And the Bailey goes to…Southeast Asia!
Long boats, windowless buses and wooden train tracks rumble through Southeast Asia. These vehicles entered this world with the baby boomers, and these days they run about as quickly as a toddler taking its first steps.
Obstacles inherent to local roads make the ride even bumpier: during a 10-minute trip it is possible to skid over both a mattresses-size pothole and a pot-size monkey. Dirt and exhaust pepper the air like teargas. Passengers launch skywards like popcorn kernels and baggage and children topple overboard. Luckily, locals are used to being ejected from vehicles, and they swing back aboard with the practiced finesse of John Wayne straddling a horse.
After one month of nerve-numbing transport, Anne and I hopped a plane. We flew uneventfully from Vientiene, Laos to Siem Reap. It was wonderful.
Unfortunately, when our plane deposited us at the airport – which makes a phone booth look like a spacious facility – there was only one thing in sight: ground transportation service.
The service manager informed us, “Taxi $10.”
$10 for a taxi? Parked before us was a collection of local cabs, usually referred to as “tuk tuks.” Cable cars are a trademark of San Francisco; yellow-top taxis are linked to New York; and tuk tuks are a cornerstone of daily life in SE Asia.
A tuk tuk, for those who have not yet encountered one, is essentially a motorcycle dragging a 3-wheeled golf cart. Carved buddhas swing from the roofs and embroidered elephants decorate the upholstery. Windows and doors lack covering, which can be unnerving, but this does accommodate panoramic views.
Anne and I began negotiations with the tuk tuk drivers. To our chagrin, the drivers had formed a cartel and the fee stuck at $10. The priciest tuks of Bangkok had never charged us over $5, so we defiantly left the airport and began walking towards town.
A driver followed. He quietly explained, “Outside airport, tuk tuk only $4.” Not surprised, we hopped aboard.
The drivers – not just their vehicles – can throw travelers for a loop. But as with any old engine, knowing their tricks smooths the ride.