Yesterday, I flagged down a taxi.
I jumped in the back, fastened my seatbelt, and told the driver where I wanted to go.
He switched on the meter, checked his rear view mirror, nailed a smooth U-Turn and set off calmly towards my destination.
He took the correct route, drove safely and we arrived in one piece.
Does this story sound familiar?
If it does, good for you.
For many people, the outcome of “arriving in one piece” is prefixed by something quite different.
Notably: Painful bartering, inexplicable tutting, profound misuse of Google Maps, and white-knuckle terror as you mentally get your affairs in order.
It’s not just that Bangkok taxis are particularly prone to accidents per se, it’s the complete disregard for any and all precautions that might prevent one.
Here are a selection of the road cretins you should avoid:
The Boy Racer Brigade
I’ve got a confession:
I wish there were more female taxi drivers.
Their driving might not be up to scratch — just like everybody else here — but at least they aren’t bleeding testosterone. They tend to avoid such appalling risks on the road.
Unlike the newer breed of Boy Racer Taxi Drivers who operate with a complete lack of empathy for their unshackled passengers and positively quiver at the opportunity afforded to them by “Highway, please.”
Tell me: why is it necessary to blaze along at 130 kph *directly* up the arse of the car in front of you?
And the incessant lane switching.
Oh my god.
“Bro, do you even indicate?”
Let’s assume that Boy Racer spends 60 hours per week on the road, adding up to 3120 hours over the course of a year.
From this we can deduce that maybe the Bangkok traffic will permit just 40 of those hours spent blasting full throttle down the freeway.
After some seriously complex mathematical hypotheses, I’ve come to the conclusion… that it’s a f***ing miracle Boy Racer is still alive.
The Airport Praying Mantis
Who else feels their arse squeaking as they scan the Suvarnabhumi taxi rank for the vehicle parked under their ticket number?
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. How sh*te might my journey go?
I recently collected some family from the airport and took them back to my apartment, no thanks to one of the least welcoming taxi drivers I have encountered in any country.
His first words:
“Sukhumvit? You pay me 500 baht now.”
Err, meter please?
“Big car, big car, you pay more. It’s not fair.
Never mind the fact that I didn’t choose the big car. The ticket machine did.
“I been waiting 2 hours. Not fair. Big car. You pay more.”
I don’t mind a bit of farang banter — but there is a line. And that line should be marked clearly at the exit of Suvarnabhumi arrivals.
Unfortunately there was no off switch for this guy. He was still chuntering about taxi injustices 20 minutes later.
He launched off in to a tirade of abuses: the government has it in for taxi drivers, fares are miniscule and impossible to survive on, etc etc.
All this as a justification for not getting away with gouging our eyeballs.
I had to take a photo of his number and identification to get him to shut up.
But who cares, right?
Just a bad experience to write off as #ThailandOnly when you live over here and see it regularly.
Not for my family in the back of the car.
They were hesitantly weighing up their very first taste of Bangkok, which consists of our rickety old banger veering along the motorway at 50 mph whilst a slightly toothless maniac stares me down… oblivious to things like, oh you know, the road ahead.
Welcome to paradise, Mum!
The Farang Fare Bingo Enthusiast
There are certain destinations that will result in an immediate bout of haggling:
Like, “Soi 11”, “Nana”, “Grand Palace”.
Watch the driver’s face as he instinctively turns away, calculating the farang tax under his breath, before snapping back with that chancy grin: “Soi 11, 200 baht.”
I’ll do my best to resist the prejudice by yapping a bunch of broken Thai at him, turning towards the next cab in line with a disgruntled look on my face.
But sometimes, it’s just not worth it. And relatively speaking, the amount we’re haggling over hardly seems worth it.
No Bangkokian who has just paid 300 quid to watch Madonna thrust her sinewy limbs at Impact Arena has any right to bargain over their ticket home.
The “Do I Look Like A Hitchhiker?” Ride
Some drivers have forgotten that the customer’s primary aim of catching a taxi is to get from A to B.
- Not from A to C.
- Not from A to Z.
- And especially not from A to A&E.
This results in maddening situations where you’ll be halfway to your destination when the driver shakes his head at the traffic and points towards some sorry looking pavement.
“Here, okay? Teenee?”
My finger darts out towards the horizon.
Most of the time he’ll oblige – with the compulsory tut – but you’ll feel like a hitchhiker for the rest of the journey. An inconvenience. Farang cattle.
Or, what about those occasions where it’s a Sunday afternoon, the roads gloriously empty, and a lone taxi driver rolls down the soi in the opposite direction to that which you wish to go.
In most countries, it’s not much to ask for a simple U-Turn, right?
Not in Bangkok.
“Sukhumvit? Sorry, I just come from that way.”
He smiles like Gandalf of the Roads and cruises by, rejecting my free money on the basis it would require an impossible philosophical feat: i.e. altering his intended trajectory.
I’ve never understood how drivers can simultaneously complain about their pay while turning down customers.
Why would you prefer to be stuck in traffic without a fare than changing direction with one?
He Who Chose The Old Banger
Not every Bangkok taxi is created equal.
Some are falling apart.
When your driver picks out his car, he gets to choose between the more recent models (฿1,200 per day), or an old banger for a much lower fee.
Of course, we get this same privilege.
We can pick and choose between taxis that look safe, and those that are visibly sagging into potholes.
But that’s not to say you can accurately predict the true state of your ride.
Because you can’t — not until it accelerates towards a green light.
How’s that suspension treating you now?
The terror of weaving between traffic rises exponentially when the chassis beneath you is one mistimed Roast Dinner away from regurgitating over Rama IX.
The best you can do?
Hold on to Flap with one hand, download Uber with the other.
What are your Bangkok taxi survival tips?
Featured image is by m-louis and used under a Creative Commons licence