Crossing the Street in Bangkok


Unlike people in most Canadian cities, Montrealers don’t take being able to cross the street for granted. For our own sake, we always assume that an oncoming car will not stop, so we calculate our trajectory accordingly when we attempt the seemingly simple task of getting from one side of the road to the other. This applies to jaywalking, of course, but also to crosswalks: the only cars that ever stop at zebra crossings have Ontario licence plates.

That gives us something in common with Bangkok, where pedestrians hold no illusions about being very high in the transportation pecking order. With roads clogged by a mind-boggling number of cars, trucks, buses, taxis, tuk-tuks and motorcycles (there are 50,000 death-defying motorcycle taxis alone), all of them moving very fast, pedestrians have a lot of adversaries to deal with when crossing the street.

Since there are so few breaks in traffic, the procedure is usually to step off the sidewalk as soon as the nearest lane is clear, then wait on the lane divider for the next lane to clear, and so on. Meanwhile, as you wait in the middle of the road, traffic will engulf you, so you’d better watch your step if you enjoy having intact bones in your feet. The scooters and motorcycles are what make this endeavour so complicated: they seem to come out of nowhere and always at top speed.

As long as you’re alert and you have good nerves, it’s easy to get used to it, and whenever you leave Bangkok you’ll be amazed at how calm the traffic is in other cities. But, as the opening scene in the great Thai thriller 13 Beloved so effectively indicates, when you cross the street in Bangkok, there’s very little standing between you and certain death…


This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Wednesday March 26 2008at 10:03 am , filed under Asia Pacific, Society and Culture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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