Survival in Asia 2 - Transportation
This series covers the obstacles of daily life in Asian countries and the differences to the Western world. It helps the reader to escape some of the typical tourist traps.
A countryside tuktuk (or special trike) from Sukhothai
Everywhere in Asia: Flag down empty taxis driving on the streets. Taxi drivers waiting for customers somewhere at a corner usually want to negotiate a fixed price. That can easily be double the meter price.
Everywhere in Asia: Before entering the taxi you should have achieved, that the driver will use the meter or that the fee is negotiated.
Everywhere in Asia: Watch the face of the taxi driver. If you tell him where to go and he has an uneasy look on his face, better take another taxi. If that isn't possible tell him to ask another driver for the way.
Everywhere in Asia: Meters are only used in big cities and nearby them. Everywhere else the fee has to be negotiated. Ask the fair price from a hotel or a local and add 20%, as tourists in Asia always have to pay a little extra.
Everywhere in Asia: It may happen, that a taxi driver tries to argue with a raised voice so he can push you into something and raise the fee. Stay cool and react with a smile and/or raise your voice too. If you smile in Asia you signal your superiority to the other and also that you won't take everything from him and you will stay calm whatever he tries.
Cambodia: Taxis don't have meters anywhere. Hence you always have to negotiate the price beforehand.
China: Make sure to have your destination written down in Chinese characters. Most taxi drivers don't speak any English at all. Additionally let someone write down a known landmark nearby your destination. Like that the driver can first drive there and then ask the locals, where to drive, to reach the destination. Unfortunately GPS-devices aren't used much by taxi drivers in Asia.
China/Taiwan: Taxi drivers use the meter without you having to tell them.
Philippines: You should always ask a local how much the price to the destination will be, because there are taxis with manipulated meters. Upon entry you tell the driver, that you want him to use the meter and that you will pay a certain amount as a maximum. Then you ask him, whether this is fine and if he agrees, you use the taxi.
Philippines: Official taxis at airports usually don't wait directly at the terminal exit, but further away. The reason is, that the limousine companies waiting directly at the exit have to pay extra for that and hence charge a higher price. Just ask a security guard, where the official taxi queue is.
Tuktuk, Cyclo, Trike
I recommend to use a tuktuk once for the experience. In big cities tourists are cheated all the time. Bangkok is the worst of all. It seems, that there are no honest tuktuk-drivers at all there. As soon as they transport tourists you can literally see the dollar signs flipping on their eyeballs. Sometimes they just refuse to drive to the destination, because they want to earn commissions from tailor-shops, jewellery-shops or massage places (in case of male only passengers). That's where you will be driven to if you don't complain loudly.
In rural areas tuktuks often are the only means of transportation. But the drivers there are calmer and more normal than in the big cities. The same rule as for taxis without meter applies: Ask a local about the usual price and add about 20% “tourist-charge”.
Tuktuks can be found everywhere in Asia, cyclos are used in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Melaka, Malaysia, trikes are common in the Philippines.
A Thai dining car before "disco time"
They can be found in the big cities of Thailand. I advise you not to use them. If you still want to try then use them during rush hour only. Because then the drivers are unable to drive around as madly as they normally do. These taxis usually only service a side road of the main road. During rush hour they have most customers as cars and buses are stuck in traffic then.
Small bus, songthaew, jeepney
Thailand: Enquire with locals, how the songthaew system works and get in. Usually these small buses follow a fixed route and this route can be recognised by their number or colour. To get off press the bell or knock to the driver's cabin.
Philippines: Don't use jeepneys in the Philippines at all or just in groups or in the countryside. The high crime rate in the Philippines results in many tourists being robbed in jeepneys in the big cities. Better use a taxi.
Bus routes are organised well throughout Asia. The buses usually depart on time, sometimes up to 15 minutes too late. On routes with just one connection a day it can happen, that the bus departs too early, when it is already full. Hence you should be there half an hour too early or make a reservation by phone (but that is rarely possible).
This is the system in Thailand (similar in other countries):
VIP bus: Air condition, large seats (three per row), food is served, toilet is available, one break during the journey, stops only at designated stops or if someone wishes to get out
First class bus: Air condition, normal seats (four per row), food is served, toilet is available (but usually locked), one break during the journey, stops only at designated stops or if someone wishes to get out
Second class bus: No air condition (just fans on the ceiling), four or five seats per row, the corridor is used for standing passengers, no food is served, a toilet is not available, therefore stops every two to three hours for a break, stops everywhere along the way to let people in and out, does not always take the direct route, driving time compared to the VIP-bus can be double as long
2 minutes of a train ride in Thailand
China: Taking the train in China is fun. Everything is well organised, the departures are on time and the service is good. Soft sleepers are inside a cabin with an entry door, hard sleepers have curtains for some privacy. Night trains are always sold out. You should get your tickets two or three weeks before or book them in a travel office. Normal day-trains and high speed trains needn't be booked in advance, but it might happen, that you will only get tickets for the 2nd or 3rd departure after your arrival. So if you have to reach a flight connection afterwards just plan with enough reserve time.
East China is modernised, West China not yet everywhere.
Thailand: Trains are about one third slower than buses. But overnight trains from Bangkok to either north or south can be worth it. For enough comfort you should book 1st class sleepers. During high season from November to February they are sold out early, so book the tickets one week in advance or with a travel agency. The dining car in Thai trains is a must! In the early evening dishes are served, later it becomes a disco with typical Thai songs and even a glitter ball on the ceiling. Since windows are always open the volume has to be very loud, so everyone can hear the songs. :-)
Vietnam: There is a train line from Saigon to Hanoi. It's extremely slow and can only be recommended to train fans and “landscape connoisseurs”. The rest better takes the bus, which isn't very fast either with an average speed of 50 km an hour.
Leave a comment
Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated. HTML code is not allowed.