A Retiring Attitude

 |  September 28, 2010

This happened the other day on one of those ubiquitous Chiang Mai red taxis. A westerner got on and asked (in English) to go towards the university. When he got off he approached the front passenger-side window and handed the driver’s wife 10 baht and began to walk away. The wife stopped him and said that the fare was 20 baht. He yelled back that he knew the cost of a ride and he didn’t want to be cheated and then stormed off. I won’t say what the driver’s wife said back but suffice it to say, this incident did not help to foster better Thai-westerner relations.

Anyone who has been in Chiang Mai for at least 4 hours knows that the standard fare for a red taxi ride is 20 baht. So I don’t know what this person was thinking. Maybe he picked up a Lonely Planet Guide from 15 years ago.

The red taxis, in Chiang Mai referred to as ‘see lor’ or ‘four wheelers’ were named to differentiate them from the ‘three wheelers’, both motorised and foot powered. They are basically modified small pickup trucks that can sit 12 plus people. They are a major component of Chiang Mai’s so-called ‘public transportation system’ – at least they are the only ones that get you where you want to go in good time.

For those new to Chiang Mai, here is how they work. You have a specific destination in mind. Stand on the curb, just about anywhere, and hail down the next red taxi you see. When he pulls over tell him where you want to go. If he is going anywhere near your destination then he will tell you to get in. If not he will shake his head no and you look for the next red taxi (probably 30 seconds down the road). The cost: 20 baht anywhere within the city, a little more for longer rides.

Whenever I take a red taxi I try to sit in the front and talk because, like taxi drivers everywhere in the world, they know all the ‘stuff’ going on in the country. They work long hours, 12 hours or more, and take home only a few hundred baht after expenses, mainly rental of the taxi itself and gas. But they inexpensively take me right to the doorway of my destination and I am thankful for their service. Now if they would only change over to solar powered or electric, or at least natural gas, then we could colour them green.

Hugh’s tip for the month: How to hail a taxi in Thailand: Wave your hand up and down. In Thailand that means ‘come here’. Many a westerner, lost in translation, has caused confusion when he thought he was waving ‘goodbye” and his Thai friend thought he was saying ‘come here’.