One of the first things I noticed on my chauffeured drive into the city of Bangkok from the airport were the many three wheeled vehicles known as tuk tuks, the modern day version of a rickshaw with a motor. Before mass transit and taxis these vehicles were what both the locals and tourists would use to get from place to place. Tuk tuks are individually decorated with bright colors, flags, and some even had music. They seemed to be everywhere. I thought I should take a ride in one but I felt a little apprehensive because it looked kind of risky to do so.
It wasn’t until the end of the trip that I decided to take a tuk tuk ride. I had thought about it several times as an option to taking a taxi but for some reason I held off. They just looked somewhat unsafe to me and I was skeptical whether the drivers would be reputable. I asked the hotel concierge about the dos and don’ts when using a tuk tuk in Bangkok. Here are my recommended tuk tuk travel tips for the solo traveler.
1. Negotiate all Fares
This is a challenge because the fares vary so much depending on the time you travel, the mood of the driver and how his business had been that day, the distance to your destination, number of stops and maybe even how you are dressed and present yourself to the driver.
A short trip--less than 3 miles-- should cost no more than 30-60 Thai Baht (THB) or roughly 85 cents-$1.70 in US currency. Things and services are very affordable in Thailand for people with US currency! For a ride longer than three miles expect to pay 100-150 THB, equivalent to less than $5. The current exchange rate is 35.344 THB to $1.
Most tuk tuk drivers start with prices that are two-thirds more than they will accept. If you are quoted a 300 THB fare offer 100 THB and don’t back down. Ninety-nine percent of the drivers will accept your offer. Once both of you have agreed on the price, you are ready to go. If you have had a nice and safe ride, tip generously!
2. Don’t Take a Tuk Tuk During Peak Traffic Times
Traffic in Bangkok is notoriously bad. It seemed like the entire time I was in this wonderful city I was stuck in or delayed by some sort of traffic jam. Most of the heavy traffic occurs between 7:00am-9:00am and 16:00pm-19:00pm. Try not to go anywhere during these times because I assure you, you'll be stuck in slow moving traffic. Likewise, pollution is bad in Bangkok and the climate is hot and humid most of the year. Riding in a tuk tuk at peak traffic times is not a pleasurable outing. It's definitely better to be in an air-conditioned taxi!
3. Beware of “Mafia” Tuk Tuks
Unfortunately, some tuk tuks are not on the up and up and are considered to be disreputable and hence, should be avoided. There are many scams associated with these types of tuk tuk rides. Most of these unsavory drivers hang out around the major tourist attractions. Typical scams include cheap city tours that take you to unsolicited jewelry and clothing vendors. When you don’t purchase anything, sometimes you are left stranded, never to see the driver again!
The best way to prevent this from happening is to negotiate exactly where you want to go and stress that you want no stops. Once this arrangement is accepted, it’s OK to get in and go but beware the driver may continue to pressure you to visit a secret bargain shop or other locations along the way. Just politely say no thank you.
4. Tuk Tuks are Better than Taxi for Short Distances
Even though tuk tuks can be more expensive than a taxi for short distances they are usually faster because they can maneuver better through the traffic. Most tuk tuk drivers are experts at weaving in and out of heavy traffic, some dangerously so. Another tip; make sure you keep your arms and legs within the confines of the tuk tuk at all times to ensure you don't get injured by another vehicle.
5. Riding in a Tuk Tuk Can Be Unsafe
Besides the racing skills exhibited by some drivers that produce some scary wild rides, tuk tuks don’t have seat belts or any type of safety restraints. Riding in a tuk tuk is like riding on the back of a motorcycle without a helmet. Even though the vehicles have bench seats, covered canopy roofs and have some sort of railing, you are basically in the open and unprotected from injury in the event of a serious crash with an oncoming vehicle. Ride at your own risk!
6. Beware of Thieves While Stationary
Drive by theft is a problem in Bangkok. Be forewarned to hold on tight to your purses, packages or other valuables that could be quickly stolen before you know it.
I only got up the nerve to ride in this most distinctive Bangkok mode of transportation once but I was glad I did. It was late around 10:30pm after a fantastic three-hour Chinatown food tour that I asked the food tour guide to negotiate a tuk tuk ride for me back to the hotel which was quite a long distance. I told him I was a little uneasy about riding in one at this hour and asked him if would he accompany me on the ride. He graciously agreed, negotiated the fare: $3 for a 10-mile ride that I later realized included a stretch on the Bangkok freeway!
My guide shared nighttime is the best time to ride in a tuk tuk. Bangkok is beautiful at night, the traffic has died down and the pollution and heat has also abated. I must say I found the ride exhilarating even though the driver drove the vehicle “wide open,” as fast as it would go, when we were on the freeway. With the wind blowing through my hair and the bright city lights whizzing by I thought this is great fun! Once we made it back to the hotel, I was relieved nothing happened but glad I did take the risk to experience the “obligatory” Bangkok tuk tuk ride.
If you have ever taken a tuk tuk ride, I'm curious to know if it went smoothly. Please comment below or send me an email via firstname.lastname@example.org.