Although Tuk-tuks are a popular form of transportation across Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia (Singapore not so much, they prefer taxis – booooring), riding one in each location is very much a “same same but different” experience:
(Before I start talking about Tuk-tuks in Indonesia, I would first like to point out that all of my experiences with them are from Sumatra, not Bali or any other major tourist location.)
The first thing I did when I landed in the airport in Medan was bolt straight for a Tuk-tuk. Fortunately, I had done my research in advance and discovered that the taxis and Tuk-tuks waiting immediately outside the arrivals gate will charge you a significantly higher fare than those about 50m down the road (vehicles have to pay a fee to enter the airport pickup area). Even with the “cheaper” fare, my 15minute ride from the airport to the bus terminal was still more expensive than my 2.5hour bus ride to Berastagi.
At the time, I was travelling with 2 other girls and in all of our combined past experiences, three girls (with carry-on sized baggage) had been an easy fit. The Tuk-tuk we hired in Indonesia came nowhere near this. Since my girls had squished into the front-facing seats while I was in the washroom, I was stuck with the mini back-facing seat. Now, I’m not a very big person (if you couldn’t tell from the name of the blog), but I felt like a giant in that seat, it was so puny! I’m guessing Tuk-tuk was designed to fit only one person with some baggage and our driver just didn’t want to pass up our business and tried to squish us in regardless.
My friends and I hired 2 Tuk-tuks to give us a tour around Bangkok. Apparently, it was “Buddha day”, so gas was free to all government-run Tuk-tuks (which are cheaper on a regular day and marked with a Thai flag, but are much less in number). This meant our half-day ride was only about 25baht (about 1SGD)!
For some reason though, one of our drivers took off before taking us back to our hostel without any explanation. We returned to the location we specified we would meet him in at the time we agreed on, but he just didn’t turn up. We hadn’t paid him yet, but after waiting around, we just called on another Tuk-tuk to take us back.
Vietnam was the one place I visited in South East Asia where Tuk-tuks were outnumbered by motorcycles. For this reason, the Tuk-tuk felt much larger than it usually would because you tower over all of the motorcylists! This is important if you’re even a little bit afraid of getting hit by a speeding vehicle on a road that seems to have no rules or directional system.
As far as Tuk-tuks go, the ones you find in Cambodia couldn’t be more luxurious if you had painted them gold. The seats are spacious and wide and the roofs provide refreshing shade between temples when you’re touring the Angkor temples.
A friend and I got a Tuk-tuk to pick us up from the bus depot and bring us to our hostel. Before leaving, our driver asked if we needed a ride anywhere else during our time in Siem Reap. We told him about our plans to tour the Angkor temples, and he agreed to pick us up at 5am the next morning and give us a full tour. Knowing better than we did how hot it was going to be, he even gave us some complimentary water bottles throughout the day in a cooler in the Tuk-tuks trunk (I didn’t even know Tuk-tuks had trunks at that point)!
The only issue I had with the experience was the lack of speed. Even when I told the drive I had left my wallet at the last temple we had visited and urged him to take me back as fast as possible, he drove at the same leisurely pace. Apparently the only pace in the country.
All Together Now:
To give you a little comparison of what to expect in terms of Tuk-tuk size, speed, service, availability and price, here’s a handy little chart: