Motorcycle Taxis in Bangkok are an integral part of city transportation, and are the cheapest way to get somewhere relatively close. Local Thais going off to work or school are probably the biggest users of Motorcycle Taxis, and just few brave Western Tourists try this, but I am here to tell you that it is truly exciting and fun, and should be tried by any visitor that wants to have a little adventure, and can handle it.
Motorcycle Taxi drivers are very cool people. Maybe a little crazy to have a profession putting them in near death positions several times every day as they weave through stalled Bangkok traffic. But I have never heard any stories of a passenger getting ripped off or scammed. Their goal is get you there safely and quickly — and then pick someone else. Volume is what is important for them.
Motorcycle Taxis do not roam around looking for passengers. They usually congregate in groups near major intersections in Bangkok. Or often you will find them in front of shopping malls, or near skyway or subway stations, markets or hotels. They are easy to spot as they all wear an orange vest, with a number on the back of it. All motorcycle taxi drivers have a special license to operate and have shown to authorities that they can drive their bike in a fairly safe manner (hopefully). The intersection where they hang out is their home base, and after taking you on a whirlwind trip, winding around buses and cars stuck in traffic, and getting you to the front door of exactly where you want to go, they will probably return to that same home base intersection. The standard cost for short trips is 10 Baht (US $0.32) or 20 Baht (depending on distance). You can take a longer distance trip for a negotiated price. (Understand, very few drivers will speak English, so you have to be able to say clearly the place you want to go).
Motorcycle Taxis are not for the feint hearted and only those willing to have a bit of an adrenaline rush and adventure should jump on board. But it is definitely my favorite way to get around town in Bangkok. However, passengers must realize that there are some inherent risks involved. Bangkok is a congested city, and if you are involved in a car taxi fender bender, you can probably just pay the fare, hop out and grab another taxi. If you have a little accident on a motorcycle taxi, you will need to go to the hospital or the morgue. Riding a cycle can be dangerous anywhere. But so far, I have been lucky.
I think good advice for potential motorcycle taxi riders would be to not take them when it is raining, and not take them just after a rain when the roads are slick. Even spray from the cars on a very wet street will drench you with dirty water. Wait for a sunny day, and make sure your driver is sober. Then, have fun! While these drivers seldom exceed 50 MPH or so, you will arrive at your destination much quicker, since your motorbike will be jumping into every open spot to get ahead. Hold on to the driver, for sure.
Many drivers will weave precariously in and out of traffic, overtake on the inside, treat one-way streets and red traffic lights as if they’re optional, and frequently drive short sections along the pavement or wrong side of the road in an effort to get you there just that bit faster. Maybe they will even pop onto a sidewalk that does not have too many pedestrians.
The law says that all riders on a motorcycle must wear a helmet, but you will realize in about 5 minutes in Bangkok that this law is pretty much ignored. For your motorcycle taxi, the driver is likely to have a helmet, and there are just a few that have an extra one for the passenger.
One thing that always amazes me is that women riders usually ride on the back of a motorbike side-saddle, and seem to barely hold on, but they all look amazingly comfortable, even when the bikes are traveling at breakneck speeds. And rarely would a woman in Bangkok wear a helmet because it will mess up their hair.
A good test of how good of rider you are on a motorcycle taxi is to ride carrying two shopping bags. I am not up to that level yet, and that is still a challenge for me to conquer later.
This is a definite Bangkok Adventure, and it will make your day, so just do it!
A Good Read: In Praise of Thailand’s Insane Motorcycle Taxis, Popular Mechanics online – 26 November 2012