Thai Taxi Travels
There are thousands of taxis in Bangkok and I have traveled in many of them. Over time I have developed a mental checklist of a few rules that I use, and normally I get to where I need to go without any hassle. Generally I try to pick a relatively new
looking car, and then insist on the meter being used. If I get a driver that seems a bit overzealous to get me into his cab then I walk away. Most drivers are friendly and we have a bit of a chat in broken English or my basic Thai. I’ve
driven a cab in Oz and it can be a shit job, so most times I leave them a 20 – 50 baht tip.
I have had some great trips in the city, to and from Pattaya, and up to Kanchanaburi too, but I reckon the happiest time in a Bangkok taxi is when you arrive at the International Airport. I will gladly queue for 10 – 15 minutes or so, get my coupon and cab, and then head straight to Nana. The B50 service fee, and tollway fee are worth it, and these drivers more often than not get B100 tip when I arrive at my hotel. I figure this is good karma to start the trip off on the right foot!
However sometimes Bangkok taxis aren’t that great…
It was about 11:00 AM and I was on Soi 4 waiting for the “right” cab, when a driver pulled up going in the opposite direction. It was a marked cab with the metered taxi sign on the roof, and after a brief chat and me insisting on the meter use he did a U-turn and off we went. I was heading to the infamous Bang Kwang Prison aka the Bangkok Hilton for a look see. I’ve never been there before and don’t know anyone in there personally but thought I might take a look. Luckily I had got directions from my hotel travel desk, and also an estimate of B150-B200 for taxi fare, and that it could take up to an hour if traffic was heavy. I was sitting in the backseat and having a look round when I realized there were a few things not quite right with this cab. No driver ID card on the left side of the dashboard. No little yellow rego plates screwed to the inside rear doors. No “Estimated Fare Cost” sheet hanging over the front seats. This could be interesting! The driver made a lot of small talk about my friend in jail etc: “What’s he in for? How long? You visit him before?” etc I played along and said he was in leg irons, and was framed for drugs and I visit him every 6 months or so when I come to Thailand. He made a couple of phone calls which I couldn’t understand, and after about 10 minutes of travel I noticed the meter had stopped working. “Wiring problem” he said. “OK I make price for you for B170 or B180, OK? Same as your last time OK?” I knew I had plenty of small notes in my change so I said OK. I was a bit on edge, not exactly sure where we were going and wondering if this guy was gonna try and do a number on me in some way. Anyway we got to “The Hilton” after about 40 minutes, I gave the driver B170, (no tip) and jumped out. I had a 5 minute look at the outside of place and said “bugger that for a joke” flagged another “safe” cab and went back to Nana for B170 which I then rounded up to B200. Maybe I was being a bit paranoid with the first driver, but because I claimed I had done the trip many times, was reasonably confident, and fed him some bullshit story about my mate in jail I think the driver didn’t try and con me.
It's 0515 and after 2½ hours sleep I’m not very happy to be leaving my hotel and heading back to Australia. There are a few cabs up and down Nana and I spotted one which had just picked up a passenger down the road … no probs I will wait 2 minutes for another. The taxi driver must’ve spotted me and my bags at the same time and figured my fare was better, so he kicked out his Thai female passenger and before I knew it I had a happy little Thai cabbie giving me his best early morning smile. “Pai airport” I said “meter OK!” “OK, mai pen rai” he replied. So I put one bag in the boot and then climbed in the back seat and off we went. After 50 metres or so he hasn’t started the meter, and when I reminded him to do so his reply was “Sarm roy baht, Ok?” “No no no stop stop and I will get another cab” I said, and started to open the door while we were stuck in traffic. After some huffing and mumbling on his part he reluctantly turned on the meter, and then carried on like I had insulted him for refusing his offer, after he had already agreed to my original request to use the meter. I paid him the tollway fees of B60, and at the first booth he paid the B40 OK, but then at the second booth he tried to drive straight through! He stopped straight away when the guard blew his whistle so maybe it was just a concentration lapse (or a sleep?). At the airport I paid the exact B182 metered amount with no tip. Stuff him!
Two years ago I thought I would do a cheap trip to Pattaya from Nana and take the VIP Bus. Budgeted for a taxi to Ekkamai about B70; VIP bus ticket about B110 and baht bus or motorbike taxi to hotel about B40. Total estimate: under B250. I figured this is better than using a minibus and spending 1-2 hrs driving around Bangkok hotels picking up other passengers before another 2 plus hour trip to Fun City. Jumped in the taxi front seat and as soon as we hit Sukhumvit my cab was pulled over by the country’s finest and I was going to be fined for not wearing a seat belt. According to the cop his “list” of fines which were all written in Thai stated it was a B1000 fine. On the reverse side in English the amount said B200, but he wouldn’t accept that. After a bit of haggling I got him down to B500 and paid the fine in cash … so much for a cheap trip.
And it’s not only the taxis that try and screw you. I was leaving Pattaya and traveling alone so thought I would grab a minibus for B400 instead of the limo or taxi service. My regular travel agent girls do a great job and booked me for a 12:30 hotel pickup. By 1:00 the bus hadn’t arrived so I called the girls and they rang me back and said it would be there within 10 minutes. At 1:15 I climbed aboard and there were only two other passengers and off we went. As we turned into Pattaya North road I thought maybe there were no more pickups and we were the only passengers. Brilliant – should be a quick trip! However the driver turned into the Pattaya Bus station and told us all to get out, gave us a VIP bus ticket and said another minibus would meet us at Ekkamai and drop us at our hotel in Bangkok. Pig's arse! He started to get a bit pissed off when I refused to hand over my travel voucher, but I just kept my cool grabbed my bag and walked away. I rang my travel girls who were very apologetic and genuinely upset too. They offered a taxi or limo at no extra cost to me than I had already paid, but that it may take a half hour or so to get one. In the end I just said not to worry about it and I will buy my own VIP bus ticket for a later bus and they can refund me the B400 next time. I didn’t particularly want them to lose money, but I sure wasn’t going to hand over my voucher to that other prick. The downside was that all up it was a 4 hour trip and I didn’t get to bus stop bar until well after the Bledisloe Cup game.
But the most outrageous rip-off of all has gotta be the Phuket “tuktuk” service. Those crappy little Daihatsu vans that you squeeze into and it’s a minimum of B100 no matter how short the distance. The Pattaya baht buses have it all over Phuket in that sense. Why Phuket can’t provide a similar service around what would be a very similar route is just a bullshit rip-off!
So if you’re a traveler in Bangkok taxis I recommend you should check for: Driver ID on dash; small yellow plates on inside of rear doors; insist on meter use; know the Thai words for turn left, turn right, stop here, go slow, and it helps also if you can count in Thai too. If you’re traveling to a destination you’re not sure of, ask the hotel staff to write it in Thai and try and get an idea of the cost and route. And make sure you get your hotel’s business card with their location details, and save the hotel phone number in your phone! My mate spent nearly 3 drunken hours walking around Sukhumvit with his slapper at 2:00 AM coz he couldn’t remember where the hell he was staying!
Most taxis are ok. I tend to prefer middle-aged drivers in newer cars.