Siem Reap’s Tuk Tuk Mafia

In Cambodia, How-To by Nick3 Comments

If you’ve never been to Southeast Asia before, a tuk tuk is a motorbike taxi built with 3 crucial parts:

  1. A motorcycle;
  2. A trailer that looks similar to a wooden boat, with 1 or 2 seats for passengers;
  3. A driver, who doesn’t understand the word “no” in any language.

On damn near every single road in Siem Reap, the sidewalks will be lined with tuk tuks waiting to devour your hard-earned dollars.

But you’re sure as shit not walking to Angkor Wat, so odds are you and a tuk tuk will be getting up close and personal very soon.

If you somehow can’t find a tuk tuk, don’t worry; a dozen will find you.

If you tell one driver you don’t need a ride and change your mind immediately, don’t worry; the next 7 or 8 drivers will double-check, just to be super safe.

If you want to ask for a tuk tuk but you just can’t remember how to say “Yes! I need a tuk tuk!” in English, don’t worry; “No!” works too!

Don’t have change? No problem! Tuk tuk drivers will happily round up to the nearest dollar.

“Sir! Tuk tuk! Where you go? Temples? Floating village? Airport? Pub street? Marijuana? Need girl? Tuk tuk, sir!”

I try to avoid exaggeration as much as possible. But I’m dead serious when I say you can’t go more than 5 minutes without a tuk tuk driver launching into his full-day tourist itinerary.

Everybody and their brother wants to see sunrise at Angkor Wat, and the tuk tuks know it.

Besides that, there’s a main loop of temples perfect for time-restricted tourists made up of Angkor Wat, Bayon, Baphuon, Ta Prohm and a handful of others. Again, tuk tuk drivers are well aware.

What happens is this:

You cave in one night and let a tuk tuk drive you to dinner. It’s hot, you don’t feel like walking. I understand.

You have to be up early tomorrow to catch the sunrise at the temples. Your driver already made that assumption.

“You go to temple tomorrow? Main loop, I take you. Very good price.”

You’ll agree to a reasonable price—say, $15…bearing in mind that the going rate for an all-day tuk tuk driver is somewhere between $15-18, but whatever. You forgot to read the official guidebook. Shit happens.

He picks you up the next day, you go buy your tickets at the gatehouse. You DO NOT need to buy tickets for your driver—local Khmer can visit the temples for free.

All of a sudden, your price changes. Oh no no no, $50 per person for main loop. You misunderstood. Not 15, are you nuts?

And you’ll beg and plead as the sun inches closer and closer to the horizon. You’re losing peak camera time fast, and Beelzetuk knows it.

You cave in and pay $30 per person.

The opposite situation can happen too—when you low-ball your driver.

Don’t be surprised when you come back from your first temple visit and your chauffeur is nowhere to be found—because he picked up other passengers willing to pay him more money.

When you pick a driver, it’s better to use a guy vetted by your hotel or TripAdvisor or Aunt Margie, rather than grabbing the cheapest dude off the corner.

Be crystal clear before you leave on what and where is included with your fee. Make sure the price you agree on is for your whole group and not per person.

Know EXACTLY which side of each temple to meet your driver, too. We took a tuk tuk to visit Banteay Srei and couldn’t find him when we left. After walking around for 30 minutes cursing that good-for-nothing sack of shit, we found him outside the main entrance…exactly where he was supposed to be.

In my opinion, tuk tuks are a necessary evil to visit the temples. You can take a bicycle or rent a car, but tuk tuks are an affordable middle-ground for budget travelers and groups to see Angkor Wat.

Not every driver is the devil incarnate, but better to be safe than sorry.

Besides, there’s a reason why the markets in Siem Reap sell t-shirts that say:

“No tuk tuk. Not today, not tomorrow.”


    1. Author

      No not really, Saigon is much more crowded than Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, so people who need taxis just take xe om (motorbike taxis).

      Still, there are plenty of guys chilling on bikes in Saigon asking “you need motobike?”

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