A guide to Bangkok Tuk Tuks

  • Posted onMarch 10th, 2016

Ah Tuk Tuks, love them or hate them (and we understand a lot of you certainly hate them), there is something very special about a Tuk Tuk, and while many will warn of the reasons not to use a Bangkok Tuk Tuk, it’s fair to say no Bangkok holiday is quite complete without experiencing one, once.

The name ‘tuk tuk’ is an onomatopoeic name, poking fun at the horrible sound the two-cylinder engines make. Officially they are known as auto-rickshaws, though you’ll almost never hear anyone calling them as such, the Tuk Tuk name has certainly stuck. Tuk Tuks can be found all over Bangkok, and you’ll never have to look far or wait long to find one. They do not run on meters so you have to negotiate a fare for each journey, which is always best agreed BEFORE the journey begins.

Tuk Tuks can be found throughout Thailand, basically in every Thai city or resort which experiences some scale of traffic congestions, though the form the tuk tuks take in other cities such as Phuket, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, and Kolat, vary greatly. The most iconic tuk tuk (the 3-wheeler) is the one you’ll see in Bangkok, and the one which best resembles the old fashioned rickshaws, albeit with a small engine fitted.

When taking a Tuk Tuk in Bangkok, or anywhere for that matter, here are a few things you need to know:

tuk tuk3Know your fares

The common complaint about tuk tuks is being over charged. It’s important to negotiate a fare before you start your journey, as you will lose all bargaining power when you arrived at your destination and may be charged up to four times the expected rate.

The correct fare depends on the distance you need to travel, the time of day, and the amount of traffic, however, the actually fare you will be asked for also depends a lot on the type of person the driver is and who he thinks you are. If you get a greedy Tuk Tuk driver with a habit of ripping off tourists and you show signs that you are not familiar with Bangkok and it’s prices, you are likely to be over charged.

A short trip of less than 5 minutes should costs you no more than 30 baht. For longer journeys and during peak traffic you will have to negotiate harder, but a very rough price guide of 5 baht per minute shouldn’t be too far off the norm.

Tuk Tuks to avoid

It’s true, a lot of Tuk Tuk drivers are bad guys who prey on unsuspecting tourists, and you can pretty much mark down any Tuk Tuk hanging around a popular tourist area or attraction as one to avoid (the same can be said for taxi drivers).

These bad Tuk Tuk drivers will typically rip you off in one of three ways:

  1. Offering to take you on your journey very cheaply (even free in many cases), but on the condition that you visit their friends shop first. This will be a long and painful side trip where you’ll be taken to a below par tailors or fake gem store and pressured into buying something.
  2. Similarly if they know you are looking to book a hotel or travel service, or enter an attraction they will take you to travel agent or fake ticket office who will charge you over the top prices, and even charge you for entrance to places that are usually free.
  3. Simply charge you 3 or 4 times the correct rate for your journey.

If a Tuk Tuk (or taxi) wants to take you to a shop, tailor, gem store, travel agent, or anywhere else in exchange for a low or free fare, avoid it at all costs. Tuk Tuk fares should be inexpensive anyway, and these side trips will a best be a total waste of your time, if not an expensive one.

As for avoiding being over charged, try to work out the cost of your tuk tuk journey beforehand (it shouldn’t be more expensive that what you’d expect to pay in a taxi), negotiate for a price you know is correct, and don’t be afraid to walk away if they are asking too much.

tuk tuk 2When to use a tuk tuk

While we believe everyone should experience a Tuk Tuk journey at least once in Bangkok, we wouldn’t suggest relying on it as a regular mode of transport. Tuk Tuks are best kept as a one-off cultural experience or short journeys where you are struggling to get a taxi and n a hurry (and don’t fancy using the taxi motorbikes).

Tuk Tuks are also best avoided during rush hour in Bangkok, which is typically 7 AM to 10 AM and then 4 AM to 7 PM, although some would argue Bangkok is always on peak traffic.

The Pros:

– Tuk Tuks tend to be quicker than taxis, able to squeeze through tight gaps and negotiate taxis better. Tuk Tuks also seem to know some great short cuts.

– Tuk Tuks are cheaper than taxis (unless you’re being ripped off)

– Not all Tuk Tuk drivers are bad guys, some are very cool, friendly, and a very colourful characters.

– A Tuk Tuk ride can be a real adventure and unique way of seeing the streets of Bangkok.

tuk tuk 4The Cons:

– The ride can be hot and smelly, not to mention extremely noisy.

– Some Tuk Tuk drivers go way too fast and with no seat belts and little protection, it is considerably more dangerous than a taxi.

– A notable percentage of  Tuk Tuk drivers are dishonest and out to rip off tourists. It won’t be a big amount and many tourists don’t realize they’ve been over charged, but it can be a real negative experience.

– The side trip scams are very annoying and incredibly time consuming. Certainly not worth it just to save a few baht.

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