In the western world we take for granted the ability to use public transport at will. Taxis in particular, and now Ubers, make getting around a forgone conclusion. This can make for some subtle differences when traveling throughout some of the lesser developed parts of the world.
When you think about public transport, your last option is usually a taxi ride. You have to wait too long. The drivers are rude. They are expensive. Reasons to dislike them are easy to come by.
With that in mind, I want to outline a few benefits of using taxis in the less developed countries tourists like to visit.
The beauty of travelling around places like South East Asia and countries such as Tanzania is the ability to haggle your fare. Can you imagine getting into a taxi in a western country and attempting to negotiate the cost? It wouldn’t happen and you would more than likely be laughed at then told to stop wasting the driver’s time.
The danger is not knowing the costs of a standard fare in foreign countries. Take leaving Bangkok airport, for example, what one driver may charge could be far more expensive than another. While travelling there with some friends, I paid 200 baht to get to our accommodation, while their taxi charged them 400 baht. For double the price I hope they got a guided tour of the city.
There are rules in place that are supposed to stop this kind of practice. Cab drivers should be registered and have working meters as well as having to pay an extra tax for the privilege of being able to pick up people from airport terminals. Whether this is endemic to Thailand I am unsure, but each country has their own rules.
Hire for the day
Imagine walking to your local taxi rank, opening the door and asking your driver how much it would cost to have him for the day. Try telling him he may have to sit around in a car park and wait for you while you run various errands or visit places of interest, then take you on to the next place until you are done. It would be fairly expensive and there is more chance of a male volunteering to watch The Twilight Saga.
For a very reasonable cost you can hire a taxi or tuk-tuk to take you wherever you want for the day. In most cases it’s a win-win situation. You have a readymade chauffer who will happily wait for you while you shop, swim or partake in other tourist like activities and you have your ride home sorted.
It’s a generally assumed fact that taxis know their way around. It’s the reason you use them. They are locals and you’re just visiting. (That being said I have had a driver try to find our location using a Lonely Planet guidebook while driving. It’s not an ideal situation to be in at the best of times but I was sitting in the back seat holding the book. Eyes do not grow in the back of heads- this has been medically proven.)
The growing tourism markets have encouraged taxi drivers to be multitalented; being both drivers and tour guides. Most cars contain example day tour itineraries of the local area. For those with limited time and fat wallets, this can be an easy way to go. Admittedly, they aren’t as reputable as an organised tour but most things organised from the back of a car can seem slightly dodgy no matter how you spin it.
A day in a Tanzanian taxi
In Tanzania, we used a taxi as a tour guide and negotiated the fee for the day. What transpired was one of the stranger and more rewarding days travelling that I have had.
Having agreed on the fee, we were to be taken to two different destinations for the day; a hot spring called ‘Maji Moto’ and a waterfall in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro.
After stopping at a fuel station and not dying (the car was filled with the engine still running while our driver had a smoke leaning against the vehicle) we took off down the road. Our assumption was that the driver knew where he was going. It is generally accepted that cabs know where things are, it is how they earn a living after all, but ours was different.
We pulled into a roadside stop where our driver got out without explanation and walked into what appeared to be a bar. He came out with another man who jumped on a motorbike and took off. Apparently he was the Tanzanian version of Google Maps and after a short amount of time I understood why. The roads we drove along could not have been named nor could they technically be called ‘roads’. More like deeply rutted, red dirt tracks you find on a farm.
On more than one occasion we lost sight of our leader as he took off into the dust, riding like he was a competitor in the Dakar Rally, but eventually we made it to our first destination- the hot springs. Our driver put on his tour guide hat and proceeded to warn us of crocodiles (bulls**t) and that the water was literally boiling in some parts (also bulls**t). I got the distinct impression that he was keen to move on to the next location.
After surviving a quick swim, some more rough roads (minus our motorbike guide), we were driving up into the foothills of the tallest mountain in Africa. The scenery became vividly green and the temperature cooled significantly. Our driver also became lost. On no less than seven occasions he pulled over and asked locals if he was travelling in the correct direction.
Eventually we pulled into a small farmyard and three men sprung from the bushes. If this were a movie, we would have been robbed, murdered then buried in shallow graves. It looked more like a drug deal. We walked through coffee and banana plantations with our guides until we stood at the base of a beautiful waterfall. To round our day out we drove back to our accommodation that night rarely using our headlights as they “use more petrol”. Periodically, the driver would flash his lights on to make sure he was still on the road and each time a dozen locals would dive for the safety of the bushes.
I realise this story might not sell the benefits of using taxi drivers in third world countries. Not all examples are this dramatic. Our driver may have seemed hapless but he showed us some places that we could not have got to any other way. It saved us some money and we had a great story to tell at the end.
Taxis are a viable and cheap option when in countries less developed than the western world. The prices are reasonable and often negotiable. They know the places of interest and have local knowledge that enables them to get you to your end point hassle free without having to deal with buses and trains. At the very least you are guaranteed to make it to the front door of your destination- and when travelling, that’s a gold ticket.
Wayward Tip: Always ask the price before you get in. The driver hasn’t won the fare until you get in so holding firm is a good bargaining chip.