Cambodia Chameleon: The Types Of Tuk Tuk Drivers You’ll Meet

From the first day we came here we have met with different types of tuk tuk driver who have been fetching tourists and locals to their destinations daily. Even until today we’re still struggling a bit with our current tuk tuk guy who has been taking advantage of driving us to our destination by asking for a higher fee. One advice we got from friends was that we should be firm and not give in to them.

The tuk tuk that’s attached to the a hotel.

You stay in a hotel and you’re not familiar with the area especially when it’s far off from the main town. Whenever you ask the hotel concierge on places to go, they would tell you “I call tuk tuk for you, don’t worry.” So you don’t worry because the hotel guy would explain to the tuk tuk guy the places you want to go and how long should he be taking us. He then turns to you and say “Half day is USD12 for 4 hours ma’am, if full day is USD24.” You’re not sure of the rate so you agree to half day only to find out days later that the fee you’ve been paying was actually quite expensive and that some goes to the hotel quietly, for making the arrangement. This usually happens to most hotels in the city especially when you keep seeing or using the same tuk tuk for a few days. Our advice, negotiate first and if this fails, walk out from the hotel and when you’re at a distant already, hail a tuk tuk who would probably quote you half the price that the hotel did.

The tuk tuk that says he knows the way. 

Now this happened to us more than once and although I felt frustrated but I also understand how afraid they are to lose income for the day. This is why most of them have the standard city tour map in their tuk tuk so that you can point to them the street that you want to go. However because they need the income, they don’t necessarily know the destination at times yet they tell you “Yes I know, I know” when you repeatedly tell them “Street 114 ok? Street 114.” Then they take you round and round the area trying to look at the street number while driving, not caring for the many motorcycles and cars that are honking at us for stalling on the road.  After awhile you realize that they’re lost and you could either call the restaurant and ask them to talk to the tuk tuk driver, get off on the nearest street as soon as you see a familiar landmark or ask him to stop so that you can get another tuk tuk ride. At this point he would ask for extra money because he used up his all of his gas to find the place. Politely and firmly say no, pay the man, say “Aw kun” and walk away.

The tuk tuk that doesn’t speak English.

I have profound respect for tuk tuk drivers who have initiative to learn English when bringing tourists around the city. They’re quite friendly and try to have conversation with you to practice the language. However there are still some who are not fluent in English and can’t understand most words except for the destination names. We had one good tuk tuk driver who took us to Central Market (Psar Thmei), waited until we’re done before taking us to Mobitel and Tai Huat supermarket. It was hard to explain to him that we wanted him to take us to these destinations but in the end he understood. We also showed him with our fingers how much we were willing to pay. When we were in Tai Huot supermarket the tuk tuk driver suddenly walked in and talked to a local. I went over and asked him what happened because our things were in the tuk tuk and no one was watching them. The local guy told us that our driver needed us to hurry because he had to go back to province urgently. We hurried then and thanked the local guy for the explanation. The tuk tuk guy felt embarrassed at having to rush us and apologized when he dropped us off. If you encounter a driver who doesn’t speak English much, you could either ask the hotel reception to write it down for you in Khmer, show him on the map or tell him the landmark.

The tuk tuk that think he’s on a racing track.

Most of the tuk tuk drivers do this especially when they want to reach a destination fast to get another passenger to the next destination. These drivers are not afraid to run the red light, make a u-turn at the most high peak traffic area or cross at the intersection without looking left or right. You hang on to your bag because you’re afraid you might lose it as he zig zags through the roads and watch with startled eyes when a group of roaring motorcyclists head towards you from the opposite direction. oh wait, he actually does drive in the opposite direction of oncoming traffic to take a shortcut. Your legs feel like jelly when you get off but you’re glad you’re still in one piece.

Traffic jam from the tuk tuk ride.

Traffic jam from the tuk tuk ride.

The tuk tuk that takes monthly service fees.

A monthly fee is normally negotiated with the tuk tuk driver if you need their service for a month. This includes sending you to and from work or for family usage. They would normally tell you the cost for both ways and times that with 30 days. Sometimes they just tell you the amount, for example USD$160 to send you to and from the work place for a month. When you divide that cost with 30 days, you’ll realize that the daily cost is actually expensive compared to one way cost. Bear in mind also that despite paying a monthly fee, they don’t work on public holidays and if you plan on using their service during those time, they might charge you separately. I would suggest paying them a daily fee instead so that you can save money when it comes to public holidays.

The tuk tuk that takes advantage of the monthly service fee.

Now this is what I am currently going through with the current tuk tuk driver. At first he was helpful in taking our bags down from the tuk tuk or stopping at supermarkets upon our requests. After paying him his first weekly fees though, he changed and became sour whenever he picked us up. We realized that he had upgraded his tuk tuk horn to multiple siren sounds which made other drivers look at us whenever he uses them. The other day when he picked me up from office, his gas went empty and luckily for both of us the gas station was just a walking distance so he pushed the tuk tuk there and filled it up. He then complained that the traffic jam always makes his gas empty and that the distance to send both of us was just too far. Yesterday he requested extra fees instead of the agreed price. I found out that he asked his friend to pick up the other while he picked me up for work which meant he had to split the cost and earn less. I called him on that, firmly said no and paid him as agreed. If this happens to you, a change of tuk tuk driver is needed especially when they start to complain and take advantage of your kindness.

The tuk tuk that goes with the flow.  

I mean this is a good way because we met one tuk tuk driver who has been driving tourists and locals for eight years. He knows all of the places in Phnom Penh and lives in a hostel just down the road from us. He is always okay with the price we gave and said that he would charge us local Khmer price since he knows that we live here. He’s most often seen chatting with the customers of the hotel and saying hello to you instead of asking “Where do you want to go today?” He also doesn’t like to wait for you and prefers to catch the next passenger to earn income but at least he comes back to fetch you if you need him to. He also knows when to take the day off for a small party with his friends next door, drinking beer and playing black jack. You could rely on him to send you to wherever you want to go but you won’t be able to engage him full time or on a monthly basis.

The tuk tuk that works with the travel agent. 

We were desperate to find a tuk tuk driver before the first day of work and found one on a travel agent website. It said USD$60 a month for anywhere in the city. At first they quoted more than the amount and after I spoke to them on what was stated on the website they agreed to change it to USD$60. So we were glad that this was sorted out. Two hours later, the travel agent called back to say that they misquoted us and gave us a new cost at USD$260 a month for each person. Of course this price is ridiculous beyond words! I emphasized to them that they should change the remark in the website because it was misleading. They apologized and we didn’t take on their offer.

The tuk tuk that cares for its’ passengers.

There are also tuk tuk drivers who take care of their passengers by ensuring that our safety is not compromised. They would make sure that the curtains cover our seat area so that other passengers can’t see what we’re bringing with us, remind us to keep our bags our laps or between us, help us cross the street, carry our grocery items down from the tuk tuk, and doesn’t mind to drive the whole family whenever they need to go somewhere. These are a rare gem but once you find them, I suggest you keep them in your books for transportation services.

Tuk tuk drivers are amazing in transporting many luggage to another place.

Tuk tuk drivers are amazing in transporting many luggage to another place.

With all the different tuk tuk personalities, we finally came to a conclusion that we don”t have to take on a monthly tuk tuk driver, we need to firm yet polite when turning them down or you could take other transportation means. At least you’ll know how to manage them when the situation arises. When all else fails, there’s always motorbike for rent, for sale or you could also take the motodup (motorcycle) which gets you to your destination faster and at a cheaper cost.

About Yafieda Jamil

A Malaysian girl currently working abroad in Phnom Penh city. I love a good road trip, hot cappuccinos, spicy food and staring at old buildings. My mission is to inspire people to see the world differently before we all get any older. Oh and giraffes are the most beautiful creatures on earth.

2 Responses to Cambodia Chameleon: The Types Of Tuk Tuk Drivers You’ll Meet

  1. Wow, sounds like its quit challenging to get a good tuk tuk driver. I guess its also because they’re more dependent on tourists who may not stay in Phnom Penh for a long time

    • fienuts says:

      They are and that’s why the prices are such. For the locals they charge way less because they know it’s not right to charge so much. We just have to learn to identify the good ones.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *