Taxis in Thailand
When you first come to Thailand to teach English you will immediately become acquainted with that fine fellow who moves the population around like a pinball operator, the Thai taxi driver.
The moment you deplane from Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and have gathered up the tattered remains of your luggage, the Thai taxi driver hounds your every step until the day you kiss your Thai girlfriend and your Thai bank account good-bye and hop back on another plane to go back home to the West.
Chances are you will take a taxi from the airport to your hotel, and then another taxi from the hotel to your job interview, and then to your prospective apartment or rented house, and then to a reputable restaurant, and then, finally, to a disreputable karaoke bar, where you will end the night in a happy coma, induced by jet lag, complaisant Thai girls, and cheap beer. Your taxi driver will be at your beck and call the whole time, with suggestions, songs, and an occasional leer.
To start with, let us learn how to negotiate your fare.
You may simply want to take a taxi from Point A to Point B, and so the taxi driver dutifully starts his meter running. But in Thailand the shortest route between Point A and Point B is not necessarily a straight line, or street, or even klong. Your driver knows many intricate shortcuts that will first take you to Point C, D,E, and F, before eventually depositing you at Point B. Don’t be surprised or annoyed if your taxi driver cheerfully informs you that, what with the traffic the way it is, you could have just as easily walked it, and in less time.
If you are off the meter, well . . . may all the Saints of Killarney preserve you, me boyo.
You must first settle on a firm price for your proposed trip. Never accept the first, tentative figure he gives you. The accepted practice at the beginning of negotiations is for you to tear out a thatch of your hair, moan in agony, and chatter like an enraged lemur at the outrageous amount he is trying to steal from you. Highway robbery ain’t in it! Once your blood pressure falls back down to safe levels you can smile and tell the taxi driver that you know he was only joshing, that no sane or honest man would want to mulct another human being out of so much hard-earned cash for so little work. The taxi driver will smile in return, nodding silently, while thinking that you are the stupidest and rudest farang he has ever come up against, and that if the gratuity at the end of the trip is not gigantic he is going to take out the Malay Kris he keeps in the trunk next to the propane tank and slit your throat.
Keep shaking your head in the negative, no matter what the driver is saying, even if it is only a bland comment about the weather. Don’t let him get the upper hand! Show him who’s boss. Offer him a ridiculously low figure for the proposed ride and see what he does. Thais are a demonstrative lot, but they hide their true feelings behind a mask of smiles, so your taxi driver is going to grin like an idiot at your proposal before politely pointing out that he would surely starve to death if he accepted such a pittance for such a long and grueling drive. This is your cue to snort in derision, jab him in the paunch, and say that he sure as Hades does not look like he’s starving, eh? This pleasantry will inevitably gain you his undying devotion and loyalty.
After a few more minutes of persiflage you should be able to hammer out a price that is acceptable to both of you. You hop in his flivver and spin merrily away, scattering dogs and children in your wake.
Most taxi drivers in Thailand know rudimentary English, and your driver is undoubtedly a sociable guy who will begin to question you about where you are from and about your family. He feels little need to keep his eye on the road, or his hands on the steering wheel, and he will turn around frequently to gesture with his hands while describing his own extensive family – which includes a wife who does laundry, a daughter getting a law degree at Chulalongkorn University, and a son who is completely worthless and drinks the night away at some randy gin mill that the driver would be only too happy to take you to some night.
The Thai taxi driver has a deep-seated aversion to paying any tolls, if you are driving on the freeway, so be prepared to cough up 40 baht at a moment’s notice.
If you have been sharing your ride with other farangs you should take a moment before arrival to become completely fuddled as to the math of who is paying how much; this will help you immensely when you arrive at your destination to begin hating your fellow passengers with enough berserk fury to fuel several attacks of apoplexy. Bosom companions prior to the start of the ride, you now loath these pond scum.
And then the driver announces that, far from having agreed on any price prior to starting the trip, you now owe him double what was agreed upon, simply because it is your karma to be so diddled.
Don’t fight it. Pony up the cash, include a generous tip, and walk away.
Just remember that in the next life that thieving Thai taxi driver will be reincarnated as a hapless passenger. With hemorrhoids.