Tuk tuk, madam? Where you go, sir?

This post will be about Cambodian tuk tuk drivers since that’s the only place where I have encountered any tuk tuk drivers during my life. My experience remains short (4 days) but during this time I met many of them and implied a few different tactics of bargaining. I also made some research about Cambodian tuk tuk drivers and read other blogs/ forum posts about this topic just to make this post more truthful, objective and to make more sense in general.

Complicated business

What I figured out during my trip was that the “get a ride” business is one hell of a business. Our moto drivers at the border, they had a deal with the taxi driver and got paid when they delivered customers to him. I didn’t know I should have bargained for the taxi price with them already. Another thing is that the drivers who hang out in front of hostels/hotels have to pay for it, they get more customers but have to share with the hostel owner. Every driver has to pay certain extra fee to the government on yearly basis for their “tuk tuk license”.

I read that used motorbikes usually sell for 200-250 dollars and usual yearly income for Cambodian is about 150-540 dollars so buying a moto, it’s a big deal. The drivers can get 0-200 dollars per month, sometimes they get nothing. Usually the tuk tuk is rented so when you are paying for your ride you are also helping with the rent fees. There will be advertisements on the tuk tuks, of hostels, cafes, clubs and restaurants. Know, if you take such a tuk tuk and the driver recommends what’s mentioned on the advertisement he will get extra profit for bringing you there. They also get extra profit if they manage to sell you a girl in a nice brothel. This is not a hint how to get best sex deals during your sex tourist trip, this just the sad truth and dam you if you are a sex tourist. See how connected these people are?

By no means are the tuk tuk drivers rich, they are poor no matter how many extra dollars they cheat from you (except if they have websites and own a business). Maybe the street vendors are rich but not the drivers. They are dirt poor and that’s why they make those sad faces when you offer too little money, probably most of the sob stories they pull on you are true too. But I don’t get it though. If a trip to the airport costs 5 dollars then ten trips would be 50 dollars already, 30 trips (1/day/month) ? 150$? This is considered a really good monthly salary in Cambodia. Beats me, really.

Bargain the best deal

You know, at first it was just a bunch of shabby looking men and their tuk tuks, all trying to get us ride with them for xx price, not that high but at least a bit higher than for locals. If you are not mentally prepared enough and take it all too lightly you will end up paying extra, might be just insignificant 1 or 2 dollars per ride but suddenly miraculously over 10 dollars a day. So if you stay for a week… Mamma mia!

When I arrived to Cambodia I was prepared to never trust anyone there, ever. Not even if I get friendly with some drivers, nothing will change the fact that I am just a walking wallet in these people’s eyes. Maybe this is not the best tactic because it will make you feel extremely anxious and suspicious about everything and everyone, eventually you will grow unbearably angry and start hating all tuk tuk drivers in whole world just because (that innocent looking smiling face and those “but it’s so far away” comments lies). It’s better to come prepared, with your guns loaded and your heart hardened.

1. Ask how much before getting on vs don’t ask, just get on and pay when you get off.  

I tried these both tactics and came to a conclusion that there is no much difference. If you negotiate the price beforehand it will make you feel better because if you think about 2 dollars, arrive, pay up and the driver is left unsatisfied, asking for more… it’s just sad. You negotiate the price and pay exact amount, no wavering or extra pity because they will/might ask you for more once you have arrived.

If you have decided to get on and pay later, you must know about basic local fares, which is not a problem anyway, you will learn fast. The problem lies in unsatisfied drivers and your own mental health. You know the basic fare and give just so much money but the driver stars protesting “What you give me? 2 dollars more.” Of course, there is always an option of nonchalantly walking away and maybe  probably getting yelled at by a driver who has nothing good to say to your sensitive, privileged, western, 1st world ears. But at least you have saved those few extra dollars you might have lost while negotiation the price beforehand.

2. Know the price. 

The answer is simple, google. There are travel blogs, forums and all kind of sites from where you can read latest information about tuk tuk fares. Know how much others paid and pay the same or a bit lower.

Another method is to pay a visit to a local gas station see how high is the price for gas  and calculate the answer in your head or with a help of an additional electronic devise. If you don’t know, ask the driver how many kilometers to the destination (a high possibility he will lie), you can even ask him how much does his moto use liters/km. I asked and the answer seemed pretty legit. If you know the price of gas it gives you a good advantage while bargaining.

One more thing, I did try asking people about the prices but especially locals refused to give any answers. They always had this “What? Are you stupid? Do you think I will really tell?” smiles on their faces. I’m telling you, it’s one huge plot of the whole society to rip off foreigners. Other travelers? They pay either more than you (and they will give you this moral crap for not sparing some 3 dollars) or less (and it’s just gonna piss you off). Just find out about the price before you come.

3. Negotiate. 

There is a high possibility for you to get lower prices if you ask one driver to work for you for several days. If he doesn’t show up the next morning it will be his loss, not yours (he won’t show up if someone else offers a better deal). And anyway, there are enough tuk tuk drivers just everywhere so you will never face the problem of not getting a ride. If one tuk tuk driver won’t budge from his “super high fares” just walk away, but know that he might follow you for several blocks while continuing his bargaining and he might make a scene in front of other drivers just to prevent you from getting other rides (but this is a case of extreme asshole drivers, most of them are decent people). What you should be aware of is that the tuk tuk drivers have this bad habit of grabbing your luggage and carrying it to the vehicle so you won’t have other options but to ride with them. Just exclaim:”Wait a minute!” and coolly stop them.

4. Know where to catch your ride. 

Definitely not in front of a nice hotel or even a hostel, not in front of restaurants, bus stations or even at the airport entrance. Just think about it, why are there only “fancy” looking tuk tuks in front of fancy hotels? Or will a driver who can speak English be more expensive than the one who can’t and would there be an English peaking driver in front of your hostel rather than a non English speaking one? It’s all a game like in Hollywood movies where fancy gentleman thieves go to Las Vegas to rob banks and Casinos, you have to think smart and be one step ahead, at all times. (Will this make you into a fat tourist without morals who is out there to cheat poor tuk tuk drivers while your pockets are full of money? If you want to put it so.)

At Phnom Penh, if you bother walking some 5 insignificant minutes away from the airport and to the roadside you will save several dollars. The same story when you negotiate for a tuk tuk ride to Angkor Wat yourself instead of asking the hotel reception.

5. The destination

The drivers are usually from the countryside, probably sold their lands in order to buy a vehicle, so they don’t really know the street names too well. When taking a tuk tuk it’s more convenient to tell the driver the name of the place you are going to instead of the address. They know most of the guest houses and all the important sights and markets (if they don’t know they will still attempt to take you there and might get lost, then they might demand more money upon arrival because “Sir, the gas is so expensive.”) When I showed the address, I had written down, to a moto drivers in Siem Reap (I forgot they use different alphabet) the only thing they understood was “Cambodia”. No shit Sherlock!

 Afternoon nap.

What I learned in December 2012 in Cambodia:

My friend said that in Thailand it’s better to just get on a tuk tuk without asking the price and then pay upon arrival, but if you don’t know the price it’s a bit hard. Anyway, I prefer bargaining in advance to avoid unpleasant surprises, at least in Cambodia. If you smile and are very friendly it’s easier to get the price down, Cambodians don’t like angry bargainers The price ranges between 1 to 3 dollars per person. Usually they settle for 1 $/person (a short trip) but 6000 riels (1,5$) is possible too (if you bargain well). From Phnom Penh airport you can get a cheaper tuk tuk outside the gates, 4-6$. And from the city to the airport it’s cheaper to get a tuk tuk not trough hostel/hotel but by yourself, same 4-6$. A taxi for a day might be cheaper option than a tuk tuk  but way more boring. Ankgor Wat should be possible for 12 dollars a day, we idiots paid 17 per day because we didn’t check the prices beforehand. Some paid over 20 dollars but the cheapest should be 10-12 dollars.

Plan your days well so you can include many destinations in on ride and save money. The tuk tuk drivers usually have a map with destinations and most probably will suggest you several routes which make a lot of sense. Just tell them what you want to see, they tell you a plan, you accept, then they tell you a price and you bargain it lower. Simple and easy. In Siem Reap you can walk everywhere, it’s a short distance, and get a bike for a day to visit Angkor Wat, so if you want just forget about these tuk tuks.

The Dilemma 

I guess, the hardest thing will be the sudden jump from middle class to the riches. Once you arrive to Cambodia (or any other poor country) you will suddenly become rich but your mentality will stay the same old middle class. Suddenly you are facing all these poor people, who look at you with their greedy sparkling eyes  because for them you are nothing but a stack of dollars yet to be spent, on them. But in your own heart, you are nothing but a poor student who could barely afford this trip. It’s a confusing situation.

I am just a student, worked hard to get enough money for my trip and can’t really spend extra. It pisses me off when people cheat me, no matter how poor. I come from a country where cheating is considered bad or even illegal. Yet I know all these people are so poor, can barely earn enough for a meal and my responsibility is to share because I can. But then again, they are cheating me because they think I am rich. I am not rich but in their country I actually am. But if I always pay extra I will exceed my budget and have no money when I come back to my own country. How will I live? But anyway, it will still be a better situation than for people in this country. Fuck. Stupid roller coaster, there is no end to this and thinking like this will just turn me into a cynical asshole, which I actually am but anyway…

Morals will just make you vulnerable, that’s all.

Forget about them?

And what? Become a monkey?

“In my country I am not rich” that’s what I said to one tuk tuk driver. His answer was: “At least you can work and save for traveling while I just work to earn a decent living.” Don’t pretend to be innocent and play the wrong cards. They know all those million ways how to make you feel guilty and they are not afraid of using them against you. Don’t let yourself feel guilty. For what should you? Why would you pay extra? Probably because that will make you feel temporarily at ease, like you are a good person and shit. You are buying that good feeling for 3 dollars so you can go back home like a Messiah, waste water and electricity and throw away food you didn’t finish eating? Ha ha ha…. Double standards, throw those away and we are all nothing but monkeys.

I recently read in a blog something along “[…] but don’t bargain too much because…” Why not? As long as you pay like locals it should be okay? What’s the use of over paying? Letting these people live off scam (pisses me off)? Truthfully speaking, I did feel guilty until I read from this one book about Asian sex slaves “Tuk tuk drivers are the majority (of men) who use services of brothels in Cambodia” (Excluding all those pathetic disgusting sex tourists) Excuse me? I thought if I don’t pay that extra dollar people will die because they won’t have enough money to buy medicine or food. Turns out I saved a man from getting HIV.

My point is, you never know how that money will be spent. Of course, not all tuk tuk drivers buy sex (I presume) but still, what about alcohol, cigarettes, drugs etc? So feeling guilty is just… stupid? It’s inevitable but unnecessary. You can’t help it. But even if you pay extra, what will change? Absolutely nothing. Let’s not romanticize poverty. Are you imagining something about girls going to school, mother recovering from an illness or father bringing home meat or sweets, all this because you paid extra? The possibility of this happening is what, 10%? Get real, the girl gets sent off to a brothel, mother dies and there will be no meat. That’s it.  The sad truth of the world.

If you think I am being heartless check out this blog post or this one and think about tuk tuk drivers asking western men “How about a girl?” and then think about those human trafficked poor girls in brothels. Feeling any pity for the tuk tuk drivers anymore? When we arrived to Siem Reap in the middle of the night to a bus station which was located nowhere, there was this tuk tuk driver we tried to bargain with but he just got angry “We are not in Vietnam!” he exclaimed. Then we tried to bargain with another driver but this angry tuk tuk driver started yelling at him in khmer (most probably something about us being bitches) so I told him: “You are a bad man.” It felt like getting overboard then but afterwards when getting yelled at by the street vendors how we were bad people for not buying anything… I knew what I did was right. Anyway, we ended up taking motos, it felt less like a rip off since both got their own rides.

Finally, I KNOW it’s just a few dollars but this is not about the money it’s the matter of principle. Getting cheated all the time is not a nice feeling and when you are treated like garbage on the top of that. No matter how fucking poor anyone is you pay for service which is worth xx amount of money, paying extra just feels shitty. A little bargaining is always good and I am sure if you offer a fair price the tuk tuk drivers will accept. Too little is too little. Overall they are nice people, don’t pity them or give them too much but also don’t mistreat them by being angry if your offered price is not accepted.

Be a good tourist 

1. Don’t get your ride in front of hostels/hotels so your driver gets to keep the whole profit. Get a random ride at a random place.

2. If a driver comes to sell you his service accept it (if bargaining bears good fruits), reward hardworking.

3. Recommend online (forums etc check this out!) if you get good service, take the driver’s cell phone number and let other travelers know. This will give an extra boost to a driver who really deserves it by being honest (more or less) and a good businessman.

4. If a driver suggest you a cafe or restaurant agree to go if you don’t really care much where you eat. He will get a  few extra pennies for bringing you there.

5. Tip good service (after bargaining a good price) but only if it’s a good service.

6. Talk with drivers so they get to practice English, priceless.

It’s HATE both ways

Finally I  left Cambodia with “I fucking hate tuk tuk drivers” and I’m sure they sent me off with “I fucking hate that rich bitch”. Put yourself into their shoes. They are meeting all these fat ugly people every day for the past, what, 10 years. These foreigners have their wallets full of dollars yet they refuse to pay 1 dollar extra? If I was a tuk tuk driver I would detest all white trash, no matter if a man or a woman, drunk or sober, pretty or ugly, fat or skinny, I would hate everyone equally. Just because they have enough money to travel, they have enough money to dress and eat well, to stay in hotels but not fucking enough to pay 1 dollar extra. Those arrogant and stingy bitches, the double standard us. We think we are Messiahs. In truth we are bastards. All of us. Feeling guilty? How ridiculous.

 Drivers getting some water from the fountain, for the radiators, you know.