We’re back in Bangkok for what we think is our sixteenth visit to our favorite city on the planet.
With our luggage in hand and a swanky hotel destination (the Shangri-La, my favorite hotel on the planet), we look like fresh meat to the taxi driver who picks us up at the airport. With a big, wide, welcoming smile, he tells us the trip to the airport will cost us 750 baht — about six times higher than the metered rate.
Normally, I handle these things with a smile — this is not my first Thai taxi ride. But tonight, I’m coming off a 24-hour flight, and in no mood for monkey business. “No,” I say firmly. “Turn on the meter, or we will get out of this taxi.”
He smiles wider — so wide, in fact, I’m afraid the ends of his smile might meet, causing the top of his head to drop down into his throat. “But if I use meter, you will have to pay 50 baht airport tax (about $1.20 USD) and all the tolls! 750 includes all that.”
It might include all that, but 750 baht would also include about 600 baht (or about twelve bucks) that would go straight into the driver’s pocket, for a ride that should cost about $3.00. I get ready to get Clyde and his sister out of the car. “Use the meter.”
“Okay,” our new friend says. He sighs the sigh that says, “I tried to help you, but you refuse to trust me,” turns on the meter, and we go.
The first toll booth we reach is emblazoned with signs proclaiming the price: 25 baht.
“Seventy-five baht,” our driver says, reaching back for the money.
When I give him 25 — and when 25 works — he goes silent.
Finally, we arrive at our hotel. We retrieve our bags from the trunk, make sure we have all our belongings with us, and get ready to part ways with the driver. I check the meter: the total price for the trip is 135 baht.
In good spirits, I offer him 200 baht. He frowns, insulted. “Meter problem!” He says. “There is a problem with my meter! Price is much higher!”
We’re at the Shangri La, surrounded by their staff and several security guards, so I feel emboldened. I put my money away and pull my iPhone out of my pocket. “I am calling the Tourist Police right now.”
Our new friend jumps in his taxi and streaks away, disappearing into the night without so much as taking a penny.
I don’t judge him too harshly. Like everyone else, he’s trying to make a buck — and I’m sure most round-eyed tourists fresh off a plane are, from his perspective, easy pickings for inflated taxi fares. And, in the greater scheme of things, $16.50 USD means more to him than it does to me.
But — it’s the principle of the thing, you know? A taxi driver will often be your first local contact in a strange place, and your first impression shouldn’t be marred by monkey business. So: take a lesson. When in Thailand, refuse to get into taxis that refuse to use the meter (or that offer to take you to a better hotel, or that offer to take you somewhere for free if you go shopping first, etc., etc.).
Even in the Land of Smiles, travelers should be innocent as doves … and wise as serpents.
(Photo was taken just this morning — a sunrise view of the Chao Praya river from our balcony at the Shangri La.)