Facts About Thailand: The Sidewalks
One Of The Facts About Thailand is: Danger lurks in every step, literally.
Is there a tort lawyer in the house? That might be the question you ask as you ply the sidewalks of Bangkok. While your Thais may take nary a notice of the sidewalk hazards posed on a Bangkok walk-about you will surely be astounded.
First, let’s be clear. I love Thailand. I’d hate for you to think I dislike it. That is surely not the case. I love it for it’s idiosyncrasies. I don’t view the hazards you come across as a bad thing. I view them as facts about Thailand – something different that us Westerners are accustomed to. That doesn’t make them bad, just different. I post these blogs to provide a little humor and some useful information so you won’t be surprised too shocked by what you you see.
Thai Sidewalks Are Not Like Western Sidewalks. It’s One Of The Facts About Thailand You Have To Get Accustomed to.
How are Thai sidewalks different than Western sidewalks? I think there are four main differences. The first difference is Thai sidewalks are generally not in good repair. Whereas , in the West, you can pretty much walk a sidewalk without having to look down, one of the facts about Thailand is that would be impossible. Why?
Because the concrete or tiles or bricks that make up any given Thai sidewalk are broken and uneven. If you don’t look where you’re walking there’s a good likelihood you’ll suffer from a stubbed toe, a broken foot, or a broken arm incurred from tripping and falling.
Facts About Thailand: Why Are the Sidewalks So Broken Up?
How do the sidewalks get in such a state of disrepair? Remember that it is one of the facts about Thailand that it endures a long rainy season each year. Torrential rains play havoc with the underlying base of sidewalks and they eventually succumb to nature’s wrath by heaving and breaking, often leaving big potholes in the sidewalks.
Add to that the flooding that has occurred lately in Thailand and it’s very difficult to maintain well repaired and flat walking surfaces. Another one of the facts about Thailand is the budget for upkeep would be significantly less than it would be in a Western country and you can understand what’s happening.
Watch Your Head!
The second difference between Western sidewalks and Thai sidewalks is there are an incredible number of obstructions placed on and in Thai sidewalks whereas Western countries try very hard to keep sidewalks obstruction free.
In Thailand you can’t just walk along the sidewalk aimlessly daydreaming. You might think you are totally safe on the sidewalk and then BAM! You could walk right into a utility pole, or bash your head on the bottom of a traffic sign strung up over the sidewalk on two posts.
There Are More Obstructions Than You Think!
Are there other obstructions? Sure. Giant pedestrian walkways, designed to help people cross over busy streets, have their stairs ascend and descend right from the middle of the sidewalks. They are part of the facts about Thailand.
It’s funny because if you need to cross the street you’ll be much safer using the overhead cross walk. However, if you need to proceed as you were on the sidewalk, you’d have to make a potentially dangerous detour around the walkway’s steps.
Why Is It Dangerous To Go Around The Steps?
There’s very little walking space left to get around the stairs. You may even have to step into the busy street to get around the stairs. If you don’t step into the street you may be tiptoeing a tight sidewalk space to stay on the sidewalk. If you’re in a group you’ll have to reform into a single file line to get around the stairs. Then, if anyone if coming from the other direction, there’s going to be a pedestrian traffic jam.
Are Sidewalks Sacred For Walkers?
Any other obstructions for sidewalk walkers? Yes ,indeed but they are too numerous to mention them all. Suffice it to say that Thais don’t view the sidewalk as a place to take an unencumbered walk-about. If the sidewalk space is needed for something other than walking they seem to have no qualms about circumventing the original purpose of the walkway.
Are You Hungry?
The third way Thai sidewalks are different than Western sidewalks is the amount of food vendors who take up shop there. It’s not totally unusual in the West to see restaurants use a little sidewalk space for tables so people can sit outside on nice days. This pales in comparison with the space used by Thai food vendors.
Thai food vendors arrive each day with all their wares on a portable cart. Then take up their usual spot and start cooking. Their carts are typically located right on the sidewalk so that space of sidewalk now becomes half a sidewalk. When customers stop to buy the vendors wares the sidewalk becomes even more obstructed.
Some vendors even add tables and chairs to the sidewalk environment so customers can sit and relax while they enjoy their meal. Sitting out in the warm evening air and enjoying a bite to eat or drink is one of my favorite things to do in Thailand. Nonetheless, the vendors on the sidewalk do make the sidewalks more cluttered.
Other Vendors Also Take Up Space
Besides the food vendors there are also night markets which set up along the roads and sidewalks during the Thai evening. Shopping in the night markets is another great activity to do in Thailand. It’s a wonderful evening out when you feel like shopping for bargains, however, just like the food vendors, the night markets clog the sidewalks and make a casual stroll nearly impossible.
Can You Guess What The Fourth And Most Dangerous Difference Is Between Thai and Western Sidewalks?
Finally, the fourth difference between Western sidewalks and Thai sidewalks is the most distinct. In Thailand motor vehicles prowl the sidewalks! In Western countries driving a vehicle on the sidewalk is a surefire way to get yourself arrested. In Thailand, though I’m sure it’s illegal, motorcycles zoom up and down the sidewalks like fireflies.
Motorcycles are surely the most dangerous hazard on the sidewalks of Thailand. I’ve been walking along numerous times only to be startled by a motorcycle suddenly whizzing past at break neck speed. Each time it happens I can’t help but think, “Geez, if I’d suddenly decided to turn around or take a step to the left I would have been run over!”
Why Don’t They Use The Road?
Why are these motorcycles on the sidewalk? One of the facts about Thailand is that the sidewalk is often a better option than the street. Traffic might be too busy or it may be too difficult to cross the road to go the direction you they want to go so they just use the sidewalk. On the sidewalk, they can go any direction they like.
That’s the most common reason the motorcycles taxis like the sidewalk. They can travel the direction they want to go and they are less encumbered by traffic rules and stop signs and all that. The problem for pedestrians is these motorcycles are going so fast there’s a danger any sudden change in your walking pattern can result in serious injury to you and the people on the motorcycle.
What About Your Personal Safety?
Can you be safe on the sidewalks of Thailand? Yes you can. It’s possible but it takes a different mindset than Westerners are accustomed to those facts about Thailand. You have to have a heightened sense of awareness while you walk. You need to watch your path so you don’t stumble. You need to watch your head so you don’t run into something, and you need to be aware of your surroundings before you move in a new direction so you don’t surprise a motorcyclist zipping past on his bike.
You’ll Learn To Love These Facts About Thailand!
Like anything new, you do get used to it, and it eventually becomes second nature. The frenetic sidewalks are facts about Thailand that make it such an interesting and alluring place to visit or live. The sidewalk culture is different so embrace it and enjoy it.
Do you want to read more Fun Facts About Thailand? Read the other parts of this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
Marc Lewis is a 50-year-old Canadian who has traveled the world extensively both on his own and leading student tours. He’s worked as a high school teacher, business executive and photojournalist. Two years ago Marc met a lovely Thai girl online and moved to Thailand. He currently makes his residence in Bangkok and writes about facts about Thailand.