Thailand has more than 250,000 registered taxi drivers in Bangkok alone – plus many more who are unlicensed. Traffic in the country, especially the capital, is horrendous. Drivers can be maniacs, and there are always dozens of motorcycles on any one stretch of road weaving and dodging cars. That’s before you even look at the problems of each individual driver – tired sleepy drivers, pervert drivers, rip-off drivers.
Problem: Rip off drivers. This is one of the biggest problems were western tourists. Thai taxi drivers see it as an easy chance to make money, often by doubling or tripling the fare. It happens to Thai people, too. But more often to tourists. Drivers can also sometime take long routes of pretend to get lost if they want to make a little extra even while driving on a metre. Another trick is to take tourists to rip-off restaurants or clubs where the driver gets a commission for bringing in new customers.
Solution: Before getting into the taxi, ask if they go to the destination and ask for it to be on the meter. Check they turn it on after they set off. Know the destination before you travel and roughly how far it is. Don’t jump in a cab and ask for the nearest strip bar as this is like an open-goal for a cunning driver. They’ll drop you off at some extortionate out-of-town place and get a juicy kick-back from the owner.
Pervert drivers: Lone females are at risk. And not just western tourists. One of the worst situations is a Thai woman alone in a taxi. The Thai driver can be creepy, suggestive, prying and sometimes a total pervert – as this woman who secretly recorded a taxi driver masturbating discovered.
Solution: Be polite but short. Don’t continue the conversation. If they ask ‘You have a boyfriend?’ reply just ‘Hum’ and look disinterested in talking to him. Play on phone. And if you have suspicions, take a picture of his taxi licence badge on the dashboard and send it to a friend. Tourists should always get a Thai sim card while in Thailand so they can use their phone.
Problem: Tired, sleepy drivers. This is a real problem on the chaotic roads of Thailand. Truck drivers are some of the worst offenders for using amphetamines while they drive, as are taxi drivers. The guys work such long hours to make ends meet, that they don’t get proper sleep. They’re jacked up on Red Bull just to stay away. This makes for an extremely dangerous ride, as four American tourists discovered when their driver fell asleep at the wheel and flipped their cab after picking them up from Bangkok.
Solution: Have a good look at the driver before accepting a ride with them. Do they seem alert, happy and refreshed of are they strung-out and sleepy? Really, it’s not that easy to tell but many people can get a pretty good instinct for how their driver looks. One user of Thai Visa forum posted a story about one taxi driver who kept nodding off, so he had to keep talking with him to make sure he stayed awake.
Problem: Rude drivers who won’t pick up passengers is particularly annoying. They stop the cab, you tell them where you want to go, and they shake their heads and drive off. The next taxi comes along and they do the same. During busy periods and rush hour this facade can go for 30 minutes or more until you get lucky and a cab lets you in.
Solution: Taxi booking apps are a relatively new technology in the west and in Thailand. However, they are growing rapidly, especially in Bangkok. Uber operates in the city, while Grab Taxi is perhaps the most popular in Thailand. The advantage of using a booking app is being able to request the ride, then wait for a driver to accept. You don’t need to flag down cars in the busy road, and you get the peace of mind of knowing that it’s a fixed price, and it will be a registered taxi driver.