Bangkok: The Infamous Tuk Tuk

If you are ever fortunate enough to be able to visit Bangkok, Thailand you will probably wonder whether or not you should “risk” a ride in one of ubiquitous auto rickshaws known as tuk tuks. While I was visiting Bangkok in October I spent a good deal of time fending off tuk tuk drivers. Based on my limited experience I think that most of the warnings you will read in tourist guides are at least partly true. These mainly fall into the following two categories:

  • Health and safety – Tuk tuks are open to the elements and are not designed with your health or safety in mind. While riding in a tuk tuk you will be exposed to the elements, pollution as well as being more vulnerable to injury in the event of an accident then if you were in a taxi. Traffic in Bangkok can get pretty crazy.
  • Scams – Tuk tuk drivers picking up tourists are generally running a scam that starts out with offering a really cheap ride to where ever you want to go and then taking a detour to a local store or tourist trap. The tourist traps or markets pay the tuk tuk drivers for luring tourists in.
Where tuk-tuks go to sleep

Where tuk-tuks go to sleep

I broke down and rode in a tuk tuk once during my stay in Bangkok. The choice to hop into the tuk tuk wasn’t an easy one (although being slightly lost in a foreign city helped) but negotiating the fare before jumping helped make the ride come to a successful conclusion roughly where I wanted to end up (since I didn’t actually know exactly where I wanted to go, only a rough area in the city, I ended up “roughly” where I was going).

On the street

On the street

If you are interested in taking a tuk tuk in the city here are my suggestions for getting where you want to go:

  • Don’t get in the tuk tuk until you negotiated the price of the trip and the destination.
  • Make it clear to the driver during the negotiation that you want to go straight to your destination and the side trips are not acceptable.

Most tuk tuk drivers catering to tourists seem to make their money off the side trips and not your fare so they won’t give up easily. They will offer you heavily discounted or even free rides if you agree to the proposed side trips. If you want the ride without the side trips you will need to be insistent. I repeated the phrase, “50 baht no stop” many times before the driver stopped trying to negotiate and agreed to give me a ride to Dusit Park from Wat Saket (The Golden Mount) for 50 baht (about $2).

Was it worth it? Yes. Negotiating the ride was a real pain but the experience of riding through Bangkok in a tuk tuk was actually fun (if not a little scary). Would I do it again? Maybe, however you have to keep in mind that taxis in Bangkok are safer, air conditioned, and use meters. The cost of taking a taxi is also on par with the cost of taking a tuk tuk without the hassle of negotiating the rate.

Note: I would definitely be willing to make an exception for a ride in a royal tuk tuk like the one below on display in Dusit Park.

The King's Tuk Tuk

The King's Tuk Tuk

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