This article was published in 1999, in Newsletter 22.
I took a ride on a trishaw last week, in the city of Sukhothai in central Thailand. I offered 20 Baht (about 35p) for a short journey of about half a mile. I could have probably got away with offering less, but the rider didn’t speak English so it didn’t seem worth the bother. When I reached my destination I judged that my generous fare entitled me to ask the driver to pose for a photo, which he duly did.
The trishaw had room for two passengers, though it was somewhat smaller and older than those operated in Cambridge by Simon Lane. It had only one gear, and the rider wore flip-flops, but despite this we overtook several slower-moving motor vehicles along the way and executed a right turn across a busy dual carriageway without difficulty.
There were trishaws plying for hire all over the city centre – though not as many as of their moped equivalent, Thailand’s notoriously noisy and smelly ‘Tuk-Tuk’. Both forms of transport were highly convenient for travelling short distances, especially given that the temperature during the day was around 35°C. I tended to prefer to use Tuk-Tuks after dark because they had lights!
It was apparent that the trishaw drivers were poorer and probably less well educated than the Tuk-Tuk drivers (who were in turn, presumably, poorer than the taxi drivers).
I saw a lot of bicycles in Thailand (except in Bangkok), but the most common form of transport by far was the moped. I saw mopeds being used to carry entire families, and, with various sidecar and trailer attachments, a wide variety of goods.
I did hire a bike, for about an hour, to get around the widely scattered ancient ruins of a historical site. Thai people are in general smaller than me – it took quite some time to find a bike large enough! I ended up on a cheap, heavy mountain bike with thick, soft tyres and dodgy brakes. On the road, it took some time to get used to the slow pace of traffic. It would have been quite dangerous to zoom about in the way that I do at home. Fortunately they ride (and drive) on the left.
Traffic in the towns and cities (except Bangkok) proceeded remarkably slowly, and vehicles (especially mopeds) were often happy to give way to crossing pedestrians. It took some time to realise that the best way to cross a busy road was to step out into it. On a couple of occasions in Bangkok I saw pedestrians step into the road, making a ‘stop’ gesture to the approaching traffic – which duly stopped!