A Comparative Study of Tuk-Tuks Across South East Asia

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:


Travvel Sized giant

Travvel Sized giant

(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.


Who doesn't love hot pink seats?

Who doesn’t love hot pink seats?

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.


So.Many.Motorcycles. So.Many.Electrical wires.

So.Many.Motorcycles. So.Many.Electrical wires.

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.


So.Much.Space!! (also collapsable seats!!)

So.Much.Space!! (also collapsable seats!!)

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:

  Size Speed Service Availability Cheapness Overall
Indonesia 1 6 4 5 7 4.6
Thailand 6 7 2 3 10 5.6
Vietnam 7 6 5 4 5 5.4
Cambodia 10 1 9 10 5 7.0

Kickin Back on Koh Tao

Yes, my main reason for going to Koh Tao was to dive and yes, I did 9 dives in 4 days (they’re efficient over at Big Blue). Buuuuuut, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have time for other fun things as well!

In Bangkok, you can get ½ hour massages in chairs right on the street, basically anywhere within a 2km radius from a hostel for 200THB (Thai Baht) (about 7 CAD). I thought it was strange that they were out in the open at first, but if you don’t want a “special” Bangkok-style massage, that’s one way to know you won’t be getting one for sure!

In Koh Tao, for an extra 100THB, you get full spa facilities, a warm-up foot rub, an hour-long full body massage and a cup of lavender tea. Since my buddy wouldn’t stop raving about them and since I had literally almost been scared out of my mind the day before and could use the relaxation, I decided I might as well give it a try.

After getting a quick foot rub – which got my feet cleaner than they’d been all trip, I was moved to a mattress in the next room over.

At first, my masseuse admitted that she was scared of hurting me (I must have been looking even more like a 12 year child than normal I guess), but after some quick reassurance (and happy puuuuuuuur-ing) on my part, she got over that quickly.

This is how I imagined I looked for the entire hour

This is how I imagined I looked for the entire hour

About halfway through the hour, techniques were switched and my buddy and I began getting stretched out. After getting his back bent about 3cm, my buddy began screaming “knock out, knock out, KO” boxing announcer-style (Thailand – 1: Dive Tourists – 0).

This new title of Thai boxing-massage champion seemed to please the other masseuse; so when it came my turn, I could tell my lady was ready to earn the title for herself. Unfortunately for her, she was completely unaware of my cheerleader/limbo champion status, so when she went to bend me backwards, I bent so far; she ended up toppling backwards over herself (Thailand – 1: Dive Tourists – 1).

Although I was quite proud of myself for tying the score, my buddy let us slip again, crying more KOs with each new body part. The final score was somewhere around Thailand – 15,000: Dive Tourists – 1. This is only an approximation, as I spent most of the remainder of my time contemplating how bendy characters like Gumby and Elastigirl would go about getting a massage.



By the end of the session though, all of the kinks had disappeared from my back (an impressive feat, considering the rock of a bed I sleep on), I had solved the great Gumby/Elastigirl massage conundrum

Show off!

Show off!

(my final conclusion ended up being that they would likely need to stretch themselves out as far as they could in one direction, then get steamrolled at a perpendicular angle in order to be sufficiently stretched out). Even with losing the Thai boxing-massage match, I was feeling pretty relaxed and productive. I even had time to finish my evenings with some quick sunset photoshoots:

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Diving into my Fears with Big Blue

I’ve written an article about this for Verge, but it’ll be a while until they actually get it up, so I’ll give all of you bloggers a sneak-peek for now.

Basically, I’ve been terrified of fish since I was a kid and experienced an unfortunate snorkeling experience in Disneyland (its a scarring place, I know).

cinderella-castle-disneyland images Disneyland-Haunted-Halloween-Alien-Invasion

Basically, I got in the water, looked down, saw a catfish, came to the conclusion that cats should be soft, fluffy, live on land and breath air (not slippy, creepy, non-blinking water-breathers) and promptly began screaming.

This reaction to fish continued for over a decade, but after I realized that I jumped out of an airplane and tobogganed down a volcano barely batting an eye, surely I’d be able to handle tiny guppies! So with this mentality, I booked some scuba certification lessons with Big Blue Diving on Koh Tao (Turtle Island) and was on my way to conquer my fear!

How could anything go bad at a place like this?

How could anything go bad at a place like this?

After 2 days of classroom videos about how not to die underwater (don’t try to come back up at a rate faster than 9m/minute, or you’ll need to be sent to a decompression chamber), it was finally time to hop (James Bond style) into the ocean. I began my first underwater descent clinging to my buoyancy compensator scuba gear for dear life, hoping desperately that I didn’t encounter that fish in the trench from Finding Nemo.

Even Marlin and Dory were terrified of this guy!

Even Marlin and Dory were terrified of this guy!

I was focused so hard on trying not to be afraid, that for the first 10m of our descent, I had forgotten to equalize the pressure in my ears. at this 10m point, I started getting a sharp pain in my ears, but for some reason, wasn’t able to equalize the pressure properly. By now, the pain was getting bigger and I had realized that if I had come too far to go back up and relieve the pressure, but that if I stayed where I was, my head was probably going to explode. I frantically waived over the instructor, hoping he could magically save my life with some type of scuba-instructor magic.

Fortunately, this WAS the case, as he calmly demonstrated the PROPER technique for equalizing ear pressure. (Turns out I didn’t listen well enough in class, but in my defence, I was on recess week from school!) After a couple attempts, I heard a satisfying “POP” and felt the threat of a head-explosion fading – I WASN’T GOING TO DIE!!

Even better than just not-dying, I also came to the startling conclusion that, despite the fact that fish are creepy, don’t blink or breath air, are basically 2D and flop around awkwardly on land, they also can’t make my head explode. On the grand scale of things, I rank head-explosions as worse than a lack of eyelids (only just), so nothing a fish could do by being in the water with me would be worse than the inability to equalize ear pressure I just lived though!

With this frame of mind, I was able to let go of my fear and let the fish surround me. I swam up to the reef, got over some lingering off-putting feelings and was soon able to appreciate these strange little creatures.

In the zen-like underwater world, their movements flowed smoothly and their scales reflected a full spectrum of colour. They wove in and out of the reefs in perfect harmony and I realized that they weren’t so creepy, they were actually kind of beautiful  My fear had officially been replaced with a new-found awe.

Getting over my fear had further rewards, as I was able to swim through a ship wreck – Sattakut, and get officially certified as an Advanced Adventurer, basically the coolest accomplish EVER!!

Photo on 2013-03-14 at 23.39 #4


How Market Shopping In Bangkok Ruined My Life

In my last post, I left off on a pirate-ing high, just scoring my first piece of pirate treasure gold: an ever-useful pair of Thai fishing pants. From there, I’ll admit I caught a bit of treasure hunting psychosis.

Pirate Judi

Gifts, dresses, headbands and shirts were purchased. Each requiring careful treasure map consultation (to ensure that a better deal was not hiding behind the corner) and fierce pirate sword fighting (haggling with shop vendors).

I was on (what I thought was) an unstoppable raid. Then, one treasure I found took me completely off guard. It was a just a simple, unassuming bunny tank top with a poem printed upon it, but that was what made it so shocking (to me, anyways). The bunny’s poem basically summed up the entirety of (what I used to consider) one of my more insightful posts: A Hypothetical Response.

Photo on 2013-03-12 at 14.39

Yes, I know the poem is a bit difficult to read, so I’ll spell it out for you:

The year is through

So what will I do?

Something exciting

Fantastic and new?

Something tremendous

Something stupendous

Something that makes

All my wishes come true?

Or maybe the same

As the year that’s just passed

Or the same as the one year

That came before last.

And on for forever

I’ll go just repeating

The years in succession

As long as I’m breathing.

It’s all up to me

That much I can see

To make this new year

The most new it can be.

It’s all up to us

Where ever we are

To try and keep trying

To go farther than far.

To reach higher than high

To make new and make better

The most magic year ever!

While looking at the shirt in the market, I felt a little defeated at the fact that it reminded me of the Dr Seuss book, “Oh the Places You’ll Go”. But once I got back to Singapore and re-read the book (because I can do these things, now that virtually every book is available online; *cough* this site here *cough*), I realised that it was on par with Calvin and Hobbes, in terms of having deep content for something that is supposed to be intended for children.

Personally, I feel as though philosophy conveyed under a simple context has the most meaning. When it comes down to it, pretty much everyone is looking for something simple: love, fun, money, fame, happiness, whatever. You don’t need to make it more complicated than that.


How Market Shopping in Bangkok Made My Life

Now, I’m not exactly much of a shopaholic. Back in Canada, I’d actually gotten quite good at avoiding this activity, especially considering I basically go to school in one of the biggest malls in Toronto, the Eaton Centre. Not like I have anything against consumerism (as a business student, I don’t think that’s even allowed), I just don’t like buying things I don’t need. I’ve always had a soft spot for markets, vintage shopping, garage sales, basically anything with a crazy amount of random selection where prices are up for negotiation. In these places, you’re not scurrying around like a mall rat, you’re a treasure hunter, searching for your equivalent of a chest of gold buried under shelves and racks of comparative trash. When you find your prize, it’s a full-blown accomplishment!

One Piece is really popular in Singapore, so I felt like part of the show (though I've never seen it)

One Piece is really popular in Singapore, so I felt like part of the show (though I’ve never seen it)

For me, this basically made Bangkok Treasure Island. Entire streets are lined with stalls selling items that are “same same but different”, which is a popular Thai saying used to describe knock-offs. It’s such a famous phrase; they sell shirts that say it (not like that means a lot, they also sell used batteries)!

Also, an entire street dedicated to lottery tickets!

Also, an entire street dedicated to lottery tickets!

My first treasure chest was a pair of Thai fishing pants. I’d first seen the puffy mid-length pants years ago in a shop in Toronto, but resisted the temptation to buy them, telling myself “oh, I’ll just get a pair when I’m in Thailand, it’ll be so much more authentic”. Now, this was a really unreasonable excuse as I had absolutely no plans to go anywhere near Thailand at that point, but that was all I needed to back out of the sale (there’s a reason I’m not usually a shopaholic). However, now that I was actually in Thailand, my excuse was now void, and I decided it would be worthwhile to get the pants.

In western malls, I can easily see that my shopping indecisiveness tends to irritate sales people; I’ll spend an hour in a store and walk out with nothing. In Thai markets, I use this to my advantage like there’s no tomorrow. I waffled over which pants to buy like I was at a breakfast buffet and even changed my mind and began walking away from a store once the vendor had began bagging the pants (just before I paid). He ended up yelling after me and flicking me with an elastic band as I walked down the street to get me to come back and knocked the price down again, which I eventually agreed to. I had officially found my first piece of treasure!

For my first find, the treasure-pants were a pretty good score! Since they were a longer length, they make for acceptable temple-garb (many don’t allow you to enter if your knees are exposed) AND since they’re flow-y and made of a ridiculously light material, it also means that I don’t sweat myself into a puddle! PLUS they’re perfectly comfortable for long plane/bus rides when you’re back and forth between freezing AC and sweltering humidity. Basically, the perfect piece of clothing for travel since it works in virtually every scenario. I will now be referring to them as the Jack Sparrow’s compass of market purchases, because they me anywhere I want to go (and because Jack Sparrow is awesome, but that should be a given).

compass chalkboard

TukTuk Temple Tour

March 1 was “apparently” Buddha Day in Bangkok. The quotes are there because after looking it up, I found that although Buddha Day (or Buddha’s birthday) was recorded on the Chinese lunar calendar and the exact day its celebrated varies by year and country, it basically happens around the beginning of May – not March. However, “Buddha Day” meant TukTuk rentals were super cheap, so I decided to just go with it!

Jumping into a TukTuk, I took off for Luang Pho To – a 30m Buddha Statue (the tallest in the world of Buddha holding an alms-bowl – I swear, every Wat and Statue holds some type of record).

IMG_5851 IMG_5852 IMG_5853 IMG_5843 IMG_5850

Although Buddha was cool and everything, he didn’t have anything on the carnival being set up around the corner. Unable to resist the midway, I decided to test my popgun shooting skills. Now, back in Canada, I’m a pro at the watergun-shooting game, and in Peru, I shot Ken’s head clean off with a popgun, so I figured I’d be okay at the Thai-version. WRONG! My shooting skills were pretty rusty to say the least. My shots were off and my technique was laughable. With my last shot, I somehow managed to knick the corner of the bunny I was aiming at though, so the carnie running the game gave it to me as a booby prize. It was actually pretty adorable and would actually fit in my bag (unlike the “real”prizes), so I was pretty psyched for the lil bunny!!

Also, I need some help naming the

The fact that we’re twins also made my day!

Next on the tour was the Golden Mount – a temple perched on top of a hill, overlooking the city. In addition to looking forward to the view at the top, the hike up was made even more fun by the various collections of ceremonial bells I had (probably far too much) fun chiming.

IMG_5875 IMG_5857 IMG_5879 IMG_5873 IMG_5864

The view from the top of the temple demonstrated just how clearly the Wats, slums and urban centres are so closely compacted together, but still incredibly separate.
Chao Phraya Express Boat

It was then time to ditch the TukTuks for a boat. Since a river runs right through the city, Chao Praya Express Boats runs a boat public transit system through the city.


The system was really well organized, cheap (15THB fare) and is actually a pretty efficient way to get around. It lead us straight to our dinner destination, the only place I’d ever been to that advertised their french fries as being “McDonald comparable” (their Thai iced teas were much better)!

IMG_5886Thai Iced Tea


On another note, I need some help naming my bunny! Any suggestions?

Blitzing to Bangkok

So I spent the week basically chillin’ like a hipster villain (someone like the Gray Goblin – because “Green” and “Hob” are too mainstream).

The "other" son of the Green Goblin, he lives in Paris because there are too many American superheroes!

The “other” son of the Green Goblin, he lives in Paris because there are too many American superheroes!

Basically, I made evil schemes and created evil doomsday devices. (If you count “travel plans” as “evil schemes” and “a well-packed backpack” as a “doomsday device”, that is.)

The reason for all of this evil-ness was that I was taking off for NTU’s recess week to fly to Bangkok for a few days, then head down to the island of Koh Tao to get my diving certification, and I was so excited, it was criminal (almost as much as that pun). After what seemed like forever and no time at all at the same time (stupid internal clock is still broken), it was Thursday evening and I was on the MRT with my buddies, heading to the airport. I spent a good hour ditching the chillin-hipster-villain thing, and acting more like a puppy that just discovered squeaky toys, I was so excited. Eventually though, like all puppies, I passed out asleep and was basically unconscious until we arrived at our destination – Khao San Road.

Now, Khao San is basically backpacker-central in Bangkok, so naturally, sleep didn’t occur before some Chang, Pad Thai and 10,000 offers to buy flowers from street vendors who looked far to young to even know what time of night it was.

On a slightly more serious note, child vendors really represent a difficult situation: I know that because they’re out trying to get me to buy a rose at 2am, it means they’re not going to be waking up for school the next day and therefore building the foundation for a better life, etcetera. At the same time, I also know that they’re only out at this time because they need to make money to support themselves and their family in order to simply get by in their day-to-day life. It’s one of those vicious catch 22s that are all too common in developing countries. Kids acting as street peddlers gets to me a little bit more though, because they’re sent in to work more than adults in some places because families know that tourists are more likely to buy souvenirs from/pay to get their picture taken with an adorable little girl in traditional dress than a surly old man smoking a cigarette.

(Yes, I know this post is about Thailand, but the same situation applied in Peru and I'm just looking for an excuse to put some llamas in my blo

Yes, I know this post is about Thailand, but the same applies in Peru – and I’m just looking for an excuse to put some llamas in my blog

At this point, I feel like I have the choice between being an optimist and (unfortunately) a realist. As an optimist, I realize that if I don’t buy the rose the girl is trying to sell me, her family might realize they’d get more out of sending her to school in the long run. As a realist, I see that if I don’t buy anything from her, she might not have the money to eat tomorrow, or even if she does go to school, she might fall in with the wrong crowd and end up in a bad scene regardless.

In the end, I like to think that even a seemingly small chance at something better is worth trying for and that we should all at least get the chance to try.

(And no, I’m not just saying this because I was too indecisive about whether to buy something from the girl and that she had left long before I was able to reach a decision!)