Readers' Submissions

Ode To The Bangkok Taxi Driver

  • Written by Anonymous
  • August 23rd, 2006
  • 5 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

By Kind Tortoise

Well, guess you should get a bit of background. Came to Thailand on holiday first about two years ago, loved the place, came several times, hooked up with bargirls, got my fingers and other parts of me burned, you know the story. One Stickman submission about this quite some time ago.

But I loved the country, the relaxed attitude to life, the fact that people work hard here for very little money but can still be happy. Also had nothing to stay in my home country of Wales for, had debts up to my eyeballs, both loans and credit cards, which I would never be able to pay off from my salary in insurance.

So, at 41, in a fit of sudden madness (according to my family), I sold my house and my car and most (but not all) of my worldly possessions, paid off my debts and…well….here I am.

Did a TEFL course in Rachada, and now teaching in Pattanakarn at one of the top 5 government schools – one day you will get a submission about the strange experience of Thai schools, I promise you.

But no, having been here for six months now, my submission is all about that peculiar of creatures, the Bangkok taxi driver. And what a species it is.

I’ve started to play a game of guess the taxi driver type when I hail one down. Is he going to be Mr. traditional, with no English, with classic Thai songs on the radio, and with enough Buddha imagery to drop the suspension? These types normally have a license showing a picture of them about thirty years ago, and looking nothing like them. I wonder if these older drivers are as mentally damaged from doing the same job for their lifetime as bargirls are?

Is my taxi driver going to be a young gun, with shades, driving like Michael Schumacher, and with either modern Thai rock songs or farang songs blaring out of the speakers? Strangely enough, the license pictures of these drivers don’t look much like them either…

Is my driver going to be Mr.: “Happy, friendly to farang, cheerful chap”? Around about middle-aged, he knows a little bit of English, so wants to do the usual list of bar-girl style questions about my history as he drives. No guarantee that he understands the answers, but he tries. Depending on my mood, this type of guy can give me a pleasant journey or is a little bit annoying.

Just one important question: why, when a taxi driver asks you if you speak a little Thai, and you say nit noi (a little), he then proceeds to talk to you as if you have a higher degree in the Thai language? A little bit means a little bit, and yes, I have picked up some Thai but not enough to discuss the merits of Taksin, economic forecasting, or car mechanics.

You know, it's quite funny (and this is where I start rambling), I am continuously stalked by taxi drivers. Out here in Pattanakarn, in the sticks, where farang are scarce and I’m quite a way from the centre of Bangkok, I get noticed all the time walking down the road.

Often, I will be aware of a taxi driver slowing down next to me as I pound the pavements, and wave at me as if I naturally need a taxi. Well, guys, thanks for the offer, but farang use their legs too. I can walk 300 metres to the 7-11 or Tesco Lotus without needing assistance.

Often, you get more chance of getting somewhere by walking than taking a taxi. The number of taxis here that have some sort of unsettling rattle in the engine or in the suspension, or have ripped seats, or bounce around the road like a kangaroo, is amazing. Some of them are barely roadworthy, it seems that the driver will just run their vehicle into the ground until parts of it start to fall of like a clown’s car in a circus.

Just for the record, in the six months I’ve been here, I’ve had four taxis break down while I’ve been in them, and one which ran out of gas. Most drivers seem to drive with about a teaspoon of gas in their tank and really sail close to the wind.

For the most part, though, I’m very fond of taxi drivers. Although there are general types, I don’t think I’ve had the same driver twice. And how many cities in the world apart from American ones can you stand anywhere, even quiet areas or five o’clock in the morning, and get a cab within two minutes?

They are also dirt cheap. If I wanted to take a cab in Wales, a ten to fifteen minute journey would cost me about six pounds – which is about 400 baht. Here, you can go across the city in a 45 minute journey for about 200 baht. Awesome.

You will always get the pond-life who hang outside Nana, Patpong and Soi Cowboy, hoping to fleece an unwary farang of 500 baht for a 150 baht journey, but these are in a minority.

I’ve never had any disagreements with taxi drivers, and sometimes they may be quiet because they might disagree with a farang heading for the fleshpots, but they are never disrespectful.

So next time you are in a bar, with a honey draped over your lap, raise a glass to some of the most hard-working people in Bangkok. They will always be there to transport your drunken hide to your hotel or condo, so be grateful.

Stickman's thoughts:

You're right about the ease of getting a taxi in Bangkok. The Mrs. put me on to the merits of choosing a taxi. Traffic in the neighbourhood we live in is not too congested and we always wait until a newer cab comes along. Those clapped out heaps with suspension that should have been replaced 100,000 km ago are awfully uncomfortable – so much so that I'd almost rather ride on a bus!