I had yet another lovely taxi ride on the way home from my counselor appointment this week. Given that the windows were smeared with Vaseline and a biscuit-like stink of some revolting herb rammed in the back window meant I couldn’t comfortably rest my head back, it was a wonder I didn’t spray the cab interior with my dinner, but I was actually so in fear of my life throughout the journey, that I found myself completely distracted from my nausea.
This cab had everything going for it to win the competition of worst Bangkok taxi experience EVER. Not only were the windows blurred, but covered on one side with GrabTaxi stickers enabling only a very slight view of the passing scenery, and with a large sun shade taped in place on the other window, obliterating any view. The air conditioning I don’t think was broken but despite a few attempts at pleasantly asking for it to be made colder, the driver mimed adjusting the settings and it remained warm and clammy throughout the journey. His rear view mirror was so twisted round by Buddhist amulets and paraphernalia that it did not serve him whatsoever, and some of the most unbearable pap was playing on the radio; a relentless, cheesy drum beat accompanied by a woman who seemed to be doing her best impersonation of a cat in heat. As is quite usual in Bangkok cabs, the seat belt was not functional and I found myself braced for impact for the entire 40 minute journey. The driver evidently could not see well, yet was very keen to go as fast as traffic would allow him, stopping very abruptly when coming up behind other vehicles as if he has no idea they were there before he was a couple of meters away from them. With no useable rear view mirror, the long section on the expressway, allowing him to really get up speed, almost had this atheist praying.
Unfortunately taxis are a necessary evil for me, as I live in a gated community near Central Chaengwattana, 25km from the city center, without a skytrain or MRT walkable from my apartment and it seems it’s the majority of taxis rather than just the occasional few that offer a deeply unpleasant experience.
However in general, no matter how inept, drivers are usually quite pleasant and helpful, but there still are those with lousy attitudes to be found. Many times when I hail one and say where I want to go the driver scowls and replies in Thai “I’m not going there – traffic is heavy”. It’s Bangkok; traffic is always heavy unless it’s New Year’s Day or Songkran. Many also, when getting stuck in traffic while taking you somewhere, start sucking their teeth, fidgeting and complaining to you that there is traffic, as if it’s your fault. If they don’t like heavy traffic, maybe being a taxi driver in Bangkok is not the right profession for them!
It’s actually law here in Bangkok now that a taxi picking you up from a rank outside a mall MUST take you where you ask to go, but in practice the vast majority of taxi drivers get quite aggressive when reminded of this law, and no one does much to enforce it.
If I had the skill, I’d create a phone app whereby you can scan the taxi license plate and it gives you a rating for that cab based on scores from people who have taken a ride in it before. If it’s a bad score then avoid, a good score you know you’re probably safe and a middle of the road score you take your chance. Users could rate their own journeys and add any comments they like to aid others in their choice. With passengers routinely declining cabs that get bad scores, the level of driver competency and customer service might actually improve in time. I’ve had enough life threatening and sick making trips that I’ve started keeping a car reg’ list of the worst of the worst on my phone and scanning through it when getting one for my regular 25km commute.
My advice to visitors to Bangkok – get the skytrain or underground system whenever you can, and reserve taxis for short distance and when no other option is possible. I would also say that when you do get a comfortable cab with a pleasant driver who can actually drive, tip them well. Fares in Bangkok start at only 35 Baht and for a capital city that’s amazing. (79p – compare that to London.) To give the equivalent of 1 or 2 pounds is pocket change to most of us, but always appreciated by the driver.