The routes on the bus go round and round…

All day long.

My new apartment is about 10 minutes driving from the subway. So I have ventured into a new form of transportation: The bus “system”.

System is used rather loosely in this context.

I am one block from a bus stop, so getting there isn’t a problem at all. By the time I arrive at the designated stopping point, usually 4 busses have passed me already. There are a lot of lines, you see. My personal stop is home to 8 different lines, and another 4 or 5 drive by our way and occasionally stop.

Unlike many modern cities, the buses don’t have a way to prepay, automatically pay, electronically pay or check the price. This is how it works:

1. Wave the bus down. Do not do this like an American, arm out and upward. That’s rude and how one calls dogs, waiters and prostitutes. Instead, stretch your arm out and DOWNWARD, waving inward slightly. It reminds me of how mothers trying to quietly corral their kids behind them, not grabbing and no sharp movements.

2. Once the bus slows, move toward the opening doors.

3. As soon as I am within reaching distance, I grab a handrail, knowing that the bus may resume movement at any moment.

4. Start to step upward and onto the bus, holding tight as the bus has probably begun moving before my feet are fully off the ground.

5. Do not stop and pay. There is no machine anyway.

6. Find a seat or rail, and hold on tight, minding your head from the oscillating ceiling fan.

7. The fare-agent will find you, so start counting your change.

8. Once the fare-agent has located you as the new arrival, he/she will take your fare ask your destination and calculate the fare. The fare is counted and slipped into the metal pencil case-like can the agent holds. Then he/she tears off a ticket, notching it to note when you arrived. Then off s/he goes.

I am left on the sticky vinyl seat, arm out the open window, clutching my tissue-paper ticket. Ready to go.

Some buses do have A/C, but they cost more  and come less frequently. I prefer the buses with the windows down, wooden floorboards and a bucket of water set beside the driver for when he gets thirsty. The new buses have straps hanging from the overhead railings, but the old ones just have three parallel iron rods within gripping reach for Thais, head-hitting reach for Farangs.

Old-style bus interior

A few of the buses are free. I don’t know why that is, but I read online that 25% of the red buses don’t charge. There’s still a fare-agent to hand out tickets, but no need to pay. If I could figure out which ones were free, I’d never pay another baht for travel in Bangkok! Alas, even the Thais take a gamble on the price.

New Bus! So swanky…

Visitors and tourists don’t take the bus. It’s too unreliable, unmarketed, and the website is not written for clarity’s sake. Locals take the bus.

Hey guys, guess what! I’m a local now 🙂

I’ve tried to learn the bus routes, but found it pretty impossible. Once I learned one bus that went everywhere I needed to go, I just began writing down all the numbers I saw at both destinations. I haven’t gotten lost in a few weeks, so I’d call my approach a success!

An older model, air-conditioned bus


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