I never take tuk-tuks in Bangkok. Ever. Too much hassle, too much haggling over price, and not exactly the safest vehicle in the world. Taxis are cheaper, safer, air-conditioned, and the final cost of the trip is never a surprise (as long as you remind your driver to turn the meter on if he “happens” to forget, which is rare).
Ironic, then, that the only time I’ve ridden in one since I first visited Bangkok, in 2006, turned out to be one of the most memorable times I’ve ever had here.
It was Friday, the last hurrah of three day’s worth of Songkran festivities, and we’d just met up with a few friends at the Ratchathewi BTS station.
I really don’t feel like doing this after last night’s blowout at Tawandang. I’m tired, and they’re going to be in the mood to drink. Beer sounds awful. Whatever, suck it up. Try to have a good time.
Armed with a few mid-sized waterguns, we planned to stalk the area on foot in search of a few good water fights and a few cold beers, immediately finding both at CoCo Walk’s Retro Bar, located right at the southeast station exit. We exchanged friendly fire with a group of about 10 Thais—they eventually drove us off with repeated bucket dumps of ice water—then refilled our guns from their (warm) water supply and pressed on down Thanon Phaya Thai towards Victory Monument.
The area was quiet, though; way too quiet for Songkran. No music, no dancing in the streets, nobody doing any drive-by soakings from cars or motorbikes. Rather than risk a long, lonely, time-wasting walk, we decided to backtrack and strike out down Soi Phaya Nak, next to the Asia Hotel; surely there’d be plenty of locals out and about back there, plus we could stop at Sweety’s bar, a favorite haunt, for frozen drinks.
Nope. Just a few stragglers celebrating on an otherwise sedate street, and Sweety’s was closed. Fantastic. Where to next? (We preferred to avoid the mobs of people who’d gathered in Silom, and as usual had no designs on going anywhere near Khao San Road.) Our Thai friend Joy and her boyfriend Trevor had an idea: rent a tuk-tuk to whirl us around the city for an hour or so.
Ugh. No, no, no. Maybe we should just bail and let these guys go… is there a way for us to bail, gracefully? Think of an excuse, think of an excuse… shit. Can’t think of one.
My fiancee and I exchanged quick glances, and as any accomplished bailers would do, we waffled. We did our best to seem open to the idea and willing to go along with it, while still remaining noncommittal and ultimately leaving it up to them.
There are no shortage of tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok, especially in areas heavily trafficked by farang: they can smell you miles away, and sure enough one pulled up as we debated our options. Dressed in a plain grey t-shirt and camoflauge pants, with a thick mustache and long black hair falling past the small of his back, he had the typical “Isaan country-rock” look—the Carabao look—and he practically insisted that we hire him. Joy negotiated in Thai; we pointed out that there was no way five of us would fit in there.
After 5 minutes of hem-hawwing on both points, it was settled: yes, we would somehow fit, and it’d be 300 Baht for 1 hour. He’d take us wherever we wanted to go, and stop whenever we wanted to stop for refreshments since, you know, it’s totally kosher for five people armed with squirt guns, jammed into a tuk-tuk like pieces of a Jenga puzzle, to guzzle beers while searching for and engaging in water fights. Totally cool.
Bad idea. This is crazy, this is crazy, this is crazy.
Fine. Maybe it’d actually be fun.
We’d pictured ourselves cruising by unsuspecting Thais, squirting them, then escaping before they realized what hit them. In reality, it went more like this: driver sees roadside party, honks to get their attention, pulls up, stops, and we get hosed down, pummeled by buckets and buckets of ice water, and slathered with chalk. Sometimes they surround us and rock the tuk-tuk back and forth (to our driver’s delight). We don’t have a chance to return the favor because we can’t open our eyes long enough to aim our puny guns in their direction before our driver decides we’ve had enough and pulls away. Repeat.
Caught up in the moment, at one of a few 7-11 beer stops (mom, dad, you can stop reading now) I offered our driver a can of Chang. Responsible guy that he is, however, he declined: “No, no, kup-kun-krup. Too strong. Only drink Leo.” Leo beer, that is, which packs a moderate 5.5% ABV punch compared to Chang’s hefty 6.4%. I took the Chang back to the store and traded it for a Leo; by night’s end I believe he sucked down quite a few more. I believe this is called “drinking and driving… within reason”?
Hahahahaha. Oh my God. This is so, so absurd and so dangerous. And so fun! We’re riding around in a death machine on wheels AND feeding the driver beers. Hahahahaha. I can not believe we’re doing this…. shit, there’s water dripping into my Chang. Better pound the rest of this before we get soaked again.
At one point he turned the engine off at a traffic light and hopped out, pointing at the flashing lights on the back of two police motorcycles just ahead. Since he’d been drinking—in fact, there was an open can of Leo next to the steering wheel—for a second I thought he was going to just bust and leave us sitting there… but all he did was wipe the windshield down with his shirt. He didn’t do anything with the beer.
Only in Bangkok.
He was the right man for the job, though. We didn’t have to tell him where to go because he knew where the action was. Without him, there’s no way we would have found a massive locals-only street party somewhere in Banglamphu with live bands and throngs of Thais dancing and singing their asses off while getting constantly watered down from cannons and drive-bys. We joined in and lingered for at least half an hour.
This is overwhelming… one of those things I’m always going to remember. I almost want to cry…. I’m NOT going to cry… shit… fight those tears back! Don’t cry!
We’d been gone for just over 2 hours by the time we were dropped off back at Ratchathewi, but our driver was surprisingly reasonable in asking for “just” 200 Baht for the extra hour; maybe it was the Leo talking. A tidy night’s work for him, and split between the five of us, a reasonable price for wrapping up Songkran with a watery bang. He pointed in the direction of the MBK Shopping Center and said that was where I could find him most days, and I thanked him repeatedly.
Phew… thanks for not getting us killed, dude.
I still don’t take tuk-tuks and don’t recommend you do either. But on Songkran? Well…