IMPORTANT: Remind every passenger to not open a car door on a street until they have looked behind to make sure a motorcycle is not coming. It is very common for passengers to open a car door and have a motorcycle hit it. This can cause serious injury to the motorcyclist and/or the car passenger, as well as considerable property damage. The passenger or car owner is liable for all damages. It is perfectly legal and normal in Thailand for motorcycles to drive in the spaces between cars, lanes, and the curb.
Most taxis in Thailand are metered, i.e., you don't need to negotiate a fare. Just get into a taxi that says "TAXI-METER" on the top. There are a few plain taxis still going around, but the vast majority are either the relatively new taxi-meter fleet or else have converted over.
Taxis are economical in Thailand relative to western countries. As of new rates approved in June 2008, the first revision in taxi rates since 1997, the fare starts at 35 baht (approx. $1) and stays there for the first 1 kilometer, and then the rate creeps up slowly at these rates:
5.5 baht per km for 12 to 20 km
6 baht per km for 20 to 40 km
8.5 baht per kilometer for 40 to 60 km
For example, a 20 km (12 mile) trip, which is long by Bangkok standards, would cost 35 + 55 + 44 = 134 baht, or still under $5 in 2008.
Typical taxi fares in town for going a few kilometers run around 50 baht. If traffic is bad, then the timer becomes more significant than the distance. There is a small charge per minute for sitting in traffic. Sorry, I don't know it, but it's small.
It's still very cheap compared to Western countries, though to Thais it's another matter.
Around 1992 or so, the city government oversaw an overhaul of the taxi system. A few leading companies with special concessions imported fleets of modern new taxis and equipped them with meters. This made taxis much nicer and easier for foreigners and Thais alike.
Notably, most taxis are fuelled by liquified natural gas, not the usual petrol of ordinary cars, and much of this gas is produced domestically, so the fuel costs of taxis are not as high as for most people. This conversion to liquified natural gas mostly happened after taxi fares were first established. It is a relatively minor conversion, and very standardized for the taxi fleet.
A difficulty with foreigners is that most taxi drivers do not speak nor read English. The taxi drivers generally come from the poor northeast. They are usually pleasant but just limited in education. They will usually recognize the names of places if your pronounciation is close, but be careful that they don't misunderstand you and take you somewhere else. Suggestions:
Of course, these suggestions are not required, and most foreigners get by without paper, but you take your chances.
A few protocols:
A few phrases:
You can telephone for a taxi to come pick you up, e.g., at the end of a soi where taxis don't drive by, and if it would be a long walk to find one. There is a 20 baht surcharge above the fare on the meter, i.e., the charge is not shown on the meter and you add 20 baht like a tip, the custom.
There are a few others. Just note these numbers written on the taxis, for future reference.
If you would like to get a taxi with a good English speaking driver to drive you around for a day or longer, then contact my Thai friend Vee at Thai English Taxi who lived and worked in the USA among Americans (not among Thai people like so many other Thais overseas) for 7 years where he received his Bachelor's Degree in engineering and worked in a few social jobs, but Vee is a bit of a free spirit whereby he owns his taxi and likes to drive foreigners around and explore Thailand. He's quite a character. Note: He does not do short pickups and drop-offs, nor does he run a service. He's a one man show so this is for bookings of an hour or more, and usually half a day or more.
Some taxi drivers are among the most aggressive on the road. Be careful which one you choose. Also be careful not to wave down a taxi too close or in a far away lane, as they have a reputation of cutting across lanes and slamming on the brakes. While in a taxi, I often say "by cha cha" which means "go slowly" and I never tip taxis who drive too aggressively (and politely note this).
I take taxis often, and while I've never been inside a taxi which has had an accident, I've had a taxi hit my wife's car before while I was in the passenger seat (on the expressway, trying to drive on the dashed line to pass me and the car in the adjacent lane, side-swiping us both at the same time!), I've seen three taxis in a hurry kill motorcyclists right in front of my eyes, and I've heard of people who were in minor traffic accidents inside a taxi.
Once, in 2008, I came across a traffic jam on Pattanakarn Road and saw a car smashed on the side and upside down. (Almost incredibly, the lady inside was OK and alone, just shaken up, thanks to wearing a seatbelt and ducking the roof caving in.) There were 6 taxis which had also struck each other, apparently tailgating each other and couldn't stop in time. I parked and took photos of these, as well as the smashed passenger car, just haven't had time to upload them. While taking the photos, as the traffic jam was clearing, there was another boom, as one taxi hit another taxi trying to pass. So make it 8 taxis.
There are also the notorious traffic jams on Sukhumvit late at night between soi 3 and soi 21, the road chock full of mostly empty taxis looking for riders, seemingly 80% taxis, sometimes more. I have a photo on Rama 4 Road of taxis causing a jam at an intersection because they had PARKED 3 lanes out to wait for customers, forcing all traffic to funnel into the one last available lane, not caring that traffic had backed up. The police sometimes go give tickets to taxi drivers, but late night enforcement is often much too lax.
(May 2007) A trend started around April of hanging a doll under the back of the car, to blow in the wind as they drive down the road. (I thought about hanging a long tiger tail from the bottom center of my bumper.) For awhile, I saw a lot of cars like this on the expressway going to/from the suburbs. Discussions in the Thai media, however, revealed the origin of this trend: Among taxi drivers, who tend to be even more superstitious than average Thais, if they accidentally killed someone (by the notoriously aggressive driving by some of them), they were afraid that the spirit of the deceased dwelled under their car, so they put the doll there to occupy the space with a different spirit, so there's no room for the deceased. Something like that... So the trend quickly disappeared! Except among taxi drivers. Don't stare too much when you pass them, and steer clear!
I do want to emphasize that overly agressive and inconsiderate taxis are a small minority overall, but they can sensationally make a reputation! You can usually avoid them by just observing how they are driving before you wave them over, and if they slam on their brakes then just wave them off and take the next one. There are a lot of nice taxi drivers out there.
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