Elephant’s Leg


Rungsan and Jamie

“Hey, where you go?” “How much you pay?” “Meter not work.” Phrases that are all-too familiar for anybody who has been to  Bangkok, beginning as soon as you leave the arrivals area of the airport and following you all along downtown,  around the visitor attractions and surrounding your hotel.  Yes, it’s the hawking call of the notorious Bangkok taxi driver.

There are an estimated 60,000 of them in the city, and to be fair, the majority of them are reasonable enough. It’s just the majority of them do not congregate at the airport, the tourist traps, the nightspots, the malls and the big hotels. It is the unscrupulous few who dominate these places, who can spot a freshly arrived holidaymaker at a hundred paces, who can speak enough English to negotiate a con, and who foster the negative image many visitors take home of the corrupt cabbie.

The problem persists because, of course, newcomers to the city don’t know any different, or what the going rates should be. On top of that, even when the prices are ramped up, they’re still usually a fraction of the price that a western holidaymaker would typically pay for an equivalent taxi ride back home. So, even if they’re being overcharged by two or three times, the typical response is “So what?”.

Well, my policy has always been not to reward dishonesty. Of course I too was once a green tourist here and have been stung by taxi drivers, but even if it was only 50 baht here or 100 baht there, I still begrudged it, not because of the money but because of the principle. Why should I pay this man more just because I’m a tourist, just because I’m white, just because I’m staying at this hotel or going to that place, and just because he’s doing his job, for which he is already paid?

Obviously, over time, you get to know the routines. I live in a residential area, not a tourist one, so the drivers around there are fine. Speaking a little Thai shows you’re not fresh off the plane. Even if you know no Thai, simply pronouncing places correctly goes a long way (note to backpackers: it’s not “KO” San Road). In certain areas you simply can’t avoid the conman cabbies, but just consider how many taxis there are at any time or place in Bangkok and remember that if one, or two, or three of them won’t use their meter, you never have to wait more than a minute or so until you find one that will.

Again, 50 or 100 baht is a nominal fee, but I just don’t want it to go to a dishonest person. I like to reward honesty and good manners with my business. Which brings me to Rungsan Chintanawong, my favourite taxi driver; a good natured, helpful, punctual, polite and unceasingly cheerful little old guy who I have used regularly since moving here in 2008.

With 60,000 taxis operating in Bangkok, there’s no reason to give your money to a conman cabbie

Rungsan was driving the airport taxi I took the night I arrived when moving to Bangkok. He spoke rudimentary English, enough for getting-to-know-you routines, and told me he also speaks fluent Mandarin, as well as some Lao, Malay and Isaan. He’s a former lorry driver who has been to every province in Thailand, as well as most of the neighbouring countries. As I would learn over time, he knows Bangkok intrinsically, and the rest of Thailand very well. On top of this, he’s never failed to be anything less than happy, polite and enthusiastic. And, crucially, has always been utterly fair.

And so we come back to the point about rewarding honesty. I don’t call Rungsan for around-town travel, but he’s always my first choice for airport runs or for road trips outside Bangkok. I also recommend him to any visitors who want to do similarly, or want a personal driver for city sightseeing.

Consider this. From my place to the airport costs about 300-350 baht on the meter. I always ask Rungsan for the airport run, and always recommend him to visitors flying out. Day hire or trips outside Bangkok are negotiated separately, but Rungsan has charged one of my friends 1,600 baht for a full-day Bangkok sightseeing trip. He has taken my mum and her boyfriend Jamie to Ayutthaya and back for the same price and included a sightseeing itinerary. He has driven them to Trat for 4,000 baht. I have used him several times to go to the likes of Pattaya, Amphawa, Bang Saray, and Ayutthaya, driving only, for about 1,000 baht each. He has taken my dad and I to Rayong and back for 2,000 baht each way. He even took my dad and his wife all the way to Krabi, a journey of some 10 hours, when anti-government protesters shut down the airport in November 2008, at a price of 8,000 baht.

So, all told, Rungsan has made tens of thousands of baht in taxi fares from me and from me recommending him to friends and family. And he will continue to earn well from me. Why? Simply because he is a nice guy who has always treated me fairly.

To his unscrupulous peers who hit tourists for an extra 50-100 baht, I say well done. You’ve made an extra 50-100 baht. Big deal. But you will never see those passengers again. Rungsan recognises the importance of repeat business, and how to get it, and I’m glad to give it to him.

Honesty pays, even for a Bangkok cabbie.

* For fair taxi prices and cheerful chat, Rungsan can be reached on 0816428048.

1 Comment so far
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good ole Rungsan… we will be using his taxi when we are next over

Comment by Rhiannon fennell

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