Sunday, July 19, 2015

Of Taxis & Wi-FI Connection in Bangkok

Taking Taxis In Bangkok 

I am no expert of Thailand but we had been to the country countless times for short getaways or shopping trips due to the close proximity, cheap airfares and great exchange rates. Our most recent trip was last June holidays when we went as a family of 5 sans little Louie, and with another 2 family friends. I was rather surprised when friends told us that the taxis over in Bangkok never go by the meter. Hence I would just like to share our humble experience with you. 

We had always travelled to Bangkok via Suvarnabhumi Airport, but this was the first time that we went via Don Muang Airport instead because the cheap budget airline we took this time only flew there. I thought of getting a bigger car for the 7 of us and found out online that the going rate for one-way airport transfer would be between 800 – 1200thb. In the end, we decided on taking 2 normal taxis instead. We just had to follow the prominent signs at the airports to the taxi queues and they ALL go by meter. In the end, we saved about 600thb in total, choosing public . One thing you need to note though, is that most if not all the taxis have a CNG cylinder at the boots and it would be a little difficult to stuff big luggage in. We had to use the front seat for our humongous luggage. 

This is how we squeezed into a normal cab with the 7 of us. It is also for practicality too as we do not want to run the risk of getting separated if we take two taxis.
We went everywhere via taxi because they were readily available and with so many of us, it was also more economical than taking the BTS. In all the tourist areas, you will find rows and rows of taxi waiting for passengers. When you near them, the drivers will start their usual friendly ”where you going Sir/Mdm” ritual and it will always end the same way, with them offering a fixed price. Every single taxi in these queue will NOT go by meter. So where do you find taxis willing to go by the meter? Simple, just step out of those taxis towards the road and flag down any other passing taxis! But always ask the driver a simple, “meter?” before hopping on. You may find one or two rejecting you, either due to traffic conditions etc, but there will always be taxis that go by the meter! 

There are also official taxi stands at major shopping centers and there are also signs that says taxi must go by meter. We took the taxi back from one after shopping at MBK Shopping Mall and the taxi driver did not start the meter after we got on. I asked him why and he asked for 300thb for a short trip back to our accommodation! I asked him to stop the taxi immediately if he does not want to go by the meter and he relented after that. He was definitely trying his luck and I learnt that one should ask even if taking a taxi in an official taxi queue. Tipped the driver after the trip nevertheless, I just hated being taken for a ride though. 

And we also managed to squeeze into a tuk tuk with all 7 of us and the kids enjoyed the breeze very much! Don't take one during the day though, as the weather is really hot!
Holidays sure ends faster than anyone wished and with the additional luggage that we got over the few days of shopping, I decided to try to negotiate with one of the taxi drivers who is part of the big group of taxi drivers with vehicles parked near our hotel, for a bigger sized Toyota Innova taxi to the airport. We agreed on a price and also set on the time of pick up the next day. On the day of departure though, we arrived earlier and saw the driver, but he signaled that he will be back later and asked us to wait. I sensed that something was not right after he failed to turn up after the agreed time, and his compatriots starting offering other options such as taking two separate taxis at their inflated rates etc. They even went as far as saying that we will never get taxis that will take us to the airport. If we had been first time visitors, we would probably have been taken in. I highly suspect this was an elaborate plan by the group of taxi drivers. 

And we got to the airport safely despite the minor hiccup with the driver who never showed up.
Given my “ngiow" (erm thrifty) character, I never gave in and we simply walked out a little, flagged down two separate metered taxis right in front of the touts and got to the airport with time to spare. Although I was planning on taking one big cab together initially but I guess anything goes as long as we get to the departure hall in time for our flight back home! In the end, we only paid half of the inflated rates they offered for two cabs and saved a few hundred baht! 

Taxi drivers in Bangkok are usually quite friendly, or they don't converse much due to language barrier. The friendliest lot have to be the touts who wait along the major tourist traps but yes, metered taxis are everywhere.

Wi-Fi Connection 

This little device is the portable Wi-Fi that we got. The package come with charger, detailed instructions as well as a stamped return envelope. 
For our trip this time round, we were sponsored the use of pocket Wi-Fi from the friendly peeps from ThaiSmileConnect. In these days, having internet access on the smart phone when overseas is akin to having access to ALL kinds of necessary information for the travel without having to refer to cumbersome maps and directories. These can range from finding out places of interest nearby, how to get to your destination and even what to do! I know I cannot live without it. Ok, maybe I can but having it would definitely make my life easier. 

The device was already sitting at the reception of the hotel before I arrived and all I needed to do was to turn on the already charged device and viola, instant 3G connection and we were off on our way to great Thai food! Very convenient indeed. I was able to pinpoint our exact location on Google map and make our way around the shopping haven without a hitch. I also have the feeling that taxi drivers would also likely be more honest after knowing that I have access to online maps, not that they are dishonest to start with though! 

The battery life of the device is roughly around 3-4 hours, hence it would probably be insufficient if you leave it on the entire time you are out. My smartphone would only last that long, if not shorter if I am playing games too. So remember to bring along your portable charger, just like you would for your smartphone and everything would be ok!

For the return, all I needed to do was place the device and charger into the pouch, put it into the stamped envelope provided and mail it via EMS at the post office. 
There are post offices at both Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airport.
Rental of the device is at 275thb or slightly less than $12SGD per day for unlimited data plan. It will surely be cheaper to get a local data SIM card instead, but then it will also be a hassle to change SIM cards and be disconnected from your mobile number. Besides, the pocket Wi-Fi up to 7 different devices to be automatically connected at any time as long as they are within range. Returning the device for us was also hasslefree, all I need to do was drop the device off in the return envelope at the post office situated at the airport. 

Check out the official website for more information on the device rental before going on your Bangkok trip!