By Shana Kongmun
Songthaews, taxis and
tuk tuks, oh my!
Chiang Mai folk are fond of dissing the
red trucks, or songthaews and I must say, when one has cut me off (or
knocked me off my motorbike and left me lying in the road) I join in. These
ubiquitous trucks never seem to have many people and seem to fill so much
space in the road that we not only take them for granted but complain.
A friend of mine lives on Huay Kaew and has told me that she has had great
difficulty of late in getting one to pick her up. I have to wonder why? Are
they so busy they don’t need the money? Are they looking for a better fare?
It also makes me start to wonder if they have some laws or requirements they
must follow. I know, theoretically, that Bangkok taxi meters are required to
take their passenger to their destination and I also know that oftentimes
they will not. I have been turned down and had to wave down yet another taxi
and a third finally to get one who is willing to take me to where I want to
But are Chiang Mai songthaews also required to stop? What kinds of
regulations are they under? And if they have any, does anyone actually
enforce them? It would seem they are not required to follow emissions laws
since many of them emit choking black smoke. However, after a trip to Samui
or Phuket, the average Chiang Mai resident will no longer bemoan our red
trucks and will praise them instead.
Samui has “taxi meters” that never turn on their meter and charge a minimum
of 300 baht regardless of where the passenger is going. Usually it’s around
500 baht. The songthaews in Samui are pretty good; they run a regular route
and charge a fairly standard price but do not run at night. So, there are no
late night reasonably priced options in Samui it would seem. Tourists rent
motorbikes and end up in horrific accidents because the roads are fast and
they don’t really know how to drive a motorbike.
Phuket has the well-known issues with the airport taxis. Chiang Mai airport
taxis are regulated, yes I live quite close to the airport and the 120 baht
I pay to get to my condo is a tad steep but I consider that people who live
further also pay the same rate so, while it’s a solution and better than
Phuket with its taxi free for all, it is not necessarily the best one for
those of us close in town.
Finally, in this taxi rant, it is not complete without a good one about the
tuk tuk drivers. Unfortunately, I have rarely had a truly terrible
experience. Yes, they charge quite a bit late at night, but fair enough,
perhaps they would rather be home. I don’t know if they work in shifts but
suspect they do not. I have my own regular tuk tuk driver who is wonderful.
He picks me up when I need it, is always on time and has become a friend. I
would strongly recommend to everyone that they also cultivate a relationship
such as this. When I was ill, he dropped everything to rush to my condo to
take me to the hospital. I have heard others complain about tuk tuks and I
understand how frustrating it can feel to have to bargain over the price.
However, I look at my tuk tuk driver friend and realize that he is a hard
working family man who loves his wife and daughter and realize that despite
the labels we are all people facing the same challenges.