The life of tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok…Lulu’s story

Lulu our tuk tuk driver

It’s hard not to get frustrated with the tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok, and the rest of South East Asia for that matter. There is a constant ‘Tuk Tuk Sir’, ‘Tuk Tuk Madam’ following you down the street. They are at every corner pressuring you into hiring them to take you around to see the sights and when you do, they hike the price up before finally negotiating a deal.

The many tuk tuk on almost every corner

The many tuk tuk’s on almost every corner

Meeting our tuk tuk driver in Bangkok

In Bangkok, we met a man named Lulu to take us around a few of the tourist attractions before returning us to our hotel. The price started at the overinflated 900THB ($AU30.00) before we settled on 400THB ($AU13.00) and started our tour. With the protests in full swing in the middle of the city tourism in Bangkok has taken a hit. There are block offs to many of the major tourist areas to contain the protest. Work is hard for Tuk Tuk drivers in Bangkok in particular so its understandable they try and get the best possible deal.

Our Tuk Tuk driver Lulu

Our Tuk Tuk driver Lulu

Away from the family

Lulu is originally from a farming town outside of Chiang Mai. He travels to Bangkok to find work leaving his wife and two boys aged 13 and 8 on the rice farm. ‘It’s better money’ he says and with a family to support it is the only option. He takes the 15 hour journey by train to Bangkok and stays there working for a month before returning to this home for only one week where he just ‘hands out the money and is broke again’.

Behind the 8-ball before he even starts his day

Before his day starts, Lulu needs to make just over 600THB ($AU20.00) for him to take any money home to his family. He hires the tuk tuk for 400THB ($AU13.00) a day and spends roughly 200THB ($7.00) on fuel per day depending on his work load. Whilst in Bangkok he rents a single room with just a bed and a fan, 15km from the city which is far cheaper than in the centre. It’s tough. There are thousands of tuk tuk drivers and at the moment not many tourists. Most locals either have a motorbike or jump on the back of one to get around. Lulu relies on tourists to make his ends meat.

On our sight seeing tour with Lulu

On our sight seeing tour with Lulu

We went to a few of the sights with Lulu and if you strike up a conversation, you start learning a little about the driver’s stories and where they are from. I can’t help but think this is a lonely and hard life for Lulu. To be away from your family and home town in order to bring money home so they can eat and the kids can go to school is tough, but he isn’t complaining.

Other income streams

Whilst on route, Lulu asks us to go to ‘his shops’. We knew this meant a little tailor, jeweller or souvenir shop where they get a commission of some description for taking us there. In this case, they hand over 1 litre free fuel vouchers – a handy reward. There is no obligation to purchase anything, just browse with a little interest and then head out to the smiling driver with his vouchers. We went to two, but I knew Lulu wanted for us to go to a few more!

Lulu with his rented Tuk Tuk

Lulu with his rented Tuk Tuk

Say hi to Lulu from us!

You can find Lulu with his big black Prada sunnies and warm smile sitting outside of the Holiday Inn in Silom waiting to show people around the city. I’m sure he will do you a good deal and give you a couple of stories along the way. If you do head to Bangkok and a driver asks to take you to ‘his shop’ nearby, do the guy a favour and give him 10mins of your time. A voucher for fuel can make their day!

4 Comments on The life of tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok…Lulu’s story

  1. Sarah, it seems that you made a new friend in Bangkok! That is great as the tuk tuk experience usually ends up being simply a nuisance when driver follow you around and try to press you into using their service. But looking a little bit beyond the façade and understanding where guys like Lulu are coming from and how they have to make ends meet puts a whole new perspective on the subject. Thanks for sharing your experience… 🙂

    • It’s makes you think that haggling for that extra dollar off, which is not much to us but could make a real difference in their lives, might not be really worth it. Lulu was a really decent guy once we got to know him, and we assume so are most of the other tuk tuk drivers just trying to make ends meet.

  2. How great that you took the time to talk with Lulu and befriend him! What a wonderful example of what I love most about discovering new places – making the extra effort to engage with local people to better understand their culture and lifestyle (and looking at our own lives from a different perspective). Thank you for your post!

    • It’s changes the way you look at the people and a place when you chat in more depth to the locals. It’s too easy to make small talk or just get to know other travellers. I will be trying to make more of an effort throughout our travels! Thanks for your comment Eliza.

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