The Beginning of Phuket’s Iconic Bus
Between 1947 and 1967 Phuket saw major changes in its available modes of transport. During this time, a large number of Phuketians were lucky to have large increases in their incomes as a result of the island’s tin mining industry, and as a result, out went animal drawn carts and in came motorised vehicles. However, these vehicles faced one major problem, a number of the routes used were unsuitable for the new style vehicles. Kosimby Na Ranong, Governor of Phuket at the time, asked for assistance from owners of the island’s tin mining businesses to help develop roads to help take Phuket’s transportation system into a new era. As a result, the first official road to open in Phuket was Thepkrasattri Road, which was quickly followed by Phuket Road and Vichit Songkram Road.
Having seen the development of a road system, the island soon saw a dramatic increase in the number of motorised vehicles using them. Not only were the locals able to use them for their personal cars, and businesses for their trucks, shipments coming from Penang were now able to be brought by medium sized trucks, a vehicle which would soon be modified and used as a mode of public transport. These simple trucks, with a driver’s cabin and low sided flatbed behind, saw the addition of a roof supported by wooden pillars covering the flatbed, and three rows of wooden seating fixed to the floor, two running along the side of the flatbed and one in the centre. A wooden ladder was placed at the rear to allow people to mount and dismount from the vehicle easily, and rolls of plastic sheeting were attached to the roof along the sides of the vehicle which could be rolled down to protect passengers from the rain.
These vehicles are still used as a mode of public transport even today; they are commonly known in Chinese Hokkien as Po Tongs and Song Taews in Thai. It is a mode of transport with great tradition passed down from generation to generation.
A great, cheap alternative
For those staying in Phuket’s beach destinations such as Patong, Kata and Karon, the vast majority of the areas hotels are located in close proximity of the beach, shops, bars, restaurants and shopping centres, and are therefre easily accessible by foot. However, sometimes those staying in such areas want to get out and about and visit other areas of the island. There are also those who choose to stay in Phuket Town but want to visit the beaches. For these people there is a mode of transport that is a great alternative to a taxi or tuk-tuk, and that is the Song Taew.
A Song Taew, which basically translates as “two rows”, is a converted pick-up truck or lorry that acts as a taxi. It gets its name “two rows” because there are two fixed benches along the sides on which passengers sit. Song Taews are painted in a bright blue colour and are a cheap and convenient way to travel around the island. A journey on a Song Taew also provides passengers with great viewing opportunities be they of Phuket Town, natural landscapes or local living styles. However, the one downside is that a journey on a song taew can sometimes be a little slow, not because of the vehicle, but because along the route the driver will almost always stop to pick up a friend, relative, some kind of good which need delivering along the route, or other passengers going in the same direction. If you are in no rush and don’t mind the fresh air, it’s a great way to get around and an experience that should be tried at least once, or more if you enjoy it that much.
Song Taew journeys cover the main routes between all the main beach locations and Phuket Town, but there are no official bus stops, passengers need to wave them down as they see them approach and ring the bell when they need to get off. Fares for most journeys start at only 10 Baht and go up to 40 Baht depending on the distance traveled. It should be noted that Song Taews usually only run from early morning until around 6pm, however some do run until later in the evening. The Song Taews going to the beach destinations leave every 30 minutes from the local bus terminal in front of the Central Market on Ranong Road.
Song Taew Production
Nowadays, garages that make Song Taews are few and far between, but there are still some in operation. Khun Jarun Prasertsittikul is the manager of one such garage, Tammapong Garage Phuket, which has been producing Song Taews for decades. Khun Jarun says there are still a number of people interested in modifying their trucks into Song Taews which would be used to carry private or hotel passengers. Costs start at around 120,000 baht for a pickup truck to be modified and larger vehicles such as 6 wheel trucks cost somewhat more.
For Khun Jarun’s team to complete the modification of one Song Taew takes roughly one and a half months, it’s a job that requires a great deal of expertise and purism. Furthermore, there are now very few Song Taew mechanics still working today and the new generation of mechanics lack the knowledge required to be able to work as a Song Taew mechanic.
For more information about Song Taew conversions please contact +66 (0) 76 211 085