Before coming to Asia I’d already started to hitchhike more than one year ago. My first time was Serbia, but then would come Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Romania and a bit in Spain and Germany. Waiting time average in Europe is around 1 hour, although that depends on the countries, but all of them have something in common: they know what hitchhiking and pointing the thumb up mean.
But Asia is totally different. I’ve only been 2 weeks hitchhiking in Thailand and I can only say it’s a wonderful country to do it, at least in the north. The only point is they don’t know what hitchhiking means. And I don’t mean the thumb up gesture (in fact here the most effective gesture is holding up the arm and move the wrist up and down, like calling a taxi), but the hitchhiking concept.
Firstly, everybody here has a car or at least a motorbike. Secondly, have you ever seen a farang (western people) without money or who isn’t able/want to buy a train or bus ticket?
Nevertheless Thai people are extremely kind and the average time will never exceed 15-20 min. And that’s not all. In several occasions will be they themselves the ones who stop to ask you if you need help, they will move kilometers away from their route to take you to a good place or even they’ll invite you to eat. Once I was even offered some money
They mostly think you’re a lost farang and since hitchhiking is not here a well-known activity they’ll probably try to take you to a bus or train station. Sometimes you’ll lost more time than expected due to that, but it’s impossible to fight against a happy smile looking forward to help
I let you here just some of my experiences hitchhiking in Thailand:
- Jaroen, a truck driver who carried me from Lopburi to Kamphaeng Phet, invited me to have a lunch, coffee and to eat the dried fish he was eating like a snack. And he refuels without stopping the engine
- Just after 3 minutes waiting for a lift in Phran Kratai an old woman with a white dress, worrying about my safety, came to me. I explained her with gestures that I was traveling without money so she leads me to the bus stop, invited me to some Khao Lam (Asian dessert done with rice, coconut milk and black beans put together in a bamboo tube), told everybody about what I was doing (one of her neighbors tried even to give me 200 bahts which obviously I rejected vigorously) and I though she was going to pay the bus to Sukhothai for me but a young couple came to rescue me and dropped me off where the kind woman couldn’t see me again hitchhiking. What a lovely woman!
- 2 motorbikes and 2 sidecars (being behind with no security at all and with the backpack is not very comfortable).
- A truck with juices. I was with the orange juices and the door opened to not be enclosed.
- Being with Elena (a Russian girl I met in Chiang Mai and with who I would travel to Chiang Rai and Pai) some guys who had been traveling for hours from Bangkok to Chiang Rai just went back for half an hour opposite to their direction to take us to the Pai‘s road.
- Lee, a guy who was driving a red songthaew (taxi) offered us to sleep and have dinner at his wonderful home in Pa Daet.
- We were around the mountains over the lettuce packets of a pickup.
- An student and his mum, observing I was tired (that day I was sick) stopped before I’d tell them anything and offered me to take me to Chiang Mai, diverting their own route.
- Ning, a Lampang University teacher gave me a lift from Chiang Mai to Lampang teaching me a lot of things.
- Pim and Morn, students (and workers) who were around the University took me for several kilometers out of their route in order to drop me off in a good place towards Den Chai.
- Just after that I got a car. The driver had to stop in the middle of the road because the car run out of gasoline Fortunately other guy helped and came with a bit of it for us.
- I’ve hitchhiked with Buddhist monks (when they got off the owners of the car gave them 100 bahts and a bottle of water, that looks like normal here)
- I’ve traveled in a police car when the postman of a small village, trying to help me, told them that they should take me to the previous town to take the bus. Sometimes is impossible to make some people understand that you’re fine and not lost. But they try to help, so just smile and continue, new things happen later!
To be continued…
P.S.: ADVICE FOR HITCHHIKERS
- Here it doesn’t work to wait with the thumb up, instead you must hold up the arm and move the wrist up and down, like calling a taxi. In Thai that’s boglot.
- You’ll frequently see the gesture of turning the wrist with the open hand. That would be interpreted in western countries as “maybe”, but in Asia that means “no”. You’ll find that gesture useful for tuk-tuks
- Traffic rules in Thailand are hardly used so you can hitchhike almost everywhere, but the best places in cities are the traffic lights at the exits where you can directly ask to the drivers.
- It’s better if you walk and turn when cars come instead of waiting on the side of the road. That way they can see you’re going somewhere else, otherwise they can easily think you’re just waving at them
- Most of people don’t speak English but they can understand a bit. In any case explain yourself with gestures telling them where are you going and asking them if they’re going there and if you can go with them.
- Name 2 or 3 towns you’re passing through, maybe they can give you a lift to any of them.
- Pickups are the easiest to get a ride since you can go behind. They feel safe and don’t have to talk to you if cannot or don’t want to.
- Don’t try to stop minivans, they have their route programmed and will not stop.
- Say hello (pronounced “sa-wa-dee-khrap” if you’re a man and “sa-wa-dee-kaa” if you’re a woman) with respect putting your hands together, like praying, and nodding once.
- Bring with you a hitchhiking letter written by a Thai friend and learn some useful Thai sentences. This is mine in Thailand (it tells who am I and what am I doing in the road stopping cars):
Although once you get used to express yourself by gestures and to understand what they want to say it’s not so necessary.
- Use a GPS when you don’t have clear where they’re taking you, to know where they dropped you off or even to show them where are you going in the map (but show your phone as few times as you can). The best free offline GPS app for Android is Sygic but it has not map for some countries like Laos and Cambodia so I recommend to use additionally Maps with Me, also available for iPhone.
- Even though Thailand is safe for traveling (I’d say that even for solo girls, but you’ll probably know that better than me), everywhere you can find bad people. If somebody wants you to get up with him but he still doesn’t understand where are you going, don’t trust him. It’s very nice that people stop for you, but remember you’re not obligated to get up. Follow your instincts!
- Don’t be surprised if they want to have a picture with you or ask for your mobile number. Hitchhiking is just other way to meet new people and make new friends
- Hitchhiking is one of the best ways to travel around places that typical tourists don’t even know they exist. Enjoy with the curiosity and smiles of all that people not used to see farangs. You’ll be the target of a lot of photos, laughs and glances, participate in that and smile back warmly.
- Learn to accept what is given to you. Sometimes you don’t have other option than taking a bus.
- More advice on HitchWiki.org where I’ll also try to participate when I be able.