I despise riding tuktuks in Thailand. But for some reason, I love the ones in Cambodia. Unlike the Thailand three-wheeled carts, these are carriages attached to a motorcycle pulling it. There are a couple single-vehicle units that are still made to resemble the pulled carriage structure.
The compartment is usually made of wood, sometimes so shabbily so we are afraid to really put our weight on the floorboards, in fear of our legs breaking right through the planks onto the asphalt below. There’s something about the carriage, though, that just feels rustic and old fashioned. Maybe it’s the poles supporting the hood that looks almost like a thin pillar. Maybe it’s the benches being not unlike the benches of the old horse carriages. Or the penchant for a lot of the drivers to hand up curtains around the compartment, largely plastic rain shields, but an occasional fabric curtain or two.
As much as I am charmed by the vehicle, I vehemently dislike the process of being ripped off by the drivers. Fares generally are negotiated, especially when dealing with the mafia camped out in front of the major hotels. There’s an organized element to the hoard of tuktuks that wait in front of the hotels. They follow a queue system, and they have a price point they try to maintain that is as much as four times the fair value. A gaggle stakes claim to particular street corner or hotel entrance and any one trying to join in will likely be bullied.
The tuktuk mafia hate me. Frugal to the fault, I believe in paying at fair value, not a penny more. It’s not that I can’t afford it.. but a lot of locals and NGO expats cannot afford raising tuktuk fares. So I don’t encourage the drivers. Like taking taxis in Bangkok, I’ve learned flagging a tuktuk passing on the street is the best way. More often than not, the drivers don’t even haggle, they just accept what you pay at the end as long as it is fair.
The rides are not smooth. And often quite scary when weaving between huge SUVs in traffic that doesn’t stop for any light. With no suspension, riders have to be grateful the asphalt isn’t terribly potholed- yet.
In light of the horrible news in Arizona, I offer some lighter reading:
I’ve moved a step to going more native in my mode of transport. In the mornings, instead of taking the apartment tuktuk to the Skytrain station, I now take a motorcycle taxi. Those are motorcyclists who give passengers rides down the street. They generally are stationed around the major intersections or in front of major buildings and are identifiable with a numbered vest. Same price as the tuktuk, but has the advantage of weaving between vehicles and getting me to the station faster.
One morning, I walked out of building and was about to flag one down. I noticed a motorcyclist about to gear up to hit the road and asked for a ride down to the Station. He said sure, but laughed for some reason. As I climbed on, I glanced toward the direction of my building and noticed the guards giving me a funny look. We were halfway down before it dawned on me the motorcyclist didn’t have a vest. And another second for me to notice that he was also wearing a buttoned up shirt, a touch formal for a motocy. My god. Have I asked the mailman for a ride??? He still stopped and waited for payment at the end, though. I guess I gave some dude his lunch money. How embarrassing…
Blogger’s note: I had planned to write up a long post about crime and women. Instead, waking up to the news of the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords infuriated me in many ways. I just wasn’t in the mood to research links to cases of violence against women that I intended. I am too angry to pursue such a task objectively. This is also one moment where I wish I had geared my blog to rant about politics, which I had and will not. So, someone, blog, please, so I can rant on YOURS!
Convertibles ain’t got anything against these tuktuks. Excuse the grainy video. It was a bumpy ride, sitting on the floor, no less. Much against my resistance, we had to resort to the tuktuk for a longer ride when we couldn’t hail a taxi.
Tuktuks are probably one of those things you get on once, than that’s it. Not for me. I get on one every morning. But it’s because the apartment complex has one on hand, at a rate of 10 THB for a ride down the street.
There’s no way for me to describe it. I don’t have the vocabulary and writing skill for it. Instead, I offer a pictoral definition.
It’s not as common as it sounds now that taxis are slowly taking over. To hire and ride them on the streets are usually pretty dangerous and expensive. Dangerous in the sense that not only could you get flattened by a top heavy speaking truck, you could also be taken on a detour by the driver trying to rip you off.
In the Bangkok roads, you’re more likely to get bugs and dust in your eyes and breathe smog in these things than really get a touristy sight-seeing experience. Having said that, I still see Thai locals on them, from four students crammed in for a ride home or a lone maid or restaurant worker loading every stuff-able cranny of the passengar compartment with product from the Klong Toei market.
My apartment tuktuk is allowed only two destinations- down the street to almost the intersection of the closest Skytrain station and through the backstreets to the Emporium shopping center. Towards the end of my first week of riding it, it started to sound like it was on its last engine, sputtering when being started, and stalling mid-ride on a few occaisions. Which makes the ride feel wilder because the driver is trying to rush down to get me there before it stalls out and we’re careening down and around the traffic of what I had formerly thought was a two-lane road.
So, yes, I take the tuktuk every morning. And I can’t help giggle everytime I say that.