Day Tripping in Amazing Thailand

Travel brochures frequently use the phrase, Amazing Thailand. Once you've been here for a while, the Amazement comes from many different sources.

One thing you may notice is the two-tiered pricing system: one price for locals and a special price for foreigners. Many National Parks will charge 30 baht for Thais and up to 600 baht for foreigners. The same pricing goes for many tourist attractions, museums, accommodations, etc.

This pricing practice can help people learn to speak some basic Thai. I think one of the first phrases I learned was, "Nee tao rai, khaa?" (How much is this?) I prefer to shop at stalls with clearly price items, but this is not always possible. The problem with asking how much in Thai is that the vendor will generally answer in Thai. Most of the time when a student of Thai reads or hears the numbers, the number 20 will be yeesib--the number five, haa. Foreigners frequently expect the number 25 to be yeesibhaa, which is reasonable. However, the contraction yibhaa is frequently used for the number twenty five and similar contractions used for different numbers. Thankfully, most vendors have a LED calculator and can show you the price on their calculator. I try to watch the vendor when I ask about a price and see how much thinking they do. I know many shop owners here in Hua Hin and all of them know the price of their stock--like you know the name of your pets--it doesn't take a lot of thinking to remember. Too much thinking on the part of the vendor frequently means you are going to pay the special foreigner price.

Haggling is one of the amazing parts of shopping in Thailand. Vendors expect a bit of haggling from the customers and some visitors I've talked to think it's the best part of shopping. There is no haggling at Tesco Lotus, but other than big department stores, haggling is the name of the game.

One of the saving graces is that even if you do end up paying twice, or three times, as much as a Thai counterpart, you still probably got a good deal compared to your home country. A general rule I follow, however, is if I hear the vendor say "falang" (Thai for foreigner) I usually opt out of the transaction and move on to the next vendor. Recently while looking for service for my motorbike the first shopkeeper said, "Falang only 300 baht." I thanked him and rode to the next shop where the shopkeeper told me, "Neung roi baht(100 baht)."

Another amazing part of Thailand is motorbikes. You can't turn around without seeing a motorbike. If the population is around 60 million, there must be about 90 million motor bikes in Thailand. It's not unusual to see a driver and a passenger, and just as normal to see a driver, a passenger and an infant. It's also just as normal to see three or four college students or a family of five on a motorbike. I think the only rule of motorbiking is that the driver needs to be wearing a helmet.

I don't recommend driving a motorbike in Bangkok, unless you are an experienced rider. The rest of Thailand is an open biking adventure. Most of the time, unless you pay a special price for foreigners, you can rent a motorbike for 150 baht per day, and that includes a helmet, maybe 2 if you ask nicely. If you drive the motorbike nonstop you may be able to spend a hundred baht per day on gas, but I doubt it. I once put 1,200 kilometers on a motorbike in 10 days while visiting Chang Rai, but it was no easy feat. I even went to Cambodia a couple of times and still managed to spend an average of only 50 baht per day on petrol. It's unlikely that you will use a tank of gas in a week, but if you do you're likely to see some fantastic things.

Riding a motorbike in Thailand can be an amazing part of your stay. You will get to see many things you won't see walking and you'll get places you wouldn't get to otherwise. Motorbikes are generally faster than driving a car because they are more nimble and can maneuver through traffic cars generally can't. When I was in Chang Rai I was staying at Mae Fah Luang University in the faculty housing. One of the students, Poom, originally assigned to be our guide, became a good friend. I asked him if he'd ever been in a motorbike crash-- earlier in the day one of the foreign teachers had broken his ankle when his motorbike slipped on an unpaved road--he laughed. He said, of course! Poom said that everyone he knew had been in at least two crashes, some serious, some not.

Nearly all the Thais I've talked to know someone who has died in a motorbike accident. In the three years I've been in Thailand I've been in 8 or 9 altercations on my motorbike, but never been hurt other than bruises, and only come off the bike once. The key to not sustaining serious injuries is to not come off the bike. Once you're in contact with the road the chances of injury increase dramatically. If you are here for a year and ride a motorbike everyday and don't get in a wreck you'd be the first person I've talked to who did so.

Here are a couple of tips to help avoid a motorbike incident:

1. Always wear your helmet. Helmets are hot and definitely not chic, but if you come off your bike you'll be very thankful that you were wearing one. Helmets also prevent unwanted incidents with local law enforcement officers who will fine you if they catch you not wearing one. Once an officer has you pulled over he will most likely want to see a Thai driver's license. You will be fined for not having one.

2. Drive slowly, with the other slow motorbikes on the road, until you feel really comfortable with your bike and are confident you will not come off it if someone bumps you, or you hit a hole in the road.

3. Watch other motorbikes and cars very carefully. Drivers in Thailand, like the rest of the world, are frequently distracted and not paying attention to you.

4. Expect the unexpected. Don't assume that a driver will react the way drivers from your home town will drive. You should always expect the other driver to do something unexpected and risk putting you in harm's way.

5. Be careful of dogs. If you hit a dog, most likely you will fall. Dogs never react the way you think they will.

6. Yield. Even if you think you are in the right, always yield to fast moving vehicles, especially trucks.

7. Be careful of hot exhaust pipes. Parking motorbikes side by side is a common practice. If you park next to another bike be careful when dismounting. If you touch a hot exhaust pipe with your exposed leg you'll get branded. If you look at peoples outside calf as you are walking about you will notice many fresh burns and old scars from people coming in contact with a hot exhaust pipe. Your motorbike's exhaust pipe will probably be hotter than the one next to you.

Following these tips and using your common sense can save you from an expensive trip to the hospital or worse. However, everyone I know drives a motorbike and likes it. Even people who've been in altercations get back on and ride again. Don't let fear stop you from seeing the great sights and bartering for great bargains in Amazing Thailand.