Bangkok Taxis

Bangkok Taxis

I just spent about a week in Bangkok and thought I’d pass along a few tips in the world of taxis in Bangkok. I want to preface this by noting that while I did take a lot of taxis over the last few days, I’m in no way an expert and this info is purely from my own perspective. I’d also like to point out that most of the advice I got about taking taxis was useless in practice.

Upon arrival in Bangkok we walked out to the taxi stand and were handed a printed flyer noting that meters are required by law in all taxis in Bangkok and to insist on the driver using the meter. Advice I read online also said to only ride in taxis that are using their meters. I don’t know if this is a new law or just one that is heavily resisted because through the entire trip, the one and only taxi who would use a meter was that first taxi from the airport. In all other cases the driver would just quote a price, and if we asked about the meter they would completely ignore the request. We passed on a few taxis because of this but realized quickly that if we actually wanted to get a ride in one we’d have to compromise.

Also, accepting an offer from a guy standing on the corner to get you a taxi is about the worst thing you can possibly do. We found in every case the broker taxis quoted much higher prices and always wanted to take us somewhere else. This includes the taxi guys who stand out in front of hotels. The solution that seemed to work best for us was to know where we wanted to go and offer the price we wanted to pay with the destination request. In almost all cases when talking directly to a driver this worked out flawlessly.

An example of this was this morning when we needed to get a ride to the airport. Since we had a meter taxi on the way in we know roughly what that ride should cost, the inbound ride cost us 300B. As we walked out of the hotel the street taxi brokers started yelling to us they would get us a taxi to the airport for only 600B. We replied that was way too much and we would only pay 300B. They scoffed, then came back with 500B. We continued to decline insisting that the ride should cost 300B and that was all we were willing to pay. They finally said fine and waved a taxi towards us. Luckily we thought to ask the driver about the cost and he said 450B. Bait and switch in effect. At the same time another taxi pulled up to drop some guests off at the hotel and we went to him directly “how much to go to the airport” “300B” “done!” we got in and paid him 400B when we got to the airport.

I think that unless you have much better luck than I do hoping to only ride in taxis with meters working is going to be problematic, and you’ll be much better off just knowing what you want to spend and offering that.


Brief Updates from MBHQ

You’ve no doubt by now noticed that the sites got a bit of a re-design and some things got changed around last week. We wanted to highlight two changes to make sure everyone knows what changed.

The first and biggest is COMMENTS! Registration is no longer required to post a comment on any post. Of course if you already have an account you can still login to ensure your comments are attributed to you, but those who don’t can now post a comment without any long term commitment. Also, on the right you can see some of the recent comments so you’ll always know what the active discussions are. This was the most requested thing we’ve heard from people since our last redesign and we’re excited to see where it leads.

The next change is also something that was heavily requested, and that is a change to the ADS on the sites. You’ll immediately notice fewer of them, but what might not be as obvious is those smaller square ones to the right are specific to this city only and are being sold for a flat rate for a period of time rather than a confusing CPM/traffic/network model. Depending on the city, these range from $7-$175 for a full week. If you purchase one, during that time your ad will be the only one in that spot and will show on every page. We set these up both to make it easier for smaller local businesses to get their ads on our site, and also to help us bring in ads that relate better to our local audiences. Also, keeping these sites online is expensive and every little bit helps.

There are a bunch of other things we changed but we’ll leave those to you to investigate and take advantage of. Hope you like it, and we look forward to seeing you in the comments!!

Love,
The folks at MBHQ


Come Blog With Us

moar.gifWriting for Metblogs has the potential to be the most rewarding experience in your entire life. It’ll make you rich, famous, good looking, will help you lose weight, make your clothes fit better, and get you a super good deal on a new car. It will make you the most well known person on the entire planet. Yes, each and every one of you. Really.

OK maybe not. Actually those are all lies, but it’s fun at least. The truth is Metblogs is the largest network of locally focused blogs on the web, covering almost 60 cities around the world and we’re looking to add a few new bloggers/writters/authors to this fine site. If you wanna know more about us check out this wikipedia entry but it’s kinda boring so I won’t waste time repeating it all here again. If you wanna write for us, here’s the scoop:

  • All author positions are volunteer. That means you don’t get paid.
  • You must live in (or very near) the city you plan to write about.
  • Anything you post must relate to the city somehow. That means you shouldn’t post a movie review, but talking about going to see a movie at a local theater is fine.
  • There’s no requirement for how much you can or should write, but we ask that if we set you up as an author you make about 3 posts a week.
  • You can post about things you love, you can post about things you hate. It’s entirely up to you

Additionally, because of our global network, there’s plenty of options for things you write to be read by people all over the world. Interested? Want more details? Post a comment and we’ll be in touch!


Where to donate for cyclone relief

It’s all over the news, we’re looking at maybe 100,000 dead and 1.5 million displaced in Burma* thanks to the cyclone (and these are not, in fact, the highest estimates). The Burmese government, demonstrating once again that “military intelligence” is an oxymoron, are blocking international aid efforts. While I wouldn’t object to them being guillotined with a dull blade, I don’t think that should be anyone’s primary concern right now. Help is needed. Money is needed. There’s a good possibility that your attempts to help will be blocked or worse, appropriated, by a bunch of intransigent military meatheads, BUT… being too paralyzed to do or donate anything at all is probably the worst of all options. So let your sympathies move you to donate, but use your head and send your money where it will do the most good.

So I’ve been perusing the internets trying to find the safest bets. This list is NOT exhaustive. These are just some suggestions and guidelines, not necessarily an authoritative guide. So I’m not absolving you of responsibility to check for yourself, just pointing out where you can start.

What to look for:

  • Look for organizations that already have people in Burma.
  • Especially, look for the words “local partners”.
  • I suspect, though I am being dismal, that giving money to US-based organizations will not be very effective. The junta will be more inclined to let in regional aid (india, thailand) than anything from the US, which has been pretty openly hostile to the government there.
  • Look for organizations that are buying food and supplies in as local a market as possible. That will save operating costs. One commenter (it’s in there somewhere) pointed out that the aid packages being put together in the US contain cooking tools that people in Burma are not familiar with and don’t know how to use, on top of not being the most efficient use of money.

Below are some organizations that seem to be fairly effective. I’m including my sources, since I’m really just getting a lot of this info from the good people commenting over at the New York Times. My personal pick would be Avaaz.org, since they are working through the monks and temples in Burma, and those guys seem to have proven themselves quite helpful with cyclone relief efforts on the ground. But! Their website isn’t working at the moment.

from NYT article the first:

from NYT bloggy article, they have a list of organizations that are trying to help, but we don’t know how successful they are or whether they’re being let in at all. The most helpful stuff actually seems to be in the comments:

“The aid agency Direct Relief (dot org) is already in Burma, and are seeking donations to support their medical aid work there. It is one of the two featured charities that Google has up in the “support disaster relief” link.”

“Immediate help can be provided via Avaaz.org, who funnel donations to local monasteries, thus avoiding the Junta with its possible delays and diversions of donations. The monks will distribute the donations directly to the people.”

“it would be more realistic to send relief material through channels of or in cooperation with countries like China, Thailand and India.”

“So, donate money to any relief organization (like World Vision, Red Cross, World Relief, etc.) operating in Burma. Allow them to buy the necessary recovery and reconstruction materials in the local/regional market.”

CARE has been working in Myanmar for 14 years.” (Though commenters are wondering how they can ensure that a donation there will actually go to Burma and not some other project.)

“Please add Pact’s name to your list and visit our website at www.pactworld.org. We have been working in Myanmar for the past ten years, have nearly 1200 local Burmese staff on the ground, 429 of which are in the Delta working primarily in a microfinance program that is in 1500 villages. We are one of the few American organizations on the ground and have greater reach than most. We are in seven of the ten hardest hit townships and have already been twice to the Delta with UNDP to do assessments.”

Global Giving has a long list. look for the words “local partners” or organizations that are already there.

Burma-Network also has a list of charities, which has a good amount of overlap with the list I’m presenting here.

* The debate over whether to call it Burma or Myanmar goes like this:
1) Myanmar is the junta’s name for the country, call it Burma till Aung San Suu Kyii says otherwise.
2) But Burma is the name given to the nation by British colonialists anyway. Myanma (without the r) would be a more accurate name, in line with what people actually called the place 600 years ago or whatever. Locals don’t want you to call it Burma.
I say: colonialism sucks, but replacing one evil with another doesn’t solve the problem, so I’m going with the pre-junta name until a democratically elected government says otherwise, or until I meet an actual local instead of hearing it through someone who visited Burma once.


rice roundup

Businessweek recently posted an article that clearly and concisely explains what’s happening with the rising cost of rice. The entire thing is a fascinating read, addressing speculation, export, biofuel production, oil prices, and the impact of all this on food aid. Here’s the excerpt most directly relevant to Thailand:

At first blush, Thailand appears to be sitting pretty. The spot price of Thai fragrant rice is about $1,100 per ton, compared with about $320 at the end of last year. However, exporters make their contracts several months in advance of delivery, and Thai Rice Exporters Assn. President Chookiat Ophaswongse says several exporters face huge losses because they are buying rice from traders at today’s prices but delivering that rice to buyers at prices from early in the year, before the latest price spiral started. Some exporters have renegotiated, others have defaulted on their deliveries. Chookiat says higher prices will cause exports to fall 20%-25% in the second quarter, to about 780,000 tons per month, compared with the first three months of the year.

That article claims that there isn’t a global rice shortage so much as rising prices due to speculation. Exporting nations stop exporting because they’re panicked, but domestic speculators horde the stuff and make the prices rise at home anyway. But the scary thing is, there’s only not a real shortage yet. We’re consuming (or perhaps hording) more rice than we’re producing which means we’re dipping into the stockpiles. Not exactly sustainable. Prime Minister Samak has been proposing a sort of Rice OPEC, a pretty controversial proposition (exporters are liking the idea, importers are hating it, economists think it won’t be entirely effective).

It’s a bit frustrating watching people write about the debate the rice crisis from a macro-economic point of view, like some kind of abstraction, because, as usual, poor people (think rice-and-fish-sauce-for-dinner poor) will suffer the most from this. From Al Jazeera:

a rise of even a few cents can for millions mean a difference between surviving or going hungry.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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when you need to comment that things happened peacefully…

Well, despite concerns expressed in American Embassy warden messages that “protests can escalate with little warning, disrupting transportation systems and city services and posing risks to travelers’ personal safety” the Bangkok Post reported that the olympic torch run went pretty smoothly. (Though if lack of big problems is newsworthy I might be concerned) Some pro-Tibet protesters showed up, and some pro-China protesters harassed them (something I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around). Normally I adore the generally laid-back attitude of life here but this quote from Jon Ungphakorn, a former senator working on social development issues, might take that laid-back-ness a little too far:

“We hope that the Chinese government will reconsider its actions and the way they treat Tibetans. It is nothing big, but it is necessary.”

(From the Bangkok Post article.)

He sounds like he’s asking for a spot of cream to go with his coffee. Oh it’s nothing big, whenever you’ve got a minute.

Tibet aside, I’d guess that Thai people have plenty to protest.

On a lighter note, I was brave enough to take a (disposable) camera with me to Songkran celebrations, so pictures will come soon.


election results

We all know who got the most seats in Parliament.” And now it looks like The PPP is managing to form a coalition, which will allow them to really run things. Though, perhaps not:

Under an internal security law adopted last week, the military will have the power to intervene in the political process without consultation with the civilian government.

Last August, as the law was being drafted, Human Rights Watch, which is based in New York, branded it “a silent coup.”

[from the first link]

That strikes me as just a bit more upsetting than a mere PPP victory.

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elections!

The polls are about to close here (will have closed by the time I finish this post). I’m watching some Thai news that I totally don’t understand. The Thai English-language publications online seem to be focusing on corruption and vote buying (in The Nation, at least). The Bangkok Post, as well as all the International news I’m reading seem to agree that Thaksin is casting a long shadow, and the memory of him dominates the election. Corruption, authoritarian style, and restrictions on freedom of press (enabled by his ownership of a lot of the telecom and media around here) notwithstanding, he did good things for poor and rural voters who had been ignored for a long time.

From The Guardian:

The economic wisdom of those populist policies, including universal heath care and generous funds for village development, is hotly debated, but they empowered rural voters, for the first time planting the message that their vote directly affects their lives.

“I heard that if we vote for the People’s Power Party, Thaksin will come back. I want Thaksin to come back because he did a lot of good things for the country,” said 48-year-old La-aet Dansuk, who with her neighbors in Pen district in the northeastern province of Udon Thani makes shawls using natural dyes.

She recalls how her profits were boosted by a Thaksin-initiated project that brought wholesalers from Japan and Australia to her village. Now, she must travel almost 300 miles to Bangkok at her own expense to sell her goods, or deal with Thai middlemen who try to drive the price down. Sales have declined, she added.

Thaksin was an “agent of transformation,” said Thitinan, though he’s no admirer of the deposed leader. His party “awakened the silent majority in the countryside, and Thailand will never be the same.”

The turnout is estimated to be over 70%, which is kind of awesome, and the turnout for absentee and advance voting last weekend was record-setting. There’s still some doubt over what the military will do if (actually, when, if the exit polls are any indication) the People’s Power Party (basically Thai Rak Thai part 2, with a less catchy name) dominates, and The Economist is calling Thailand the Pakistan of Southeast Asia — which seems overly dire, really. Bangkok’s most trustworthy news source has some ideas, though.


Happy Loi Krathong

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… and good luck in the future.

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busted

boing boing and the New York Times both tell me that the Thai Police caught the swirly-faced, internationally hunted child molester who apparently abused boys in Vietnam and Cambodia, and taught English in Thailand. From the NYT article: “His was the latest highly publicized arrest of foreigners accused of abusing children in Southeast Asia. They include the British rock star Gary Glitter, who was imprisoned in Vietnam last year, and John Mark Karr, who falsely claimed to have killed the American child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey.”

I’m kind of glad they’re prosecuting him here first. I think it’s a good good thing to show the world that SE Asia doesn’t tolerate sexual predators, after decades of having an international reputation as a paradise for such characters.

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Train Market

Posted on glumbert:

I am fairly sure, as are the one or two commenters who aren’t knuckle-dragging troglodytes, that this video was shot in Khlong Toey. Bangkokians are the masters of creatively efficient use of space.

(Thanks to b for sending me this similar video clip.)

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[Review] The Grill Tokyo

s_sushi.jpg
Those were not, as far as we could tell, actual marijuana leaves. But there is actual raw horse on that plate.

I adore Bangkok’s diverse and devoted eating culture. I like the unpretentious 20 baht noodles I can get down the street from my apartment, and I like that on the same block I can get something entirely pretentious that costs two order of magnitude more, and both will be delicious. I like the fresh fruit, I like the congenial atmosphere of the mid-range Thai restaurants, I like the local versions of Chinese and Japanese and Indian foods that I can get the same-but-different in the US. I like that exotic and morally problematic foods like shark’s fin inspire entire rows of restaurants devoted to their consumption.

The first time I ever set food in the food court at Siam Paragon, I wandered around and read the menu at every single food stall and restaurant, engaging in an odd sort of food voyeurism and strategizing future eating excursions. Afterwards, I compiled a list of ten things that really caught my attention:

  1. Shark’s fin
  2. Bird’s nest
  3. Steak and kidney pie
  4. Beard papa’s cream puffs
  5. Marbled horse (raw)
  6. Moussaka
  7. Squid ink tagliatelli
  8. Fois gras
  9. Kentucky fried chicken
  10. Whale

When my friend Steve visited for a couple days, I finally had a partner in crime to help me tackle some of the things on that list. Cream puffs fueled a couple hours of shopping (ok browsing), but once it was time for dinner, we decided to aim for the horse and the whale. This brought us to The Grill Tokyo, just a little bit down the hall from the huge food court, for a little “Japanese urban dining” or something like that.

It’s pricey (we spent about 2000 baht, with drinks), the sort of thing I would only do on a special occasion, but honestly, well worth it. The style is modern, but warm, and quiet, and freakin’ luxurious. We stuck to sushi and sashimi, and every thing we ordered was beautifully presented, perfectly fresh, simple, and like, the Platonic ideal of what that thing should be.
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Military vs Thaksin

Well it seems that both won two very important goals today, the exit polls seem to suggest that the Military coup leaders are widely supported by the public AND Thaksin’s Manchester City beat rivals Manchester United.
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Referendum Today

Today millions of Thai’s will vote on a military-drafted constitution that will limit the powers of politicians but lead to elections by the end of the year. Whilst there has been numerous reports in the press about the details of the draft, I decided to visit a selection of slums yesterday to see what the people wanted and hoped for Thailand.
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Youtube down again?

YouTube access within Thailand is still patchy, even after it was officially unblocked last month.

Access to the site was possible last week on the True network, but since then all access times out.

Anyone else experiencing this? How is access on the other Thai networks?

Update
Well my suspicions are right, it seems that some networks are actually defying the lifting of the ban and banning the site themselves. I’m not sure of the legal aspect of this approach but it sums up that Thailand’s net access is still heavily restricted compared to the rest of the world.

So far the networks stopping you from accessing the site are:

– True
– TOT

Chris kindly sent this screenshot which shows how TOT are handling their own form of privacy

http://bangkok.metblogs.com/archives/images/2007/08/YouTube%20Splash-thumb.jpg

The text reads ” TOT is blocking access to this site that “offends the hearts” of the people of Thailand.”

The worry here is how ISP’s are acting on their own behalf when it comes to net content.


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