One of the unofficial national symbols of Thailand, the tuk-tuk, has grown in popularity amongst Thai nationals and tourists alike.
Riding a tuk-tuk is an authentic Thai experience. If it is your first-time trip to Thailand, give it a try. Here’s everything you need to know about riding it, including tips and tricks.
What is Tuk-Tuk?
Tuk-tuk, known in Thai as “Sam Lor” (literally 'three wheels'), is a general term for Thailands version of a motorized rickshaw. It is an open-air three-wheeled vehicle. Normally it can hold two to three people at a time. Its unique name came from the noisy engines on the earliest models.
From necessity to a cultural phenomenon, this simple vehicle is an attraction for many Thai visitors and remains an important method of transportation for everyone in large cities such as Bangkok.
Thailand tuk tuk
Cost of Tuk-Tuks
The most surprising thing about tuk-tuks is that they are not the cheapest form of transportation in Thailand. Many visitors often assume that because they are smaller and slower they will be less expensive than metered taxis, but that is simply not the case.
Typically, the cost of a tuk-tuk ride will be the same or more than the cost of a taxi ride over the same distance.
In Bangkok, most tuk-tuk drivers in the Sukhumvit and Silom areas will try their luck with an overinflated price that is expensive even by tuk-tuk standards. Some have been known to ask for as much as 400 baht for a short journey.
At the moment, the going rate for a short tuk-tuk ride is about 150 baht (US$5) for a journey that would cost 50 to 70 baht (US$2) in a metered taxi.
6 Tips to Ride a Tuk-Tuk in Bangkok
Tuk-tuks have become one of Bangkok's most recognizable transportation features. If it is your first time in Bangkok then by all means take a short journey in one just for the experience. Here are some tips to help you have a better ride.
1. Agree on the price beforehand.
Always agree on the price before you set out on your journey. If you don’t agree on the price beforehand, this gives drivers the opportunity to charge you an extremely high price at the end of the journey and scam you out of some money.
2. Haggle hard.
The price named by the driver is always an 'inflated rate' if you are an obvious traveler. The price is at least twice what it should be. A good way to try and get cheaper prices is to talk to many drivers at the same time to create some competition.
It is also a good idea to try to get a rough idea of how much a fare should be from one place to another (asking a local worker at the place you are staying is always a good idea).
3. Avoid touristy areas.
Many tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok will congregate around major tourist sights such as the Grand Palace or the night markets. Try not to take a tuk-tuk around the touristy areas as the price is usually four or five times the real rate.
You can walk a short distance away, a street or two is often enough, and just flag a tuk-tuk down from there instead. The same rule applies to taxis.
4. Don't ride during rush hour.
Bangkok is very congested during rush hour (7 am to 9 am or 5 pm to 7 pm). If you don't want to sweat and breathe exhaust, don't take a tuk-tuk.
5. Take short trips.
Tuk-tuks are best suited to short trips. In some situations, traveling by tuk-tuk can be faster than traveling by taxi as it is smaller and more nimble. Try not to take long trips considering its higher price and less comfort.
6. Avoid taking a tuk-tuk in the rain.
Try to avoid getting tuk-tuks in the rain unless you have no other choice. If there is a sudden downpour, all you have is the roof of the tuk-tuk to protect you. With strong winds, that won't be enough as the wind will just blow the rain in from the sides and behind you. That said, most tuk-tuks do come with rain flaps that can be pulled down but if it is raining particularly heavily, then the rain will find its way in through the gaps.
Benefits of Using Tuk-Tuks
If tuk-tuks are the same price as taxis but less comfortable, why use them? Well, there are a couple of reasons.
Firstly, tuk-tuks offer travelers a fun experience of the chaotic city streets of Bangkok. You can get close to the hustle and bustle of this modern country with ancient roots.
Another reason is that these vehicles are unique to Thailand and some parts of Southeast Asia. It will give you a sense of adventure and make for some great pictures.
Downsides of Using Tuk-Tuks
One of the biggest problems with tuk-tuks is their lack of safety features as compared to other vehicles. The good news is that tuk-tuks are involved in relatively few dangerous accidents in Thailand because they tend to drive at lower speeds.
Another problem with tuk-tuks is that they are open vehicles, which is often uncomfortable for visitors who are not used to the intense heat and humidity of Thailand.
Furthermore, tuk-tuks are not very eco-friendly vehicles and are infamous for the visible fumes that plume up from their exhausts.
Common Scams to Avoid
A common tuk-tuk scam in Thailand happens when a tuk-tuk driver offers you his service for a day at a very low price. Sounds good, but you have to agree to go inside of at least three shops along the way. The driver will get a commission. Although you don’t have to buy anything at these shops, it is an annoying waste of time
The drivers that run this scam generally like to hang around outside tourist sites and tell people that the place is closed. Just ignore them and go to the front desk of the tourist attraction you plan to visit and find out for yourself.
Another dangerous trick that can happen to people in tuk-tuks is that other drivers on the street may try to snatch bags out of the open vehicles. These thieves often specifically target tourists and are very difficult to catch.
Finally, some people have been happily texting or taking snapshots with their smartphones only to have a motorbike drive by and the person on the back snatch the phone out of their hand and speed off. Although this is an incident that's rarely reported, it does happen. Therefore, when you ride in a tuk-tuk, it is important to hold on to all of your important possessions or to put them in a place that is not easy to reach.
Take a Tuk-Tuk Trip with Us
For our Asia Highlights travelers, we often suggest that they travel mostly by private car, due to the uncomfortable conditions and environmental impact of traveling by tuk-tuk. Tuk-tuks are bumpy, small, and hot, which can be upsetting for families with small children or those who are on the more aged side.
However, we do believe that experiencing what it is like to travel by tuk-tuk is important. For travelers who wish to have this experience, we do arrange short-distance travels by tuk-tuk. We suggest that tuk-tuks be used exclusively for fun and not when you are tired or in a hurry. They are especially great for exploring temples or traveling a few city blocks.