'"I'm in Bangkok. God help me," wrote a friend. One of the keys to having a great time in Bangkok is to understand the taxi situation.
I have taken Bangkok taxis hundreds of times and only been in one major accident. You can increase your chances of surviving your visit to Bangkok -- and have a better time -- if you know Jotman's Eight Secrets.
Secret I: Survive your ride
- Few cabs have seat belts in the back seats. They rip them out assuming customers don't like them. But in a newer taxi you can sometimes reach behind the seat and pull it up (this can make your fingers dirty though).
- If you get a "racer" don't be afraid to say stop and get out. * You can always find another taxi. Some taxi drivers take yaba-yaba. Best to spot a racer before you get in.
Secret II: Learn to spot "a racer"
- Avoid drivers who appear to have a lot of attitude.
- Survival of the fittest theory of taxi riding says: older drivers are often more cautious than younger ones. Avoid teenage drivers who don't look nerdy.
- Very new cars and very old cars seem to be well driven. Old cars because the drivers tend to be old; new cars because the owner doesn't want to see his new car wrecked.
Secret III: Enjoy your ride
Your next biggest problem -- apart from racers -- is carbon monoxide poisoning from a leaky exhaust system, or nasty air pollution from all the dirty buses and trucks on the road. To breathe easily, keep these points in mind:
- Choose the newest looking cab because new vehicles tend to have good air conditioning systems -- the filters still work -- so you will breath cleaner air. Almost all cabs appear to be a similar model of Toyota, so looking at the make of car won't help so much in determining its age.
- Solid colored taxis tended to be the new ones up until a year ago, then the drivers started painting old taxis in solid colors so they would look new.
- Now one of the best ways to spot a new car is to check the interior decor. New cabs tend either to have beige upholstery or black upholstery with red trim. But there are exceptions to this rule.
Secret IV: Know how not to get ripped off
- Unlike taxis elsewhere, Bangkok taxi drivers are unlikely to take the "long route." I've never had this happen to me in Bangkok. Taxis in Bangkok earn most of their money on the start up fee when the meter gets turned on. That's set at 35 baht.
-Always always tell the driver you will use the meter. If he refuses it's usually easy to find a driver who will. Unless it is raining, that is.
- Always catch a fresh taxi -- i.e. a taxi in motion. Never get in a taxi parked near a tourist zone. Avoid these drivers like the plague. Don't even ask them the price. They can't be trusted.
Secret V: On tuk-tuks
- Don't take tuk-tuks. They end up costing more than taxis (no meter), they are dangerous, rather slow, and they expose you to pollution. And they cause pollution.
-The exception is if you are just going a short distance -- a few blocks -- and you aren't in a tourist area. In that case, hand the driver 20 Baht when you get out.
Secret VI: Extreme Taxi Rides
- Some taxi drivers are mafia-types who carry guns. I have found through experience that it's better not to get in a big argument over your fare at night in a quiet neighborhood.
- Your taxi ride will be a true "experience" should you happen to catch a "theme taxi." These dedicated drivers are really cool guys, but rare. Savor the moment.
Secret VII: Arrival Assurance
- Don't expect your driver to speak any English. Ask a Thai person to write down the name of your destination in Thai.
Secret VIII: Show Appreciation
- If you get a truly nice driver, tip him generously. And if he's not a bad guy, round the fare up.
* "Jod!" is how you tell your driver to stop in Thai. Literally it means "freeze!" To say "Please stop here," say: "Jod trong nee krab." (In Thai, men end phrase with krab, woman end phrase with ka).
Photos: 1) Taxi stand outside Paragon Department Store. 2) One of Bankok's rare "theme taxis" -- this one dedicated to Pokemon. 3) Depicts Chat Chai, one of my all time favorite drivers. You can read his thoughts on Thailand's political situation here.