After four visits to Sri Lanka, I believe I have gathered enough experience to write a short how-to-guide, hopefully minimalizing your chances of getting swindled as it had happened to me on several occasions.
So, here it goes:
1.Memorize the number of the tuk tuk. Always. That way, if the worst happens, meaning you ending up in a strange alley at night, and being mugged, you know exactly who to report to the police. This actually really happened to my friend. The culprit was found and she got all her stolen documents back.
2.Always ask the driver if the tuk tuk meter is working. If the driver says yes, hop in. If he says no, wait for another one. When I first visited Sri Lanka, I tried to negotiate the price with the driver because the meter wasn’t working, but ended up being swindled, because when we’d reach or destination, he’d add 50% to the price. Just because.
Another thing that can happen is that he lies to you that the meter is working and then, after the first 100 meters, he will put on an act that it has broken down, and then, he will want you to pay double.
If you see that the meter isn’t working, ask the driver to stop, get off and wait for another tuk tuk, which is absolutely no problem, because there is literally thousands of them everywhere.
3.Make sure that you have a navigation app installed on your smart phone and use it while driving in a tuk tuk. (My personal favorite is MapFactor Navigator)
Firstly, the tuk tuk drivers cannot read maps. So, even if you show them an actual map and explain everything, step by step, they will just say ‘’yes, yes’’ and take you someplace they think is right. My experience has shown that their hunch is usually wrong.
Secondly, their English is really really bad. They only understand the words ‘’right’’ or ‘’left.’’ The problem is, if you’re not sure where you’re going, how can they know where to take you? And I know, now you’re thinking: ‘’well, they are locals, of course they should know the city on the back of their hand.’’ You could not be more wrong. They haven’t got a clue where they’re going. Seriously. So, help yourself to the latest technology of the 21st century and use GPS on your smartphone to give them instructions while they drive.
By the way, the navigation app will also prevent you from getting swindled, as the tuk tuk drivers tend to take the longest route to your destination, sometimes making a full circle around your destination, trying to take as much of your money as possible. This way, you can see the false route of the tuk tuk quite clearly on your smartphone. In this case, you should tell them to stop the vehicle, pay them and go about your way.
4.Do not argue with the tuk tuk drivers. Even if you know that you are being swindled. Just pay the man those extra 100, 200 rupees (around 1 euro) and go about your life. Why?
Firstly, you are usually outnumbered, as his ‘’homies’’ are only a shout away. Secondly, the tuk tuk drivers are connected with the local mafia. Do you really want them on your back? I know that it’s not fair, but this is Sri Lanka, there is no fair play here. Only survival of the fittest.
Which brings me to my third point, if you refuse to pay the extra (like I did, and like so many had done before me), thinking ‘’I will not let the guy swindle me, 100 rupees or not, it’s a matter of principle.’’ You are in for a treat. The man will follow you around everywhere, and I literally mean EVERYWHERE, calling you names, behind your back, because he has nothing better to do. If your peace of mind is worth more than a 100 rupees, you will pay the man.
5.Ladies, don’t travel alone at night in a tuk tuk. The driver will usually ask you if you are married because in their culture it is highly unusual for a woman to travel alone unaccompanied by a man, as it is still a patriarchal society. In this case, you have two options.
Option A: you tell him that you are not married. In this case, he will do his best to pursue you, and in a way that Western women might find a bit creepy – he will stop the tuk tuk God knows where, in the middle of the night, and want to take you to a restaurant. Even if you really really really only want to go home and you tell him so. That happened to another friend of mine. She barely got rid of him.
Generally speaking, Sri Lankan men are pretty stubborn and a bit aggressive in their pursuit of white women because they are exotic to them, make more money than them and live somewhere far away from Sri Lanka, where (from their point of view) money grows on trees. In the hope of the green card, they will try to do anything to woo us, even if it means being creepy in their pursuit.
Which brings us to option B: lie to him that you are married. You have to be married. End of discussion. Being married means everything to them. Then, he will want to know how long. Have an answer prepared, ideally the marrying age in Sri Lanka is around 22, 23, so subtract this number from your age – and voila – you have the duration of your fake marriage. Then, he will want to know how many children you have. The number two is nice and even and keeps everybody happy. My fake children’s names are Mary and John. Mary is four and likes to play with Barbies, John is two and his favorite color is blue. Make something up, be creative. Then, he will want to know what your husband does. Say that he is businessman. Then, he will want to know what you do. Say that you’re a teacher. This profession is respected in most countries, so you can’t go wrong with that. Trust me, it works like a dream. Then, he will finally lay off you.
I hope that you found this post useful, if you have any interesting stories about your tuk tuk adventures in Sri Lanka, please share them in the comment boy below.