Friday, September 5, 2014

Tuk-tuks: An Adventure in Transportation

I think its high time that I talk about transportation in Thailand! On our honeymoon, Nick and I quickly learned the best ways to get around town. As previously mentioned in my review of First Beach Bungalow, while in Koh Samui we were originally a 10-15 minute walk from the main strip of Chaweng Beach. Combine that walk with the incredible heat, and things could get pretty sticky sometimes! Because of this, we often found ourselves wanting to find the easiest transportation around the island. Enter the world of tuk-tuks! An interesting fact: "tuk" in Thai means cheap, so tuk-tuk is a direct translation to cheap-cheap.

Bangkok Tuk-Tuk
Nick hanging off the back of our Koh Samui Tuk-Tuk
While we were in Thailand, we experienced two different types of tuk-tuks. In Koh Samui, tuk-tuks were essentially covered pick-up trucks that accepted passengers. In Bangkok, tuk-tuks were three-wheeled motorcycles. While we were in Koh Samui, we quickly found out that taking a taxi anywhere is a waste of money. As prices in general are cheaper in Thailand, ie. $1-2 for a beer and $2-3 for an entire meal, paying $20+ for a 3-minute taxi ride is somewhat ridiculous. Almost everything in Thailand operates on a barter system- from clothes and souvenir shopping, to taxi and tuk-tuk rides, so it is important to be aware of this. Nick and I made friends with a tuk-tuk driver on one of our first days, and discovered that local Thais will typically only pay 30 baht apiece, while foreigners are charged 50 baht apiece. Of course, if you don't know this and barter, the tuk-tuk drivers will try to tell you it is upwards of 100 baht per person. Essentially, Nick and I could take a tuk-tuk into town for 100 baht (around $3), or pay $20 for that same taxi ride. Tuk-tuk it is!

Before our first ever Bangkok tuk-tuk ride
in the tuk-tuk and ready to go!
In Bangkok, the tuk-tuk rides got a whole lot more interesting! With a metropolitan region containing around 22 million people, of course the traffic is absolutely ridiculous! However, from what Nick and I could tell… tuk-tuks only have to abide by certain traffic rules. For instance, in a line of cars waiting at a traffic light, tuk-tuks simply speed into the lane of oncoming traffic and merge back in with the waiting cars whenever the traffic gets too thick. You can't quite tell from the following pictures, but tuk-tuks are a much more heart-palpitating way of getting around.

Yes, that is oncoming traffic.
And yes, we are in the wrong lane. No fear, tuk-tuk drivers are here!
Our first Bangkok tuk-tuk ride was certainly an adventure to never forget!

As previously mentioned, tuk-tuk means "cheap-cheap". However, make sure you speak with your driver before getting in-- often, tuk-tuk drivers will receive free gasoline or commissions from shopkeepers by having you stop in their store. The driver may tell you that they will take you somewhere for an outrageously low price (fifty cents!) as long as you can stop in to a store or two for them. Of course, once you get in the store, the shopkeepers are laying on the charm and trying to get you to buy things. My best advice- negotiate the tuk-tuk price upfront, saying you won't stop at any stores. Then, if you really want to stop at a store, you can ask your driver and yet not be pressured into buying things. Nick and I did this once, just to experience it.

tuk-tuk warning
While in Thailand, tuk-tuks are definitely an experience and something you must do to experience the culture. They might be a little bit scary at first, but it is similar to a roller-coaster: eventually, you learn to love it! A good word of advice, and many tuk-tuks will have these signs posted: While riding in a tuk-tuk, make sure to keep a hand on your bag. Passing motorcyclists may just make a grab at it!

tuk-tuk advertisement
Above is yet another example of a classic tuk-tuk advertisement. Our driver informed us all about the Thai sex shows… simply read the descriptions and let your imaginations wander. Needless to say, Nick and I did not experience any of these shows…

At first, Nick and I were a little bit worried about taking tuk-tuks around town. Eventually, we learned that it is simply a way of life for Thai people and tourists. So take a deep breath, close your eyes if necessary, and enjoy the ride! While taking tuk-tuks, Nick and I actually received some of the best recommendations all trip for places to shop and eat, as well as things to do. Talking to locals- especially those who deal with tourists and know the industry- can be very helpful to any vacation! What is the craziest mode of transportation you have ever taken on a trip? Have you ever experienced a tuk-tuk?

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