As I mentioned in a previous post, tuk tuks are pretty much a pain in the ass. You can get a good deal if you haggle over the price but you have to really work at it; I preferred taking the motorbikes as they are cheaper. I learned a couple of lessons real quick on my first day venturing out.
Lesson 1: Don’t hold a map.
My first day in Bangkok was spent in the back of a tuk tuk on a grand temple tour. I was approached by a man who acted like a regular guy who just wanted to help me out because I was holding a map. Wrong, he talked me into a tour of the temples with a tuk tuk driver who “just happened” to be sitting there nearby for 40baht. That, in and of itself, wasn’t too bad. He did take me to all the temples and he did sit there and wait for me at each one. However, holding a map makes you a sitting duck, as everyone now knows you are not only brand spankin’ new to the city but also lost and have no idea how much it should cost to get anywhere.
Lesson 2: Don’t be a softy
In the above mentioned tour I discovered a thing or two about tuk tuk drivers. I may have gotten to see all the temples, but I also got to see every souvenir shop, tourist booking agency, and fashion shop….almost against my will. At first I didn’t fully understand what the driver was saying. I heard, “can we make a quick stop? somethingsomethingsomething for gas somethingsomethingsomething only 5 minutes somethingsomething.” What I gathered from that was he had to fill up on gas and would I mind waiting for him in the fashion dress shop? Of course I would wait, and I told him so. We stopped there, I looked around, came out, and we were ready to go. We stopped at another temple and then he wanted to swing by another shop. I listened closer and found out what was really going on. He didn’t need to fill up on gas. He wanted a gas voucher, which he could get by taking me to all these places. I finally heard, “Now we stop at souvenir shop. Only look, no buy if you no like .” Is he just being nice? Oh no. “I get gas voucher. Please help me, just pretend to maybe buy, 5-10 minutes no more.” I see. A quick tuk tuk ride is never a quick tuk tuk ride. I learned to bring out the inner bitch when it came to dealing with tuk tuk drivers; which includes putting your foot down and telling them no other stops, even if you feel horrible for telling them no after they say, “For free stop, no cost extra. For me, help me please.”
Lesson 3: Road rules are a joke.
I don’t know why they even bother painting lines of the streets. Motorbikes weave their way between traffic and half the time tuk tuks and cars are straddling lane indicators like they don’t exist. It took me a full half day to determine which side of the street people are supposed to drive on because if someone is going too slowly, you just jump into another lane and shoot past them regardless of which side of the road your on. The other drivers just scoot over for you if they can. Fairly certain I would get into an accident in half a second if I tried to drive here. Surprisingly I haven’t been hit yet-probably because I stand out like a white shining beacon, impossible to miss above the crowds…and probably because I wait for a local to cross the street and step in line with them. They seem to know the secrets to road crossing.
Lesson 3: Take a motorbike
Motorbikes are way cheaper, and they won’t try to drag you to all the different shops like tuk tuk drivers. I would recommend, however, being on a bike for the fist time somewhere other than Bangkok. Hopping onto the back of a motorbike in this city for the first time will provide a lovely adrenaline rush as you see a bus coming right for you before you zig zag your way back into your own lanes of traffic. I was white knuckled with fear, wanting to hold onto the guy for dear life but too afraid to release my death grip on the back of the seat. But hey, if you can get over that then you are in for a cheap thrill.
After spending the day arguing with tuk tuk drivers and haggling over prices of just about everything, you will be quite famished. Have no fear, street food is here!
Lesson 1: Street food is good. Not bad, good.
You hear all the warnings about street food and how you shouldn’t eat it. False. Eat your heart out. Street food is absolutely delicious and for only 45baht I can gorge myself on chicken pad thai (which I do, often). Not only is it cheap, it is pretty fresh and you can watch them make it right in front of you. I’m not kidding about cheap, take one look at a menu in a restaurant, especially the western food, and you will be laughing your way out the door to the nearest vendor on the side of the road.
Lesson 2: Learn to read Thai or be prepared for surprises.
Unfortunately, I do not read Thai, and this results in a lot of pointing at stuff when ordering. I ate a nice soup the other day with veggies, noodles, and mystery meat. It was dark in color, almost purpleish, and a bit chewy. Now I have seen these people selling fried worms and scorpions on sticks…I would not be surprised if I ate something’s liver. In fact, judging by the English menu signs I later read, I am fairly certain it was chicken liver. Lovely.
Lesson 3: Load up on ice?
Maybe I have yet to actually learn this lesson on potential water safety and a night hunched over a grimy squat toilet is in my future, but I have been probably less careful than advised and have thus far been fit as a fiddle. I’m either lucky or I have an iron stomach. I was told to not drink the water (yeah, still haven’t if you mean by the glassful), ask for no ice, wipe everything down carefully, only eat fully cooked foods, and avoid fruits from street stalls. I have done none of this. It’s bloody HOT here, and if you are going to sit there in your air-conditioned house and lecture me on the dangers of ice, I invite you to please come walk around in this inferno and tell me you want a lukewarm drink to satisfy your parched throat. When it’s all said and done, I let them load that cup up to the brim with ice when giving me a cold drink with satisfaction and gulp it down without hesitation. Fresh pineapple sticks are quite yummy and do you have any idea how good a fresh watermelon smoothie tastes? (hint: to die for.)
Lesson 4: Eat local.
I’ve said it once and Ill say it again-local cuisine is way cheaper. Not only that, but it tastes better. They don’t really know how to do westernized food here, and that’s ok! I didn’t come all the way to SE Asia just to eat a burger and fries or pizza, I want the real deal.
Overall lessons learned: tuk tuks are not my scene and street food makes my stomach smile.