The Bangkok Bus: An Early Morning Urban Safari

What’s your definition of hell?

I’ll give you mine.

It’s some time between 6 and 9 am.

I’ve somehow squeezed myself into a BTS carriage, lodged myself between compressed fidgeting bodies all twitching as they try to gain the space advantage needed to exercise the controls of their cyber worlds. Immersed, they crush candy and flick through tinder faces, fingers agile like cats.

The carriage is packed tight and these cyber transgressions cannot block out the involuntary frottage with some dude who’s had garlic noodle soup for breakfast, or that kid’s school bag digging into your ribs.

Oh yes. Riding the BTS in the morning: it’s the new sadism.

It’s a joke and yet I don’t see anyone in this carriage laughing.

Surely there must be another way?

A light at the end of the Sukhumvit line?

Ladies and Gentlemen, perhaps there is.

Let me introduce to you the Bangkok Bus.

It’s old, the fans rattle, the windows won’t budge, the driving may be certifiably psychotic, the old woman sitting next to you is singing – now she’s laughing, now she’s crying, now she’s tugging on your sleeve. It’s okay though, I’m sure her gums aren’t actually bleeding and she’s chewing betel nut instead..?

The bus smells kinda funky but there’s not a smartphone in sight.

That’s because Bangkok bus commuters are the type of people who live life to the full – there’s none of this parallel cyber-life nonsense.

They travel anywhere and everywhere in the city for under 10 baht on one of the safest modes of transport available. Unless you have to jump on the sporty number 71 that swings up the soi of the same number like a bat out of hell, most buses are too big and too slow to worry about a ‘traffic incident’. A motorbike may hit the side but you won’t even feel it; taxis crumble upon contact. We laugh as minivans try to bully us for lane space.

Oh yes, on the Bangkok roads the Bangkok Bus is king.

So, you want to take the bus plunge?

If you’re going to get on board the Bang Bus you better do it early.

Like, 6am early.

The 38, 48, 511, 25, 2, 98, and others will all take you down the length of Sukhumvit Road.

Jump on, grab a seat and share the ups and downs of the driver’s hangover as he shoots past bus stops, wanders in and out of traffic lanes, and generally disregards the passengers he’s paid to carry. You’ll be glad to learn that his brake foot is equally as erratic as the one that operates the gas. Terrified you may be, but I wouldn’t complain buddy, else you may be having an upclose view of that machete stowed under his seat.

Photo by drburtoni

Photo by drburtoni

The conductor is certainly no wallflower either. Brandishing a thick metal coin changer she’ll shout at the driver like a disgruntled wife, telling him to slow down, wait, speed up, stop, or whatever complexity of the bus driving role the driver is failing to grasp that particular morning.

Best to leave them to it – you’ve got yourself a seat so sit back and admire the view.

Because the Bangkok Bus is not just a mode of transport.

Oh no, what we have here is the perfect vehicle for the Bangkok urban safari. Like riding an elephant in Chitwan National Park, the jeep in the Maasai Mara, or the dugout canoe on Lake Bunyunyi, the Bangkok Bus can show you what other modes of transport don’t even get a sniff of.

From road sweepers brandishing brushes around Prakanong and drinkers still going from the night before at Asok up to Nana – stumbling off back to their hotels with their hangovers and their new friends.

A Moroccan woman recently got busted for walking Soi 4 naked spare a pair of flip flops. That’s nothing: there’s been a dude flashing his junk every day on the streets of Sukhumvit for the last 10 years.

And it’s all there to see. But remember, kids, this safari is like the jungle; the wildlife here scurries away at the first solid shards of daylight. If you attempt to make the journey after 7am,  you’ll have missed the show and will be rewarded instead with just the familiar armpit sniffing on the BTS.

But maybe you kinda like that?


Featured image is by beve4 and is used under a Creative Commons licence



About Author

A writer of several stories and film scripts, James is currently experiencing a midlife crisis and producing an acid folk concept album to prove it. He's also the author of crime noir book Fun City Punch. Read his blog and follow him on Twitter.

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