As additional BTS Skytrain and MRT subway stations are added every year, Bangkok neighborhoods are becoming more connected than ever before. There is a downside however, in that mass transit systems in Bangkok are becoming increasingly crowded and unpleasant.
For this reason many first-time visitors and expats still opt for one of the easiest modes of transportation: the Bangkok taxi. Bangkok’s taxi cabs are (sometimes) new, colorful, and (mostly) comfortable. The drivers are generally courteous and helpful making them an excellent and cost effective way to get around.
Below are a few tips to consider when taking a taxi in Bangkok:
Getting a Taxi
Hailing a taxi is usually very easy in Bangkok due to their abundance and they’re always willing to stop (unless it’s raining – see below for more on this). Their enthusisam however often translates into dangerous road situations. Be mindful of where you decide to hail a cab and pay attention to the traffic conditions around it.
Unlike most western countries, it is generally acceptable to hail a taxi at a bus stop as long as no bus is likely to arrive before or while you are getting into the vehicle.
You will know if an incoming taxi is available when you see a glowing red sign in the front window. This sign is the Thai script for the word ‘free.’
Don’t take the first taxi you see parked outside your hotel, pub, bar or tourist attraction. Oftentimes, these drivers will refuse to use the meter or want to take you to places you don’t want to go. It is far better to walk out on the street and hail a moving taxi.
Getting out of the Taxi
Remember your taxi. It is good practice to take a photo of the taxi ID plate on one of the rear doors or, if you are seated in front, take a photo of the driver’s ID card which should be displayed above the dashboard on the passenger’s side.
Check your personal belongings such as mobile phone and wallet before leaving the taxi. If you forget something in the cab you can always call 1644, the call center for lost items.
Watch out for motorcycles or motorbike taxis when you get out of your taxi. They are everywhere. Always use the door nearest to the kerb.
Prices and Tipping
Taxis in Thailand are very cheap relative to western countries. The starting taxi fare is just 35 baht and the meter increases relatively slowly to the distance travelled.
Although tipping is not strictly required in Thailand, it is customary to round up the fare to the nearest 10 or 20 baht when you have had a pleasant experience. On longer journeys, like trips to the airport, you should tip at least 10% of the entire fare if you are satisfied with the trip.
Before taking a taxi, check if you have smaller bills such as 20 baht or 50 baht notes. It will be easier for the driver to give you a change upon completion of the journey.
If you are carrying only large 500 and 1,000 baht notes, ask to be taken to a nearby 7-11 or other convenience store (there are many), or preferably visit one before you get in the taxi, so you can break your large bills if the taxi driver doesn’t have change, which is often the case.
If you are coming or going to the airport, the toll booths on the expressway are a good place to change larger bills into smaller bills.
Use the Taxi Meter
There is a law in Thailand that requires taxis to always run on meters and not to decline any customer that hails them when they are available. The government opened a hotline (1584) to call in relation to customer complaints against uncooperative taxi drivers.
Unfortunately, in tourist areas and night bars/club zones, not all taxi drivers follow this law. They sometimes turn off the meter and ask for extra cash. This can leave you with little choice as getting home becomes first priority. The best practice is to walk away and try hailing a passing cab that’s not part of the racket huddled outside the popular tourist spots or bars and clubs. That being said, although it’s off-putting to be charged off-the-meter, drivers do usually keep their part of the bargain by taking you to your destination after you have agreed to the albeit usually inflated fare.
During periods of rain, taxis are much harder to find and many taxis don’t want to use the meter as they know they can get higher fixed fares. There is little that can be done about this beyond taking the BTS/MRT if available or waiting for the rain to pass, which usually happens fairly quickly in Thailand.
If you take the expressway, expect that the toll fee will be added to your bill or you will pay the toll fee directly at the toll booths. When going to or coming from the airport, you should factor in an additional 75 – 100 baht for tolls.
There are instances (particularly if you don’t speak any Thai) where a taxi driver will attempt to cover the meter with a towel or simply not turn on the meter. Ensure that the meter is on and that you can see it clearly. Alert the driver if you don’t see it running. If you don’t speak any Thai, you can simply point at the meter and say, ‘meter.’ The driver will almost certainly get the message.
Speaking English or Thai
One common problem in getting a taxi is that many taxi drivers don’t speak any English. It is advantageous to learn a few phrases of Thai like:
- turn left – leow sai
- turn right – leow kwa
- go straight – trong pai
- stop here – jut tee nee
You can also use Google Translate on your mobile phone or various Thai language mobile apps for commonly used Thai phrases on transportation. You can play it and let the driver to listen to what you are trying to say to him.
Speaking a little Thai goes a long way and will make the driver think you have been here for a while and consequently far less inclined to try to scam you.
Make an effort to mimic the Thai accent and find the Thai word for your destination.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that many Bangkok taxi drivers come from outside the city and may not know their way around. So it is advisable to use GPS, carry a map, hotel card or directions in Thai explaining where you are going.
Why some taxis don’t stop
You might be wondering why some taxi drivers ignore and drive right past you.
Keep in mind, it could be due to a number of reasons:
- They might be on the way home after a long shift.
- They might be out of gas and headed to a pump.
- The taxi driver just didn’t see you in time and it’s too late to change lanes.
- They see that you are not Thai and their English is very bad.
If a taxi driver refuses to take you somewhere, it’s probably because they need to return the hired cab before a certain time, not because they don’t like how you look.
Whatever it may be, don’t take it personally. There will be literally hundreds of cabs behind it in no time.
Taxi from the Airport
If you’re at the airport, they have designated pick-up areas for taxis. Use the automated machine to get a queue number and you will be assigned a taxi. The queues may be long and may take a while, but they are all regulated to run on the meter and an additional surcharge of 50 baht will be added to your final bill.
You also have to pay for the toll fee if you take the expressway to the city. Taxi vans for larger parties and more luggage space are also available with an associated 40 baht surcharge.
Taxi drivers are now charging for extra bags. Remember to look at the sign and take a photo to ensure you remember how much for the extra charges.
Using a Mobile Taxi App
Apps like GrabTaxi and AllThaiTaxi are an effective way of calling reliable taxis in Bangkok nowadays. More and more entrepreneurial type taxi drivers prefer to accept fares via the app and also it may be safer for the traveler since you will have all the relevant information relating to your driver.
On a night where everything is planned and you want to avoid delays, reserving a taxi through a taxi app makes as much sense as reserving your dinner table.
If you are traveling to the airport during odd hours of the night or traveling with extra luggage, it is definitely a good idea to schedule a taxi in advance.
Taxi Tour Guides and scams
Taxi drivers actually have some of the best recommendations for tourist attractions and afterhours clubs (a predominantly international scene). Maybe it’s because they get a small kickback for bringing you there, but it’s also because of the acquired knowledge from years on the job.
Don’t be too quick to dismiss a taxi driver’s recommendations, especially if you’ve asked. They are running daily circuits and know some of the latest and best spots.
Watch out for scams. Most drivers are honest but occasionally you might encounter someone trying to scam you. They might try to take you to gem stores, massage parlors or other sketchy places where they receive a commission.
Do not fight with the driver
There may be instances where you will have a misunderstanding with your driver, whether it is about taking you to the wrong destination or route, argument over the meter, not having enough change or the traffic is just so bad that you are late arriving at your destination. Please bear in mind that Thai culture is essentially non-confrontational. If you show aggression or raise your voice excessively, this may cause them to feel they have lost face and the situation can escalate dangerously. If you have a problem with the driver it is better to file a complaint after you have arrived at your destination or simply pay the bill and get out of the taxi and report the taxi afterward.
Be patient with the driver. Sometimes they will stop to use the toilet and leave you unattended in the taxi. Other times they will stop for fuel and make you wait with the meter running. Local customs and practices may be very different to those you are accustomed to and bearing this in mind will serve you well.
What’s the story behind the colorful taxis?
The different colored taxis are mainly to signify what taxi rental company owns them. Taxi drivers will obtain a license and rent a vehicle from a provider, which is identified by the color of the vehicle.
One distinction, for example, is green and yellow taxis signify private owners who have invested and own their taxi vehicle. They don’t have to return the vehicle at a set time and are free to work when they please.
Another distinction is blue taxis: equipped with GPS systems and are able to provide printed receipts, useful for claiming travel expenses.
There is no rule for what type of colored taxi to choose, just pick one that’s in good condition, use your best judgment, and don’t hesitate to find another if you’re not getting the right vibes.
Also remember that taxi drivers don’t have control over Bangkok’s notorious traffic, so you might as well remain cool and have a chat with your driver. You’ll find that the majority of Thai taxi drivers are hard-workers looking to make ends meet and some of them are the nicest people around.