Of Soi and Motorsai

Thailand is a country of cat-nappers. Wherever I travel, I see plenty of people who, in their boredom, lethargy, or exhaustion, take every opportunity to shut their eyes and rest. Maybe it is the heat and humidity?

On the list of jobs I would not want to have is the motorcycle taxi driver or khon kap rotmotorsai. While the offices of Bangkok are filled with women, the men from the countryside find jobs like this one. For a fee paid to the mafia and a license paid to the government, they receive a colored vest and an assigned stand at the mouth to one of the city’s many long soi or alleys. 

Inhospitable to pedestrians, the soi are usually too narrow, too winding, and too sparsely populated to justify mass transit. Instead, we flag down a rotmotorsai, hop on the back, and whiz our way to the mouth of the soi where we catch a taxi, bus, or train onward. Dangerous? Yes. I only ride the motorcycles on our soi, where the drivers recognize me as a regular and are familiar enough with the traffic on the street to know where caution must be paid. 

Why are our streets laid out in a network of long, narrow soi? It is thanks to the rice-growing past of the central plains of Thailand.

As you can see in the picture above, rice paddies were laid out in long, narrow strips that connected to a main canal or road. As the paddies were drained, paved, and developed (the housing developments are the strips of mostly red roofs) the streets followed the long, narrow contours of the agricultural past. A map of Bangkok shows that legacy: thoroughfares a kilometer or more apart with long, narrow streets stretching out from them. Few of those streets, though, connect the larger thoroughfares.

The result is that many of us live some distance away from major streets and if we aren’t driving, have to find our way out of the soi under an unforgiving sun. It’s enough to make you cave in an ride on a motorcycle taxi or, perhaps, to want to take a nap.

Where to Buy Stickers in Bangkok


From the innocuous “men” and “women” signs on restroom doors to the urinating cartoon Calvin on the back of many a vehicle, stickers and decals play a much larger role in the life of Bangkok residents than one may realize. 


Two years ago I wrote about a taxi I was in that had the following information conveyed on its passenger door window through a series of stickers: No smoking, weapons, drinking, sex, durian, dogs, or water buffaloes allowed.


But where do these stickers come from?  I don’t see sticker stores in the malls nor do I see sticker aisles at the local Big C hypermart.  The answer turns out to be unsurprising: like most things of universal importance in this city of nearly ten million people, the stickers can be bought from a street vendor.


Up and down the streets, waiting at filling stations and stopping by the street food stalls where taxi drivers like to congregate, the sticker vendors drive these wagons powered by modified motorcycles, the panels of decals hanging like blinders, blocking their peripheral vision.


Upon closer inspection, some of the stickers tell a lot about the people who would buy them.  There’s a popular cartoon of an Issan (northeastern Thai) boy with his pants dropped, peeing.  The Playboy bunny is a popular brand here, even if the magazine is not locally available.  And the classic Harley Davidson logo is popular even among the drivers of Japanese brands of scooters.