I asked a motorcycle transport guy if he knew where it was and he offered to take me for 30 baht ($1). He said it was 2 km away and I tried to talk him down in price but he wouldn’t budge. I folded and climbed on the back of his little 100cc bike, and off we went. So in the end, my total cost to get from Khao San Road to my final destination was 120+150+30=300 baht. So I only saved 100 baht by taking the adventurous route, but I also got to take a free Tuk-Tuk ride, learned of better Bangkok shopping prices, took a motorcycle taxi, and generally remind myself I have the ability to get around without the tourist-ready options if need be.

Shout outs for this post go to Keith of Scotland, Flo of Germany, and the four Thai girls from Chiang Mai (whose names I have forgotten, so sorry) that took me and Flo out to some crazy club in downtown Bangkok.

To my readers, I don’t know what you are particularly curious about, so leave a comment if there are things you want to hear about or things you don’t really care about. Detailed travel technicalities bore you? Let me know. Want to see pictures of crazy Thai snack food packages? Let me know. Want to hear about temples and architecture? Let me know.

Last thing consumed: Chocolate ice cream on a stick – 10 baht (30 cents)
Thought fragment: I saw a naked baby run out into the street and almost get nailed by a passing motorbike. Also, it seems common to have the shower area simply be the whole bathroom. Essentially, when you shower, you’re standing right next to the toilet and sink and water just goes everywhere. The bathroom -is- the shower.
 
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About Collin

Collin runs this place and writes everything you find here. He likes to interact with people - so if you talk to him he'll probably talk back.

11 Responses to “Transport Mania: Tuk-Tuks, Motorbikes, and Haggling”

  1. Harrison May 16, 2010 at 10:53 AM # Reply

    I remember those shower/bathrooms in China. I actually enjoy the technical details you've been posting. I'm still planning on taking a similar trip at some point so they will be quite useful.
    Also, what you've been doing describing your interactions with people and the food you eat are the most interesting part for me, so I say keep up the good work! Of course, more photos are always good =)
    One cool thing you could do would be to take pics of all the exotic dishes you come across (which you started to do already) Of course, maybe I've been watching too much Anthony Bourdain.

  2. Rita May 16, 2010 at 11:22 AM # Reply

    I like the technical stuff. Especially when you link all the websites or sources you use to manage to get lower prices. Harrison has -definitely- been watching too much Anthony Bourdain, but pictures of food are still cool.

  3. Snydes May 16, 2010 at 11:36 AM # Reply

    That's how my shower is here in Korea, after awhile you just get used to it. Just make sure to keep a pair of sandals around, makes things much easier when you need to use the bathroom and the floor is still wet.

  4. Susan May 16, 2010 at 3:06 PM # Reply

    Collin, Of course I love hearing how you negotiate prices and make your way around. Traveling the more adventurous route also gives you an opportunity to hang with the local culture, practice your communication skills and just 'be'. I would like to see a picture of you on the back of the bike or in the Tuk Tuk of course. "You do well grasshopper."
    Peace Out

  5. Collin May 16, 2010 at 8:18 PM # Reply

    Thanks for the feedback! I will definitely be posting more pictures, it's just more convenient to upload a large chunk at one time than it is to upload a handful here and there.

    @Susan I've got a Tuk Tuk video I can upload at some point. I thought about trying to take a photo from the back of the motorbike, but I was too busy clutching my bag with one hand and the bike with the other 😛

    Maybe next time.

  6. Hassan May 17, 2010 at 8:50 AM # Reply

    Good post bro! I love reading these technical details but I also think you should add a photo blog so you can post a lot of pictures without cluttering your written posts.

    The bus station in Panama was also located at mall full of stores that sold knockoff clothing and chain restaurants that were a bit odd. Also the showers in Iran are the same as you described here. It is so funny, because you try so hard at first not splash water everywhere, but eventually realize it is impossible.

    Keep up the good work and I look forward to your next update!

  7. Anonymous May 17, 2010 at 2:49 PM # Reply

    Hey,I just left YUM headquarters (KFC) today where I was told KFC averages opening a new new KFC everyday now somewhere on the globe. Something told me you would not go hungry ! Nice blog…..very well done
    Have you been able to Skype yet ?
    Please be carefull and take care
    Uncle Tim

  8. Collin May 19, 2010 at 11:10 PM # Reply

    @Hassan I think I might have to do that (have a separate photo blog) – I'll have to wait until I encounter a faster connection though.

    @Tim Yeah, global fast food chains seem prevalent everywhere I go. No Skype yet, the time change means most people are asleep when I'd be calling 🙂 Thanks for reading.

  9. Zach May 22, 2010 at 11:12 PM # Reply

    First post, just catching up on your blog as I haven't read your posts until now. I agree with @Harrison regarding the photos of meals. Why in the world did you not take a photo of a naked baby running in the street? lulz

    -Z

  10. John May 26, 2010 at 8:03 AM # Reply

    Yes, keep giving us the tech details. These cannot be found in any tourist guide except yours. Isn't it amazing how you can set a budget for yourself and actually live/travel/eat/enjoy within these limits? Takes some lateral thinking and the willingness to choose the other road, which is just as interesting, maybe more.

    Hey, you got away without seeing my demo of a little UV light probe that you can put into any clear liquid to kill virtually any germ, anywhere. Kills the DNA of bacteria. WIsh I had thought to show this to you, before you left on your trip.

  11. Collin May 26, 2010 at 8:50 AM # Reply

    @John

    Yeah, I think I've seen those, but luckily bottled water will (hopefully) be available in most places I visit. Worst case scenario (think emergency) I'll just drink local water and eat Immodium like candy 😉

    The best part about the budget situation is that where I am now (Thailand's islands) will be one of the most expensive places I travel, and I'm still staying about where I need to be money-wise.

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