Tuk-Tuk Roulette

Tuk-tuk Roulette: a game of chance played by Colombo’s commuters. Step onto a train, bus or into a tuk-tuk to enter. Take a trip, gamble your life. Will I get to work this morning? Will my tuk-tuk be smashed to smithereens? Who knows!? It’s exhilarating!

The tuk-tuk has quickly become my favourite method of transport. So much so, that I seriously considered buying one myself, that was until I found out how difficult it is to get a tuk-tuk licence. Difficult may not be the word – I have spent enough time in various Sri Lankan government offices to know that a couple days waiting in the sweltering heat is a) not pleasant and b) doesn’t always end the way you want.

I recently travelled to Cambodia, where I was in awe of a whole different kind of tuk-tuk. A carriage wagon hitched onto the back of a motorbike. My love for tuk-tuks reached new depths. I am absolutely fascinated by these open-air motorised chariots. There is just something about having the wind blowing your hair, being immersed in your environment that a car cannot provide. You smell everything – from street food to sewage, feel the heat from the sun and the cool from the rush of air. Then there is the adrenaline pumping through your veins from the sheer terror of being alongside buses that care not for your life. It cannot be beaten in terms of experience.

The best part about tuk-tuks, here in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, is that they reflect the personality of the driver. You see the odd stuffed monkey holding on for dear life, various religious items dangling from where the rear-view would have been, pictures of unnamed babies on the vinyl seat covering and of course the tuk-tuk wisdom: bumper stickers relating Dalai Lama-esque advice like “Who is not high, fall not far”.

While this has been a post mostly for fun, I must say that despite the craziness which is Colombo traffic, tuk-tuks are my preferred method of transport day-to-day around Colombo. They are readily available, cheap (drivers will allow you to bargain in case you’re low on cash) and fast, squeezing their way between spaces no car would ever fit. And while seatbelts are amiss and corners are taken a little too fast, this is what Colombo is all about.

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3 comments

  1. Recently saw one that was hit and run by a pickup truck here in Negombo. It was a crumpled mess but the driver survived. We have seen ONE tuk-tuk with seat belts so far. Many of the drivers here seem enamored with Bob Marley and de leaf.. I had one driver turn around completely while driving in traffic and inform me that he wanted to be my son. I wasn’t in the market for another dependent. We have seen several tourists here with their own tuk-tuks. One guy dropping off several empty cases of beer bottles with his German Shepard for a co-pilot. Seemed like he was kind of settled in for the long run. I believe they go for about $6,000 +. Keep writing…

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    • John, I’m so sorry to hear about your experience. Yes taking a tuk-tuk is risky here, but on the other hand you could say any vehicle is dangerous in Sri Lanka due to the complete lack of road-rules.

      And it goes much deeper than that, corrupt police are paid to look the other way when it comes to the erratic driving of buses and trucks. Add to that the reluctance of bus drivers to adopt new driving rules. We saw that last December when bus drivers not only went on strike but also blocked off roads preventing people from getting home in Ja-Ela area (small riots broke out which even the army couldn’t control).

      Tuk-tuks themselves are not so bad, we see them in Italy and areas of eastern Europe with much success.

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  2. Yes, we were here (Negombo) for the sudden tuk-tuk strike. That was a problem. My son stuck at school and my wife downtown. Our tuk-tuk driver too afraid of being attacked to even pick up my son and bring him back. I was really annoyed with him. Still we worked it out. I also have learned to stash liters of fuel at home for the next fuel strike so we can at least dole it out to our driver to get the boy to school.
    Have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year! 2018! Go Sri Lanka !!!! De Golden Island !!!!

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