Getting a Taxi from the Airport into Bangkok
This is the long awaited second part to my series on how to get from the Airport into Bangkok. Today’s piece will look at the secrets to catching a taxi from either airport (Suwarnabhumi or Don Muang) into town.
Airport Taxi Rank
The simplest taxi option upon landing at either airport is to follow the signs upon exiting customs towards the taxi rank. This will take you to a queue near the airport exit on the arrivals level, where you will give your destination to a taxi queue attendant who will record the details into a log book and also onto two copies of a form, one for you to keep and the other for your taxi driver. The taxi’s license number is also recorded. The driver then walks you from the taxi queue to your car and takes you to your destination. The taxi driver will then turn on his taxi meter (which should start at B35) and upon reaching your destination you will pay the meter rate plus B50. This is quite a simple and safe approach, and is much much better than how things used to be. Just make sure you DO NOT give the taxi driver your copy of the form, as it has the identifying numbers that you need should you have an issue or need to make a complaint about the taxi driver.
In the old days (1990s and before), the system instead consisted of lots of taxi touts standing around the arrivals area trying to get you to take a taxi (in which case they would get a commission and the taxi driver would over-charge). In some cases, these taxis weren’t even licensed, which led to other problems too. There have been plenty of stories of tourists being ripped off, beaten or even killed in the old days. These things do still happen, but are less likely to happen when using the airport taxi rank.
There are two disadvantages to the airport taxi ranks. The first is that taxis must pay an airport tax of B50, which the taxi will recover from you by charging it on top of the fare. The second disadvantage is that the queue at the taxi rank can sometimes be extremely long and you could be waiting an hour in line before even getting a cab. This is more likely during peak traffic periods (because taxis are stuck in traffic and cannot get to the airport) or at peak flight periods when a lot of large flights land simultaneously.
Unofficial Taxi Rank
If you object to the B50 airport tax, or if the taxi queue is too long, there is an alternative option. Instead of heading to the official taxi rank, head two floors up (in both airports) to the departures level, and simply exit out to the passenger drop-off area. Wait for a cab to drop passengers off, and ask that cab if he will go to your destination. In this situation, you will avoid the B50 airport tax and the long queues at the taxi rank as there are lots of taxis dropping passengers off and not many people trying to grab a cab here. However, this approach does then reintroduce a lot of the risks that the official taxi rank overcomes. For instance, the airport has no longer made a log of the taxi that has picked you up, so it is a little harder for you to report the taxi if there is a problem (and the taxi driver may be more willing to try to overcharge or worse). Also, the airport officials heavily frown upon this practice (as you are denying them their B50). However, catching a taxi this way is no different to when you catch a taxi any other time while in Bangkok and you are generally getting the normal taxi drivers, rather than the 1990s set-up where the airport was over-populated with taxi mafia.
If you do plan to use the “unofficial taxi rank”, make sure that you can either speak Thai well enough to clearly tell the taxi driver where you want to go, or have the destination written in Thai for the taxi driver. The more you appear to the taxi driver to be familiar with Bangkok, the less likely he will be to try to rip you off.
From my experience using the unofficial rank, most of the time the taxi driver will agree to use the meter to get to my destination. Occasionally (and usually during peak hour traffic periods), the driver will propose a fixed fare. If they want a fixed fare, they usually state this up front. However, if the driver has not stated he wants a fixed fare, but when you get in the car, he does not start up the meter (or if the meter is still running from the previous fare) then this is a danger signal and you should ask the driver to use the meter and get out if he refuses. Use of a taxi meter is mandated by law, but there is no point trying to enforce that law then and there as some people have done and easier to just switch taxis.
They are no longer in the numbers that they used to be, but you will still find some taxi touts hanging around the arrivals hall and they will fairly quietly ask you if you want a taxi. Avoid these guys at all cost as they are seeking to draw out those who are new to Bangkok and don’t know the system. You will get ripped off.
It is possible to utilise a taxi or uber app when ordering a taxi from the airport. For the major airports in Bangkok, I am not yet convinced that the app is the best way to go, but more and more people are taking this approach. It potentially gives you an advantage over being stuck in the queue at the official rank and avoid potential safety and price uncertainty pitfalls of catching a taxi at the departures drop off area. However, you do have issues in having to wait (and try to find) your ride, whilst grabbing a cap from the departures area is very fast. Jay has written a very informative blog on using these apps in Bangkok, which you can read here to get more details on which app to download and use.
Pointers for Using Airport Cabs
I couldn’t in good conscience end this blog without giving you a few pointers and suggestions that are more specific to airport cabs. If you want more advice about Bangkok taxis in general, then please check out this article (which continues to be one of the more popular reads on this site).
- All Bangkok taxis have a white sign on the roof that states “Taxi Meter” and a red or green LED sign in the front passenger sign that is lit up when the taxi is free. In addition, they have a digital meter in the center top of the dashboard, and the driver’s identity details and photo is displayed on the dash on the front passenger side. Finally, each taxi has the taxi license number (in both Thai and Western alphabets) on the inside of each back door. If any taxi you get into is missing any of these, it is not an official taxi, so you would be best to get out and catch another cab.
- If you do have serious concerns with a taxi you are in, quietly jot down the taxi license number (on the inside of the back doors), and report it after your ride. There used to be an app released by the Department of Land Transport which allowed you to rate and lodge complaints online via the app. It was released in 2015, but after about a year the app was removed. I suspect the DLT received too many complaints and could not keep up with processing them. Therefore, today you will need to either lodge your complaint with the DLT or (if a crime has been committed such as stealing) to the police.
- For taxi complaints to the DLT, call 1584, contact them via the Line app on “dlt1584”, or else via email at: email@example.com (although, I am not sure if you should expect any response via email).
- For taxi complaints to the Police, call the tourist police first and let them assist. Their number is 1155. For emergencies, then call the police direct on 191.
- It is customary to get in the back seat of the taxi. If you have a lot of luggage and cannot get it into the boot (part of it is filled with a gas tank) then you normally next fill up the front passenger seat.
- There is no requirement to wear a seat belt when sitting in the back seat (but there is for the front seat). We recommend always wearing seat belts given traffic in Thailand is one of the most common causes of death. However, sometimes you will find taxis where the rear belts are missing or tucked away.
- When getting into a cab from the airport, it is very common for the taxi driver to state that the traffic is bad and it would be faster to use the toll way. The driver may be right or he may just be lazy. The faster he gets you to your destination, the more money he can make, because when the taxi is stuck in traffic, the meter ticks over much more slowly. However, toll fees are always to the passengers’ account, and depending on how many tolls you will need to go through, it could add another B110 or so to your taxi fare. Ultimately, this is a punt that is difficult for even Bangkok long timers to get right all of the time, and you need to decide how much you value getting to your destination sooner or sit for potentially up to two hours in traffic. When traffic is flowing well, you could get to your destination without toll ways within 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on what part of Bangkok you are heading to.
We hope this article proves useful to the Bangkok travellers. We outlined three different options for catching a taxi from either airport, being either the official rank, heading to the departures level, or using a taxi app. In the next instalment to the airport transport series, I will look at limousines and private cars.
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