Thailand is hot. And humid. Seriously, some days the air weighs so heavily on your body it feels more like you’re taking a warm bath than a leisure stroll through town. Particularly from a Canadian’s perspective, I find I don’t even begin to acclimatize to the Thai heat until I’m heading home to my igloo at the end of the trip. If you tend to sweat a lot, trust me -- always carry a towel with you.
Air-Conditioning vs. Body-Conditioning
The good news is that the transit options in Thailand are actually incredible. They’re so cheap that even if you’re hit with inflated fares as a foreigner, you’ll still feel like you scored a crazy deal. In Bangkok specifically, you can skip the taxi and save money by hopping on the Airport Link that will get you directly from the airport to central Bangkok for just 45 baht (under $2.00)! Other trains take you along main routes within the city for equal or less than that. Wherever you’re headed, there is likely a train that will get you to your destination (or at least most of the way) for next to nothing. Not to mention they’re all air-conditioned. Take that, sweat!
Alternatively, there are a wealth of other options at your disposal: taxi, plane, tuk-tuk, riverboat, motorcycle, bus, songthaew. So convenient!
But our personal choice? Making use of our own legs. GASP!
After all, you really can’t escape that heat; one way or another that heat is going to get you. So long as you’re prepared with a constant intake of water, a towel and a quality pair of shoes, the rewards will far outweigh the humidity. Rather than rely on air-conditioning, you’re better off conditioning your body to the air.
Why We Avoid Taxis (and most other transportation)
There are many folks out there who don’t have the ability to walk as much as we do (or at all, for that matter). So Linda and I made an agreement with our bodies that as long as they provide us the privilege to move ourselves, we plan to reap the benefits! Especially when we travel.
If you’ve been blessed with a healthy set of legs and you aren’t using them to their full extent, I challenge you to rethink the way you travel. I often catch novice travellers over planning their days down to the hour. These eager tourists will break out the city map and place a pin on every hot spot that Tripadvisor can provide. But what they're really signing up for is a trip spent sitting in a taxi, bolting from one place to the other.
Are they really getting to know the country they traveled all this way for?
Consider What You’re Missing with Each Street You Pass
When we travel, the ultimate goal is that we leave with a deep understanding of the local way of life – a true immersion into their culture. Unfortunately, when we first started traveling, we were those naive trip-planners. Our travel guides would dictate every step of the way until our cameras were filled with standard shots of world-famous icons. We’d return home completely dissatisfied with the experience and as we shuffled through those photos it was clear to us where we’d gone wrong.
If it’s the Locals You Want to Meet, Accept the Heat and Use Your Feet
Among the most important lessons we learned was that while we taxied our way through town we were riding right past all the good stuff. We’ve discovered over several of these early adventures that the most important aspects of travel cannot be found near tourist hot spots. In fact they’re often found (by no coincidence) far away from these areas. It wasn’t until we swapped our car rides for leg strides that we finally found what we were looking for.
We stopped researching websites that only promoted popular attractions and redirected our focus to specific forums and suggestions from individuals with similar travel goals. It changed everything! Linda and I have experience two completely different versions of Thailand. The first version involved over-planning with those pins on the map and you can bet we maxed out every minute of the day with all the things a tourist could ever want. We had felt so unfulfilled with that trip that we decided on a do-over. This time we did it right. We chose to skip the taxi and we walked as much and as far as we could. We sweat a lot.
What We Lost in Sweat, We Gained in Perspective
In the second version of Thailand, we found our favourite dishes in unnamed restaurants because we were curious what we’d find down random side streets. The bowls and plates were chipped and worn down; a sign that we were in the right place.
We took a look under a bridge and found a trip across town for 7 baht via riverboat. The names of the docks were not in English so we had to trust our intuition and problem solving skills to get us there. It seemed that the less English we came across, the more enlightened we’d become.
An we found Thailand. The real Thailand; not the one you see in the brochures or vacation websites. In that second trip, we found precisely what we were looking for a year prior; all because we skipped the taxi.
Not only did we create an adventure unique to our tastes, with time to adapt as we went, but without putting any thought to it, we gave our bodies an incredible workout. This allowed us to eat more, sleep better, and save money while we’re at it!
We Weren’t Satisfied
We returned home, unfulfilled once again. However, this time we lusted for the rest of the world. Getting to know Thailand at this level opened our eyes to the opportunities and experiences we had never even considered. No longer did we have a simple case of the Travel Bug; it had overtaken our bodies and souls entirely.
So regardless of your destination, remember that your legs are your best and most underrated mode of transportation. Allow yourself to be curious; to take the long route. Embrace the heat.
Skip the taxi.