When I first moved to Bangkok I used to see lots of motorcycle taxis around the city but didn’t have any idea of how they worked. I even used to wonder why people got them instead of regular taxis, especially because of how hot the city is for most of the year. After a few months, I realized what a great service they offer and how they are in fact the lifeblood of the city. If you think of the BTS (Skytrain), buses and vans as the arteries of the city, then the motorcycle taxis would be the veins. The former take their passengers along the major routes and then the latter transport them to the harder to reach areas.
Motorcycle taxis are known as motor-sai in Thai and are mostly used by locals to get to and from work in the mornings. They will usually get a BTS, bus or van to the main road nearest to their office and then get a motor-sai for the final leg of the journey. You’ll also see many expats using these taxis, as once you’ve lived in Bangkok for a while you’ll start to find them to be the most convenient method of getting to some destinations.
While you may be able to flag down a motorcycle taxi on the street, the usual method of getting one is to head to the nearest motor-sai station. The riders gather at designed stops in busy areas, such as outside BTS stations, at the entrance to sois (small roads) running off the main roads and outside shopping malls.
These stations have a price list for local destinations, but unfortunately for foreigners, the list is in Thai, not English. Often you will see BTS written on the list, so you can figure out the cost to the nearest station. You’ll also see from the signs that most journeys cost 10-30 baht, You jump on the bike, tell the motor-sai guy where you want to go and then pay when you get off.
During the morning rush hour there are often long queues of office workers waiting for the motorcycle taxis, but during the rest of the day, the riders seem to spend most of the time hanging around waiting for customers. While the distance to local offices are quite short, no-one wants to end up hot and sweaty when arriving for work
Many passengers seem happy to ride the taxis without a helmet, but I would suggest you always ask for one. Most of the guys carry spare helmets. Most road accidents in Thailand involve motorcycles, you should always do your best to keep yourself safe. I’ve seen enough accidents in Bangkok to realize the dangers. More than once I’ve seen a motorbike being clipped by another one, sending the bike and rider skidding along the road. This is why I only get motorcycle taxis for very short journeys along the quieter sois.
During rush hour many are tempted to get take them for longer distances, as they can weave in and out of the traffic and get you to your destination much quicker. I’ve done this once, and it was a bit of a hair-raising experience. Never again.