Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Life Is a Highway

Hi, my name is Rianne Matthews and I am a music therapy student from Colorado State University. I play the piccolo and my ambition is to work with music therapy in neuro-rehab. And – up until just a couple of years ago – I had a severe fear of driving.

It took me a long time to warm up to driving a car. Hurtling down highways would make me very nervous and even simple stop-lights could send me into fits of anxiety. It wasn’t until more recently that I was able to suck it up, put the keys in the ignition, and get going. Traveling to Thailand has brought me an even greater appreciation of American roads.

Pigs on a truck-bus

Most of us are used to traveling by car in the United States. Many of us keep our own personal motor vehicles ready to travel at any given moment. On the other hand, modes of transportation are much more varied and often you must leave things like departure time to chance. Odds are that if you are in a car it is a taxi that you must wave down. Otherwise, you may be in a van or a city bus or a local “bus” (essentially a truck with

a bench in the back, surrounded by a metal cage). Then there’s the motorbikes and mopeds, which travel in every open inch of road and often on sidewalks. Most unusual perhaps is the tuktuk, a form of taxi that is similar to a motorcycle.

Catching a ride on an open-air tuktuk

Not only are the forms of transportation varied, but you must also allow plenty of extra time as you cannot always dictate exactly when you leave. For example, Sara, Sarah and I were attempting to flag down a taxi one rainy afternoon after we had hopped off of the skytrain (yet another mode of transport). We had assumed that, due to the large number of people wanting to catch a ride from there, finding a taxi would be easy. It wasn’t as quick as we had hoped, though. We waited almost an hour before finally finding a cab that was available and that was willing to take us back to Salaya. I’m just glad we weren’t on a strict time schedule that day; we almost certainly would have been late for any concrete appointments that we could’ve had.

Working with varied modes of transportation has also brought to light the importance of being an informed traveler. If you need to get to the other side of Bangkok, for example, the Skytrain or the Underground may be much cheaper and quicker than hiring a taxi. Understanding prices can also be crucial. A group of us were near a very tourist-heavy part of Bangkok for lunch the other day and every taxi we found wanted more than 200 baht for a trip that shouldn’t have cost more than 50 baht. Having an understanding of what prices were normal was crucial in this instance. As it was, we had to overpay a tuktuk to get us where we wanted to go; he was the only one willing to go where we wanted to go without charging ridiculous fees or making an “extra stop” in which we agree to go to someone’s shop and in exchange the driver gets gas vouchers.

Aside from the modes of transportation, I can also appreciate better the relative sleepiness of American roads. Although there are some drivers who do not often follow traffic regulations, generally people keep to their lanes, look before they merge with traffic, wear seatbelts, and keep some distance in between themselves and the other vehicles. Thai roads seem to have all these things as general ideas rather than as actual rules. It is not at all uncommon to see someone halfway across the lane or move from one place to another on the highway without even a glance at a mirror or a touch of the blinker. Cars are often very close together and sudden stops are commonplace. The good news? I feel like even the toughest Denver traffic couldn’t phase me much now.

A tuktuk's-eye view of (mild) Bangkok traffic

Have you ever had an alarming experience with transportation while traveling?

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