There are many ways to leave Bangkok. You know, the old story: plane, train, automobile…tuk tuk. Yesterday I made my way out of the Big Smoke in the front seat of a generic inter-provincial bus – the transport of choice for millions of lower and middle income Thais looking to get away from their primate capital. The grip of the metropolis loosens around the Mor Chit terminal and the buses, heading north, northeast and east, slide away every few minutes.
I am usually a fan of trains for long distance trips but, this time around, my destination province is not part of the rail network. So, I settled in to my front row seat, which on this particular bus was designated “VIP”, and enjoyed the 6 hour drive out across central Thailand. It really doesn’t take too long at all before the traffic and commotion of Bangkok gives way to the quieter roads of the provinces. By the time the sun set, there were just a few motorbikes and lorries to keep the buses and pick-up trucks company.
This style of bus has three staff: a driver, a stewardess, and a gopher (who fetches bags and cleans the windshield). The driver (sitting right in front of me) was scoffing energy drinks throughout the trip. He was, I should add, a solid custodian of the steering wheel, so I certainly won’t begrudge him this indulgence. He said that at the end of the journey he was going back home to watch the two games of World Cup soccer, so I reckon he probably needed the pick-me-up.
I didn’t get a chance to talk to him much about the football and, in fact, he spent much of his verbal energy on deriding one of the other foreign passengers on the bus. A chap, so big, in the driver’s opinion, that he should have bought two VIP seats to support his ample girth. You certainly wouldn’t get away with this style of banter on the Canberra to Brisbane Murray’s shuttle service or the London to Oxford commuter express!
On those bus routes, there are no VIPs and no real chance that the bus will follow your instructions and drop you off outside your house. These Thai inter-provincial buses are so well patronised because, as I see it, not only are they cheap and relatively comfortable, but they repond to passenger needs. Hell, the “VIPs” even each scored a bottle of water and an enormous packet of pineapple crackers. With the karaoke blaring out from the DVD player only punctuated by the anti-obesity rants of the driver, the Thai passengers seemed to have a good time dozing and munching away.
It is not a bad way to travel, and not a bad way to leave the city behind for a few months in some of the less visited parts of the region.