In most Thai cities and towns many of the locals travel by motorcycle taxi. All over Thailand at the end of small streets and on the corners of intersections you will see groups of Thai men (and a few women) congregated. They will be wearing a plastic vest (usually orange or blue) with a number on it. Their motorcycles will be close by. These are the Thai motorcycle taxi drivers and they can take you to most places, much quicker than most other forms of transportation due to their ability to weave in and out of traffic.
If you are in a car or taxi in Bangkok, you can literally wait at a red light for twenty minutes. Meanwhile, the motorcycle taxis have long since gone as they wove in and out of cars to get to the front of the line. When the light changed to green, they were the first people away. In Bangkok, many people use the Thai motorcycle taxis because of the speed but to do it right (and safely!) you have to know a few rules.
1.Sit Astride the Motorbike. In Thailand, you will see many Thai women riding motorcycle taxis and many of them will be sitting side saddle. While this is a cute and elegant way to travel on a motorbike, especially when you’re in a skirt, it is also one of the most dangerous.
If the motorcycle has to maneuver suddenly you are likely to fall off the side of the bike and into the street. Every year, thousands of Thai women are hurt or killed by falling off motorbikes. I do ride side saddle if I’m wearing a skirt and going a short distance. But, if you’re not used to it and don’t know what you’re doing, it can be very dangerous. I suggest you sit astride the bike instead.
2. Wear a Helmet if Possible. On most of my travels around Bangkok on motorbikes. Most of the motorcycle taxi drivers have spare helmets, if they offer it to you, take it and wear it. Many people are injured or killed in Thailand every year because they are not wearing helmets.
3. Hold onto The Bar at The Back. It’s not particularly acceptable to hold onto the motorcycle taxi driver when riding behind him on a motorcycle taxi. It’s more polite to hold onto the small bar at the back of the bike seat and not hold the driver around the waist. Even when riding side saddle, most Thai women still hold onto the bar at the back of the bike and not to the motorcycle driver.
4. Make Sure You Look Ahead. Make sure you are constantly aware of what is going on ahead of you. It is much safer to be able to predict an upcoming collision or accident and brace yourself accordingly, than it is to be suddenly catapulted off the bike because you weren’t paying attention to what is happening on the road ahead of you.
5. Keep Your Knees and Elbows In. All the motorcycle taxi drivers weave in and out of traffic, and they often come very close to the cars they are going past. If you don’t pay attention and don’t keep your knees and elbows tucked into your body, you are likely to get them whacked against a car you are passing. Even if the car is stationary and you are not, a hard knock against it could lead to a broken knee or elbow, or even knock you off the bike. So tuck in any protruding limb. This also goes for any bags or parcels you are carrying. Make sure you hold them close to your body so they’re not in danger of being knocked off when you pass a car.
6. Ask The Driver To Slow Down. You will often find that Thai motorbike taxi drivers will go faster if they have a farang (a Westerner) on the back of their back. Part of this is to see how much speed you can take and also to see if they can frighten you. It’s completely acceptable to ask them to slow down “Bpai Chaa Chaa”, and most of them will. There is no point taking a white-knuckled ride, when a quick request will make them slow down and thus give you a safer ride.
With these few little tips, you too can enjoy taking motorcycle taxis around cities in Thailand. I take them everywhere in Bangkok as they are cheap (between 15 and 50 cents a ride) and very quick. A typical ride to my office from the underground train station in a taxi would take me about 15 minutes. On a motorcycle taxi it’s only about 2 minutes. And don’t forget, the Thais call them “moto-si” (Thai pronunciation of motorcycle) so if you need one just ask a Thai, “Moto-si, yu tee nigh?
Photo credit: Paul Eddie Yates