Join the other curious and interested readers of my Sunday letters. Sign up
Enjoy this piece? Get more like it every Sunday.Sign up

How to Get to Parkour in Bangkok When You're Running Late.

I’ve been craving parkour badly, ever since leaving Portland. When I arrived in Bangkok, one of the first things I did was look around and see if any classes were offered here. What I found was Parkour Generations Asia, a school with instructors that were in France, training and building parkour as it was created almost 20 years ago.

Schools like this, in the scope of the world, are really rare - there just weren’t that many people around at the start, and not all of them teach. So I was super excited, my second day here, to get to go to a class.

And I was running late.

I wasn’t planning to be running late. I left at 6:15pm, about 45 minutes before it started, and the park was about 5 km from my apartment. Google said it was doable via taxi, or with a stretch, via the train. However, when I asked the apartment manager where the best spots for getting a taxi were, they said I should just take the train. Traffic was terrible.

I’d heard of this legendary Bangkok traffic. But in the 48 hours I’d been here, I’d yet to see a lick of it. Even my long drive from the airport was largely traffic-free. Everyone, in every city in the world, thinks they have bad rush-hour traffic. It’d be fine.

I got out to the street, and flagged down a motorcycle taxi. I showed him were I wanted to go, and he showed me complete bewilderment. Passers-by were roped in, other drivers, nearby business people. Together, somehow, we all managed to get the destination sorted. But the price got lost in translation. A woman on the sidewalk told me 2,000 Baht (about 65USD.) Yikes. I wanted to make this class, but that was more than I spend on food in two weeks. No way. I thanked everyone, and started speed-walking to the train station.

About four blocks away, the same motorcycle taxi driver pulled up. He had a paper and pen - 170 baht, it read. The original price must have been 200. I agreed, but it was now 6:30. Could we make it by 7pm, I asked? 7:20, he wrote. Traffic. I shook my head, said it was ok, I just wouldn’t make it this week. No problem. Another passer-by stopped, a student, and more conversation happened. After a few minutes, I asked her, “can we make it?” She replied, “he says you should get on.”

If I’ve learned anything in Thailand, it’s trust. You will either die or you won’t, and once you’ve done all you can do, it’s completely out of your hands. On the back of a motorcycle scything through snarled traffic, with a driver trying to cut a normal time in half, it was a great opportunity to practice.

My hands gripped the grab bar, and I tried to just relax, let my weight sink into the bike. Having a big tall rigid weight on the back was only going to make his job harder - and from the sounds of it, it was hard enough already.

The way you’d imagine this is the local taxi driver, hard-faced, grim, finding openings and taking them; the foreigner passenger, white knuckled on the back, screaming. Our ride was pretty much the exact opposite. My driver was the one yelling. “Nooooo”, and “eeeeeee” as we’d cut across intersections, wedge through impossible gaps between buses. Me just hanging on, trying to stay loose, smiling, giving him all the best vibes I could.

We stopped for directions twice, from other motorcycle drivers, then zoomed off on side streets. At 6:58, we arrived.

At the wrong park.

I knew it’d take another 5 minutes to explain, and the right park didn’t look too far away, so I simply said thanks, paid the 200 baht, and hurried off.

Punctuality is important, both because of the respect it shows to the instructor, and because in Parkour, you do rather a lot of moving. Odds of the group being anywhere near the meet-up point if I was late were almost none.

I headed off at a fast clip toward the park, and five minutes into my walk, realized it was going to take me another 15 to get to the park by foot. I came upon one of the motorcycle stands we’d asked for directions, showed them the park on a map, and asked how long it’d take.

Everyone was baffled. Nobody could really understand where the park was. On the map, I spotted a nearby business, a Foodmart. Foodmart?, I asked. Eyes lit up. Get on the bike 40 baht. 5 minutes.

This driver was young, not scared, and not interested in any kind of rule. Mostly, we drove on the sidewalks, weaving between pedestrians, food carts, and an odd bicyclist.

We got to Foodmart, I paid, hurried up and down a footbridge, and made it to the meet-up point at 7:10. Nobody was there.

I’d just spent 240 baht and risked injury to myself and others for nothing.

I sat down for a minute, then pulled on my running shoes. I figured I’d walk around a bit, see if maybe I could find them. If nothing else, I could see the park.

Two minutes into my circling of the park, I spotted some people hanging on a wall. Normal people don’t do that. Must be them. I hurried over, approached, and the instructor looked over. “I’m Julien,” he said, English woven with a slight French accent. “Steven,” I replied, “am I too late?”

He gave me a look over, a moment’s hesitation.

“No.”
“Bag over there. Then up on the wall. Traverse by hand.”

The lesson was the best Parkour experience I’ve ever had. It was like having discovered you love ice cream by eating McDonald’s soft serve, and then having someone hand you a bowl of home-made vanilla.

It was hard. Intense. Challenging. Fun. Everything I loved about parkour was there, with none of the self-indulgent backflips. It was marvelous.

And then it was over.

I walked out of the park, found my bearings, and headed home - this time, the smart way.

I took the train.

Nah, I hate curiousity.