Oh man I’m starting to get excited. The plane landed about forty minutes ago and here I am already taking my luggage from the conveyor belt. Forty minutes to walk to Immigration, queue up, get my passport stamped up and pick up my luggage; that must be some kind of record here in Suvarnabhumi. I think I struck a slow day, or maybe not being swamped by one of the many Chinese tours nowadays makes all the difference; whatever the reason, I’m back!
After customs, I emerge on the ground floor of the four level airport. I know where I’m going, I need a taxi, but I’m not going to wait in that taxi queue just outside. No sir! I took it once a couple of years ago and never again. I was living close to the airport at that time, only a ten minute drive if there wasn’t a traffic jam, and apparently, the location wasn’t good enough for the taxi drivers. All of them wanted to land a fat fare right into the city, and one after another, they sniffed at a small local ride. After waiting to get a cab, I needed to let people behind me pass who had destinations more favorable than mine.
Those taxi drivers themselves waited quite a while in the queue to get a customer, so when it was finally their turn, they weren’t impressed by a fare that only takes them around the block so to speak. After some time, and with the people from the taxi stand feeling for me, they started making pleas to the drivers about how long I had been waiting. Whatever the reason, long and behold, I got a cab. The driver was obviously pissed off, having only such a short ride and made his best to be as rude as possible and to get there as fast as possible, regardless of rules or safety.
So let’s try to avoid that.
I will walk up to the fourth floor and exit the building there, cross the first street, walk through the barrier and look for a taxi that just dropped someone off. It’s like an extra bonus for these guys, so while they can’t park there, all of them linger around for as long as possible in the hope of landing a fare and maximizing profit before being chased away by the guards.
A couple of years ago they installed these barriers to direct the flow of people solely from taxi to airport. But the old show returned immediately, the only difference is that we now need to squeeze trough those barriers a bit.
While I make my way to the escalators to carry me up, I pass one of the entrance doors at the ground floor. It is open and I feel a gust of warm, humid air blowing over me. After being inside air controlled areas for the last 18 hrs or so, I feel real air again, and it’s the thick Thai version. I feel instantly happy; it’s the clearest sign I’ve had thus far that I’m back. I inhale it deep in my lungs and let it give me a shiver of realization, I’m truly back!
I don’t remember having to negotiate a price when I first used taxis from this spot, as they all landed an extra ride; the drivers just switched on the meter and got going. However, lately more and more it seems, I have to wade through a bunch that shout a digit to get me in the city.
All these digits are vastly overpriced and in a lot of cases mean a 100% markup.
So I will just keep walking until I see a guy sitting inside, or standing next to his cab, waiting to be approached. While I’m making my way to find my driver, a few pushy examples will keep on following me with rapid discounts and tumbling prices; the lowest number, of course, still overpriced.
“400 baht! 350 baht! Come on, good price for you… 300 baht!”
So let’s try to avoid that, part two.
The general rule is fairly easy, avoid the pushy driver, go with the polite one that is waiting his turn. But I’m obviously not prepared for what happens next. As I lift my luggage over the barrier, a friendly guy at the other side takes them over from my hand.
I’m taken back a bit by his gesture and as I don’t want to be rude, I don’t say anything at all. Plus, if he turns out to be a good driver, I just had some service as well; what’s not to like?
So, as soon as I pass the gate myself, I say the magic word: Meter.
He smiles, says something I can’t understand; I repeat the word meter and he says, “OK.”
Well OK then, let’s go; we found a ride!
While I turn around for my luggage I hear some commotion behind me. I only pay attention to my luggage but when I turn back, I find out a newly arrived car is in exactly the same spot as my cab stood just half a minute ago.
“My” taxi moved forward one car length.
I think it’s weird but I keep on walking to the original taxi that is now annoyingly further away from my luggage.
When I reach it, the driver steps out and sheepishly smiles at me while pointing out the newly arrived taxi; the new driver also gets out of his taxi and is walking over towards me. He makes it clear he is now the one to take us into the city.
What is going on here?
By that time, my friend who came to pick me up says, “Let’s go find another cab.”
I should have listened, but the driver is already loading up one of my bags in his boot. I’m starting to get annoyed by the whole situation. I have this vain hope that this driver will turn out to be OK, so I give him a chance; maybe also to avoid going through similar nonsense with another driver.
I say, “OK, but only with meter.”
He stops, tilts his head towards me and with a broad smile he says “Meter OK, but 200 baht extra surcharge.”
I’m amazed he uses the word surcharge, and not tip; he must be familiar to putting some pseudo official sauce over his words.
I reply, “No, only meter.”
He responds with a smile that shrunk from the previous one, accompanied with the word “Cannot.”
I respond with, “Only meter or I go take other taxi now.”
While he is loading up my second bag of luggage he stops again, thinks for a second, probably takes into account he is surrounded by about 50 or so other cabs and then says, “OK”; but he leaves his smile behind this time.
Not a word has been said between the point where I told him I would take another taxi and now, but it’s clear he is mulling over his thoughts and although he said OK, the atmosphere is tense and it’s quite clear the word OK is not on his mind right now.
A minute away from the airport the driver speaks up, “So you give me meter plus 200 baht surcharge, OK.”
I’m asking myself why am I in here; normally I would have walked away already a couple of times, but all I can come up with is that it’s the series of events that got me here.
“No, you say only meter OK.”
“You need to pay extra for surcharge.”
That word again, trying to rip people off whilst making it sound like it’s an official payment. What can I expect next, an invoice?
“No need for surcharge, only meter.”
He is obviously annoyed by now.
He says, “Yes surcharge, this is how it works.”
“No, I say you use only meter; you say OK.”
He immediately snaps out the words, “You don’t know how work here. Here always surcharge; you don’t know.”
Making it sound like an official payment, like there is a system in place where this surcharge needs to be collected; I bet they already tricked a bunch of tourists with some clever placed words.
I really don’t want to let this escalate any further so with my extremely limited Thai I say, “Mai chai surcharge, Farang come here many time. Farang know very good how it works. No surcharge; only meter khrab.”
He pauses for a second and gives me a quick look out of the corners of his eyes trough his rear view mirror. After the pause he switches strategy and starts bargaining; I keep on answering no to every proposal.
The tenacity of this guy is big though and he doesn’t back down. My friend is increasingly uncomfortable and the way this situation is going is that, with every rejected proposal, the driver and me are increasingly lining up against each other. Something that’s best avoided anywhere, but especially here. I need to unplug this before it starts to get messy, so when I say, “OK, you helped me with bags so I give you 20 baht tip, but only because you help me.”
I usually tip taxi drivers small amounts, especially in a longer ride; I tend to leave the change for the driver. I would feel bad giving him the 20 baht, but I realize letting this situation escalate is the last thing I need. He pulls a face, looks like he is not content at all, but stops talking and continues to drive on. No more bargaining. After 10 mins of built up tension, uncomfortable silence returns to this cab. It will stay that way for the remainder 40 minutes of the ride.
With items on Thai news of cabs taking off with the belongings inside going through my mind, I immediately start taking out my luggage once we arrive. Whilst doing so, I notice my friend paying for the ride. The taxi driver counts his money, get’s out of his side of the car, and moves to the back of the car to find I unloaded everything already. We pass each other, and as if there is still something in the air, we both tense up at the moment where the distance between us is at its shortest. He does a small move that I can’t interpret, but carries on back towards the driver’s side and takes off.
With the taxi disappearing around the corner I check with my friend how much he paid. “Exactly the amount on the meter” is his response.
I realize that small move must have been the driver expecting his 20 baht “tip”. That he didn’t get his tip in the end doesn’t make me feel better at all. He made a good job of giving this ride between the airport and downtown a bad taste. Maybe washing it down with some delicious Thai food sounds like a plan, after all: I just landed.
Mesmerized by Asia and the different cultures that inhabit our globe, Jan Doeternitoe began to discover what it meant to be out and about. After some years spent in the metropolis of Bangkok, The City of Angels became a place for him to reside. Jan’s work isn’t about the writer, it’s about the stories; stories from along the way, stories without any particular angle other than having something within them that may be interesting to be told.