Stickman Readers' Submissions September 22nd, 2003

Tips For Dealing With Pattaya’s Songtaews

Here are some tips for dealing with Pattaya's Songthaews (Baht Busses):

1) A few years ago, red and white stickers were placed in the back of all the baht busses by the Department of Land Transport informing Farang passengers (in English) that the fare for a trip along the regular route was 5 Baht per person and that this fare was ENFORCED BY LAW. It didn't take long for all the greedy baht bus drivers to scratch out, cover up, or otherwise deface these stickers to make the price illegible.

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2) More recently, the Dept. of Land Transport has placed new stickers in the vehicles stating that the price shall NOT EXCEED 10 Baht per person. In other words, 10 Baht is the MAXIMUM you should ever be charged for travelling along the regular route. So, under what circumstances should you pay less than the maximum? The stickers do not say. These stickers are beginning to be defaced too, by the way.

3) Try and watch to see how much Thais pay. Good luck. The driver will notice you standing behind the Thai(s) and will quickly close his upturned palm to conceal the coins from view. I have been told by several Thai friends that the standard price Thais pay is 5 Baht. Sometimes, they say they will pay 10 Baht if it's very late at night or they travel a long distance, but generally, the price they pay is 5 Baht.

4) Unless you need to go to a specific destination not on the regular route (more about this later), there is no need to talk to the driver. In fact, you definitely should NOT talk to the driver, as this will result in him trying to negotiate a higher fare. Just flag down any MOVING taxi by waving your hand palm-DOWNWARDS (palm-upwards is rude in Asia) and climb in the back when he stops.

5) As soon as you are seated, locate the buzzer nearest you. Then, locate the next-nearest buzzer to you. Oftentimes a buzzer will be broken and you will want to ring another buzzer QUICKLY before you have travelled far beyond your destination.

6) If you anticipate any trouble from the driver, then have him drop you off slightly past your destination so that you walk BACKWARDS after dropping the fare into his hand. He will have considerable difficulty backing up in the heavy traffic. When might you anticipate trouble from the driver? When he feels you have not paid enough, generally. I used to insist on paying the Thai fare (5 Baht), but after being screamed at a few times, and once even having the driver grab my wrist tightly as I reached through the window to pay, then step on the accelerator with my arm still stuck in the crack of the partly-rolled down window (luckily his grip was not strong enough to actually drag me alongside the moving vehicle, but it hurt like hell as my forearm was leveraged against the window opening for an instant. I was left with a nice bruise.), I finally gave up and now pay 10 Baht. If I have a Thai girl with me, I pay 15 Baht (10 for me, 5 for her) and have never experienced trouble with this. If you are really concerned and have a Thai girlfriend with you, give HER the money and let her pay the driver. One time a friend of mine was drunk and forgot to pay. The driver parked the vehicle in the middle of the street (blocking traffic), jumped out and ran towards him brandishing his fists. Luckily my friend immediately realized what was going on, quickly dug the fare out of his pocket, paid and apologized. These guys are serious about getting paid (and I don't blame them, although I don't like the dual-pricing bullshit).

7) It's best not to get into a songthaew that is parked if you can help it. There are almost always plenty of songthaews driving along for you to flag down instead. The ones that are parked in strategic locations, e.g. outside shopping malls, big hotels and on street corners with the drivers yelling to you, "TAXI! TAXI!," will ask you where you are going and will charge you an inflated price. No matter how hard you bargain, you will always end up paying more than the 5 or 10 Baht it should cost. They also might try to persuade you to go someplace else where they'll get a commission (like a massage parlour, for example). The songthaews that are queued at say, the corner of 2nd Road and North Road, don't do this, but they will wait until the songthaew is full before taking off. Meanwhile, you will notice several other songthaews go whizzing past with a few smiling passengers seated inside while you wait and sweat wondering why you didn't flag a moving vehicle down instead.

8) If you want to go to a destination slightly off the regular route, you can usually do this without talking to the driver, by switching songthaews at a major intersection (if you insist on being driven down a small soi, you will probably have to speak to the driver.)
For example: If you are at Soi 8 and 2nd Rd. and want to go to the A/C bus station out on North Rd. you can ask a driver to take you there and he will probably quote you a price of about 60 Baht (I'm not making this up. That's what I've been charged.) Then you'll say "40" and he'll say "50" and you'll agree. Technically, you have now chartered the songthaew and he should take you directly there without stopping to pick up more passengers. But, he WILL stop to pick up more passengers. You have paid the premium price and you are getting shit service. Surprised?

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Here's what you can do instead: You flag down any northbound songthaew on 2nd Rd. and (this is important) motion to the driver that you want to go straight. This is because some songthaews will turn left or right at Central Rd. and you want to continue straight all the way past Big C to the roundabout at the intersection of North Rd. If he nods affirmatively (that he's going straight), climb in. At the roundabout, ring the buzzer, get out and give the driver 10 (or 5 Baht, if you're brave). Cross the corner to the restaurant, then cross again to North Rd. and flag down any songthaew going north. This intersection is confusing, so if you are unsure, just ask anyone by pointing and saying, "bus station?" Now you are heading for the bus station where you will get out and again pay, maximum, 10 Baht. Total cost: 20 Baht max. (Not 50 or 60). If you think this is a tiny difference to be concerned about, you are missing the point. It's not about the money, it's about the principle. Songthaew drivers routinely over-charge Farangs. How does that make you feel?

Stickman says:

This piece contains some really good advice. When in Pattaya, I do much the same as you, 5 baht for short distances and 10 baht for long trips, though this is not often. You have to be careful with some of these drivers as many of them are the absolute worst advertisement for tourism in Thailand.

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