Taxis in Bangkok can be a dream. Prices are as low as anywhere in the world. You never have to wait for longer than a minute or two. It’s even got that sweet, sweet air-con that is so refreshing after trekking around in 40°C heat.
On the other hand, taxis in Bangkok can be a nightmare. Rip-off fixed prices if they think you’re a tourist, very little English spoken, terrible traffic. And sometimes they refuse to take you!
What you need is a Bangkok guide to all things taxi. Written by someone with extensive experience living here who has dealt with every pitfall and shenanigan that you can come across…
Well, here we are!
- How To Flag Down A Taxi
- IMPORTANT! – Greet Your Driver
- Getting Refused (And What To Do About It)
- How To Tell A Taxi Where You’re Going
- Make Your Life Easier With Maps and GPS
- How Does The Meter Work?
- How Much Do Taxis Cost In Bangkok?
- What To Do When The Taxi Drivers Won’t Use The Meter
- How To Direct The Taxi
- Getting A Taxi At The Airport(s)
- Getting A Taxi In Tourist Areas
- Can You Use Uber Or Other Ride-Sharing Apps In Bangkok?
- How To Get A Motorbike Taxi
- Why Is There No Seatbelt?
How To Flag Down A Taxi
It’s super easy in Bangkok to see which cars are taxis and which aren’t. They have a distinctive colour scheme. Either pink, light blue, yellow or green and yellow. Depending on the operating company. They look like this.
[pic coming soon :)]
It’s also easy to see whether they are free or not. I’ve not seen a better system in the world, to be honest.
In the front window of every taxi in Bangkok is a small sign that says ว่าง. This is pronounced waang and means ‘free’ in Thai. If the light is on, as in the following photo, then the taxi is available to be flagged down. If it’s off, then it’s not.
[pic coming soon :)]
The best thing is you can see taxis coming waaaay in the distance. That little light in the front is so obvious. Other countries have inferior systems where you have to look for the fainter light on the top of the car, or even just wait until you can see if it’s a taxi or not and see if there’s anyone inside!
Here’s a photo I took of a taxi coming from far away. Look how visible that ว่าง light is.
[pic coming soon :)]
Taxis are very common in Bangkok. If you’re on a main road, you rarely wait longer than 60 seconds to see one. Even on smaller roads they drive past regularly.
When the taxi approaches, your instinct will be to put your hand up like you might do in the West. This will work fine, but it’s not what Thai people do.
If you’re feeling adventurous, the Thai way to call a taxi is to use the Thai come hither sign. This is done with your hand up around your shoulders, palm facing the floor, then you move your fingers back and forth. Here’s a visual aid.
[pic coming soon :)]
IMPORTANT! – Greet Your Driver
When I first came to Thailand, I hated the taxis. Sure, they were cheap, they were everywhere and they were a damn sight more convenient than trekking to the nearest BTS.
The problem was, practically every time I took one, they’d shout “too han-led baat!” at me. That’s their way of saying, “Sir, I believe this fare should be 200 baht rather than using the meter that I’m legally obligated to use.”
This counts double for tourists. When my brothers came to visit, they spent their last day inside their hotel room as they were too sick of the taxis. One look at these two, tall white dudes was enough for seemingly every taxi driver to temporarily triple the fare.
These days, I never get asked for a fixed fare. The reason is that I say a hearty hello (in Thai!) when I get in the taxi. Here’s how to say it.
If you are male:
sa wa dee khap – สวัสดีคับ
If you are female:
sa we dee ka – สวัสดีค่ะ
The first three syllables mean ‘hello’ and should be said quite fast. The last syllable is a ‘politeness particle’ that doesn’t exist in English that you use when talking to strangers, try to elongate this a little. Here’s a youtube video showing you how to do it.
The key is to get in the taxi and say this confidently and loudly. Note that Thai is a tonal language but so long as you say this sufficiently bombastically then it doesn’t matter. Again, loudly and confidently. I cannot stress how important that is enough.
Once you say this you can switch straight to English and they will almost always use the meter.
I don’t know why it works so well. Maybe it signals that you are not a tourist but in fact a wizened old expat, whether they just appreciate you making an effort, or even if it’s some psychological trick. What I do know is, it works.
Does it ever fail? Yes. If you pick up a taxi at certain notorious hotspots like the bottom end of Khao San Road you will run into difficulty. In these touristy areas the taxis operate a kind of unspoken agreement where all foreigners are ripped off. Particularly those that have parked their car and are waiting for passengers.
It can also be difficult if there’s a lot of traffic or your destination is out of the way. They may demand a fixed price although more often they will simply refuse to take you.
Hot tip: If multiple taxi drivers refuse to take you somewhere because of traffic, LISTEN TO THEM! Get public transport or a motorbike taxi instead… If you find a taxi driver willing to take you it might end in a maddeningly frustrating 90-minute journey.
What about motorbike taxis? Although motorbike taxis are more expensive, they are reliable in charging the correct price. I rarely get ripped off. They are a fantastic (the only?) option when traffic is bad because they can weave in and out of the stationary cars. The downside? Bikes in Bangkok are dangerous, crashes happen, people get injured and die. Use at your own risk.
Getting Refused (And What To Do About It)
It’s illegal for taxi drivers in Thailand to turn down a fare. In practice, this rule is frequently flouted. Things that might get you refused include bad traffic, bad weather, the fact you’re a foreigner, the fact you aren’t a foreigner, you’re not going the direction the taxi driver wants to go in or a number of other things.
You can increase your chances. You’re still giving a hearty hello to the guy, right? Also, get straight in rather than tell him your destination through the window. Taxi drivers are less likely to shake their head at you if you’re already making yourself comfortable on his back seat. And the more people the better.
Still, being refused is normal in Bangkok. The biggest reason is traffic. Traffic in downtown Bangkok is worst during evening rush hour between 5-7pm and is also bad during party hour on Friday and Saturday nights from 7-9pm.
The worst places are the big roads down Sukhumvit, Sathorn and Ratchada where you have intersections with 240 second wait times! Unfortunately, if you’re reading this article it’s likely these will be the roads you spend your time driving down as well.
The best time is Saturday and Sunday mornings when the roads are practically empty. These are good days to get taxis!
The following phrase means ‘traffic’ in Thai and you’ll hear it from taxi drivers a lot. Most of them know the English word too so they might just say ‘traffic’ in bad accent. Kind of like tear-fick.
lot dtit – รถติด
If traffic is bad, the BTS and MRT rail systems are fast and motorbike taxis cut through the congestion like a knife through butter.
How To Tell A Taxi Where You’re Going
Taxi drivers in Thailand aren’t that clued up on the roads here. There’s no such thing as The Knowledge for Bangkok’s streets and half the time the picture on the licence in the window looks completely different to the guy sitting in the driver’s seat!
Even if you have an address, your taxi driver will not be able to read the English well. Have the address in Thai? He might not even be able to read that! Or know where it is… (although having the address written in Thai is better than nothing).
The best course of action is to direct your driver by road names or stations.
Stations is the easiest one. Simply use Google Maps to find the nearest BTS or MRT station to where you are going and show that to a taxi driver. This rarely fails, for me.
If that’s not possible then it helps to understand the roads here. Bangkok has a structure that is based on a few main roads, with tens or hundreds of roads coming off that main road. For example, Sukhumvit is a huge road that travels right through the city. Off Sukhumvit road is over a hundred other roads, called soi, which are numbered.
So if I was staying at the Marriot Marquis Hotel, I would ask for Sukhumvit Soi 20. All taxis will be able to work out how to get here, even if many do not know the road itself. Also, you can use English with main roads like this and taxi drivers understand English numbers.
There are difficulties with this, too. Soi’s can be very long and have numerous side-streets, finding a hotel and bar is not always easy even when you’re on the same road. This is why I recommend you read and follow the advice in the next section…
Make Your Life Easier With Maps and GPS
Before you come to Thailand, find the areas you’ll be staying on Google Maps (or equivalent) so that it downloads onto your phone. You’ll be able to open this again when you’re here even if you have no data or wifi. This is a lifesaver in a country like Thailand, where English is poorly spoken and taxi drivers can rarely be described as ‘helpful’.
What helps even more is most modern smartpones can show your exact location without any internet connection. Here’s my phone showing me walking around _______. The blue dot is me, you can see all the streets and restaurants and shops around me and you can even see which way I’m facing! This is all with my phone on airplane mode.
[pic coming soon :)]
This helps for sightseeing, too. Let’s say you want to take a trip to the Airplane Graveyard, a cool little place that’s waaaay out in the sticks. No taxi driver will know where it is. The solution? Find where it is and save the area around it on your phone. Show this to a taxi driver, he’ll see that it’s around Ramkhamhaeng Soi 103 and head there.
[pic coming soon :)]
Note that I added a star to the location so my phone won’t forget it.
This works well in Bangkok and the major cities. It’s less effective the more off the beaten path you go. So a touristy island like Koh Samui is well charted, but trekking around Nan is going to be harder.
Thailand can be a painful place to get around. This is not Australia or Germany where you have people who speak English and taxi drivers that know the names of hotels and roads… I really recommend you prepare well and follow what I said here.
How Does The Meter Work?
Every licenced taxi in Bangkok has a meter at the front where you can see your price. Here’s a look at one.
[pic coming soon :)]
When your taxi driver agrees to take you, he/she should press a button on this box which makes a number appear, as shown.
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If he doesn’t press the meter in the first 10-20 seconds (and you’ve not agreed a fixed price) then he’s either forgotten or he’s going to give you an inflated price. That second one is more likely if he thinks you’re an oblivious tourist. If you don’t see him press the meter then say this.
mi dturrr – มิเตอร์
It’s the translation of the word ‘meter’ and is a loanword from English, hence the similarity. I hope the number of r’s show the pronunciation which really stresses the ‘urrr’ sound. Saying this will either remind him to press it or suggest that you’re not falling for his game.
The meter begins at 35 baht and works upwards slowly. The cost is calculated based on distance or time. If you’re moving slowly through bad traffic, the meter will tick upwards based on the time you’ve been in the car. If you’re moving quickly, the meter will tick upwards for a set distance. The tick goes up 2-3 baht a time.
The specific cost changes every so often and (I believe) is slightly different depending on the taxi company. You can see a breakdown of the charges by looking at the card behind the driver’s head on his seat. All taxis should have these. Here’s a look at one in a taxi I took recently.
[pic coming soon :)]
I have heard about scams involving meters that run too fast. Unfortunately, it would be difficult to know if this is happening to you unless you have some experience with how fast the meter usually runs here. On the other hand, in my 5 years living here, it’s never happened to me or anyone I know.
How Much Do Taxis Cost In Bangkok?
To reiterate what I mentioned in the above section, the meter starts at 35 baht and slowly ticks upwards depending on time and distance. Moving slowly and stuck in traffic? The meter will go up a few baht for each block of time that passes. Getting around quickly? The meter will move based on the distance covered.
Here’s a few examples of some common fares.
– For a journey around the block that takes less than 10 minutes, you’re looking at 50-60฿ (£1.50 or $2).
– For a taxi ride from one area of the city to another in little traffic you’re looking at 80-120฿ (£2-3 or $3-4). Say if you’re going between Khao San and Sukhumvit.
– For a Saturday night journey that hits the main traffic and takes up to an hour, it’s going to be in the region of 150-200฿ (£4-5 / $5-7)
– For a trip to or from the airport, it could be upwards of 300฿ with extra fees for using toll roads (20-50฿) and the airport taxi surcharge (50฿).
What To Do When The Taxi Drivers Won’t Use The Meter
This is annoyingly common. It mainly happens in the tourist hotspots like Khao San Road or outside the big-name hotels, or if they clock you as an obvious tourist. My best tips are to walk a bit away and try to flag a taxi down. Never get a taxi that’s parked and waiting for passengers.
These drivers will usually bark some bad English numbers at you as their negotiation gambit. Something like… tooo han-led baat which means ‘two hundred baht’. A taxi driver that is offering a fair price (by using the meter) will never say a fare in advance.
If you must take a fixed price for a taxi, expect to pay double or more. So a fare that the taxi driver knows will cost 60-100฿ – 5-10km or a 10-20 minute drive – is going to be 200฿. The fixed price for the airport is 500฿.
The problem is that for tourists these higher fares are pretty cheap. A 30-40 minute taxi ride all the way to an airport for 500฿ is only £12 or $15. A total bargain by Western standards. And if you’re travelling in a group of 2, 3 or 4 then it’s pocket change.
For this reason, many tourists and expats take the low hassle route and just agree to the fixed fare. I did it when I first lived here. The issue is that it makes taxi drivers more likely to try their luck on the rest of us.
And if you think that sounds frustrating, spare a thought for the poor Thais who are often ignored on the roads by taxis who drive another 30m to pick up the confused looking white guy!
What’s funny is expats are convinced it’s easier to get taxis as a Thai, and Thais think it’s easier to get taxis as a foreigner. The truth is that everyone gets a raw deal, one way or another!
How To Direct The Taxi
Let’s cover some useful phrases. The pronunciations are rough approximations but the context is so obvious that they’ll understand no matter how badly you bastardise the language.
Go Straight: dtong bpai – ตรงไป
Turn Left: liu saai – เลี้ยวซ้าย
Turn Right: liu kwaa – เลี้ยวขวา
Give your taxi driver notice before you need to make a turn. Roads can be so busy that they might need some time to changes lanes. Or they will make the turn violently into tiny gaps in the traffic…
Here: tee nee – ที่นี่
There: tee nan – ที่นั่น
Stop: yoot – หยุด
These words should help you get the taxi driver to stop where you want him to. Again, give him some warning. it’s no mean feat to pass through the lanes of flowing traffic sometimes!
Make a U-turn / turn around: gap lot – กลับรถ
If you need to turn around then you can say this. Alternatively, all taxi drivers will understand the English phrase ‘U-turn’ if you can say it with a sufficiently Thai accent (elongate the tuuuuuurn). And surprise surprise, let them know way in advance. On the bigger streets it can take ages before you can turn around.
Getting A Taxi At The Airport(s)
Getting a taxi from either airport in Bangkok to the city is simple. It is not cheap though, and you may wait a while especially at Don Meuang. On the plus side, taxis have to accept fares and scams are very rare. The government keep a keen eye on the airport taxis as it can affect the country’s reputation internationally.
How to get a taxi from Don Meuang. As you come into arrivals, follow the sign for taxis. You will eventually come to an area which has a few Thai officery looking people who take tickets and give them to you. There will probably be a line of travellers waiting behind them. Join the line and wait to get a ticket. When you receive your ticket you go outside where the taxis are waiting and find the one with your number.
How to get a taxi from Suvarnabhumi. Like the other airport, the taxis area is well signposted. For Suvarnabhumi you have to go just outside the airport building and pick up your ticket stub from one of the 4-5 machines. Again, there will likely be a line of travellers waiting outside. Once you get your ticket, simply move forward onto the road area and find the taxi in the bay with your number ticket on.
Getting taxis from either location should be straightforward. They (probably) won’t try to rip you off and they are required to take you – there’s no way they can get out of it. If they offer a fixed price (like 500 baht) just say meter to them and they won’t put up much resistance. They can get in a lot of trouble not using the meter from the airport.
When you get in the taxi they will ask high-waay? or you wan high-waay? or something along those lines. Essentially, they’re asking if you want to take the toll roads which are much faster. They cost 50-75฿ and you will need to pay for them yourself. I find it’s worth it.
One last thing, there’s a surcharge for getting a taxi from the airport. So whatever the price is on the meter at the end of the journey, it will cost 50฿ more.
Getting A Taxi In Tourist Areas
Tourist areas like Khao San Road or hotel-packed roads in Sukhumvit are tough places to get a cab. The drivers know that an inflated 200฿ fare is still a bargain to most travellers.
How do you avoid getting ripped off in these places? If you give a big ol’ sa waa dee khap, insist on the meter and get in the taxi first then there’s not a lot else you can do.
You might find taxis more agreeable by walking 5 minutes down the street. You might also consider that even inflated fares here aren’t going to break the bank.
Sometimes though, they just won’t take you. I find going to Khao San particularly frustrating as I’m so used to getting a cab on the meter, but no amount of Thai or insider Bangkok knowledge is going to budge the guys who hang out on that road.
In fact, the following meme might resonate with anyone who’s struggled with taking taxis in certain parts of Bangkok.
Can You Use Uber Or Other Ride-Sharing Apps In Bangkok?
A year or two back, Uber came onto the scene in Bangkok and revolutionised the taxi system. It was brilliant. I used it all the time. In its early days, it was actually even cheaper than the (already inexpensive) Bangkok taxis. And there was no worrying about flagging them down, haggling fares or safety concerns.
Sadly, Uber was banned in Thailand after a lengthy court dispute so it doesn’t work here any more.
There is an alternative called ‘Grab’ you can use. It’s an app you download and works in much the same way as Uber. The company didn’t run into the same legal troubles for some reason, but I’m not gonna go into that rabbit hole here I’m afraid.
I don’t like it because the prices seem to regularly be 2-3x higher than flagging a taxi off the street. Why pay that much more when it’s so easy to get a taxi in Bangkok?
[pic coming soon :)]
You can use Grab to call a motorbike taxi. Helpful if traffic is bad and you want a motosai to slice through the heavy lot dtit of downtown Bangers.
How To Get A Motorbike Taxi
Getting a motorbike taxi – or motosai – in Bangkok is a whole other ball game which deserves its own article. Still, here’s the basics.
The motorbike taxis in Bangkok are incredibly useful because they carve through traffic. They zip in and out of cars, go through red lights, and take risks that get you to your destination fast.
Sound dangerous? It’s because they are. Everyone who lives here knows someone who’s taken a fall off a motosai at some point.
You find them at their motosai stands dressed in orange vests as shown in the picture below. At busy periods you will often see queues of people ont he pavement who get picked up by these guys too. They are a staple of the Bangkok transport system.
[pic coming soon :)]
You can flag them down off the street sometimes, but not if you’re near a motosai stand as they don’t like encroaching on each other’s territory.
The drivers are actually very fair, I can’t think of one experience being ripped off by them. The prices are sometimes written in Thai at their motosai stand. Although you can ask what the price is in advance, you can’t haggle with them. Don’t try.
And they are not a fan of travelling long distances. They prefer to zip around their local area taking 10-20฿ fares up and down the road.
I rarely use them. Despite how useful and quick they can be, I’m not prepared to take that risk on a regular basis. That said, I do enjoy taking them. Particularly after a drink or two, it’s quite a rush to fly around the busy streets of Bangkok fearing for your life!
Why Is There No Seatbelt?
The back seats of taxis in Bangkok sometimes don’t have the full seatbelt apparatus. The cars have the equipment but it’s stuffed down the back of the seat where you can’t reach it. It’s annoyingly common.
I’ve not heard a good explanation for this. Some say that education in Thailand is poor and people don’t understand the risks. Some say that Thai people believe that preparing for an eventuality makes it more likely to happen. If that’s true, why do the drivers always wear seat belts then? And then some say that Thai people believe that if they have good karma and pray to Buddha and spend money on good luck charms they simply won’t get into an accident.
Either way, the only way to get around it is to sit in the front which always has a seatbelt.
Like this article? What have I missed? Give me your thoughts in the comments and I’ll try to reply/update/whatever 🙂