Touri transportation options within Bangkok revolve around three main modes of getting slowly from one place to another: The Skytrain (BTS), taxis, and tuk tuks. You can also take a public bus (crowded, hot . . . forget it), walk (hot, humid . . . forget it), or a boat (crowded, hot, polluted water . . . ok for a thrill, killing part of a day, or when both your starting point and destination are on the river). The Skytrain is relatively new, cheap, air conditioned, and easy to use. But has none of the exotic local flavor or thrills of the other two.
Taxis abound in Bangkok. There are motorcycle taxis, but I’d only hop on one if I’d decided to end my life in Thailand. Not that a regular taxi or tuk tuk is all that much safer . . . you just have more metal between you and the crazy drivers of Bangkok. Regular taxis look much like those in the US, only smaller. Most guide books and web sites devoted to Bangkok travel make a big point about the difference between metered and un-metered taxis as if they were two separate animals. They’re not. And hopping into a metered taxi (one with a lighted “Meter” sign affixed to its roof) is no guarantee that the cost of your ride will be determined by the rate on the meter. So heads up:
On a short jaunt within the main portions of Bangkok during daylight hours there probably will be no confusion about the cost of your ride in a taxi. The meter starts at 35 baht and slowly increases with time and miles. A cheap and usually air conditioned ride. Longer rides, those beginning by tourist hang outs, and those at night will usually involve bartering for the cost of the ride. Like all other bartering done in Bangkok, keep a smile on your face and hold firm at about 1/3 of the asking price. Walk away if you can’t get the deal and the driver will usually come after you agreeing to your price. Not always, sometimes the 100 baht they ask for is what all of the drivers waiting outside that hotel, restaurant, or bar expect. But if that’s the case you’ll find out by the third driver you enter negotiations with.
Note the “walk away” advice. This is difficult to do when you are already in the cab and it is driving down the street. Sucker. Agree to the price before you get in! Obviously coming out of a bar at two in the morning means haggling over the cost of your ride. So start negotiations right away. On the other hand, hopping into a cab on Sukhumvit at noon, for example, probably means a metered ride. Don’t ask how much or you’ll lose out on the metered ride. Instead get in, tell the driver where you want to go, and then point at the meter and say, “meter”. I usually wait for the cab to take off and check to see if the little red 35 (baht) shows on the meter, if not then I point it out.
Now this is where those touri who expect the rest of the world to operate as if they were back home get flustered, frustrated, and pissed off. Your driver may not speak much English. He may not understand your English. Or he may speak very good English and decide to make some extra money off you. For the first two cases, it helps to have your destination written out in Thai (ask for a note from the front desk at your hotel). Alternately, if you are headed somewhere a bit unusual, note the nearest large hotel or landmark and have the driver go there. For example most drivers do not know where the Swiss Park Hotel is so I tell them to go to the Ambassador, which they all know, and then give them directions to the side soi as we get there.
The last scenario will most often occur when you are headed to a major touri destination or out bar hopping for the night, which I guess is really the same thing. The driver may suggest a great place for gems, etc. or a place for you to get a girl, or boy. Nice as Thais are, he is not trying to be helpful but rather earn himself a few bucks. Stick to your original destination and avoid the clip joints. You can find all the gems, girls, and boys you want on your own.
Tuk Tuk drivers are famous for this. And for offering 50 baht tours of the city. Please, take them up on this offer . . . I love watching hot sweaty and bewildered touri zooming by in a tuk tuk on their fourth hour of visiting over priced gem stores and souvenir shops!
Now unless you’ve just joined us, we’ve already agreed that regardless of the time of the year of your visit to Bangkok, it is hot, humid, and smells. Pollution is extremely bad in the city. So smart touri move quickly from one air conditioned place to another. Seldom do you see them walking anywhere. And if your plan is to get from point A to point B in the coolest manner possible, why in the world would you get into a open-aired, noisy, motorized cart billowing exhaust fumes all about? ‘Cuz you’re a tourist!
I didn’t take my first tuk tuk ride until my third trip to Bangkok. Taxis are scary enough. But three of us were stuck in non-moving traffic for a long time and being only several blocks from the hotel decided to get out and walk. Stupid idea. And we realized it within a few minutes. But to our rescue came puttering along a tuk tuk headed in the right direction. Quick negotiation and all three of us squeezed into the back (being on the end I had imprints of the metal scroll work side bars imbedded into my side for the rest of the day). Off we went splitting traffic, going down the wrong side of the street, up over and down sidewalks . . . Ann’s eyes were firmly shut, Char’s were fixed on some distant point in her mind, and all I could think was, “Oh, fuck!” I’ve been on roller coasters that failed to get your heart pumping as well. Since that inaugural ride I’ve been in countless tuk tuks and have grown to love them. For quick jaunts. Like three or four blocks . . . those distances you could easily walk but would rather not. And usually only at night when it has cooled down (or what passes for cooling down in Bangkok).
Since tuk tuks congregate wherever touri do, like outside you hotel, they’re hard to miss and the drivers will point them out to you, “Tuk Tuk!” in case you do. I like these guys and their entrepreneurial spirit and occasionally take a ride. Most touri get fed up by the constant bombardment of offered rides and ignore them. I smile and joke with them instead . . . they are the same group of drivers you’ll see outside your door every day of your trip and having a bit of fun with them will, in the long run, make the daily “Tuk, Tuk” greeting less bothersome. I’ve even negotiated a quick trip around the block, paid up the 20 baht and then sent the driver off on his own telling him it’s too hot for me to be riding in a tuk tuk. They love it. And from then on returning to the hotel is like coming home rather than running a gauntlet.