“Three-Wheeled Nightmares,” “Devil’s Minions,” “Pollution Promoting Health Hazards,” . . . these are just a few of the derogatory terms given to that distinctly Bangkokian mode of transport: the tuk-tuk.
Despised by some but used by many, the tuk-tuk is a city institution. You can see these diminutive three-wheelers everywhere, with their brightly colored passenger seats, tricycle-like design and quaint, canopy-style roofs.
Some take offense at the machines, arguing that their bad points far out-weigh their usefulness on Bangkok’s already overcrowded roads. But despite epithets like “fume-spewing, over-priced, noise machines,” there must be something redeeming about those glorified go-carts, or there simply wouldn’t be so many of them.
What is it that keeps tuk-tuks in business? There is the visual delight, of course, and the novelty of a ride for visitors to the Kingdom. They’re a great theme for souvenir shoppers, and provide handicraft artisans with a consistently sellable miniature product in wood, wire or fabric. But there are several other beneficial factors of the tuk-tuk – unexplored services, shall we say – worth considering before dismissing them as a novelty or worse, a public nuisance.
Take the problem of sleep for example. Have you ever had too many nights of solid rest? You know, that whole “waking up feeling fresh” situation that can sometimes go on for weeks or even months? Do you ever find yourself longing for a little insomnia? Why live a humdrum life of peaceful Z’s every night when you can lay glassy-eyed in bed counting proverbial sheep?
If you suffer from this well-rested malaise, the tuk-tuk offers the perfect solution. Move your bed to the nearest window, keep it wide open, and those un-muffled motors will solve your excessive sleep dilemma. Whether its 6pm or 3am, you will be certain of a disrupted night as they careen ceaselessly by from dusk till dawn.
What if you’ve had a bad day and just feel like arguing? A tuk-tuk driver is surely your answer. With their naturally affable demeanor, (no doubt due to the delights of the job), they’ll gladly help you alleviate your turmoil. Simply request a ride of some distance: say Lumpini Park to the Grand Palace. Do not discuss price before you get in, arrive with the determination to pay no more than 40 baht ($1.20) for the trip, and have at it! Depending on your driver, you may find complete stress relief after a mere 10 minutes of hostile debate.
A tuk-tuk ride is supposed to be cheap. Compared to limousine or Lear jet service, this is most certainly true. But, if you have that sometimes irrepressible urge to get ripped off, a tuk-tuk can be a god-send. Try this technique the next time you’re in one of those “wild hair” moods: take a tuk-tuk for a short distance along a busy thoroughfare where there are plenty of taxis. For more than the price of a taxi’s air-con, and pollution-free environment, you can get to your destination in just about the same amount of time, with the added pleasure of a fine film of sweat covering your body and soaking your clothes.
Perhaps you’ve been on holiday at a beach. You return early because you’ve discover you are suffering from that urban nightmare: Exhaust Fume Withdrawal. Don’t panic! Just grab a tuk-tuk any time between the hours of 6am and 10pm and your problem is solved. You can inhale all the vapors of auto and pre-WWII-era bus emissions your lungs will handle. If you happen to find yourself in the disappointing situation of a traffic-free zone, you needn’t worry: that two-stroke engine will provide you with the oxygen-deprived high your brain craves.
Finally, for all you thrill-seekers, just tell your Indy-500-aspiring driver that there’s an extra 10 baht (.30 cents) in it for him if he gets you where you want to go quickly. You will be sure to experience vehicular thrills better than the world’s best double-looped, corkscrew roller coaster.
These are just a few of the extra perks available from the Bangkok tuk-tuk. In my estimation, they, and their drivers, are the unsung heroes of this city. With such charm and versatility, it’s a wonder that anyone bothers with things like mass-transit at all.