All in all Bangkok taxi drivers are pretty good. At a starting price of 35 baht a taxi has to be the bargain of the century. But it wasn't always this way!
In the dark days before metered taxis were introduced to the City of Angels, you’d stand there in a rainy season downpour, getting wetter by the minute, while the taxi driver, inwardly laughing at you, would refuse to come down to your asking price. But in 1994, the good old meters were installed and it was a totally different ball-game.
Taxis are plentiful in Bangkok (some say there are too many) and getting one is rarely difficult. Three notable exceptions are during a rainstorm, when suddenly everyone wants a taxi, Friday evening, and between 4 and 5pm. This hour of the day is when the taxi drivers finish shifts and have to return their vehicle to the taxi yard.
I have the utmost respect for Bangkok’s cabbies. I find them friendly, chatty, helpful, and touch wood, I have never ever been cheated in any way. One word of warning, never get in the taxi unless they put the meter on, and if you are stuck in traffic for a long time, give a 20 baht tip, this will make his day. By law, taxis are meant to display an ID style photograph of the driver, and a taxi registration number on a yellow sticker inside the vehicle. In reality, the photograph is usually of some other driver, and the yellow registration sticker is scratched off. I never feel that this is a direct attempt to make identification more difficult, but merely because many of the taxis are beginning to show considerable wear and tear both inside and out.
Taxis are ludicrously cheap ( despite what Thais say). The flag-fall is 35 baht and the meter ticks over slowly in 2 baht increments. A journey of about 10 kms will cost you about 70 baht, and if that’s not a bargain, then tell me what is. I recently went to Madrid, and a 20 minute taxi ride from the airport to the bus station cost almost 30 dollars US. Possibly 10 times what it would cost in Bangkok. Thais religiously do not tip taxi drivers, but I do. Jesus, the drivers have to fork out 700 baht to hire the vehicle for a 12-hour shift, and they are lucky to be left with any profit to speak of at all after a long stint battling with the chaotic Bangkok traffic. And at least they are trying to do an honest days work. Like in many Bangkok walks of life, the ability to talk about football will endear you to your driver no end, however if you do speak a few words of Thai “how long have you been in Thailand?” is usually the opening conversational gambit.
There are now quite a large number of new Toyota and Mitsubishi taxis on the road, they offer a far higher level of comfort when compared to the battered wrecks now approaching ten years old. To a driver, the old models are approx 500 baht a day to rent, whilst the brand new jobbies run to just over 700 baht. Many taxi-drivers are becoming quite shrewd, and realising that many passengers both want and demand the newer taxi experience, so business is often better for those drivers willing to shell out a bit more.
For the passenger at busy times of the day, you'll still find yourself grabbing the first thing that comes, but between the hours of 10am and 4pm, and then again after 8pm, you can casually stand at the curbside and wave taxis away until something comes along in showroom condition. I always do. The air-conditioning is better in the newer taxis and it may be just me but the drivers of newer taxis always seem to be kinder and friendlier.
A website reader threw down the gauntlet and bet me that I couldn’t classify the different types of Bangkok taxi-driver, being as I drone on about taxi-drivers so often. Well, never one to resist a challenge, here they are – the nine kinds of Bangkok cabbie. If you feel that I’ve missed one, be sure to let me know.
The Tear-arse - The tear-arse is usually young, and instantly recognizable by his floppy hair, cheap pilot shades, and at least one item of ear adornment. If you’re very lucky he’ll be wearing flip-flops, but prefers to drive barefoot. Driving a taxi is not the tear-arse’s regular job and you always get the distinct impression that he’s ‘filling in for a mate’. I often feel inclined to ask to see some driving credentials, but think better of it and just sit back in the seat and get the rosary beads out. One big, big advantage to being picked up by the tear-arse is that he’ll get you to your meeting on Sathorn Road in lightning quick time. It may involve running a few red lights and knocking over an old woman at the Asoke intersection, but you’ll not miss a minute of that meeting.
Uncle Somchai - He’s the complete opposite of the tear-arse. Usually in his late 50’s or 60’s, he’s been in the game for donkey’s. He knows every isolated industrial estate, every obscure soi, and every twist and turn of the expressway system. You don’t have to wave badly drawn maps under this fella’s nose. The disadvantage to using Uncle Somchai’s services is that he loves to listen to that bloody dreadful radio station that reports constantly on how bad the traffic is in various parts of the city. People will phone up the radio station from their particular stretch of metropolitan gridlock, only to have the next caller ring up and say, “You think you’re in a traffic jam. You should see the one I’m in” It’s all riveting stuff.
Mr Homesick - This is the man from the north east of Thailand, and he doesn’t care who knows it. There’s a picture of the wife and kids on the dashboard (taken on a day when they weren’t nursing any bruises) and there’s traditional ‘Luk Thung’ music blasting out from a tinny stereo system with flashing light to sound. Beware the question “have you ever been to the north east?” If you say, “yes, it’s wonderful”, then you might find the two of you parked on the hard shoulder with you putting a comforting arm around the driver. And then he sobs uncontrollably, bemoaning the fact that Bangkok is hell on earth, and the northeast, with its unbearably hot summer days, its sub-zero winter nights, and hardly enough food to go around, really is the only place to be.
The Planner - You don’t automatically jump into the planner’s taxicab. You instinctively know that he might not want to go where you want to go. Something about his stern expression tells you that this is a man who’s after the fifty baht fare that involves two left-turns, and an untaxing arrival in front of a first-class hotel (where he can pick up another fifty baht fare). So you open the rear passenger door, stick your head inside, and tell him your destination, trying to hide the fact that it’s almost in another time zone. The planner never gives you a straight yes or no, preferring to pause momentarily, then suck his teeth and scrutinize the road ahead. He considers a few things – the route, an alternative route, the time, the weather, his bladder, his stomach, the Thai boxing on TV – then says no and drives off.
The Masochist - The masochist drives for the whole period of his 12-hour shift with the air-conditioning set at its lowest possible temperature. The moment you get in the masochist’s cab, your arse sticks to the seat, and pools of sweat start accumulating near the small of your back. It’s hot enough to grow beef tomatoes, and possibly less than five minutes before you pass out altogether. Finally you pluck up the courage to request that the wind be turned up a notch…..and a notch is exactly what you get. At the end of a hard day’s taxi driving, this is the kind of man who goes home and slips into something uncomfortable.
The Interrogator - When you’re faced with a lengthy taxi journey and all you want to do is lie back, close your eyes, and let the sound of smooth 105FM wash over you, you’ll be picked up by the interrogator – I guarantee it. It starts off with the innocuous “what country are you from?” and “How long have you been in Thailand?” but before you know it, the guy thinks you’re the fucking encyclopedia Brittanica. He’s asking you about the population of Manchester and how long Maggie Thatcher was Prime Minister. You can’t remember when you had to work your brain so hard. It’s like being back at school again.
The New Guy - To say that this guy has not yet acquired ‘the knowledge’ is something of an understatement. It’s a small miracle that the guy manages to get his shoes on the right feet. “Silom Road? Yeah I think I know it. Could you tell me when we’re getting near?” You know you’ve got the new guy when he stops barely 500 yards up the road to ask for directions. And new guys will never ask someone who looks as though they might know (a businessman in a crisp white shirt for example). He’ll invariably go for the most inappropriate person like some fried chicken seller with no teeth, who looks like he’s never ventured further than the end of the soi, either that, or a teenager who only knows the route to her boyfriend’s house. Expressway? Yes, it’s a complex road network that other people use.
The Opportunist - Perhaps it’s just me becoming more street savvy, but there seems to be a dramatic decline in the number of opportunists – the drivers who whip out their massage parlor brochure before you’ve even had time to locate the seatbelt. Now I don’t disagree for one moment that spending an hour or two in a bathtub with those pair of insatiable vixens seems most appealing, but I’ve got a train to catch. Maybe another time eh? But there’s something hypnotic, something that draws you to pick up the brochure and read through it a dozen times. After ten minutes you’re in love with both of the bath-time dollies and practically begging him to drop you off on the doorstep. That’s after he’s taken you around his brother’s jewelry shop and you’ve selected yourself a nice diamond ring. Oh I’m so glad that I ran into you.
The Mutterer - Hmmmmm…….the mutterer. Now here’s an interesting one, and increasing in number may I add. When I request that the taxi take me to my home on Moobarn Seri (Seri housing estate), the driver will spend the next five minutes repeating it at various tones and pitches for no other reason than to reduce me to a quivering backseat wreck. “Moobarn Seri?” “Yes please” “Moooooooooobarn Seeeeeeeeri” “That’s right. Moobarn Seri” “Moobaaaaaaaaaaaarn Seriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii” It’s like fucking Chinese water torture. Is he doing this because he doesn’t know the location or is it a prelude to something more sinister? “Put your seatbelt on, I want to try something. I saw it in a cartoon but I’m pretty sure I can pull it off” You can never fully relax with the mutterer at the wheel. Is he just amusing himself with this series of ‘staccato non sequetas’ or am I about to be driven to a piece of wasteland to re-enact a certain scene from Deliverance? You sit there in the back of the cab listening to every single syllable because you never know when a question is going to be thrown in. Failure to answer could have dire consequences.
Typical Taxi Driver Lingo
It's in the Lonely Planet Guidebook "travelling by Taxi gives you a wonderful chance to try out your Thai language skills with the driver". In reality it doesn't, because they always ask the same questions. Still, it beats the London cabbies and their infamous "this used to be such a nice area until they moved in" Here's Phil's guide to Bangkok taxi-driver speak.
"Maa Jak Prathet Aray Khrap?" (What country do you come from?) - The answer 'England' always has the driver making strange noises of approval. I have no doubt that the answers 'USA', 'Singapore', or 'Burkino Faso' would get exactly the same response.
Lady Thailand beautiful na? - This question is usually posed while you are stuck at traffic lights, and some gazelle-like creature with long hair down to her bum decides to cross the road. The driver usually starts frothing at the mouth and beating his fist on the dashboard in a sort of Tarzan mating style gesture.
Farang come Thailand big money na? - This one took me a while to work out, but it translates as when foreign tourists come to Thailand, they have great spending power because of the weak Thai Baht. It is also a thinly disguised plea for a tip at the end of the journey.
Mee fan khon Thai mai? (do you have a Thai girlfriend?) - Always say yes to this one. Thais are very tolerant toward homosexuality, but this is not the time or place to tell the driver that you're a ginger.
Tang naan ru yang khrap? (are you married?) - If you're a single man, never say yes to this one. Taxi drivers love to tell you about their own wife and kids living in the north of Thailand. In fact, he's likely to drive around the block just so he can finish the story.
Lot tit maak!!! (the traffic is so bad today) - This could be another vain attempt at extracting a tip, but it is without doubt one of the classic Thai expressions. My usual response is "hey man, you want to be a taxi-driver"
Do you have any taxi tales?
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