Ode to the Motorsai

Grilled fresh lobster with garlic chili from Fikeaw Yaowarat

I know it’s not a classy thing for me to say — and as everyone knows, I’m a real classy lady — but I absolutely adore Bangkok motorcycle taxis. I use them every day. And it’s not like I have to use them (there is, after all, the bus, the taxi, the BTS, the MRT, my legs, and the WTFETMB), but I will go out of my way sometimes to use them. I have no qualms about traversing town from Sukhumvit to Sathorn on a bike, or motorsai, as the locals say. Barreling over the bridge on Rama IV while trying to keep my skirt from flying over my head is old hat to me (sometimes extremely scary old hat, but still). Whenever I see a win, or motorcycle taxi stand, on the corner of the street and I’m stuck in a taxi, I will immediately pay my fare and exit to the waiting arms of my true love, the motorsai driver. This always results in the immense relief of my taxi driver.

Post-taxi on the way to a dinner at Clara, snapped by my friend Chris on the other bike

There is an inner glee that I feel when passing expensive cars stuck in traffic, the time saved from an interminable commute by zipping through the streets on a “Bangkok helicopter,” as John Burdett called them in the novel Bangkok 8. This inner glee is only slightly dented by menacing pedestrians going about their lives on the sidewalk (sorry!). But as powerful as that glee is, it doesn’t compare to the actual feeling when your motorsai really hits its stride on an open stretch of road, with the wind in your hair, and a sense of freedom that feels like flying.

This is why, in spite of the recent opening of the MRT stop in Chinatown, I still get off at Hualumpong station and take a motorbike to Yaowarat Road. The subway is nice and all, but it doesn’t give you the 5 minutes into your bike ride when the smell of Chinatown — star anise, incense, maybe some garlic — hits your nose. This neighborhood announces itself like no other, and I never tire of finding my way here, even if it does mean trekking across town.

On nights that I plan to do a food crawl down Yaowarat Road, I always pre-game at Shanghai Mansion, where I snag a cold beer (with ice, of course!) with my companion of the evening. This time, it was my friend Teresa, who came armed with a list of places that she hoped to try. I knew all of them but one: a place called Fikeaw, which Teresa had found on Instagram. Of course, we had to go.

If you are used to elbowing strangers out of the way at T&K Seafood (or its red-shirted rival on the opposite corner), then thank the gods because your elbowing days are over. Fikeaw (which I am not sure means “green fire” or “perfect fire”) is hands down the better Thai-Chinese seafood dining destination, boasting a fresh, frisky display of various sea creatures in front of an unwieldy outdoor cart that shields its main attraction — its busy woks — from the view of casual passersby. Once seated, you might notice a healthy contingent of tourists waiting to see the chef do his business with a bunch of flaming morning glory (pak boong), but this is not as much of a red flag as it would normally have been to me. Order the pak boong if you must, but do not sleep on the lobster, halved without mercy in front of your eyes and cooked in a giant steamer with chilies and garlic. As much good food as I’ve had since my night there, my mind still wanders from time to time to that lobster (and the squid, and the stir-fried clams…you get the picture).

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Ode to the Motorsai

  1. When I lived in BKK (2017-2019) my insurance said it would invalidate if I rode the Motorsai!

  2. Mick

    Reminds me of the guys on the motorsai stand outside Asoke whilst staying at Sukhumvit Suites, just sitting and people watching back in 2019 – we also went from Asoke to the Shanghai Mansion before travelling up to Sisaket and returning back to Hua Lomphong from Ubon – Great days

  3. I love this more than I can possibly tell you in the space of a wordpress reply. Thank you!

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