Recently I was on vacation with the family at the island of Phuket, Thailand. We were there for ten days and I noticed some things which left me with several unanswered questions.
Thailand is far from being an advanced nation. Despite this, the drivers are very disciplined and traffic moves in a systematic manner.
I did not see anyone sounding the horn. Not only was there no honking, but everyone was very accommodating on the road and ever ready to make room. Not once did I see any motorist break any traffic rule or drive rashly.
You would imagine this is because of heavy presence of traffic police on the streets and highways. Believe me, I never saw a single traffic policeman.
The vehicles are mainly Japanese and Korean. I did not see a single premium brand. And they still use mopeds, unlike India where only TVS makes them and their sale is restricted to specific areas. But while the vehicles in Phuket, and even the roads, may not be anything to write home about, the way its people drive and follow traffic rules is certainly very impressive. They also respect pedestrians and stop the moment you step off the pavement. Yes, they actually have pavements where you can walk.
Another thing which left me befuddled was the honesty of people, especially that of taxi drivers. Most of the local taxis are rickshaws or small vans known as Tuk-Tuks. They have no meters. So you ask for a price and fix one. Almost everyone quotes the same price. Then you can negotiate and get 10 to 15 per cent off. The Thai people like to negotiate. But they are not cheats. Let me give you an example. We needed to go to the airport and wanted a van as we had lots of luggage. The hotel quoted Thai Baht 1200 (1 Baht is about Rs 1.9). I asked a van driver on the street and he said 800 Baht. On the appointed day and time another driver turned up with a van. When I asked him about this he said, “The driver you fixed with is my friend. As he got another booking he sent me.” In India, the driver would have just not shown up and left you high and dry at the last minute. The new driver who had come, took us to the airport in great comfort. When I enquired how much I needed to pay, he replied, “Why you asking? You fixed with my friend for 800 Baht, so give me that.” In our country, I can bet you that the driver would have wanted more and said this is my rate – not the one quoted by the other driver.
Before I end, I must tell you what happened on our return. At Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, there are counters where you can book a prepaid private cab. I booked a Toyota Innova and paid Rs 1,400 for it. After we loaded the luggage and got into the Innova, the driver disappeared and left us in the sweltering heat. He returned after 10 minutes and when asked said, “I went to say bye to some friends.” On reaching my residence, the driver confidently said, “That will be Rs 1,400.” I told him I had already paid in advance. He asked to see the receipt. After I showed it to him he smiled in a sly manner and said, “Try marna to banta hai na saab (I was just giving it a shot, sir).” Oh darling, yeh hai India!