Challenge: Getting a Cab in BKK

February 2010: Snowmaggedon has hit the Washington, D.C. area, and everyone has been stuck inside their houses for what feels like weeks. The Metro is open for a few hours then closes back down. Buses aren’t running. I’ve dug my car out of the snow more than once, but am afraid to leave because I don’t want to have to murder the person who might steal my parking place. I would not look good in a bright orange jumpsuit.

It took me HOURS to dig that out.

Finally, after what seems like years, Metro announces they will open on Saturday and stay open until midnight. Pandemonium ensues. The bars and streets are packed with people who are desperate to get out and be with other people.

I make the trek in from the suburbs (really not that far), and I miss the Metro deadline to go home at midnight, but I figure I’ll get a cab.

Ah, the naïveté of youth, right?

Surprisingly, a cab quickly comes along and stops for me. I tell him where I’m going.

“No,” he says. “I’m not going there.”

“Uhhhhhhh…” I try to keep my patience.  This happened all the time with cabbies who refused to take me to my apartment. “It’s the law. You have to take me.”

“You want to report me to the police?” he demands.

“Well, kind of,” I say.

“Fine. Here’s my license number.” And at that point he shuts off the engine and points to his license number. I mean, really?! “I wouldn’t take you there even if you gave me $50. I don’t care,” he says.

I argue with him for a minute more, lose my patience, get out of the cab and say—and I quote—“I wish you very bad luck.”

ZING! Right?! I told him!

Flash-forward a year and it’s March 2011 (funny how time works, eh?), and I’m in Bangkok, still struggling with the cab drivers.

There are a lot of challenges involved in cabs in Bangkok. And yes, I just wrote about motorcycle taxis, but the taxicab is a whole different beast. I’ve been in them a lot recently and they’ve been on my mind.

So, challenges:

Challenge 1: Getting the cab to pick you up in the first place.

Sometimes I’ll wave for a cab, the driver will look at me, and then he’ll drive right on by. Argh. It can be quite annoying at times, especially if I’m in a hurry. I try really hard to give them the benefit of the doubt—maybe they’re going off duty!– but as I’m a pessimistic person by nature, that can be hard.

There are a lot of cabs in BKK.

Challenge 2: Getting the driver to actually, you know, DRIVE you where you want to go.

This is where jackassery starts to abound in Bangkok cab drivers.

Probably 50% of the time I try to get a cab in BKK, the driver just flat-out refuses to take me where I want to go. Sometimes I want to know why—I’m apparently more of a masochist than I like to admit, because I really do know this is an exercise in futility, and it always causes me psychological anguish (YES, ANGUISH).

The answer is usually just, “No. No go.”

“BUT WHY?” You know how you’re not supposed to lose face in Thailand? I always come very, very close to losing it at these moments.

“No.” Usually this is accompanied by a very stubborn headshake and the cab driver refusing to look at me.

At this point, I get very grumbly and grumpy and get out of the cab in a huff.

But my number one favorite excuse for a driver not taking me somewhere in Bangkok is:

There’s too much traffic.

Oh, hi, Mr. Taxi Cab Driver, you drive a cab. For a living. In Bangkok. Like, the worst place in the world for traffic jams. Yeah, there might be a lot of traffic, but I’m not asking you to drive me for free. And you drive a cab. For a living. JUST SAYING.


Challenge 3: Getting the driver to use the meter.

I’ve lived in Bangkok for over 6 months. I may still be a sucker, but I’m not such a sucker that I’m going to go somewhere without a meter, especially as they usually ask for more than the meter would be, of course.

I’m going to start a new campaign slogan: “No meter, no love.”

It’ll be like the “No glove, no love” slogan, except not at all.

This guy's like, 'Heh.'

Challenge 4: Getting a driver who knows where you’re going.

Me, after I’ve gotten in a cab, in Thai: I’m going to R— Road, near Blah Blah Hotel. Do you know where that is?

Cabbie: Yes, I know it.

Me: **Sitting back, getting ready for a nice air-conditioned ride where maybe I can play Scrabble on my Kindle and hopefully the stupid computer player, Al, won’t cheat (Al’s a freaking cheat and he knows words that I don’t think are really words).**

Cabbie: Go straight?

Me: Uhhhhh…yeah, I think so…

Cabbie: Turn left at Blahblahblah Road?

Me: Uhhhh…no…go straight and turn right at Blergblerg Road. What the hell?

From what I understand, a lot of cab drivers in Bangkok have come to live in the city straight from the countryside approximately 15 minutes before starting their shifts and really don’t have any idea where they’re going; that’s why they ask YOU for directions. And don’t even bother trying to show them where you’re going on a map—you might as well be showing them a manuscript in ancient Greek and asking them to translate it to a Martian language. Not gonna happen.

They kind of look like me when I was looking at this sign that said something like, "Entrance for Thais Only." HUH?

Challenge 5: Not getting screwed over by the wrong route.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked a cab driver to take me to the Asok BTS station from my neighborhood. I’ve gone this route in cabs at least, I don’t know, 40 times. I know the way to go, and every cab driver goes approximately the same way.

Except the cab driver who decided to take me for a ride.

“Excuse me, why are you going this way?” I asked (in Thai) when he took a turn that was going to take us WAY the wrong direction.

“Oh, this is the way to Asok,” he assured me.

Okay. Sometimes I don’t know everything—I KNOW THIS IS HARD TO BELIEVE—so I figured maybe it was just another way to get there in the same amount of time. That’s happened before.

Ha! God, just about every time I think I’m wrong, I’m wrong. I should just trust myself.

By the time the meter was past the amount it should have been and we were stuck in traffic with at least another 25 minutes ahead of us, I got out of the cab and took the MRT (subway) just on principle. I showed him not to screw around with me! Right?!

Another time a cab driver clearly went the wrong way so we were stuck in traffic that was painfully not moving. My friends asked the driver why he chose to go the way with traffic instead of the way without traffic and he gave us a heated lecture about how this is the country of Thailand! And there’s always traffic in Thailand! And there’s traffic in other countries, too! All the time! So shut it, stupid foreigners!

We shut it. And then we got out of the cab and took the BTS train to our destination. We showed him!

Yeah! Angry cab-riders UNITE!


Challenge 6: Remembering that there are good guys out there.

Sometimes things go just the way they’re supposed to with cabbie. I get in the cab, tell him where I want to go and get there in the right amount of time for the right amount of money. No jackassery. No arguing. Sometimes I even have pleasant conversations with the drivers and we both practice our respective foreign language skills and have a good time teaching each other.

Cabbies have a hard job. They have to work long, hard hours and deal with a lot of jackassery of their own. I respect that, and I definitely wouldn’t want their job.

I just want to get where I’m going without hassle, people. Is that too much to ask?

Final Score:

Cabbies: 1    Megan : 0

Really, they have all the power, don’t they?



Filed under Daily Challenge, Living Abroad, Thailand

15 responses to “Challenge: Getting a Cab in BKK

  1. I find cabs in Bangkok to be great unless they’re awful. Like 60-70% of the time, they’re pretty good, a bargain, ok driver that knows where he’s going (WAY MORE than in Toronto or Montreal where often they don’t know major streets, the equivalent would be some guy who can’t find Sukumvit in BKK). My beef used to be they drove too fast, but that was before I figured out how to be sneaky and tell them to please drive slowly because I have an upset stomach…it works because either they’re just nice or afraid I’ll barf in their cab. Either way, I’m happy.

    Then there’s the remaining 30% that’s totally random, usually coming from the airport or some other place where you don’t choose yourself. Last taxi from the airport I had 1) tried to convince me to come to his church 2) wanted a farang gf to teach him English 3) ignored my explicit directions to not take the tollway (dude, it’s Sunday at 10pm) then asked me to pay for the tollway, then ignored my directions to my apartment and took the SUPER LONG way around. I find if they’re psycho, they usually do all the above at once, like hit on me, try to hit me up for tips, extra long roads, etc.

    Then I get funny ones from Issan who want to ask me questions about foreigners like “Why do foreigners look so old?” and “why do foreign guys love ugly Thai women?”, etc, etc, and it really makes me laugh.

    • I don’t take a lot of cabs usually, but I have been recently because I’m lazy, and I’ve had a lot of bad experiences. It drives me crazy. But when it’s fine, it’s fine…

      I don’t think I took cabs enough in DC to be much of a judge, but I never had a problem there with people knowing where I was going. I mean, my small street in the suburbs, yeah, but in the city I never had a problem. Probably my sample size was too small, though, to really be able to tell.

  2. Jess

    I like how you understand how tough their jobs can be, even as you just want some basic human decency. I always felt bad for DC cabbies on Fri/Sat nights. I saw those bros out on the town, getting their drink on — who wants to deal with that?

    • Oh yeah, that would just be terrible, having to deal with all the drunk, crazy people, and people who don’t want to pay, and people who are jerks…no, thanks!

  3. Julie hit the nail on the head – they’re either fine or awful. Rarely do you get a guy who’s awesome, and then you want to give him a big tip and say, “Thank you for going out of your way to behave in a manner that decent people are expected to anyway.” But you’re right – you can’t win; it will always be Taxi 1, Megan 0 – there’s a number you can call to report a taxi that refuses to take you in Bangkok, but I can almost hear the confused giggling on the other end if you actually call.
    Also, ten points for ‘jackassery’

    • SO true! I always feel like I should tip the guys who act normally. That’s not right. And, yeah, I haven’t even bothered with the the number to make a complaint because I can just see where that’s going–NOWHERE.

  4. Hah, ive just moved to bkk about a month and a half ago and as soon as i got to the airport to head to my hotel, my taxi driver was doing 120 in a 60 zone on the freeway. Sure, it was 11pm and the freeways were clear, but I didnt have a seatbelt and have a “driving fast in car” phobia thing.

    After being here a bit longer, im riding in tuk tuks that are just INSANE compared to the taxis, so its a welcome relief.

    And my taxi/tuktuk/motosai drivers dont know how to get to my residence, so i usually tell them “klong toei MRT” and direct them to where I am. The standard response is a look of “why the hell didnt you just take the MRT in the first place, you lazy shit?”.

    Ill be having to take a taxi to the airport on friday to head to vietnam for the weekend, so ill see how well the cabbie takes it :)

    P.S. Great post! blame Sally from UnbraveGirl for directing me here.


    • We had the same problem going to the airport the other day–scary! Good luck with the ride on Friday and the trip to Vietnam; that’s awesome!

      Sally is always a trouble-maker, isn’t she?

  5. I’m laughing hysterically because I relate to your post, Megan, as well as the follow-up comments. :-)

    I’ve had great taxi drivers in NYC, DC, and BKK. I’ve had bad ones in all three cities too. (One in DC didn’t want to drive my then boyfiend, now husband, and I because we wanted to -gasp!- SHARE his cab from Dulles to our respective homes in Herndon and Reston. I left him with a curse of 1,000 locusts to infest his underpants.)

    We stay in Bangna, so mostly I use the car, but I’ll still take a taxi for late nights out or when one of us is already using the car, about once a week. Mostly, it’s fine. I speak only “taxi Thai”, but it’s enough most of the time to get me where I’m going. Also, I never just sit back and enjoy the ride, because I figure the driver might take advantage if I seem oblivious.

    My husband has had horrific experiences. Once, in BKK, a driver was driving aggressively. He refused to stop until my husband opened the car door while in motion, and it hit another car, slamming it shut. The driver of the other car forced him to stop for the accident, and an argument ensued, giving my husband the chance to slip away.

    Another time, he had hired an AOT car to pick him up from home for a ride to Suvarbhumi airport. First sign of the problem was him getting lost in the moobaan (Uh Oh!). Then, on Banga-Trat from Srinakarin, he turned west towards Sukhumvit instead of east towards the airport. Since AOT is the dedicated hired car service for the airport, you’d think the driver should know the way!

  6. This really reminds me of my home country Philippines. Even locals have a hard time with cab drivers. I even choose to walk most of the time just to avoid being hassled. I just stumbled upon your site and Chichi and I love it! We find your posts, witty hilarious and engaging. Keep it coming!

    • Like I said, I know that cabbies have a hard job, but come on! I walk a lot, too, instead of dealing with them. Or take motorcycle taxis…

      And thanks–get in touch when you’re in BKK; we can go for a drink!

  7. If this makes you feel any better, we once got terribly lost in a cab w/ my Thai speaking, Thai born and raised mother!!!!!!!!! Granted we probably all made the situation worse and we were outside of BKK but I thought if this is what it is like w/ a native speaker, then heck!

    I’ve learned Thais don’t learn geography and directions (N,W,S,E, etc) in school so throw that in the mix with BKK streets, traffic and size and well, you got yourself a hot, moist, fantastical mess.

    I swear sometimes I think Thailand is making me learn out to be more ZEN than I ever thought possible. (or wanted :P heh, heh) It’s not sabai sabai it’s a fricken school in Enlightenment and Sainthood. Just go to your happy place, Megan. Or start screaming, Serenity Now! xxoo

  8. Did I ever tell you about that time we had to carjack a taxi in Nanjing? No taxis stopped for us for over an hour (more of that sudden acceleration when they saw us flagging them down) and we urgently had to get from the train station to an exam venue (because we are, you know, examiners). We were even physically shoved out of a few we managed to corner in stopped traffic and get in… briefly. Finally, we found one that was stuck in traffic and refused to budge. And he refused to drive. Even though we were carjacking him. We eventually had to bribe him 60rmb (nearly $10) for a 20rmb ride.

    Shanghai isn’t as bad as Nanjing but it has its moments.

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