Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tuk Tuk drivers

Tuk Tuk drivers are ubiquitous in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. They are so common that I think most volunteers forget to write about them because we have to deal with them all the time. A typical walk down a city street consists of every tuk tuk driver yelling at you to ride their tuk tuk. There are so many drivers that any given block will have at least 3 or 5 guys (they are all male) yelling at you. Sometimes its a simple "Tuk Tuk!" or a "Lady! Lady!". If they mistake me for being Khmer they'll yell "Hey Miss!" in Khmer. Hearing this for 2 years really wears on you, but I wouldn't mind so much if it was just yelling. I'm from NYC and I have perfected the ability to ignore things around me.

Unfortunately, tuk tuk and moto drivers are also very aggressive. If a tuk tuk or moto is passing by sometimes they'll drive straight into you, pausing maybe 2 inches from hitting you, and then yell "Tuk Tuk!". I've had times where I'm trying to cross the street and the guy stops in front of me and forces me to walk around him.

The worst part is when you're getting off a bus or a taxi. Before you even get out the guys are chasing the bus or car down the street. They follow the vehicle until it comes to a stop and they knock on the windows yelling "Where are you going? Take my tuk tuk!" Once I saw the moto guys in my village reach into the trunk of a car (it was too full to be closed) before the car even stopped and try to take people's luggage so they would have to take their moto. When you get off the bus/car you are literally mobbed by men. All of them asking the same questions " Where are you going? Take my tuk tuk? Where do you want to go? Do you have a hotel room? See angkor wat?" If you try to ignore them they just follow you around like a really annoying large puppy. If you say, "No I don't want a tuk tuk" they still follow you around, not believing that you wouldn't take their tuk tuk. Part of this aggressiveness might be caused by sheer boredom. These drivers spend all day sitting in their tuk tuk just shooting the shit with other guys that are just as bored. The only excitement they get all day is chasing down buses.

I'm actually really curious as to how a tuk tuk driver lives. Lets say that you actually want to take a tuk tuk. Fees here are always bargained and depend mostly on distance unless you have a large number of people. I've gotten so sick of bargaining that I always do the "walk away." I say a price and if they don't agree I walk away and most of the time I get the price I want. Sometimes they follow me a few blocks to keep bargaining. I learned this after months of trying to reason with people. Tuk tuk drivers use every excuse known to man to overcharge you. They've been saying " gas prices are so expensive now" for the last 2 years. On the one hand, I can't trust them. If I ask them to go a place which I know is not far at all they'll say "3 dollars" and then complain how far it is. Normally, I wouldn't pay more than a dollar to go somewhere in Siem Reap. On the other hand, they never seem to work and I wonder how they support themselves. However, if a driver gets one passenger a day to go to the airport (about 5 dollars) then in a month they make 150 which is more than most people in my village. Tourists often pay a dollar per person when they take a tuk tuk anywhere. So, one ride alone would be 1 or 2 bucks. It seems like it would be easy enough to make a living without doing any work except excessive yelling. One day taking a tourist around Angkor Wat can range from 10 to 30 dollars depending on the tourist. I've seen tuk tuk drivers so used to being ignored that even through I tried to flag him down after he yelled "Tuk Tuk?"  he kept going. His yelling had become a mere reflex.

I'd really like to read the study of the life of a tuk tuk driver. It might convince some people to make changes and prevent massive mobs of men from attacking people getting out of vehicles.


  1. I agree it so frustrating and annoying to always have to argue about the price with the tuk-tuk drivers. And sometimes you will have to argue twice, once before you take the ride and once again when you have arrived.

    I found at that has put up a list on their page with recommended tuk-tuk-drivers, these tuk-tuk drivers have all been recommended by expats.

    You can find them here, I have tried two, Sok thy and Toh, of them and they were very friendly and helpful! I especially like Sok Thy!

  2. By the way, thank you for a great blog! Love reading about your adventures!