*Short Tales from the Road is a collection of my travel stories on the road while walking the world. It’s about the good, the bad, the funny and the unexpected situations that I’ve encountered on my travels.*
COLOMBO, SRI LANKA
After being duped on public transport several times during my travels, I pride myself on thinking that I’ve learned my lesson and am now vigilant enough to stay clear of any scams. Before heading to a new country, I would usually carry about my research online to find out about possible scams that happen in the country, and ways to avoid them. Most of the time, I’d rely on e-hailing rides where available — it’s more convenient and reliable.
It was my first time in Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo. Being a country with a warm and humid climate (just like Malaysia), I was equipped with the Uber app on my phone, ready to e-hail a tuk tuk ride every time the sun gets too scorching to walk in. The price per journey for these e-hailing rides are already written down on the app; and after talking to several random tuk tuk drivers around the city — I discovered that UberTUK is comparatively cheaper. And what’s more, without the hassle of haggling. So while in Colombo, Uber was my go-to transport provider.
After being in the city for a whole day and reliably getting around in the UberTUK — my travel companion, Fong and I were walking along the outer part of Colombo Fort towards the lighthouse when it started to rain heavily. We ran into a building for shelter, which happened to be a Police Station. The policemen were kind enough to allow us to wait out the rain (and even offered us a seat too); but we wanted to get back to the hotel as soon as possible. I got on the Uber app to get a ride, but there were no tuk tuks or cars available. I guess it was due to the rain and the slightly more remote location (away from the touristy route) we were at.
I then spotted a lone tuk tuk driver just outside the Police Station, who signaled at us, asking if we wanted a ride. Fong thought that it was the best choice to make at that moment, and we indicated for him to come over. We then proceeded to tell him where were were headed, and he immediately asked us to jump in. As we got on (also to escape the rain) I asked him how much the charges were.
“I will use the meter,” he said.
“Good,” I told him. “That’s good.”
As soon as we got comfortable in the cramped tuk tuk and he started driving down the road, I looked around his tuk tuk for the meter to ensure that he had turned it on. I couldn’t find one. At that point, he was already offering to take us around the city for a tour.
I interrupted him mid-sentence. “Where’s the meter?” I asked.
He stopped talking. There was a second of silence.
“Where’s the meter?” I asked again.
And then he said the words I was dreading, “Oh, no meter. I charge very cheap.”
As soon as he said that I got extremely annoyed, and furious.
“I asked you a second ago and you said you’ll use the meter. And now you’re telling me you’re not. And there’s no meter in this tuk tuk. So you lied?”
“No no,” he said hurriedly, “I will charge you very cheap.”
“Only 10 US dollar and I will take you for day tour around the city. We will see the mosque, and the market….”
“10 US DOLLARS?” I bellowed. “FOR WHAT?”
“Tour around the city. It is good price.”
I looked at Fong who was in utter shock too. I raised my voice at the driver, “I don’t want a tour around the city. I want to go back to my hotel right now. So how much?”
“10 US dollar and I will take you for tour around Colombo.”
I was livid. It was still raining heavily, but I was boiling with so much rage that there was only one thing I wanted to do at that point.
“Stop this tuk tuk right now. We are getting down right here.”
“No no no,” he was starting to explain again, “10 US dollar is good price for day tour.”
I practically shouted at him, “I DON’T WANT A TOUR. I HAVE SEEN THE CITY. STOP THE TUK TUK RIGHT NOW. RIGHT NOW!”
My action of almost jumping out of the tuk tuk probably scared him a little, so he slowed down the vehicle. He realized that he wasn’t going to get that 10 US dollars from me.
“Okay okay. 500 rupees. I take you back to hotel.” 500 rupees is about US$2.5.
That statement made me even more furious. He was still trying to rip me off. On UberTUK, a single journey ride from almost anywhere in Colombo only costs about 70 rupees. Flagging a tuk tuk down would probably cost 200-250 rupees at most.
“That’s crazy! You are still trying to cheat me. I’m getting down right now.”
He finally stopped the tuk tuk by the side of the road. It was still raining. He turned to look at me from his front seat and tried to persuade me again.
“500 rupees ok? Only 500 rupees. Back to hotel.”
I proceeded to make my way out of the tuk tuk. “No thanks.”
“500 rupees. No tour. Back to hotel. Okay?” He looked at Fong for confirmation.
I have to say I was lucky to have someone with me who was of sane mind at that moment — because I obviously was not.
“Mynn, it’s raining,” Fong said, while calmly trying to stop me from leaving the tuk tuk, “Yes, he’s charging much higher. But let’s think about it this way. It’s RM10. Give it to him. We won’t have to look for another ride, we’ll get to avoid this rain and we’ll be back at the hotel soon.”
He was partially right. I was not thinking straight because I was so angry at someone trying to rip me off. But whatever Fong said made sense — the 10 US dollars was absurd, but 500 rupees isn’t.
I sat back down, but still seething.
“Okay fine,” Fong told the driver, “Back to the hotel.”
The driver proceeded to drive back to the hotel. We were silent in the tuk tuk for about 10 minutes — I think the tuk tuk driver thought that it was enough time for me to cool down, because he started talking again.
“Sri Lanka is very famous for jewellery. I can bring you to a gemstone shop. It’s very cheap. It’s near your hotel.”
I turned to Fong and gave him a “this-guy-has-got-to-be-kidding-me” look, but he just grinned at me and continued looking out at the streets.
The driver continued, “You want? I can bring you now.”
“But it’s only for this weekend. I bring you for no extra charges. It’s very cheap and you can buy a lot of gemstones like sapphires, and…..”
He trailed on but I wasn’t listening anymore. I could feel the rage rising up from within the depths of my body again.
“I just want to go back to my hotel.”
“…. it’s very cheap for this weekend only. I bring you. No charge.”
“I. HAVE. NO. MONEY. I. JUST. WANT. TO. GO. BACK. TO. MY. HOTEL. NOW. NOW!”
And then I added, “You’re charging me 500 rupees for this ride already.”
From that statement on we had silence. Beautiful silence. All the way back to the hotel.
With this story, I just wanted to share the ways how you can easily be ripped off when you are at your most desperate situation. We were stuck in the rain with no transport and we wanted to get back to out hotel as soon as we could — and the driver was there just as we were desperately looking for one. He took advantage of the situation, and we let him. We are at fault as well, and I have once again, learned my lesson.
From now on, just take e-hailing rides.