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Bangkok Street Life – Mr Tum the motorbike taxi driver

Mr Tum the motorbike taxi driver

Motorbike taxi drivers have built their reputation on getting customers to their desired destination in super quick time. As such, motorbike taxis are a popular mode of public transport in Thailand, especially for locals who are travelling solo for a short distance.

In Bangkok motorbike taxis are mostly used for short journeys up and down the streets, transporting passengers from bus stops and public transport stations to their place of work or homes. It is estimated that motorbike taxis in Bangkok make over 2 million trips every day, and it is claimed that Bangkok could not function without them.

“This motorbike taxi stand is only 5 minutes away from our Clubhouse. Usually, the leader would not be very happy to be filmed, but since we cycle pass Khun Tum everyday, we know and acknowledge each other. You will notice, however, that some of the other drivers in this motorbike stand still try to avoid the camera!”
Matthew – tour guide at Follow Me Bangkok Bicycle Tours

In Bangkok, motorbike taxi stands can be found in many of the busy street corners and intersections. Motorbike taxi drivers are easy to recognise, apart from the obvious motorbikes with yellow coloured licence plates (yellow is used for all public transport vehicles), the drivers all wear a government-issued orange vest with their motorbike taxi licence displayed on the front and back.

Mr Tum has been a motorbike taxi driver in Bangkok for over 17 years. Being the leader of this particular motorbike stand in the Sathorn district, he has obviously worked hard over the years and has gained the respect of the other drivers in his team. Motorbike taxi drivers will congregate at their designated stand each day waiting their turn to collect a fare. When it is not particularly busy you will often see them just relaxing and playing around, or, catching a few minutes sleep whilst lying across their bikes.

As Mr Tum explained, after receiving their motorbike taxi licence the drivers will be allocated to a specific area of the city to work. Over time, they develop an in-depth knowledge of the local backstreets and shortcuts and they can easily avoid most of the Bangkok traffic. In addition, as motorbikes are able to weave in and out of any traffic that they do incur, often illegally riding down footpaths and jumping red stop lights, they are sure to get their customers to their destination in the shortest time building on their reputation.

But is it safe to travel by motorbike taxi?

If you have travelled by a motorbike taxi in Thailand, and particularly in Bangkok, you would probably agree that it must be one of the most dangerous ways to travel around the city. It is true that many visitors who jump on a motorbike taxi find the experience simply exhilarating. Equally, many other visitors find it totally terrifying, and that is just the thought of it!

Without doubt motorbikes are dangerous in any part of the world. Despite the obvious dangers locals seem to have no fear and just jump on, without any second thought or even attempting or thinking to wear a crash helmet.

Motorbike taxis maybe the fastest and most convenient way to get around Bangkok, particularly during the rush hour, but the question really is ‘Do you trust your driver?’

Good to know

If you are brave enough and decide to take a motorbike taxi, just explain where you want to go and be sure to clearly agree on the price before starting the journey. The fares should be listed on a board at the motorbike stand but as they are usually written in Thai it may not be much use. Generally, for a short journey they will be cheaper, and obviously faster, than a taxi or tuk-tuk.

For safety reasons alone you should always wear a helmet, don’t be surprised if the helmet you are offered is a cheap construction hard hat that will provide no protection. If a suitable helmet is not offered you can refuse the ride and look for another driver.

Remember, in Bangkok it is a legal requirement to wear a helmet when riding a motorbike, locals seem to happily ignore this law and often get away with it, but as a foreigner you are an easy target for the traffic police with an on the spot fine.
When you are on a motorbike taxi and you want them to go slower, say “Chaa Chaa” – slow down. They may just choose to ignore you!

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You may also like to watch Discovering Bangkok – Avoiding the traffic jams

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