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Last week's Phuketwan scoop that told readers about the story of the year so far

Revealed: The Secret Phuket Campaign That Toppled the Taxi and Tuk-Tuk 'Mafia'

Tuesday, June 10, 2014
PHUKET: The secret operation to crush Phuket's taxi and tuk-tuk ''untouchables'' becomes open for public discussion late today at a meeting chaired by Phuket's Governor, Maitree Intrusud.

Resort owners and managers are expected to turn out in substantial numbers at the Kata-Karon municipal offices as Phuket Land Transport Office officials get their chance to set out what should happen to taxis to give Phuket a future, and how the resorts can help.

Moves by the new Mayor of Patong, Chalermlak Kebsub, to begin her ''Change Patong'' term in office by introducing a low-cost hop-on public transport service around Patong's one-way system could not have come at a better time.

Her campaign is another sign that the rule by the ''taxi mafia'' is at an end.

Until Phuketwan revealed exclusively a week ago that the massive operation by 1150 soldiers, police and volunteers was about to begin at dawn the following day, even Governor Maitree and the former Phuket Police Commander, Major General Ong-Art Phiwruangnont, only had an inkling of what was about to happen.

Four months ago, Region 8 Commander Major General Panya Mamen authorised his deputy, Major General Praveen Pongsirin, to conduct the operation by stealth and in total secrecy.

Major General Praveen and his small team visited Phuket and conducted their investigations while wearing civilian clothes.

Nobody knew what was unfolding until Phuketwan, having revealed exclusively Major General Ong-art's impending speedy departure from Phuket on the Sunday, told readers in advance about the dramatic raid that many now hope will change Phuket forever.

Change will depend on continued law enforcement. There is no room for the negative compromises that Phuket's leaders have so often put forward in the past as solutions.

The governor and his team will now need to show they can act as decisively as General Prayuth Chan-ocha did in assuming control of Thailand and making certain since that actions speak louder than words.

This afternoon, Governor Maitree has a chance to show that he understands what Phuket needs and is willing to take tough decisions to solve Phuket's problems, once and for all.

Phuket Land Transport Office Director Terayoot Prasertphol has often been to Kata-Karon's council offices to put good ideas to the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, only to have them rebuffed.

Governors and vice governors were seldom seen at those meetings.

Chosen as Phuketwan's Phuket Man of the Year 2012 for his pioneering work in trying to control Phuket's taxis, Khun Terayoot will go to today's meeting accompanied by transport specialist Jaturong Keawkasisaid and Vice Governor Jamleran Tipayapongtada, two men who also understand what needs to be done.

What they will be proposing is that Kata-Karon resorts back a new arrangement for taxis that would see them wait at a central parking spot to be called in to resorts as required.

No longer would the ''mobs'' in the taxi shacks have the power to intimidate and extort resort staff and guests.

Uniforms and proper manners are high on the list or requirements. So are call centres and meters. Vehicles that meet certain standards of appearance are also likely to be essential.

While 76 taxi shacks have been destroyed across Phuket and 96 drivers and their supporters, mostly from around Kata-Karon, have been charged, the project has some way to go. Patong is the next target.

While Mayor Chalermlak will be an ally, the drivers in Patong now know it's their turn next. And after that, there will be more drivers - in Rawai and at Phuket International Airport.

Today's meeting will be a good chance for the governor and the tourism industry on Phuket to support change.

It's our hope the meeting will hasten the day when Phuket has a taxi system that treats tourists with care and respect and does not leave them wishing they had chosen to holiday somewhere else.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Phuket Province needs a modern air-conditioned bus transport system and all taxis and tuk-tuks equipped with meters which records the route and indicates the rate charged and the amount payable.

Posted by Whistle-Blower on June 10, 2014 12:11

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nothing has changed at the airport , came through over the weekend , same extortion , same mafia faces ....650 baht to Phuket Town !!! i hope the General sweeps out the airport and starts again with the first vision many tourists get on arrival ..

Posted by chris on June 10, 2014 12:14

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"Phuketwan exclusively revealed that the massive opwration by 1150 soldiers and police was about to begin at dawn the following day. Even the governed and Phuket police commander on had an inkling..."

Sounds like you may have compromised one of the most important investigations Phuket will ever see.

Posted by nomadjoe on June 10, 2014 12:37

Editor Comment:

Perhaps you should be telling that to the man who gave us the story, Major General Panya, the officer behind ''one of the most important investigations Phuket will ever see.'' You actually got that bit right, nomadjoe. Major General Panya respected Phuketwan's journalistic initiative. So do intelligent readers who enjoy a great breaking news service. You already know my opinion of petty point-scorers.

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Good work by many and good luck as they proceed. Good timing too, it seems, given Gen Prayuth's seeming determination to give the country a refreshed governance. Phuketwan, keep up the very fine work!

Posted by ssresident on June 10, 2014 12:39

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Forum on online media such as www.phuketwan.com has started less than 3 years ago and many senior civil servants did not knows well what was going on for the normal life of Phuketians, expats and tourists.
By publishing articles on weekly basis about wrongdoers such as taxi cartels, or bars and restaurants encroaching on public beaches, or land-grabbers in Sirinath National Park and corruption by police and local administrations, those media have brought the unseen true face of flagrant corruption in Phuket.
For that point, we have to say "A BIG THANK YOU".

Posted by Whistle-Blower on June 10, 2014 12:49

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Well Chris that is cheap we have to pay 800 baht for half that distance, by our local black cabs which we must use.

Posted by Anonymous on June 10, 2014 12:58

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I agree with whistle blower.
Thank you, Ed, for bringing these stories of corruption, scams and extortion to the attention of the general public and the authorities.
It probably requires guts some of your readers may not have.

Posted by william on June 10, 2014 13:17

Editor Comment:

Thanks, but there are usually Thai names in the bylines. They're the courageous ones.

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@Chris

Your complaint about 650THB taxi fare from HKT to Phuket Town is not justified :

It is about 30km distance (I don't know your exact drop-off point), total fate is roughly 15EUR.

If we assume flag-down component of a fare at least 1.50EUR, then a fare per 1 km will be less than 0.50EUR/km - it is lower than fare in majority East European countries m where overal price level although is lower, than, say, in London, it is higher than in Phuket.

If to wonder about fares , then I'do that about fares HKT-PaTong, as they are higher than to Phuket Town , but distance is shorter, but is such market here.

With better solution of public transport I do not expect any major shift in taxi fares , as they are overal are OK.
The problem is that you do not have alternative now except taxi/tuk tuk .

Posted by Sue on June 10, 2014 13:40

Editor Comment:

Bangkok is the only destination suitable for comparing Phuket's fares, Sue. The rest are apples and oranges.

Which European country has a minimum daily wage equal to 300 baht? Which European country allows a taxi driver to make two or three times the minimum daily wage for a short trip? Which European country allows taxi drivers to charge for a journey the passengers don't make - the journey back to base?

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You do not need to have a MBA Degree or a Doctorate in Business in Thailand..... But a Taxi driver license bought for few hundreds Baht and ten saving accounts are enough to be billionaire in a short term in Phuket.... Amazing Phuket.

Posted by Whistle-Blower on June 10, 2014 13:43

Editor Comment:

Sadly, the social consequence is a generation of your men who could not be bothered with academic qualifications because of a sense of entitlement. I know of no other place where taxi driving is close to the pinnacle for income. It's the easiest money in the whole world.

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B650 to Phuket Town?? You had a better deal as I paid the 7min drive to Naithon at the same price few days ago!

Posted by seth barclay on June 10, 2014 13:45

Editor Comment:

Twice the daily minimum wage for a seven-minute trip . . . best job in the world, driving a cab a couple of times a day on Phuket.

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Sue, has Phuket Town been relocated further away from the airport? In a direct line Patong may be closer but definitely not using any existing form of transport. Except those travelling via personal jet pack!

Posted by Manowar on June 10, 2014 15:08

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@Ed

Oh please : 300THB per day is appr. 0.85EUR/hour - it is without adjusting for purchase parity.

Quite lot of non-EU countries, and some EU bloc countries like Bulgaria Rumania in Europe have statutory minimum wages ca.1EUR/hr or below. And don't forget, that unlike in Thailand, from suc wages social security contributions are deducted and in most cases as well as personal income tax - income-tax exemption is not equal to minimum wage, but is lower.
There are number of EU countries with minimum statutory wage 1-2EUR/hr - take into equation taxation, and difference in purchase parity, and you got roughly what 300THB per day buys.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_in_Europe_by_minimum_wage

E.g. in Prague, where minimum statutory wage is 1.84EUR/hr, the taxi fare is 1EUR/km, flag-down 1.35EUR AND for any stop at traffic light or whatever situation when speed is under 20kmph it charges 12EUR/hr - so from Phuket airport to Phuket town woukd costs at least like 32EUR(probably more - giving traffic lights/traffic jams), it is 1400THB.
Scores of tourists use thus service , and do not complain a lot.
As far as I remember, such fares are there at least last 10 years.
And it is poor/low price level Central/Eastern Europe, not Geneva by price level.

In Sydney same journey would cost at least 67.70AUD, or 2100THB.
In London the same journey by very minimum tariff would costs 51GBP(in reality probably more), i.e.2800THB.
In Geneva the same journey would costs at least 102.30CHF or 3700THB.



On taxi fares: it is only command economy prices *ma-aaaast* be set on Cost+ basis, in market economy they are set by market forces on Demand-Supply relation basis, so it is what we see in Phuket airport - regardless of distance, a criterion for price to be set is Demand-Supply.
In Europe taxi fares are not left to market forces - since a client in most case is a consumer, that is regarded a priori as a weaker party, and giving a non-regular character of need to use taxi services - to prevent abuses, like to be charged 300EUR on drive to airport when you are late on the plane to avoid losing 1000EUR ticket.
But still even regulated European fares of cheapest part of Europe are still higher than what is offered in Phuket by market power of taxi thugs.

Posted by Sue on June 10, 2014 15:09

Editor Comment:

Total snow job, Sue, comparisons of fares in developed countries with developing countries are nonsense - as you know. And which country was it where the taxi drivers charge twice the legitimate fare, as they do on Phuket, to return to base?

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Not so long ago the DSI arrived in Phuket to fix things up. Public transport at Central was a prime stop. When they got through the fare to Patong which had been B350 became B500. With the coup, the leaders of the DSI have changed. Seems right and good what's going on now. May we all help make it work! (As to the editor's mention of the Thai people, Chutima, Sert and the others, making Phuketwan go every day, right on, brave people!)

Posted by ssresident on June 10, 2014 15:18

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Sue, any chance of a comparison fare between European flying carpets and Thai or alternatively a recommendation on your preferred model of motorised broomstick.

Posted by Manowar on June 10, 2014 15:36

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Good reporting & loving the story from afar unfortunately. Wish it happened years ago.

I am hoping the next revelation will be a regular bus service up the west coast or a 'song taew' system around key areas similar to Pattaya, Korat & Chiang Mai.

Posted by Logic on June 10, 2014 16:05

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Next requirement should be roadworthy checks and annually as paying clients are entitled to be driven in a safe conveyance & general road fitness for other road users if the roadworthy standard cant be met within 60 days crush it treat buses and all commercials the same!enough of the brakes failed and the rain excuses.

Posted by slickmelb on June 10, 2014 16:26

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Lets be honest Sue has th e editors number on this one - he just cant admit it.

Great argument Sue and clearly well researched and know what you are talking about.

Posted by Ciaran on June 10, 2014 18:07

Editor Comment:

How easily fooled you are, Ciaran.

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Sue, I actually do not understand you at all. What has European Taxi Fare and Labor cost per day to do with Thailand.
You are just typing a lot of B S that has nothing to do with Thailand. You just waste the readers and Ed's time.

Posted by Mj on June 10, 2014 19:08

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Ciaran, what relevance does the cost of a service in one economy have to do with that of another. Comparing the actual fare per km is only a small portions of the argument. What about the difference on cost of fuel, cost of the vehicle, taxation, insurances, vehicle and public liability, pall roll expenses, superannuation, registration costs, living costs, vehicle quality, maintenance costs.
And it gets better, comparing the cost in a developing country to than of a developed country. So if the taxi driver get more than the doctor or any other professionally qualified person, these people should also have their pay increased to the equal of the developed world, and the hotel rooms should also be increased, and food prices, waiters, cooks, shop assistants, the police. Everyone should just get the wages based on what they would get in a developed country.
So then, tourists will go elsewhere, all the hotels will shut down, all the staff feeding off tourists will loose their jobs, they would be able to afford to eat, the value of all property in phuket will decline, and banks will for lose mortgages, property will be vacant and it will become a ghost town.

At least the road toll and drownings will reduce!

Posted by Manowar on June 10, 2014 19:46

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Maybe Sue had Alan's number and now she just cannot admit she's lost it!

Posted by Manowar on June 10, 2014 19:57

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Sue should pay same amount for a hair cut as in London. If it is cheaper, give the rest as tip. Then everyone would like to cut hair. One time per day would be enough, the rest of the day the girls could sit in front of the hotels and foul mouth the guests, smoke and drink and litter the place. And if another lady would come, who looks like she could cut hair or one can see a scissor, the other girls would come and beat her up and right to do so. Welcome to sue's world.

Posted by Lena on June 10, 2014 20:16

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@Ed

You've risen an argument about labour costs, namely anchoring statutory minimum wage to being a factor of taxi fare that warrants different figures in Phuket and Europe.
I rebuked it - that yes,being the factor, fares in Phuket are not apparently excessively too high- but you went mute on substance,and ad hominem ..

Many, if not most, countries regulate taxi service providers in a way that they are allowed to pick up only in a municipality where they registered. It is so in Europe, same in UAE (taxi from Abu Dabi can not pick up in Dubai )etc.
Although those muni-units are not so small like in Phuket, but principle is the same.
Is it written law or customary law about where taxi can pick up on Phuket? If there is no written law on this, I expect this can well resolved by Khun Generals too..


If we compare market basis - similar holiday destinations, then we see that buyers of taxi services are able and willing for the same service to pay for the similar service a tariff that the commenter Chris complained here as being too high these days, and which I taken as a model example: HKT to Phuket Town, presumably 30 km, 650 THB.

I wonder what Ed meant with Thailand being a developing country, as most classifications, except IMF , put the Kingdom in another category. But let take Bali and Antalya(Turkey) which offer meters taxi, are comparable holiday destination and are "developing countries" by IMF:

the model trip would costs on Borneo is. with metered taxi 47.40RM (incl.15 min slow motion/traffic light) , i.e. 480THB before airport surcharge (there is no metered taxis from airports, just for purpose of precise calculation) -say,50THB, total 530THB - no material difference to 650THB HKT-Phuket Town (30 km is rough estimation as well as idle time).

Bali (although in Denpasar no metered taxi allowed - just fir general comparison ): 177,000IDR fare part based on distance and ,say, 10,000IDR (15 minutes) fare part that is based on time (when idle at traffic light or moving with slow speed under 20kmph), that is ca.515THB - would be metered taxi allowed to Denpasar airport, there surely would beg surcharge, say 50THB,in total 565THB so it comes very close to 650THB - and do not fidget Indonesua still subsidize gasoline.

Antalya (Turkey) - 102.63TRY for same trip, no airport surcharge,15 min waiting at traffic lights =1600THB

Cyprus 26.15EUR 1150THB - beware that Cyprus is holiday destination cheaper than Phuket

Ibiza 34.55 EUR 1520 THB again is on par or cheaper than Phuket in main-stream segment

Why to compare Phuket taxi fares to overseas similar destination? Because of the market, since taxi services market in Phuket is made on demand by tourist not, say, by local farmers.

That what I meant that taxi fares in Phuket even without regulation are OK.
Another thing that taxi should be used not regular basis and, yes, fir average tourist Joe taxi fares need not to seem cheap to be tempted to use it fir every possible journey, it is normal.

What is not normal lack of other cheaper alternatives,. But even if public transport alternatives will arice, taxi fares as of today are OK - ca.0.50EUR/km 20-25THB/km would be absolutely OK.
Even 1EUR/km is still OK, it is on cheap end of Europe - it means that regular tourist folks can and able to pay such fares too (it appr.what has been quoted here HKT to Naithon beach 650THB - if you account flag down fare and idle time).

Price is driven by Demand-Supply, not by cost of service itself. If market condition allows to extract from buyers 0.50EUR/km - and there are clear indication that market allows, so it be.

Cost base is important restriction on Supply side, but there is no pressure on Demand side - tourists , that come from Phuket can and able to pay current taxi fares.
Moreover, cost base of taxi service is not so much deferent from Eastern/Central Europe as it may seem - cars, gasoline, labour are more expensive , incl.on account of excise taxes, but surely not to the extent to say that cost base is even 2 times lower.



Bangkok taxi fares now are virtually same as in 1996 when they were introduced, with some extra 50satang per km in 2008 - it is long overdue to triple or quadruple fare from 5-7THB/km to 20-25THB/km as current fares do not reflect realities about cost, higher spending power of buyers and higher overall demand.
But for Phuket t have meters fares twice as in Bangkok is reasonable - buyers are richer here, and from ecological point of view you should promote less vehicles on roads.

@Manofwar I am aware , that many people didn't get to college, bar studied economics, so for them reasoning on economics topics are limited to decision-making on prices on menu of restaurant they own, and it is often either "all-clear" for them, and, if not, then "BS".

@Lena haircut for men is more expensive in Thailand than in Europe since here they do not understand how to cut short blonde hair - they used to cut hair like grass and result of "Japanese hippy style" is just OK: it usually takes ridiculous 1.5-2.5hrs to cut rather short hair up to short hair, cost of 1000THB, incl.100% tip.
In Europe I used to pay ca.15EUR, and 20-30min., incl.shampooing.
In Rayavadee I experienced worst ever and most expensive ever haircut: no washing of hair before, just straight with machine - trying to make an army style hair cut, and that for equivalent of 85EUR(!) - it definitely much more expensive than in London , for similar haircut in premier salon.Luckily I claimed and got full refund here.

Posted by Sue on June 11, 2014 00:54

Editor Comment:

As I said, Sue, the only place that the comparison is valid is with Bangkok. The rest is you wasting your time, readers' time and my time.

And also total nonsense.

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Sue, you must be the wife of a Tuk Tuk driver right? Totally worthless comparison. European minimum wages vs Phuket taxi drivers extortion rates. These can only be compared with rates within Thailand...end of ! On another note, I have always said nothing will change here and It looks like Im hopefully gonna be proven wrong. To be fair it has taken a Military coup to make a start and If it wasn't for this coup I'm positive It would just be business as usual, but here we are making good progress. Its all well and good arresting people and knocking down the stands but when there are talks of re locating them into the grounds of hotels that won't help anything. The main point is to cut the fares in half. No more village systems and paying for 2 journeys, pick up and drop off everywhere. Meters for all. And the option of decent regular public transport island wide, not just in town. New Mayor of Patong, Land and Transport dude, Big Chief military coup guy - you can do it! Don't give up!

Posted by Chalongian on June 11, 2014 00:55

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@Ed

You referred to a metrics how many days' minimum statutory salary buys that assumed Chris presented trip of ca.30km , which from HKT to Phuket Town cost him 650THB, and what he complained of as being too expensive.

I put that metrics for the places for which I 've got fares for that model trip of 30km by taxi - a fare as a percentage of daily gross minimum statutory salary, so without taking into consideration minimum taxation :

Thailand 46%
Czech Republic 46%
Turkey 44%
Bali 34%
Borneo 69%
London 99%
Ibiza 100%
Sydney 199%

(Cyprus, Switzerland do not have minimum statutory salaries)

What we can see that Thailand, by this metrics, is roughly on par with similar "developing" countries .
London and Spain allows 30km taxi ride for a daily gross minimum wage .
But Sydney is citadel of socialism and well-being , and should not be taken here seriously.

Still, such metrics is absolutely irrelevant - minimum statuary wages are earned by non-skilled/semi-skilled workers, it is normal that taxi service are simply out of reach for them (except Australia and Luxembourg).

Again, in Phuket problem is not that taxi fares are too high - they are OK - and in Phuket they are for tourists in first place, but lack of cheaper public transport.
Taxi service in general should be used rarely - like when someone is in hurry, or during short period of holiday overseas, and should not be measured as daily mean of transportation, especially for non-skilled workers.

Posted by Sue on June 11, 2014 03:36

Editor Comment:

Total nonsense, Sue.

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Sue is more correct than the editor. The issue is less minimum wage than cost of providing the service. Petrol costs and vehicle purchase costs are as high - or higher - in Phuket as anywhere else in the world. However the editor is correct that one way empty return doubles operating costs. A Bangkok type meter system, with the ability to pick up anywhere, would be best.

Posted by matt on June 11, 2014 04:55

Editor Comment:

I am certainly running on empty on this topic. Sue appears to have more than a full tank.

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All I can say is if this works and I am praying that it does then there should be a monument to the officers who set this operation in motion. They may have saved Phuket for future generations.

Posted by Arthur Gane on June 11, 2014 06:10

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of course a good first step but I'm hoping the mere tearing down of illegal taxi salas and a baht bus seemingly for patong won't be the end of it. I must pay 1000 to the airport, I don't use 'taxis' anywhere else, only motosais, being unable to drive due to injury, and now I'm getting quoted heavily increased prices even from all of these! It's price control needs fixing too or there's really no point.

Posted by jonty on June 11, 2014 10:16

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@Sue. I am unable to drive due to a shoulder injury. when I was convalescing in Bangkok, I just had to step out the door and hail a taxi at a fraction of the prices charged here. I can in no way afford to use taxis in the same way here on Phuket. Do try to consider other people.

Posted by jonty on June 11, 2014 10:23

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In all fairness to both sides I think the comparison with bangkok taxis is not totally valid. They have not had an increase in many, many years and many of the honest ones in bkk (number in decline) are in dire straits. So, an honest increase for bkk is ok i believe but that would still leave phuket many times more expensive with their low standard of service.

Posted by Paul on June 12, 2014 03:46

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@Paul: Bangkok Taxis fare rates did increase in 2013: http://www.thaivisa.com/forum/topic/641054-taxi-fares-to-be-raised-as-living-cost-rises/
If they want more they just go with no meter!

Posted by Wilai on June 12, 2014 05:21


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