The tuk-tuk is a ubiquitous vehicle for hire in Thailand, Laos, Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam and even India. Also known as auto rickshaws, these taxis are arguably the best and cheapest way to get around short distances perfect for backpackers and budget travellers.
Cheaper than standard vehicle taxis and not much more expensive than buses with the flexibility to go anywhere you want. Tuk-tuks are open-aired, 3 wheeled, carry 2 to 4 passengers and all have a certain charm and character to them.
Although tuk-tuks for hire generally share the same concept of regular taxis, there are certain distinctions that could make using them make you feel like a clumsy tourist. But these tips will let you zip around in tuk-tuks like a well seasoned backpacker.
Hailing a Tuk-Tuk
In most cases, hailing a tuk-tuk is the opposite of trying to hail a taxi in Midtown Manhattan during rush hour – easy. If the driver is free, they will often make crazy maneuvers around the street to get your business – more so the more you look like a tourist. Just make sure you make eye contact with the driver and wave your hand. Look out for others that are in front of you as your position … a corner is usually best to hail tuk-tuks in busy areas.
Negotiating the Price
You will almost never get the same price as the locals do. And you shouldn’t be mad about that because if your in a city where tuk-tuks prevail, its extremely likely you are comparatively wealthy. Besides, even if you do get slightly ripped off, its still dirt cheap to ride them. Meters basically do not exist on tuk-tuks so each ride is negotiated. You tell the driver where you want to go and they will quote you a price. The quote will likely be double what the driver charges to the local customers. So whatever the driver initially quotes you, simply quote him exactly half of what the quote. The driver will most likely go down 20% – 30% and then you got your price. Never accept the drivers first offer.
Securing Your Stuff
Watch out for your things. The seats are usually vinyl and things could easily slip and fly off the doorless tuk-tuk when whipping and weaving through in a mad rush. All loose gear like cameras and even large items like backpacks should be held with your legs or arms. It’s even possible for crafty thieves to simply snatch your belongings right off the tuk-tuk while your stuck at a light.
Having a Comfortable Ride
Keep your arms and legs inside the tuk-tuks at all times. New York City taxi drivers are experts at carving through heavy traffic speeding away inches away from other vehicles but never touching as there would be significant repercussions for the smallest of traffic infractions. But even “official” tuk-tuk drivers are rarely confined to these limitations with the exception of major vehicular damage and bodily harm. Tuk-tuks often function like bumper cars in heavy traffic where physical contact with other tuk-tuks and motorbikes is completely natural and accepted.