No trip to Asia would be complete without a tale of the tuk tuk drivers, would it? Synonymous with the region, these individuals are friendly yet cunning, helpful but coy, and goddamn are they persistent. My first interaction was in Bali, roughly four and a half years ago and at the time they drove me insane, fast forward a few years to Cambodia where I was once again combating their calls, but somehow grew to have an understanding of their ploys. It seems things have come full circle though, as they do, and I’m back in the Bali state of mind, “Why won’t they just leave me alone!?”
The tuk tuk’s in this country are everywhere, should you need a ride, they’ll be there waiting, don’t need a ride, they follow you down the street until you decide that you do. I wish I was kidding, but I have been tailed by a tuk tuk, and I’m only one week in.
I’ve always tried to hold a shred of understanding for these guys, after all transporting people from one end of town to the other is how they make their living, but sometimes my patience wears thin. It makes me laugh when I walk past a group of them, say no to the first and wait as the rest proceed to ask me the same question. Now, I know they heard me reject the first guy, what makes them think I’ll change my mind, their charm?
Aside from the hassling for rides there’s also the mark ups, “foreigner price” if you will. I know white people are assumed to be rich in this part of the world, and most travelers probably do have a few dollars to spare, but that doesn’t make it okay to quadruple the price when you see me. I understand a bit of inflation, a driver trying to make an extra dollar here or there, but I’ve met a few who are just testing their luck. The worst are usually parked outside airports, bus stations and popular tourist destinations, so if you don't want to argue keep walking, a fair deal will be just around the corner.
There’s plenty of tuk tuk drivers looking to rip you off, but every now and again you meet a nice, honest one and it restores your faith in them all. Upon leaving Colombo I required a lift to the train station and hailed a tuk tuk outside my hostel. When I asked him how much he said “by meter” to which I was taken aback, I didn’t even know there were tuk tuk’s with meters! He sensed my hesitation and followed with “How much will you give me, 500?” which I of course knew was the wrong price. He too, knew this was exorbitant and then assured me that meter was the cheapest way, so I agreed and jumped in. When we had nearly reached the train station the meter was just ticking past the 100 rupee mark and I think my driver began to feel bad. He said to me “Miss I told you by meter first, I only ask 500 because you didn’t believe me, that is the wrong answer, the right answer is by meter, and I offered that first”. I knew he didn’t want me thinking that he was a scumbag and I appreciated his honesty, so when he dropped me off I threw in a little extra to the fare. He could have been gracious and simply accepted the fare, but instead he shocked me again and tried giving the extra money back to me! I almost had to force it on him, telling him he was honest and deserved the bonus, unlike some of my previous drivers who assume I don’t want change, even when it’s due.
I was browsing YouTube recently and came across a video where a black man spoke of the racism he encountered from a taxi driver. He went on to comment that taxi (tuk tuk and bus) drivers play an integral role in a tourist's perception of a country. Often times they are the first individuals a visitor will interact with and thus can make or break that first impression of a country. I had never really thought about this before, but I whole-heartedly agree, although they may not know it, these (often) men’s attitude and actions could alter the image of a country for its visitors.
For me though I’ve played this game long enough and know how it works, tuk tuk drivers want (sometimes need) your business and will give it their best effort to garnish it. I don’t get too worked up over marked up fares and the constant “Miss you need a ride?” “Where are you going” but my skin is beginning to wear thin.
To be quite honest I have no idea where my desire to travel to this country originated, but it festered and grew for nearly 3 years. In a sense it's a cleaner, safer, smaller India and having always had that country on my radar it seemed like the perfect test drive.