Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hello Madam! Where you go?

This is the call of ubiquitous Tuk-Tuk driver, a native of the Bangkok region but a pest that has spread to all urban areas in Thailand. They lure unsuspecting tourists in with their friendly faces and promises to take you around Bangkok for the whole day for a mere 10 baht (around .30 cents Aussie). But the poor tourist finds themselves being taken to the various nests of the Tuk-Tuk driver which include shitty souvenir shops and "gem" *cough* cut glass *cough* stores. While this leaves the Tourist relatively unharmed aside from perhaps, their wallet, it does leave them extremely pissed off and with a terrible idea of Bangkok. It, however, does not have to be this way.

I am a firm believer in doing a lot of research on your destination before you travel. And not just on sights to see and places to eat but on dangers and annoyances as well. This seems like common sense but if I had a dollar for every tourist I've heard complaining about Tuk-Tuk drivers, well, you know the rest.

Any guide book* will tell about how crappy Tuk-Tuks are. For those not in the know, a Tuk-Tuk is basically the result of a lawn mower and a motorcycle having babies (and what disappointed parents they would be). Add in some gaudy decorations to catch people's eye and you have a tourist trap on wheels. And of course tourist like to take them! They are honestly kind of fun. But you have to weigh up that cost with the possibility of having a pretty horrible day if you get a rip off merchant for a driver (which is almost always).
The basic con is this: The driver, friendly and all smiles, will come up to you and tell you he will take you round Bangkok for an hour, even the whole day, for some ridiculously low price. "AH ha!" thinks the tourist "What a bargain I have scored here. I am soooooo clever. Genius THIS Einstein!!". This is the first mistake. So the tourist goes on his/her merry way thinking about the AWESOME day he/she is going to have for 30 cents. AWESOME. Wrong. Poor little tourist might get taken to a few good spots. But he will also go to quite a few of the aforementioned places (souvenir and gem shops) and spend 10 minutes in there being annoyed and not wanting to buy anything because they are so annoyed. Them comes the inevitable bad opinion of Bangkok.

Admittedly, it is not all the Tuk-Tuk drivers fault. The reason they take you to these places is because the stores give the incentives like fuel vouchers just for bringing tourists there and commissions if you buy something. It doesn't make it any less annoying but it gives you more of an idea of what's going on. I have heard a few stories (possibly urban myths spread by the Tuk-Tuk drivers themselves to make tourists more trusting) of people having a nice day on one of these bargain all day rides, only having to go to one or two shops-o-crap before being taken places that they actually want to go to. On the flip side, I have heard just as many stories of people getting taken to half a dozen shops before being turfed out wherever the driver feels like.

If you do manage to find Tuk-Tuk that's not trying to rip you off by taking you on a "tour", they will cost you at least 3x what a lovely, clean and air conditioned taxi will. Tuk-Tuks don't run on a meter like the Taxis do, you have to barter. They use far less petrol than taxis, being a 2 stroke motor and all, and you have to sit in the open, lead loaded air. For locals they are cheaper. This is definitely not the case for tourists. The ones on my soi wont get get off their butts take me from the supermarket to my house (about a 10 minute walk tops) for less than 50 baht. A motorcycle taxi** is 10 baht and ad taxi is 35. I know I sound like a total miser, but it all adds up. Plus it just plain annoys me.

So, for my money, Tuk-Tuks are just not worth the hassle in my opinion. If you get get one to take you somewhere for a reasonable price then go for it! They are kinda fun. But be careful. It you get an bad driver it can seriously ruin your day. I've personally never been conned but that's because I actually read up on BKK before I came here. Here's a few tips to help you deal with Tuk-Tuks.

- If it seems to good to be true, it is. If you don't have to barter then you will get ripped off.

- If the driver is carrying a tourist map, don't approach him. You will get ripped off.

- Stay away from the Tuk-Tuks in really touristy areas. You will get ripped off.

- Don't listen to drivers in the touristy areas if they approach you and tell you the sight you are about to see is closed till 3/closed for a Buddhist holiday/monk protesting outside. Then he will kindly offer to take you somewhere else for 10 baht! WOW! Stop. Walk away, you are about to be ripped off.

I hope this helps if you ever come to Bangkok and have to deal with those damn Tuk-Tuks *shakes fist*.

* don't even get me started on how much I hate the Lonely Planet Thailand book. It is missing so much information. Save your money and research everything online before you come here.

** Motorcycle taxis are very dangerous and are the reason you see a lot of missing limbs in Thailand. Never take them more than a short distance. More on this later.

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