I think I decided I was ready to start my Thai massage course when I realized I could go to school by bus. I know such a statement sounds almost silly, but it is a good example of how much our life has changed since we moved to Bangkok.
Traffic is a big big issue here and going from one place to the other not as easy as it seems. I sometimes think I would never have survived doing the course as I planned when we first arrived. We were staying at the Oriental Residence and getting to school would have meant a 15 minute walk to the Sky Train or taking the hotel free shuttle there to avoid the really high temperatures, changing line at Siam station after another 15 minutes, going a couple more stops for another 15 minutes and getting off at Saphan Taksin Sky Train stop. I would then have to walk to the nearby pier and be clever enough to catch the right Chao Praya Express boat to go up the river for another 30 minutes till the pier near the Grand Palace. And then only another blistering 15 minute walk would remain between me and my destination, the Wat Pho Traditional Massage School. So let´s see, that´s what, one hour and a half? Half of it sauna style, half of it freezer style. They like their air-condition Antarctic here.
If you take into account the course lasts six hours every day plus an hour for lunch, well, I felt tired just by thinking about it and quite incapable of leaving the super cool pool at the Oriental hotel. I reckoned the world could live without one more masseur and I could live without Thai massaging skills for a bit longer.
Not that I had not considered the traditional Bangkokian transportation solutions of course: taxis and motor taxis.
Unfortunately, traffic was too bad to go there by taxi and when I say bad I mean being stuck in the taxi for an hour for a trip that should usually take 15 minutes. This is the first thing people tell you when you move here: traffic is ok at certain hours and insufferable at others. And boy, are they right. After making the mistake of taking taxis after 4 pm, we decided to believe what we had been told and carefully plan our trips around traffic hours from that moment on 🙂
You would think being stuck at an air conditioned taxi cannot be so bad after all, right? Especially if the meter is hardly moving at all as it is the case here, where it only moves when the taxi moves, something that makes extremely difficult getting a taxi to go far away at rush traffic hours, as it is usually unprofitable business for the taxi driver.
Well, it is bad. I don´t know exactly why but I do know I felt almost sick the last time we were stuck in a taxi for almost two hours. I was ok when I got in and I was feeling sick and had a huge headache when I got out. The constant braking, the never ending lines of cars around you, the sterile space of the car, the closed windows that defend you from the humidity and the heat but also isolate you and enclose you to the point of claustrophobia. The feeling that this cannot be right, all these people like us, prisoners in these boxes with wheels, slowly parading to our destination. I hated it.
If the risk of getting stuck is not enough to defer you from taking a taxi, the risk of rejection most like will. The fact that the meter doesn´t move while the car is stopped provokes the second reason why we really fear having to take taxis: they are very likely to refuse us. And while you try not to take it personal, it adds stress to a situation already pretty stressful. It usually takes a minimum of three to five attempts to get a taxi to accept you: you need to be good business and between the taxi driver and you, you need to have enough knowledge to get to your destination. As Iñaki always says, getting to your destination is team work here. This is probably the one thing I was not expecting at all, I mean, how on Earth are you supposed to know how to get to your destination if you just arrived to the city and you know nothing about it? Well, I don´t know, but what I do know is that they don´t know either. This means we only take taxis to places we know well, so we can give directions to the taxi driver. And use Google Maps intensively. Coming back home is a bit easier, we start with the neighborhood, then say the street name and then mention the slang name by which the Indian temple near our house is known. And if this fails, we carry around a paper with our address and detailed directions to our place written on in in Thai by Iñaki´s lovely and caring colleague. Thank God for her 🙂
This said, the lifesavers in Bangkok are mototaxis, which I had never seen before coming here. Whenever you go, you see a couple of motorcycles at the end of each small road perpendicular to the big road. These streets are called “soi” and they can be very beautiful, peaceful and long, which means you could end having to walk more than half an hour to the taxis, metro or Sky Train. Some wealthy sois will have a soi bus to take you to the main road but most don´t. Motorbike taxis are the solution to this. People use them for short distance rides and for getting to places in time. They looked really scary to me at first, there are so many, and driven by guys who wear special colorful vests with a number on top of it. Then, behind, you usually see the passenger, a professional man or woman, sometimes even an older lady, often sitting in this demurred way, with both legs on one side, fancy high heels and all, reminding me of those times where ladies rode horses that way
It was impossible to take one to the massage school, as it was too far and I never wanted to take one anyway, for they looked scary and I figured I would have a hard time explaining where I wanted to go. Besides, I always try to walk if the distance is short. But then, one night, coming back from dinner, my flip flop broke. And all of the sudden I found myself half barefoot and 20 minutes away from the hotel, in the dark broken pavements of Bangkok. After a futile attempt to take a tuk-tuk, the traditional and colorful motor car you still see around Bangkok, usually full of tourists, I ended up taking a motorbike, not knowing if he had really understood where I wanted to go. I knew little about motorbike etiquette back them and scared as I was, I held on to the driver for dear life, something I have later read they do not appreciate. I wonder if this is what provoked his hilarious smile when he dropped me at the hotel gate and tried to keep my change in a joking, playful way. Feeling very self-conscious, wearing only one shoe, I was almost ready to let it go, when he surprisingly gave me my change and said good night.
I sighted, and then, like Cinderella, walked up to the magnificent entrance of my five star hotel, where all the circumspect and extremely elegant staff watched, probably puzzled by my lack of decorum and shoe.
One more day in this wonderful and alien universe I thought, let´s see what tomorrow will bring…