Thailand is a crazy place. The people, the weather, the food, the traffic. Everything seems to be in utter chaos yet hangs together in perfect harmony. It is a land of contrasting ideals, lifestyles and practices, yet a land that functions on its highest level everyday. Never have I been to a place like it before and never will I again. Thailand is definitionally unique, and that’s what truly makes it a great place to visit.
I would be remise to not talk about one of the best experiences one can have in Thailand, an experience that took me right back to my youth. Rarely in adulthood do you get that feeling of pure curiosity and the gratifying feeling of stepping foot into the unknown only to have all your wildest fears debunked, all your hopes fulfilled. My first ride in a tuk tuk brought me right to that sweet spot.
Bangkok, and Thailand in general is known for their ridiculous traffic. Cars, motorbikes, bicycles, buses, taxis, tuk tuks and industrial vehicles all whiz by you like nothing you have ever seen. The greatest display of organized chaos I have ever witness. An elegant dance with death overtime anyone steps on the road. When you step foot into a tuk tuk, you take to the dance floor and follow your partner into the abyss, trusting that they will get you to the end in one piece.
For those of you that don’t know, a tuk tuk is a three wheeled motor bike with an open air seating compartment in the back. Imagine a horse drawn carriage except the horse is replaced with a speeding Thai man on a rickety, battery and gasoline powered death trap.
My first trip in a tuk tuk was magical. Every second better than the next. The air flowing through the cabin, whipping me about as my driver wound through the crowded Bangkok streets. You can feel the heat, the aggression, the pollution. It’s an experience that just can’t be replicated anywhere else, you simply have to do it in Bangkok.
While the trip is fun, there are certainly some things that need to be talked about before getting in a tuk tuk in order to avoid high fees, getting trapped in a suit shop or simply getting denied by the drivers.
Unfortunately for tourists in Thailand, you stick out like a sore thumb and the Thai people know this. No matter what you are trying to buy you will get overcharged. Know this and barter! There are no set prices here.
Before setting foot in a tuk tuk, settle on a price before. If the price is too high on the first tuk tuk wait another five seconds and ask another one, don’t settle just because you have gotten the guy to give you a dollar off.
I like bartering, its fun. Maybe its the inner business person in me who loves to save money when I can, maybe its the gambler who loves winning a good deal; whatever it is, its simply fun. Haggle and haggle well; be firm. They will respect a person that knows what they want when they want it.
When riding in a tuk tuk make sure to hold the handrail as you could be throw around the back like a rag doll at any time as the driver winds his way through asphalt and hot metal.
Do not get in a tuk tuk that wants to take you to a “fashion store”. The ploy is that they take you there and they get a free gas card from the shop in return. I have done this so you don’t have to. It may have been one of the most awkward encounters of my travels. Long story short there were many long pauses followed by a walk around the store trying to sell me things I had no intention of buying and finishing off with the pity game, the salesman telling me how he isn’t good at his job and he should find a new one. Interesting experience yet something I would avoid in the future.
I wouldn’t recommend riding in a tuk tuk between 12 and 5 pm. Not because of traffic but simply because of the heat. There is nothing more off-putting than sitting in bumper to bumper traffic in 100 degree heat, breathing in the smoggy fumes of a 1989 Toyota truck. I never understood why Asian’s wear masks in the city, but lord do I now.
Last tip I have would be to keep your wallet and bills in your pocket until the tuk tuk comes to a complete stop. On my second tuk tuk ride 50 Baht (1.5 Dollars) flew out of my hand into the blackhole that is the Bangkok motorway faster than I could process. It was tragic, and an experience I won’t soon forget.
Cautions aside, the tuk tuk is simply awesome and they each have their own personal flair that shows you who the driver is. You can see buddha statues, flashing rave lights , images of the king all crudely pasted on the pastel painted vehicle.
Last note and fun fact: The name tuk tuk comes from the sound of the horn. When a driver sees you on the street, you get a high pitched “TUK TUK” as the apparatus whizzes by you, a cloud of smoke hits you right in the nostrils. You breath in; Yes, that is the smell of Thailand.