“No, I take you back, you get out and get another taxi”, the Thai man yelled at me from the front seat. I had been in his taxi for less than five minutes and we were having a full-blown argument. My first in Thailand. Ever.
It all started when I made the decision to take a taxi to Nana to grab shawarma, and then return to the hostel in Silom. I’ve done it before, taken a taxi to Nana to pick-up some shawarma, the taxi waiting for me as I order it from my favourite street vendor, then bringing me back to the hostel to eat it.
After battling the ATM down the road, calling my bank in Canada and asking them to unfreeze my card so I could withdrawn some baht, I asked one of the hostel workers to hail me a taxi.
“I order you an Uber”, the hostel worker says, “Uhm, okay. Does he know I need to come right back here?”, I ask.
A few minutes later a taxi pulls up, the hostel guy talks to him in Thai, and I climb in and settle myself on the back seat. A couple minutes into the ride the taxi driver asks, “How much you pay ?”. Confused I tell him “Nothing, the guy at the hostel is paying, it’s his uber account”.
“No, you pay”
“No, you agreed to use Uber, it’s his account, he pays, not me”.
We sit in silence for a minute, then I decide to call the hostel guy. “Hey, you called uber right? This taxi is saying I have to pay him money”, I ask, “No, I cancelled the uber”, he replies.
Great. I am now the arse in this situation.
“Sorry, can you put on the metre?”, I ask
The driver then proceeds to freak out. “No. I take you back, you get another taxi”, he exclaims. “We’ve driven a kilometre at most, you can put on the metre”, I tell him.
We then get into a full blown argument about how I have to pay when we get to Nana. “It’s two trips. You pay in Nana, then pay to come back” yells the driver, “No way. I pay in Nana and you’ll take off. I’m not dumb”, I yell back.
“You can take another taxi back” he yells.
“No, you take me to Nana. I pay when you bring me back. That was the deal”
My hands slightly shaking, we fall into an uneasy silence. As he drives, I message Christine on my phone to tell her what’s happening, making a note of the time, 9:14pm.
As we get closer to Nana soi 3, where my shawarma guy is located, I decide to ease the tension, commenting on how light the traffic is, as my driver can understand and speak a little English.
“You see that guy in white? That is where I need to go. Park where you can see me and keep the metre running”, I tell him. I assume that he knows I’m not paying him money until I get back to the hostel, and that he understands I’m not one of those asshole tourists who take off without paying.
I get out and he points to where he’ll park, “Car 597, okay, I will be right back”, I say as I make a mental note of his taxi number and watch him park.
My shawarma guy smiles when he sees me. I order six spicy chicken shawarmas, one more than I need (two for me, two for Christine, and one for the hostel guy – despite the taxi confusion). Less than ten minutes later I’m walking back to the taxi and sliding onto the back seat.
“Here, this is for you. It’s chicken and spicy”, I tell the driver, “Chicken?” he asks, laughing, “Okay, I eat it later. My first time!”, he states.
The anger from the start of my ride is gone, and as he drives me back I ask him questions about where in Thailand he is from, and how long he has been driving. It’s during this conversation that I learn he doesn’t own the taxi, he pays a fee every time he drives it, 600 THB a night, plus the cost of gas. He then tells me he works twelve-hour shifts, with very few breaks.
Suddenly I began to understand why taxi drivers in Bangkok will sometimes try to do fares off the metre, or why they refuse to drive somewhere. Here, in Thailand, 600 THB is a lot of money for a lower class local, and gas is not cheap either. Imagine if all he has are 50 or 100 baht fares. He would have to pick-up at least two or three dozen passengers, just to break even.
As we get closer to the hostel he asks me if I like Thai food, as I just travelled 40 mins in a taxi for shawarma, and I tell him all of my favourite Thai dishes. We talk about the market. I joke that maybe I’ll end up in his taxi again sometime, and he laughs the kind of laugh that says “No damn way that’s happening, sister”.
When we get to the hostel I look at the metre, 127 THB ($4.77 CAD), a really good price for going all the way to Nana and back. I decide to give him 200 THB ($7.36 CAD) as a thank-you for waiting, and to help him with his rental change and gas for the night. When he takes the money he puts his hands together, smiles, and says “Kampun Krup” (thank-you in Thai), I smile, and get out of the taxi.
Minutes later I’m in my room, ripping into a spicy chicken shawarma, telling Christine all about my adventures of the last 40 minutes.
The Take Away
It’s not very often that I get a taxi driver in Bangkok who can understand and speak English, even though he claimed he only knew a little bit. If my driver could only speak Thai we would have spent the entire ride being pissed off at each other, and there is a good chance we would have fought about the fare when we got to Nana. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, and I found a way to make peace with my driver.
It would have been easy for me to be an asshole tourist and remain angry, but instead of doing that I made an effort to get to know the driver, and in doing so I came to understand a little more about life in Thailand. Not all taxi drivers are trying to rip you off, some are simply trying to make enough money to live.