The tuk tuk is like the Rodney Dangerfield of Thai transportation: They can’t get no respect.
(Other comparisons considered and rejected were–Donald Trump: tacky and annoying; Simon Cowell: obnoxious; and Piers Morgan: ridiculous.)
There’s a reason for this, though. Tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok are known for scamming and seriously overcharging people. I very rarely take tuk tuks here because I don’t want to deal with it. Consequently, I’ve also never been ripped off by a tuk tuk driver.
Until. (Cue ominous music.)
My friend Sarah lives in Mae Sot, up near the Burmese border. We had gone together to Chiang Mai and then took a bus to Mae Sot.
In Mae Sot, there are no taxis, so Sarah and I grabbed a tuk tuk at the bus station.
Here was our fatal mistake: We didn’t ask how much the ride was going to be. I don’t ask the motorcycle guys at my apartment any more how much it’s going to be to the BTS; similarly, Sarah always gets charged the same amount for a ride to her apartment (100 baht), so we didn’t bother asking.
At this point, I see long-termers in Thailand slowly shaking their heads and judging us. Go ahead, people, judge away. It’s almost impossible to out-judge me, so HA!
Hindsight is 20/20, right? Yeah.
One thing you need to know about driving in Thailand is that it’s insane chaos at all times. Motorcycles zip around cars, bicycles mingle on the streets with food carts pushed by vendors, buses zoom by them at top speed, taxis drive in the oncoming lane to get around traffic, and pedestrians are dodging across the street in a high-stakes game of Frogger, yet somehow almost nobody honks or gets upset. You put the average Washington, DC-area driver down in that mix for 5 seconds and you’ve got yourself 12 dead taxi drivers and 15 motorcycles crushed beyond recognition (many DC-area people are extreme overachievers, and that includes when they experience road rage).
I usually begin to suspect I’ve got a loony driver if they get aggressive because of the chaos, and the tuk tuk driver we had in Mae Sot did just that. A bicycle safely merged into traffic way up ahead of us, as far as I could tell, yet our driver honked, yelled some stuff, and then muttered under his breath for awhile.
Foreshadowing, people. If this were a movie, there would be some close-up shots that showed Sarah and Megan smiling and laughing, being completely oblivious, while the entire audience shouted, ‘HE’S CRAZY, YOU BIMBOS! GET OUT NOW!’
Yeah, yeah. Feel better about yourself if you’re positive you wouldn’t make the same mistake.
When we got to Sarah’s apartment, I asked, in Thai, how much it was going to be. Again, hindsight. We probably should have just handed him 100 baht and walked away, but every now and then I think that humanity has decency.
The driver said, “200 baht.”
Sarah had already gotten out of the tuk tuk with her bag and when she heard that, she said, “No way!”
So the driver said, “How much you want?”
Sarah replied, reasonably, “100,” at which point the driver picked her bag up from the ground and threw it back into the tuk tuk with me.
I placed the bag back out on the ground and the driver threw it back into the tuk tuk.
I am consciously choosing to say that I “placed” the bag outside while the driver “threw” it back, by the way. I had gone into middle-school-teacher survival mode, so while I was seething on the inside, I remained kind of preternaturally calm on the outside. Thanks be to teenagers for teaching me that, at least. The driver clearly had not had such training, and was raising his voice and yelling at us.
Sarah went to get a staff member from her apartment to help us out. I was still sitting in the tuk tuk with my backpack in my lap, and the driver started to push my backpack to indicate that I should stay where I was.
Still, I have those three years as a middle school teacher under my belt, and I actually dealt with children who were far, far, far crazier and scarier than this guy. Students have pushed me, threatened me, got up in my face, and cussed at me.
So I just said, simply and without visible anger, but also very, very seriously, “Don’t.”
He looked at me and pushed the backpack again, so I said it again: “Don’t.”
Luckily, he stopped, because my patience was wearing thin.
Anyway, after arguing with the guy for awhile, Sarah and I eventually (the apartment staff was NO help) realized we had some choices here.
- We could throw 100 baht at him and then run like the wind. Tricky. We had all our bags and weren’t sure we’d make it up to her place before he caught us. Plus, I hate running. So, no.
- We could continue to argue with him and he could continue to get crazier and angrier and then we would lose it and…hmmm…perhaps not a good choice.
- We could just pay the 150 baht he had finally settled on as acceptable and realize that it was his karmic debt for being a giant jackass he had to worry about. Sigh. Fine.
So we paid him the rip-off price of 150 baht and he trumpeted, “Bad farang! You farang bad!”
Jackass Tuk Tuk Driver: 0 Megan and Sarah: 1
We never once raised our voices and I think we didn’t lose face at all. The driver may have gotten 50 baht extra from us, but he looked like a serious ass in front of everybody in the neighborhood. I’d call that a win.
Just for the record, this is the first time somebody has been aggressive with me in Thailand, and I don’t want it to seem that I think every tuk tuk driver loves jackassery and wants to rip you off. It just happened that we got a driver who loves jackassery. As a matter of fact, the next day we had a very good experience with a very sweet tuk tuk driver, so don’t take my bad experience as a blanket statement about tuk tuk drivers. Take it as a blanket statement that that particular guy was a total jerk face.