Bangkok tuk-tuk taxis

March 11, 2013

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A5 Laloran 180g sketchbook, 20 Feb 13, graphite pencil

There are three ways of getting around Bangkok without using the metro subway/skytrain: the large pink four-door saloon taxis (taxi meter) with their many Buddha charms inside to protect the passengers from the more maniacal drivers; tuk-tuks which are open three-wheel taxis; and motorcycles, where passengers ride pillion (without a helmet) as the motorcycle driver weaves efficiently through the traffic jams.

After a week of non-stop Thai food, the two of us wanted to ease up a bit and found Cool Garden Cafe, on a corner block a minute’s walk from the hotel, with simple Western food and blissful aircon. It had a relatively open aspect compared to others because it was on a corner block and sported outdoor terrace for smokers. I adopted an approach I’d developed days earlier at the upmarket Tawana Hotel nearby, where we got into the habit of taking tea and cake at 5pm: sketching what was in the street directly outside from behind a glass wall, a comfortable fishbowl view of Bangkok street life.

Across the road from Cool Garden was an informal taxi rank of the three-wheeled tuk-tuks. Drivers would simultaneously wash and clean their cars, chat to their colleagues, take a nap, wolf down a bowl of noodles on the footpath and tout a ride when any farang/foreigner passed by. They were parked on the corner of Surawong Road and Patpong I Road, a busy but cramped intersection. Patpong Roads numbers 1 and 2 become a red-light district after dark and Patphong I is transformed into a nightmarket after 7pm. By day, Surawong Rd is something of a financial district, with tall imposing bank buildings.

I doubt locals would consider tuk-tuk taxis worth sketching, but a foreigner will always be automatically drawn to subject matter that is new to him or her. There are no tuk-tuk taxis of this type where I live and it’s a vehicle I normally associate with the Philippines. I never took a ride in one because my Thai wasn’t up to the task. Even if I did speak Thai fluently, I’d still need to show the driver the name of the destination in Thai script. The lack of windows helps in hot and humid Bangkok; the seats certainly look very comfortable, notwithstanding the lack of seat belts. Some drivers are in direct association with gem shops, hence the well-known scam in Bangkok of 10-habt ($US0.30) tuk-tuk rides – you ask to go to a destination and you get driven to a gem shop instead.

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A4 Laloran 120g sketchbook; tuk-tuks opposite Cool Garden Cafe, Thalon Surawong, Silom 

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