How to ride -- and hopefully survive -- Bangkok's 'motocy' taxis
Ah, the motocy -- as locals call it -- that speedy, scrappy tradition of Bangkok transport that inspires love, hate and sheer terror.
You're late. Storm clouds are on the horizon. The BTS is a 10-minute walk away and your destination a further 10 minutes from the station. In 15 minutes, the skies will open, the sois will flood and traffic will grind to a halt.
You: A. Take a taxi, sit back and prepare to sit in gridlock to catch the last few minutes of your meeting; B. Dash to the skytrain, hoping the rain holds off and the train arrives swiftly; or C. Hop on a motorbike taxi and thank your lucky stars (once standing on solid ground) Bangkok offers a form of transportation so quick, so cheap and so thrilling.
Thousands of Bangkokians ride motorbikes every day, often with massive bundles fastened to the back or a young child balancing in front of the driver. Nor is it unusual to see a female, looking pretty and sitting side-saddle, zipping through traffic on the back of a motorbike in heels and a pencil skirt.
Most get through the day unscathed. But of course some don't, and accidents are grisly.
Also bear in mind that many of Bangkok's ambulances are operated by semi-professional foundations which have a record of feuding over accident victims. And before contending with each other, they must contend with Bangkok traffic. A number of insurance companies here don't cover motorbike accidents for a reason.
Motorcycle taxi queues can be found on corners all over the city. The men (and a few women) wear colorful numbered vests -- typically orange, but sometimes green, blue, pink or purple.
To catch a ride, head to the queue and let one of the drivers point you to the appointed motorbike. Though it may not be outwardly apparent, there is a fine science to their rotation.
Prices are set for short distances; negotiate on longer rides, if you dare take them.
Most women sit side saddle, even when wearing pants, though this can be a trickier position to master. Remember shame is a small price to pay for safety. Hold on, not to the driver's waist or shoulders, but to the bike's back handle. If there is one.
The head gear
As for that helmet they offer, you're better off wearing a bucket on your head.
Motorbike taxi drivers often have full head protection for themselves, but they'll likely hand passengers some half-helmet number. Chances are it's old and maybe even cracked, the inside cushion gutted, straps so tangled they can no longer be adjusted and, having been worn by many people, there's a smell (or maybe some lice).
Riders will put it on anyways, as it would be stupid not to.
A ride will cost a little more than the BTS or a taxi for longer distances, but the motocy definitely has the monopoly on speed. There are few ways to see Bangkok as exhilarating as racing over one of the city's central flyovers or zig-zagging through obscure back sois.
But watch out. Much like tattoos, motorcys are addictive. Riders comfortable with that two-minute trip down the soi will soon find themselves hopping aboard a motorcycle for a 15-minute trip across town -- even if they do know the risks.