In Bangkok, Tuk Tuks are an awesome novelty. Blinged up with neon lights and all sorts of dangling decorations, bouncing around the bumpy roads like cheerful and carefree Mario Karts, and a reputation for being a particularly cheap means of transportation around the city; it’s definitely a must to grab a ride in a tuk tuk in Bangkok… or is it a scam?
A few years ago, we vacationed in Bangkok for about a week. The very first day, we were approached by a very lovely and helpful stranger in the street. He explained to us that it was something like ‘Happy Buddha Day’ and then continued to make notes for us on our map as to where all the temples were located which we could visit in Bangkok for free today, and only today.
Also, he mentioned, you could grab a special blue government Bangkok tuk tuk for only 25 baht and it would takes us to all of these sights. Oh how lucky were we! Oh and double good fortune there just happened to be a blue tuk tuk pull up beside us! The tuk tuk driver took us to these Bangkok temples and he also took us to a suit shop which seemed a bit random. And it was a bit awkward considering we had absolutely no interest in buying a suit in Bangkok.
Tuk Tukking around Khaosan Road
After maybe an hour of sightseeing, we left the last temple for our Bangkok tuk tuk to take us home. We returned to where the tuk tuk had dropped us but he was nowhere to be seen. Where is he? We didn’t pay him his 25 baht! There were a couple of other tuk tuks waiting up the road, but our tuk tuk driver was nowhere to be seen. “Tuk tuk! Tuk tuk!” they all started shouting to us. We asked them if they’d seen our tuk tuk driver, to which they replied ‘he was ill! He had to go home’. So we were generally sad and concerned for our driver and that we’d had a free tuk tuk ride around Bangkok and not paid him…
Well, later throughout our holiday in Bangkok, both from observation of other tourists and through our own experience, a pattern of tuk tuk scams emerged. Everyday was ‘Happy Buddha Day’. If you were to tell an enthusiastic tuk tuk driver that you already had plans and didn’t want a ride, he would respond with “The Bangkok Grand Palace, it’s closed today, you can’t go there”, “No, that road is closed now, there is nothing there”. Sometimes a stranger would approach a tourist and talk with them while a tuk tuk would be conveniently waiting around the corner to appear in perfect timing to scam them.
We later spoke with a tuk tuk driver when we had no choice but to use him during Bangkok rush hour when all the taxis refused us a ride. We offered the tuk tuk driver 300 baht rather than the usual 25 baht, to take us to where we wanted to go – no bullshit. He refused. He explained to us that the government paid him a very generous amount of money and petrol coupons to take tourists to the suit shops in Bangkok. That was the awkward day when we had to fein interest in suits in a suit shop and deal with a very pissed off indian for wasting his time.
So, frustratingly, despite seeing locals using tuk tuks in Bangkok all the time, it seems that if you are western, it is impossible to simply use a tuk tuk for normal transportation. Or maybe we have just been unlucky. To this very day, we still get pestered from time to time by tuk tuk men in Bangkok asking what we’re up to and then following up with ‘oh, no no it’s closed today’. Although they now also dive straight in and ask straight out if we want to go to a gay massage parlour or a ping pong show. That’s a new one. But… yeah… apparently everything in Bangkok was closed today at 3pm in the afternoon. Yep a whole chunk of Bangkok just went and closed up.
Seriously tuk tuk scam men… just back off…