1. Learn some basic Thai words. Turn left, turn right, and stop here are words that will definitely come in handy, don’t forget to add the polite particle khrap if you are a man and ka if you are a woman.
- leow sai – turn left
- leow kwaa – turn right
- jort tee nee – stop here
The ability to give some basic directions in the cabs will obviously help you get to your destination. Drivers will also respond well at your attempt to speak Thai and your chances of getting scammed will decrease because they will assume that you’ve been in Thailand for a while and know the correct price.
2. Carry a map or card from your hotel. Many business cards are bilingual with both English for you and Thai for the driver. Some cards even have a small map and directions for the cabbies but don’t expect every driver to be able to read your map. Another way to assure your arrive at the right destination, especially if you don’t speak any Thai, is to ask the bellhop, security guard, or your Thai friend to tell your driver where you want to go. Another tip is once you are in the taxi call your destination and hand your phone to the driver so he can speak to a Thai person at your destination.
3. Remember your taxi. When you take a taxi, make a mental note or jot down the number of the cab, along with the color of the taxi or the name of the cab company. The taxi’s number can usually be found on stickers on the windows or metal plates attached to the doors. You might want to ask your driver for their card, called a nambaht in Thai. Don’t rely on getting the cabbie’s information from their license displayed on the dashboard. Half the time it’s their co-worker’s license who shares the taxi with them. If you forget something in the cab and if you have minimal information about the taxi, you can call 1644 in Bangkok, the taxi call center for lost items.
4. Be aware of scams. While most drivers are on the up and up, there are some cabbies who try to make some extra baht in not-so-honest ways. Occasionally drivers may suggest a seafood restaurant or a massage parlor because they may receive perks from those establishments, including gas coupons, for bringing in customers. Another scam involves telling passengers that certain tourist spots are closed for a public holiday and instead you might end up at a cheesy tailor shop or a gem store. If you are asked to visit a store and you do not wish to go a firm NO will usually suffice, if the driver insists get out of the taxi as soon as you can and find a new driver.
5. Avoid taxis waiting near tourist areas. Sure, it’s convenient to walk out the door of a local club or the lobby of your hotel and take the first cab you see, but keep in mind that most of those drivers won’t turn on their meters and will offer a flat rate several times more than the metered fare. Some drivers will try to tell you that this is the same amount as the meter and if you’re new to Bangkok or are just visiting from London or New York, the fare might seem reasonable. If you wish to avoid paying the inflated fair, walk a block or two away from the tourist spot and flag down a passing taxi, this will usually get your the correct metered price.
Lastly, treat the drivers with respect. Most drivers are honest and are truly concerned about your comfort and well being. If you do have a conflict with a driver raising your voice or arguing with them goes against Thai ways of communicating and it generally won’t help your cause. It’s much better to be level headed and to talk to the driver calmly or have a Thai person, preferably one with some authority try and solve the situation for you.
Even better – give your cabbie the benefit of the doubt along with a ten or twenty baht tip. They might just be having a bad day and why not cheer them up instead of making their day worse.
Artist, freelance illustrator, professor, and Thai culture vulture Dale Konstanz is a Bangkok taxi addict. During the past four years, he’s been snapping photos of the sacred decorations in the taxis for his blog, “Still Life in Moving Vehicles”. The blog is dedicated to the friendly, patient, somtum eating taxi drivers of Bangkok and it focuses on the sacred talismans and other decorations inside the taxis. His new book “Bangkok Taxi Talismans”, will be published in early 2011.