A tuk tuk is a colourful three wheeled form of transport that is commonly seen in many destinations around Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Sri Lanka and Cambodia. They are powered by a motorbike in the front and they have a covered seating area for passengers in the back. They are a fun and exciting way to weave through the chaotic city streets or the remote island roads and travelling in a tuk tuk is one of the quintessential experiences of backpacking in Southeast Asia. However, tuk tuk drivers can be notorious for trying to scam and overcharge backpackers, so it is important to know a few tuk tuk tips before your trip so that you can make informed choices when taking this form of transport.
Lee and I have held on for dear life on many a tuk tuk all over Southeast Asia, so here are our tuk tuk tips for the first time traveller.
Our Tuk Tuk Tips for Southeast Asia
Don’t Take a Tuk Tuk in Bangkok
In many other destinations in the region taxis are cheaper than tuk tuks, but in Bangkok it is the opposite. Perhaps this is because the Thai capital is the major touchdown point for first time tourists in Southeast Asia and everyone is drawn to the novelty of this form of transport. Also, when many travellers start their trip they don’t know what to compare the prices to or whether or not they are getting a good deal. The tuk tuk drivers know this, so they name their price. Your best bet in Bangkok is to take a taxi and insist that they use their meter.
Case in point: If you tried to catch a tuk tuk from Khao San Road to the MBK shopping centre, most tuk tuk drivers would quote you 250 baht or more. At around $8.00, most backpackers would think that was a cheap deal – especially compared to what they would pay for a similar journey back home. However, if you took the same route in a metered taxi it should only cost between 75-90 baht depending on the traffic ($2.30-$2.80).
Know Where You Are Going
As Lee pointed out in his Southeast Asia scams post, having GPS on your phone is a great way to avoid getting ripped off. This is because some tuk tuk drivers will lie to you about how far your destination is. When we arrived at the Thai/Cambodian border, the tuk tuk drivers insisted that the border crossing was too far to walk from where the bus dropped us off and that we should take a tuk tuk. Fortunately, Lee could see on his phone that it was only a 10 minute walk away, so we didn’t believe them and just walked down the road.
Read Up on Common Tuk Tuk Related Scams
Do your research and find out what scams to avoid… so that when your tuk tuk driver suggests that you visit his brother’s gem shop you will be aware of what is coming and know to say “No, thanks.”
Don’t be Afraid to Haggle
Remember that the tuk tuk drivers will inflate their first quote as high as they think they can get away with, but they are usually very happy to meet you somewhere in the middle. Get an idea of what the rate should be, then firmly state what you are willing to pay. If they are not willing to negotiate, feel free to walk away and find another driver. There will usually be many to choose from!
When we were in Phnom Penh we hired a tuk tuk to take us to the Killing Fields, wait for us, then take us back to the city. We negotiated the driver down from the first rate he quoted to a rate that we were all happy with. The next day, a young German girl in the hotel was asking me for tips for making the same trip herself. I gave her some tuk tuk tips, told her exactly what we had done and let her know a fair rate that she could attempt to achieve with a little haggling. However, I saw her a few hours later and found out that she was paying nearly 30% more than we were for the same trip. She had simply had not taken my advice and had been too shy to haggle, ending up spending more of her hard earned travel money than she needed to.
But…Don’t Be a Jerk
All of these tuk tuk tips will help you avoid getting ripped off and negotiate cheaper prices, but it is important to also keep some perspective in mind. It is fine to haggle and negotiate with tuk tuk drivers in Southeast Asia (as well as market sellers, hotel proprietors and more).
However, don’t start getting so focused on getting a deal that you turn the interaction sour by being too pushy. It’s easy to get fed up with people trying to rip you off everyday, but I’ve seen backpackers getting angry and hostile over a difference in a tuk tuk fare that equates to only about 50 cents. That amount of money is not worth fighting about, so be firm but friendly and find a rate that will work for both you and the driver.
Of course, don’t forget to smile and be nice. Tuk tuk drivers (although they can be pushy and annoying sometimes) are people too and they are just trying to make a living. In fact, a group of tuk tuk drivers saved the day for us when our bike lock broke and we were stranded at Angkor Wat. A friendly greeting and a warm smile goes a long way and interacting with a fun and entertaining tuk tuk driver could be one of the best memories of your travels.
Do you have any tuk tuk tips to share with our readers? Leave them in the comments below.