If you’ve made plans to travel to Thailand, you are surely already familiar with (and perhaps excited to ride in) the infamous Tuk Tuks. For those that don’t know, Tuk Tuks in Thailand are noisy, colorful, exhaust fume emitting auto-rickshaws used as a means of quick transport in Bangkok and other urban centers in Thailand. Most first-time tourists can’t wait to ride in one. Most expats and long-time visitors despise them AND the guys driving these little tourist traps.
Though they can be a bit of fun zipping through traffic, nobody governs this industry but the “Tuk Tuk Mafia” themselves. And yes it is, by definition, a mafia. Tuk Tuks coordinate their high fees and have agreements with local shops to bring tourists there against their will. Also, they push other means of transport out of the major tourist areas in order to monopolize the tourist transport services in that area. For these reasons let me give you some pointers and insight:
#1 Don’t ride in a Tuk Tuk in Thailand
Okay, I realize you may blatantly ignore this advice, but after one ride, I guarantee you won’t make a habit out of it. But, if you insist…
#2: Always negotiate the price down
Specifically, always follow the Golden Rules for Negotiating in Thailand. The Tuk Tuk mafias have set rates in each area. It doesn’t matter where you go within that area, the asking price will be the same. Most tourists will pay this fare. The real price is 2/3 of what they asked. As always, negotiate before you get in.
#3 Avoid the Tuk Tuks near the BTS station
In general, this is where the most unsuspecting tourists will be looking for a ride. You minimize your chances of being overly-scammed by walking a bit further down and looking for a passing Tuk Tuk (or God-willing a taxi or motorbike).
#4 Do not EVER agree to visit a shop the Tuk Tuk driver wants to take you to
The Tuk Tuk mafia receives a commission on goods bought by tourists they take to these shops. The driver will tell you just to have a look, and that he gets free gas out of the deal. Don’t fall for it. Also, he may also offer a highly discounted daily rate for stops at the most popular sites, if only you pop into the tailor or jewelry shop to have a look. So, just avoid this altogether and move on. Keep in mind these shops won’t actually pay them if you don’t buy anything. For this reason, you’re putting yourself in an awkward position if you actually enter one of these stores and don’t intend on buying. Don’t do that! There are other Tuk Tuks and transport methods around that won’t do this if you make an effort.
#5 Okay maybe visit a shop
Ok, the only scenario where this may make sense is if you plan on visiting a tailor or jewelry shop anyway. Bangkok does have many high-quality custom tailors with good prices. Worth it if you can consolidate your plans to get a free day of travel out of the deal, right! Visit some temples and get a new suit fitted perhaps.