Upon arrival in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, you fast become aware that transport in Thailand is slightly different from the UK. Somethings are much better than in my homeland and of course others are not so good.
Take the Airport Car Park for instance. A multi storey affair, which has insufficient space to cope with the demand of drivers wishing to dispense with their vehicles from a few hours to a few weeks.
The Solution? Simply park in front of another vehicle, blocking it in and leave the car in neutral with the hand brake off. When a driver needs to access his car, he simply pushes the offending vehicle of the way, and drives off. This is evident throughout the car park but is not unique to Thailand, for I have witnessed similar scenario in Barcelona too.
The traveller will notice the cost of taxis are inexpensive. A trip from Bangkok to Pattaya by taxi is a mere £20, rising to £25 depending on the company or driver. Now take into consideration that the distance is around 75 or 80 miles from one city to the other and you will soon realise that this is indeed a bargain. Not only that but the cars here, especially taxis are often top of the range vehicles or even 4x4s. There is room aplenty to stretch your legs out even in the rear. In fact it is rare for me to travel in the front of a taxi, for this reason.
My first taxi trip was one I will remember for a long time. 20 miles or so into the journey from Bangkok to Pattaya, travelling at around 70 MPH in the third lane and the bonnet of the car opens, crashing against the windscreen. The lady driver was fantastic, remaining calm under duress and despite not being able to see anything through the windscreen due to the bonnet, she managed to navigate safely into the hard shoulder, got us out the vehicle and called for a replacement taxi, whilst apologising profusely. We were soon on our way again in another car but it was not the start to my Thai adventures I had hoped for.
A number of crazy things can be witnessed on the roads here. Motorcyclists riding without helmets or having up to five people on a 125cc scooter. Drivers on these bikes with anything from a dog to a kitchen sink are not uncommon sights. The bikes will whiz in and out of the lanes to get ahead of other vehicles, even with babies onboard.
There are no rules as to which lane you travel in on motorways. Pick one, undertake, overtake, remain in the same lane for dozen of miles if you like, it matters not a jot.
Road rage is rare. When it occurs it is almost always a foreigner who is the aggressor. In fact the only time you will hear horns tooting is either to make another driver aware of their presence or more commonly a taxi or bus driver trying to attract customers who are walking along their route.
Turning left against a red light is legal, providing it is safe to do so. This makes it almost impossible to cross the road at a junction with traffic lights. There is simply no respite from the traffic to make that step, without giving great consideration to the possibility of you ending up under the wheels of a vehicle. Where there are crossings, no one will stop even if you are already walking across the road. They will simply drive around you – unless you are bold enough to raise your hand in the air as if to say “HALT”.
U Turns. What a nightmare. They are everywhere. Most main roads have no roundabouts and have dividing barriers, which are often kerbs of up to a foot in height. So they put U Turns every now and then and at traffic lights. But drivers here are impatient especially bikers. So the result is three or four manually created lanes waiting to turn right or U Turn. As soon as there is a gap, there is mayhem as a multitude of assorted vehicles fight for position in the flow of traffic turning right.
Although most of the roads are of a good standard, some have potholes you could take a bath in. In fact models have been known do exactly that to make the government aware of the deteriorating roads. To be fair, the streets and sois are usually well maintained.
So what of the vehicles? I mentioned motorbikes. There are millions of them and you can even take a taxi motorbike if travelling short distances. Simply jump on the back, they will take two people and charge accordingly but it should be less expensive that two bikes, if not, take two bikes. Most drivers are experienced and drive with care and caution but occasionally, you will be unfortunate enough to jump on behind an idiot. Tell him to calm down if you are not happy but do it gracefully, without arguing. Always get a price before you depart in any form of taxi.
There are of course taxi cars, which I mentioned previously. These are of a high standard and the driving is normally excellent.
My favourite form of local transport in Pattaya is the Baht Bus. Ten Baht to travel two or three miles is a bargain. These are pickup trucks with an open covered area at the rear, that seats ten people and three hanging on, whilst standing at the very back. Baht Buses are plentiful and follow set routes but there are those, which you can hire in the same way you would hail a taxi.
The train in Pattaya I have not experienced, for I am told it takes four hours or more to Bangkok. However, there are plans to upgrade the line to a high speed offering very soon.
Mini Buses will take you from town to town and again follow specified routes but stop when called on, providing there is room for you to sit. These again are high end vehicles with TV and wi-fi usually available.
Coaches are common for similar journeys but are often reserved for longer trips. Again the standard of the vehicles is exemplary.
Internal flights are incredible cheap. A flight from Bangkok to Roi Et for instance cost me around £30 and takes under an hour. The same trip on a VIP bus, takes in the region of seven hours and costs around £8.
I enjoying walking and exploring so I am not one to travel by any from of public transport if I am alone during daylight. I will walk and wander off the main roads, to increase my knowledge of the city. I am content to wander around the areas away from the tourists, knowing that I am never far from a taxi motorbike should I need one, for they are to be found on almost every street corner.
One thing to remember is that the motorbike is king in Pattaya. If you have the correct licence, you can hire or buy one if you so wish. As yet, I have had no desire to do so, despite me having years of experience on bikes in Scotland. My homeland has laws that make it reasonably safe to ride around the country but in Thailand, which has the second highest fatality rate on its roads in the world, there are few laws to follow. Be careful and keep your wits about you.