Before I get started, I want to make it clear that while this article is about my experience in Thailand. But, you can basically rewrite this article replacing the word Thailand with Bali, and it’s still all accurate. (Only minor variations). OK….
Picture this: you see a lady standing on the side of a busy street of a big city, waving her hand as if she wants a taxi. But whenever a taxi start pulling up, she gestures no thank you. She often tries a bit aggressively to wave at motorbike drivers that are not taxis and start talking to them. Mostly those normal non taxi drivers don’t stop. And some of them even curse loudly in Thai at her. Some do stop and talk for a minute, seem to say sorry and drive off. Finally one stops, nods, and gestures to hop on. And she is driven away.
Or picture this: you see a lady standing at the intersection of a very busy major street in a big city. When the traffic all stops for the red light that will last a couple of minutes, you see her walking up to various people on motor cycles and talking to them briefly. She doesn’t appear to be selling anything since she’s not holding anything but a credit card and a bottle of water. She might be asking directions since she is pointing and gesturing that way. Or she might even be asking for money since she seem to be gesturing ‘please.’ It’s not obvious what she is doing. But then you see her hop on back of one motorbike and drive off. Maybe she was asking for a ride or a date?
No she wasn’t asking for a date or for sex for anything like that. She just want a lift from point A to point B, with no strings attached.
That lady described above of course is me, asking for a free ride to destination X. And actually I never saw anyone else do this, so I think it’s a bit uncommon, especially in Thailand where I was doing this. I know it’s not completely unheard of, however, since we have all heard of hitchhiking, and that it can be dangerous.
I have compiled a list of some questions you may have regarding how I succeeded at doing this over the years in Thailand:
Aren’t you scared to travel with a stranger?
No, I only talk to and ask people I am not scared of. Please keep in mind that I have a high level OCD, and most people are very scary looking to me due to what the wear, what they have with them, and often just their “aura” scares me. Those scary people I never talk to or look at for more than an instant. I am naturally attracted to what I think look like clean, friendly, beautiful people.
Fortunately I never once in my many hundreds of times getting a free ride on a motorbike in Thailand had any problems with any aggressive negative behavior. The worst thing that has happened is that the driver changes their mind in the middle of the ride saying it’s too far and too much out of their way. In those cases I just stopped and started over for the remainder of the journey (this actually doesn’t even happen very often).
Also it’s good to keep in mind that due to my personality, which is heavily influenced by OCD, there are many things that scare normal people but don’t scare me. Also, visa versa. There are many things that scare me that don’t scare normal people.
Why don’t you just get a normal taxi or call a grab car (grab car is like Uber in the USA) to drive you?
The main reasons are definitely very simple -
- In Thailand taxis do not accept credit cards, only cash. I never use cash unless it’s really required (for example if I need to pay overstay fine to immigration I would use cash, but that’s about it). Why don’t I use cash? Because I only like to touch super clean smooth simple objects, and cash is quite the opposite of that for me.
- Regarding grab (Uber) , I never carry a mobile phone with me. That’s also a habit related to my addiction to touching super clean (meaning washed with soap a water) objects and my “simple style”.
- There are additional reasons why I so many times have opted for free hitch hike rides instead of riding in a taxi. One is that I used to be afraid of touching the interior of a car (actually I got over this one mostly as of the date this article is written, provided that the interior of the car is not too small and has smooth seats and the car is free from and odd smell).
- Another reason is that it’s sometimes kind of a fun distraction to meet people you’ll only know for a short while during the ride, talk to them about small talk like where are you going, where are you from, what you do for work, do you like Thailand, etc. Taking a taxi can be stressful since they often want more money than stated, etc.
Why don’t you change and get help, so you can do normal things ?
For one thing I have received therapy before various times for various matters, but it didn’t seem to work.
Also another answer why should I change, since there is nothing intrinsically wrong with me or what I am doing? In fact my way seems better than the normal way, and I don’t like normal so much, as it seems boring and brainlessly conditioned.
What do you say to these people that makes them want to give you a ride?!
Sometimes I get lucky and don’t need to say much, just something simple like: “hi there, I am really sorry but can I ask you to drive me to “X” ( meaning the destination I am wanting to go to)? If it’s not a famous place I just say the name of the street it’s on instead. A lot of people in Thailand like to help others if it’s easy and simple, so sometimes they just say yes.
In other cases I have answer some additional questions first such as, why don’t you get a taxi? My answer to that always that I don’t have any cash with me, only a credit card. That’s a simple and acceptable answer answer for many as to why I need a ride. Or they sometimes ask “where are you from?” My honest answer that I am American usually in fine for that one. Or sometimes the question is “what are you doing here?”
If the person I am asking completely ignores the fact that anyone is speaking to them or puts their hand up with out looking at me etc., I never persist. I know those people won’t budge unless under force.
If the person says “sorry I don’t speak English” , there is still hope. In this case I say slowly “no problem “. And point ahead saying “me, go home” or something like that. This often works actually. But not always and it’s definitely more reliable to get ride with someone who speaks English since I don’t know much Thai language.
What percentage of people say yes? In other words how many strangers do you have to talk to to get a ride?
That really depends on the time of day and the location, and on my luck!
If have make a guess at what’s average, I would say about 10. I need to ask about 10 people and 1 will say ok. But really, it widely varies.
The easiest time of day to find people who say will say yes is generally late at night (10pm - 3am) when they are going home in a good mood, having left a social gathering, etc. Any time after 7pm is pretty good actually because people are leaving work, looking forward to going home, feel like they have free time, also because it’s dark and the sun and extreme heat have left. (Sun and extreme heat seem to can stress and put motorbike drivers in a bad mood understandably). Also early morning rush hour about 6am to 8am can be great since it’s not yet too hot and people who are going to work are just starting the day feeling Fresh and sometimes in a good mood, however that case only applies if the route isn’t out of their way.
As far as location, it’s definitely always easier to hitch a ride if I wait at a long traffic light. It’s so much easier to approach people who are not moving, of course! Is no traffic light is available, a corner where people need to slow down and also an effective alternative.
All that being said, I was able to pretty consistently and easily hitch a ride in Koh Samui, Thailand (famous tropical island tourist destination). by standing on the main road of the island, with no traffic light, and waving my hand aggressively and trying to talk out load “Excuse me “. with out appearing to be in trouble. Smiling as I do a this is really important! Of course most people are scared to get involved in a situation is there is any unhappiness or complicated difficulty involved. Helping someone go home or to the supermarket, something like that, when it on their way and there are no taxis to be found, is something a lot of Thai people and even foreign tourists in Koh Samui are happy to do. They probably think it as a simple good deed for the day.
Does your asking for a ride from strangers method ever not work? Did you ever just have to give up and do something else like go to an ATM and get cash for a taxi?
Actually it has always worked for me, 100%. I was never once not successful. I always found a free ride with someone who didn’t look scary to me. However there were times that it took me a really long time to succeed. There were times I had to ask about 40 or 50 people before someone said yes.
The only times you could say I gave up were the times that the destination was walkable, and I ended up walking. But that was a rare case.
And it’s good to keep this point in mind: I am an unusually persistent person who doesn’t easily give up, especially if the goal is attainable within a relatively short time frame.
What if on lookers stare or even ask “What are you doing anyways”? What do I do?
I usually ignore them completely and stay focused on my task, otherwise I won’t succeed quickly. Sometimes I briefly explain that I am asking for ride. If people say “No one will ever give you a ride that way” I just smile, because I know from my experience that they are totally wrong.
Don’t you feel guilty and like you are taking advantage or the kindness of strangers?
No. Everyone takes advantage in there own way. I am just being myself.
If I also want to hitch a ride in Thailand, what tips would you have?
Leave yourself enough time! If you are in a schedule, realize that it can take anywhere from 1 minute (if you are very lucky) to 1 hour (probably not more than that if you are really trying)
Try to avoid doing this if authentic taxi motorbikes are lurking near by. It can still work for sure, and usually they won’t bother you after they realize what you are doing. But the people you are asking help from will often be reluctant since they don’t want to appear as taking business away from the taxi drivers. It’s very important if there are such taxis around to make it clear that you are sorry but you have found yourself in a situation of no money.
Don’t go off with anyone you don’t trust instinctively. If they smile naturally and say they don’t want you to pay, or they say sure no problem those are good signs. If they indicate they might want money or look you over in a funny way, stay away. Those people are likely not reliable and could be dangerous.
Do not appear scary, crazy, desperate or unfriendly in any way. Appear innocent, friendly and harmless.
Never beg desperately for ride, unless you can do this in cute way. For example it is ok sometimes to say, pleaseeeee because I am so tired and need to get home.
If someone says no flat out do not insist. The only exception is if there is no one else likely to come along soon. In that case you could use your judgment and persist a little saying something like “ … don’t worry, it’s on your way and I know the exact location, so I will just say stop…”
Act like you are new in town and don’t know you are doing. And like this is the first time ever had to ask for help before.
If they ask you why you don’t use a taxi but you don’t want to appear weird in your answer, you could just say you only have a credit card with you and your card doesn’t work in Thai ATM (that will only work in you are not from Thailand of course!). Also you can say your call phone is back in your hotel room, because didn’t want it to be stolen. Just make up a story that’s not too weird sounding
Regarding your destination always describe it by saying one of the following : that you want to go home, or you want to go to a grocery store, or you are going to meet your friend. Thai people usually approve of all these destinations. So they want to help you to accomplish it.
Q: Are there any other methods you use to get a free transportation in Thailand?
Yes, sure. Before I conclude, I will to mention that there are some other ways I have succeeded in getting a free ride in Thailand. However you should only consider these if you don’t mind others perceiving you as a little desperate. But then again why should you care what they think? It’s for you to decide. In my experience, all of the following methods definitely can work:
Asking a taxi for a ride and saying I am really sorry but I have no money with me, (this probably works better for foreign women than foreign men and I am honestly not sure about for Thai people but I imagine it’s a lot more difficult, since most Thai taxi drivers are male and like making small talk with foreigners, especially women). This actually works very surprisingly if it’s done at an off time when they don’t have much business anyways, such as 1am-5:30am. It’s a lot more difficult in rush hour. It also works a lot better if it’s a ride of short duration, say under 15 minutes, and definitely better if your destination is to “go home.”
Asking someone (a stranger) to pay for a taxi for me, or book a grab car for me. This works only if the person I am asking looks friendly and also that the taxi fare money might not be a big issue for them. I’ve found it’s always easier to ask Thai people, not foreigner to help with this. Foreigners are more suspicious in nature and have rules about not giving money to strangers for any reasons whatsoever. If you are going to try this it’s necessary you act like this is unusual one time situation you are in. You should say so like your friend was supposed to pick you up but they had an emergency and aren’t coming so how will you get home? Tip : Don’t bother asking a Japanese person to help. No matter how much money they have or how much respect they have for you, or how much they want you to get home, they will never help with something like this. Trust me I know that.
Asking someone (stranger) to by a ticket for you to ride the BTS Skytrain (applied only if you are in Bangkok and your destination is near a BTS skytrain stop). Same rules apply as with the previous paragraph. But this one can be easier to pull off especially if you are a foreigner since you may just don’t know what you are doing and people often want to help. Also BTS can be cheaper than taxi fare and there is no negotiation with drivers.
Note if you are going to do this, it’s better to never ask for the money itself, but rather insist they pay directly.
Q: Have a different question?
You can always email me, and I may answer. For that you can use the contact form on this website.