Bangkok is HUGE. I live in New York and am used to walking everywhere, but Bangkok is no joke.
Combined with the humidity, you can count on being sticky and sweaty by the time you get to your destination (pack wet naps in your day bag—you’ll thank me later). You’ll want to take a taxi/tuktuk/or BTS (their elevated train) most places you go. You’ll still be sticky and sweaty.
Taxi drivers in Bangkok are picky-choosy when you get in their car. On many occasions, I have gotten into a taxi, and after telling them my destination, was denied the ride and asked to leave.
Traffic gets pretty bad in Bangkok, and drivers aren’t afraid to avoid YOU so that they can avoid IT.
Here are some travel tips to get you around and save you some pocket change that you can later spend on a mango sticky rice or moo ping.
When you get a driver, it’s important to know the area of your destination. Although many people speak English in Bangkok, it is practical to know the neighborhood, intersection, and/or nearby landmarks. Preparing a variety of descriptions of your destination will only make getting there easier.
All tuk tuk drivers (and some taxi drivers) will ask for your destination and then give you a quote. Haggle down the price. If you’re in a taxi, ask them to use the meter. The meter will always be significantly less than what they’ll ask for up-front. Here’s several tips we learned from taking dozens of taxis and tuk tuks.
32 TIPS TO GETTING AROUND BANGKOK IN A TAXI OR TUK TUK:
- Show Them Where You Want To Go On Your Phone: Have your maps app ready to go on your smart phone with your destination visible.
- Know Your Destination: Know the name and how to pronounce the neighborhood/area your destination is in
- Nearby Landmark: If your driver doesn’t understand, look up a nearby landmark (on your maps app) that might be recognizable to the driver/local. This trick saved me and my partner a few times while we were trying to get around. Saying the name of a nearby temple or intersection made it easier on the driver to know where to take us.
- Have Destination Written in Thai: For lesser known destinations in less known areas, you might want to have your hotel write the destination in Thai.
- Navigate Traffic Better with Tuk Tuks: If you need to get somewhere quicker, go with a tuk tuk; they’re able to navigate the dense traffic better than taxis.
- Tuk Tuks are More Expensive: With tuk tuks, be prepared to pay more than what you would get with a metered taxi. We considered it worth it sometimes for the experience and in the times we needed to get somewhere quicker.
- Set Your Limit: Once you have a sense of how much it may cost to get somewhere with a tuk tuk, set a price in your head that you’re willing to accept beforehand. Without a limit in mind, you’ll keep walking away from tuk tuk after tuk tuk.
- Ask a Local: Ask a local Thai person at your hotel or a concierge how much a tuk-tuk should be before you wave one down.
- Bargain with Tuk Tuks: Don’t accept the first fare that a tuk tuk driver quotes you. Negotiate with tuk tuks because 90% of them will initially quote a price that is double the price they’re willing to accept. We usually responded with half or less than half the quoted price. It’ll take more than a couple times to get some drivers down. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose the driver. It’s not rude (as long as you’re not rude), it’s a part of the experience and you’ll get used to it.
- Turn On the Meter: Taking a taxi? Make sure the driver turns on their meter once the car gets moving. Usually if they don’t quote you a price after you tell them your destination, you’re good to go.
- Give Drivers a Chance: All drivers understand the word “meter”, but give them the chance to hit the button on the meter. I’ve jumped the gun because I am so hyper aware on not being taken advantaged of. I felt bad a handful of times because I mentioned “meter” before giving them a chance to turn it on.
- Highway Okay! If you have to go somewhere further out in the city, some taxis won’t take you because the traffic might be insane. Increase your chances of getting a taxi by saying “highway ok” signifying that you’re open to paying 50-60 extra baht for the toll to get to your destination.
- Meters Start at 35 baht: When a taxi drivers starts their meter, the initial rate for the first 1 km is 35 baht.
- Taxi Fares are Usually 40-70 baht: It all depends of course, but getting around in the city center — a few kilometers will run you anywhere from 30 to 70 baht.
- Skip the Parked Taxis: When coming out of a landmark, mall, hotel or other popular destination (especially places like Khao San Road and Patpong), walk past the taxis or tuk tuks parked by the curb. For the most part, these drivers are looking to get a big payday with a fixed fare and are working together. When possible, we would walk past them and flag a taxi from the street. You’ll have more luck getting a taxi willing to use their meter by flagging them down.
- Older Drivers: Not to generalize, but in our experience, the older the taxi driver was the more likely they would use their meter. Toward the end of our trip, when we got into a taxi and saw an older person as the driver, we would exhale a little.
- Further Out = Cheaper Tuk Tuks: Again, generally speaking, the prices of tuk tuks are cheaper the further you are away from the center of the city.
- Have the Exact Fare: It’s best to have the exact amount of money for the fare. Some taxi drivers will look at your big bill and say “no change” — that may be the case, it might not. Avoid the awkward situation by having as close to the exact fare as possible.
- Cash Only: Always have cash to pay your fare. No credit cards are accepted even if it’s a relatively expensive ride from BKK or DMK airport.
- Don’t Forget Your Stuff: Most times you’re in the taxi or tuk tuk, you’ll have your phone out, you’re counting your exact fare, you’re looking at a map, talking with your friends, sleeping, etc. etc. Basically, there’s a lot going on, so make sure to gather yourself and you have all your valuables with you when you leave your transport. Make it a habit to look back into the car (or tuk tuk) before you close the door.
Tipping Taxis Drivers and Tuk Tuks: Not Necessary
- No Need To Tip: Though drivers are very thankful for tips, tipping isn’t customary in Thailand so don’t feel bad if you don’t. Drivers generally don’t expect them, so you’re feeling guilty for no reason.
- Change is < 5 Baht? That said, when the change is less than 5 baht, it’s common to let the driver keep it. From what I am able to gather, it’s not a tip so much as it’s not dealing with the small change. This will sometimes work in your favor too. For example, when your fare is 81 baht, most drivers will accept 80 baht without issue.
- Reward Drivers that Use Meters: This is more a preference than anything, but we liked to tip those drivers that turned on their meters without our asking. For the most part, these drivers were friendly, so it was easy for us to tip them/reward their honesty.
Be Aware of Taxi Scams and Tricks
We were going to avoid talking about scams because the word “scam” is sounds the alarm for most people and Bangkok is a safe, friendly place with honest, hard working people. It’s referred to as the “Land of Smiles” and not the “Land of Scams” for a reason.
That said, it is a HUGE tourist destination so there’s bound to be some unsavory actors looking to make easy money. Any country with tourist money flowing in will have these problems, so it’s not unique to Bangkok.
Okay, now that we’ve settled that, there are some taxi and tuk tuk “scams” and tricks to be aware of when visiting Bangkok. Here’s a list of five of the most common:
- Fixed Priced Fares: As discussed, this is the “scam” you’ll run into the most with taxis. Taxi drivers will offer a fixed rate when they have perfectly good working meter. This is illegal but really common in Bangkok. Respond with “meter?” and if they refuse, walk away another taxi will eventually take you with a meter.
- Triple the Fare with Tuk Tuks: If you choose to use a tuk tuk, you’ll pay more — that’s just a fact, but don’t pay WAY more than you have to. As we touched upon above, tuk tuk drivers may jack up the price by 3 or 4x of what a taxi might cost you.
- Charging Extra for Tolls Don’t leave it up to the driver to pay the toll. Offer up to pay the toll and pay attention to how much change you get.
- No Change: Some drivers will say “no change” when you offer up 100 baht for a 74 baht ride, hoping that you will give them the extra as a tip. As mentioned above, be prepared with as exact fare as often as you can, so you can avoid this situation.
- Recommendations: Be wary of a driver that gives you recommendations without context or without your asking them. It’s unfortunate that you have to be mindful about this, but some drivers are incentivized to bring you to establishments (such as restaurants, shopping, spas) giving them perks so it’s not always an insider tip as it’s setup. Telling them “no thank you” should suffice.
- Side Trips: Same as above, but some taxi or tuktuk drivers are upfront about their intent. They’ll give you a good fare but only if you stop at their cousin’s store/restaurant/spa before your destination. Again, these drivers are being paid, usually in gas coupons, to bring in customers. Usually, declining politely is enough here.
- Cheap Tours: Be extra wary of taxi drivers that promote a cheap tour (20 THB) of Bangkok. This is just another way for them to lock you into a circuit of shops that they’re in cahoots with a.k.a. shops that will give them a huge commission if you end up buying something.
- Temple/Landmark Closed: A scam that I’ve come across a couple times involves a driver telling their passengers that a tourist destination is closed due to a public holiday or renovation. Depending on where you are, they’ll offer to take you to an different temple or a gem store or a tailor shop instead. Saying no might not be enough in this situation. Personally, I would get out of the taxi at that point or just walk away (if you’re not already in the taxi).
We’re not Bangkok experts, but we’ve visited enough to notice patterns during our many many searches for taxis and tuk tuks. Sometimes locating a metered taxi was frustrating (esp. near our hotel), but most times it wasn’t an issue. Keep in mind these are for trips around the center of the city, for longer trips — such as from Bangkok to Pattaya, to Kanchanaburi or Damnoen Floating Market, etc. — your options change.
Overall, we love Bangkok and negotiating transport is part of the charm we love. We hope that some of our tips are of use to you during your holiday.
For more on taxis and tuk tuks in Bangkok, we found this post to be very useful and informative.