Rules? Where we’re going, we don’t need rules (of the road)

Something I’ve learned about myself recently (or maybe it’s just taken me a long time to admit) is that its very hard for me to complete a task if I don’t absolutely have to–take scooter riding, for instance. Yes, before I left the states, I took a class and earned my motorcycle license. Ah, but that was part of the preparation; I can prepare my ass off. However, when I finally arrived in Thailand and was living at the camp, I couldn’t feel comfortable riding the rented scooter. I could take it out at 7 am on a Sunday, sure, when the streets were empty, but going around corners, entering traffic… All of it was too much. When I took off a chunk of my toe on the kickstand, that was the final straw. I let the bike roast in the sun for rest of our borrowed time together.

Once I got back from my trip to Kuala Lumpur and moved into a studio on the main road, I had to use a scooter to go anywhere, see anyone, do anything. I didn’t even hem and haw about it this time; I hopped on the bike and took off, and that’s been the end of it. I drive a couple towns over to the gym (30 minutes and traffic), I even drove up the island completely to the airport the other day (60 minutes).

I even know where I’m going now (a bit). Streets in Thailand are completely confusing. Google maps is no help, showing only certain road names in English, and even so, street signs are impossible to find. Your best bet is the large directional signs pointing your way around the island, showing the direction of locations five to twenty kilometers away.

They're all this way? Seeing as I'm on the southern tip of Phuket, yes, I'd imagine everything is north

I have gotten lost a few times, especially in the beginning of my treks. I would start to get frustrated and start yelling out randomly, forgetting, it seems, that I’m on a scooter and can be heard by other motorists, many of whom are scooters as well. But it seems that getting lost was not the complete waste of time that it seemed in the heat of the moment.

Does not accurately convey the complete crapshoot that is this 5-street roundabout. They don't all go north!

The last few days, there have been a couple occasions where I was so focused on my driving that I forgot about where specifically I was headed and got turned around. While I did let out a curse or two, I thought about where I was and made some informed decisions based on where I knew myself to be. It turned out that I soon recognized where I was and got myself on the right track. That’s right– I recognized areas of Phuket Town.


If you notice that I’m pulled over on the shoulder in that first picture, you might be thinking to yourself, oh, that’s nice a safety shoulder to pull off on.  A pull-off can be one use for a shoulder. It’s also used as:

  • Set-up place for cart vendors to sell their wares
  • Lane for scooters to cruise through when passing stopped traffic
  • Pedestrian walkway
  • Lane to go through red lights on a 3-way stop
  • Parking space
  • Lane to drive AGAINST traffic traveling (relatively) short distances
  • Doggie bed
Definitely not kidding

Travel Classes

I know I can sound all holier-than-thou when I talk about how I haven’t shopped in months, this whole needs so many clothes, stupid wasteful luxury (“the height of Capitol excess”). Walking the large, Suria Mall in Kuala Lumpur… just wow. It has that smell, that mall smell, the smell of capitalism. There are stores I used to shop at without thinking, spending hundreds at a time, like Banana Republic and Guess, and those that I can only dream of shipping in, like Burberry and BCBG. It’s almost enough to make me want a real job again.

I stand by the fact that seeing a city as an independent traveler and as a traveler on business are two very different things. I’ve visited many cities as a traveler in either class, but there are a few circumstances that have allowed me to see the same city from both sides.

Backpacker Christina--excited to be in a cemetery

The first can result from multiple visits, for instance, New York City. I’ve stayed in a hotel right off of Times Square and enjoyed a dinner of filet mignon topped with foie gras and truffle macaroni. I’ve stood in the rain for over an hour, trying to find the right bus or ferry to get to Staten Island and praying my Kindle didn’t get wet.

The second way to experience a city both as bourgeous and backpacker is if a city is a level so economically beneath your home country (ie: cheap), that even no money is some money . All I need is a glance at the international exchange rates to remind me that that the dollar doesn’t go nearly as far as it used to, especially compared to other first-world currencies (damn you, Great British Pound!). The US Dollar buys so many insert-cheaper-currency-here that a city like Budapest, Hungary, will accept you and your dusty flip-flops into a restaurant with waiters who have crumbers (this means its fancy).

First Class Christina--knows to sacrifice feeling in her fingers for pretty

I think that there are benefits and disadvantages to each type of travel. I think that if a city appeals to you and you have the means, trying to see both sides is great. You could argue that more of the local culture exists on the ground floor, so to speak, and you be right. Night markets and street stalls, taking public transportation, sitting in parks, visiting grocery stores, can give you a taste of how it feels to live in that culture. However, there is something to be said for taxis that whisk you through the streets, the best version of local cuisine (if you’re giving a foreigner a taste of an American burger, you’re not going to Macdonald’s), museums and other activities reserved for those with more free time and disposable income.

I guess this means I can’t stop traveling!