BANGKOK—My cross-country bus heading 700 km to Pua is scheduled to depart Bangkok in 30 minutes. I’m standing on the sidewalk, cars gridlocked on both sides of the road. No taxicabs available and I’ve got to travel 14 kilometers to Mo Chit Bus Station during Bangkok’s notorious rush hour or I’m gonna miss my bus. I’ve got no other choice, it’s time to catch this bus the dangerous way.
I try to hail another taxi. Damn, another cab already filled with passengers. It starts to rain and I don’t have an umbrella. Great, it’s raining on me and I’m about to miss the bus I’ve already paid for.
From the abyss of congested cars emerges a motorbike taxi. In any normal circumstance, it’d be ridiculous to ride a motorbike taxi 14 kilometers through Bangkok, during rush hour, in the rain. But I have no choice – I hail him to pick me up. He stops and asks where I’m going. “Mo Chit,” I tell him. He hesitates, lets out a grunt. I plop on the back of his bike. I’m saved!
One block down the road, he stops and turns his motorbike off. We’re parked at a small hub of motorbike taxi drivers. He begins to talk to his colleagues, pointing at me as he speaks to them. I hear him mention ‘Mo Chit.’ The other taxis are jabbering quickly in Thai, shaking their heads and looking at me like I’m crazy.
They’re probably saying to each other Yeah right! The foreigner wants me to take him all the way to Mo Chit in this traffic? That’s too far! All five motorbike taxis turn me down. I’m going to miss my bus for sure.
The rain begins to stop and a new motorbike taxi emerges. I beg him in rudimentary Thai to take me to Mo Chit Bus Station. He grunts. I point to my watch and make a desperate face at him. We come to an agreement: 300 baht for my deliverance. But I have to be at the station before 6:30 (when my bus leaves). He understands. I’m in a hurry and he’s got to haul ass if we’re gonna make it in time.
He hands me a bicycle helmet, I sit on the back of the motorbike, and he guns it. The traffic is at a dead stop but we’re accelerating, darting between cars and onto sidewalks. We’re only in 2nd gear and I’ve made the transition from fear of missing my bus to fear of losing my life.
3rd gear – Speeding recklessly through a narrow corridor of halted cars and buses. Other motorbikes share the road with us but my taxi shows no remorse. He cuts them off to shave precious seconds.
4th gear – I make peace with God. We’re in a blur of traffic lights and sounds, weaving between steady and moving cars. The expressway is a raceway, and nobody’s moving faster.
A lot goes through your mind when you’re in the back of a motorbike taxi barreling full speed through a busy Bangkok highway. Will I be alive in 5 minutes? What would face-to-pavement contact feel like at this speed? Are my students studying English like I told them to?
6:30pm – Decelerating now. We’re close. He slows and comes to a quick stop in front of the station. No sooner, I leap off the motorbike to pay the insane, wonderful motorbike taxi driver. I shake his hand, then run for the bus terminals.
6:31pm – I spot my bus. It hasn’t left yet! I sprint toward it and step inside, panting, but proud. The bus driver looks at my ticket and shakes his head. Wrong bus!
6:33pm – I think this is the right one. I step inside and hand the driver my ticket. He nods. I sit down in my assigned seat and let out a huge sigh. Relaxed now. An adrenaline-high dissipates quickly in the face of a 12-hour bus ride.