As a tourist in Thailand, you never have to walk very far before someone offers you a ride; especially in the tourist spots as taxis, songthaews, motorbike taxis or tuk-tuks are abundances. If you do not see one parked nearby, the ones driving past you will slow down to offer you a ride.
In this article, you can read about the tuk-tuk. You will not find tuk-tuks in a western country due to the lack of safety; however, in Thailand, the tuk-tuk is a very popular mean of transportation.
There are several types of tuk-tuks in Thailand; the classic type of a tuk-tuk is the one you find in Bangkok, although you will find it elsewhere too.
The Bangkok Tuk-Tuk
The tuk-tuks in Bangkok are converted scooters (see the photo above); they have even kept the scooter handlebar instead of using a steering wheel.
You definitely should try to ride in a tuk-tuk, but perhaps you should settle for a single trip. The tuk-tuk is dangerous, unpleasant, and expensive.
Dangerous: You have no protection whatsoever, and the drivers are perhaps not the most considerate drivers you find, thus more prone to accidents.
Unpleasant: You sit directly exposed to the exhaust from all the other vehicles, and due to the driver trying to swerve through the traffic they flung you from side to side. Should you visit Thailand in the rainy season, you will not have much protection against the rain.
Expensive: If you are Thai, the tuk-tuk is cheap. If you are a tourist, you will have to pay quite a different price. Even if you are Asian, you cannot conceal your heritage unless to speak fluent Thai.
The tuk-tuk does not have a taximeter; instead, you agree on a price in advance - you should never ride in a tuk-tuk unless you have agreed to a price in advance! The price offered for a tourist is usually significantly higher than the same trip will cost in a taxi with air conditioning and better safety. If you go for a ride without negotiating a price in advance, the price will be even higher than usual.
Tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok are notorious for wanting to drive you somewhere else than where you want to go. If you want to go to a particular shopping mall, the driver may tell you it is closed; instead, he will suggest you a much better place to go shopping. The driver may also suggest that you visit a tailor or a jewellery store that has a special sale right now.
The driver does not suggest those places as a favour; he will get a commission for the customers he brings. This, of course, means that the prices you will have to pay will include the commission. Besides, the large shopping malls very rarely close before 22 (10 PM); thus, you can safely assume that such a claim is a lie.
Besides all the negative things, it can be fun to ride in a tuk-tuk, and sometimes they can be faster than taxis because they can swerve through the traffic and they can perhaps use alleyways to avoid the traffic jams.
Most of the tuk-tuks have room for two passengers; however, there are exceptions. I found this tuk-tuk parked outside the mall MBK at Christmas in 2010. Please note that the snow on the Christmas tree is artificial.
Tuk-tuks outside Bangkok
You will find the Bangkok tuk-tuk in other places in Thailand too; however, you will also find other versions of the tuk-tuk. In the north-east of Thailand, for instance in Udon Thani, you will find this more potent-looking tuk-tuk also known as a skylab. Instead of using a scooter, they use a motorbike.
In Phuket, you can find a tuk-tuk more similar to real cars. It has four wheels, a steering wheel, and it is slightly reminiscent of a small Volkswagen van with carved windows and benches to sit on.
They can be a little more pleasant to ride in; in addition, they are probably also safer as they offer better protection in case of an accident.
However, the tuk-tuks in Phuket constitute one of the few snakes in this tropical paradise. Especially the ones you find in Patong and in the other tourist cities at the west coast of Phuket. The tuk-tuks in Phuket deserves a section of their own:
Tuk-Tuks in Phuket
In Phuket, the tuk-tuks are very expensive and they are using fixed prices. The drivers and their organisations have prevented cheaper alternatives during the years by blockades and even by burning competitor's vehicles.
The fixed prices mean that for instance in Patong, you have to pay 200 baht no matter where in the city you want to go to, even if the distance is only 100 meter (325 feet). Since the longest distance in Patong is around 3 kilometres (1.8 miles), that means that the price is at least five times higher than what it costs to ride in a taxi with air-conditioning in Bangkok.
If you want to go to one of the neighbouring towns, it will typically cost you 400-500 baht for a 10-minute drive. A Thai factory worker usually earns 300 baht a day.
When you negotiate a price with a tuk-tuk driver in Phuket, you will find that it is very difficult to negotiate a lower price. In addition, you should be aware that it might cost extra for more than three or four passengers. Remember; always negotiate a price before entering the tuk-tuk! Otherwise, the price may be even higher than the usual price.
Sometimes you can read stories in the local newspapers of a tourist that refused to pay the full price when he realised how short the distance was. You should never refuse to pay! If you refuse to pay, your next stop may very well be the hospital. No, I am not exaggerating; some of the tuk-tuk drivers have a very harsh way to tell the customer to pay the full price.
Please understand that not all the tuk-tuk drivers in Phuket are scum; you will find many nice and honest tuk-tuk drivers. The high prices are mainly because of an exorbitant fee for the license to drive a tuk-tuk.
Most of the complaints from tourists in Phuket are about the prices for the tuk-tuks and the jet ski scams.