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Riding in a becak in Indonesia



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Story submitted by Scott 12th July 2009

Getting a becak (small motorbike with side car for passengers, sort of similar to a tuk-tuk in Bangkok) is quite an experience.

First of all you need to negotiate the price which can be frustrating or fun depending how you bargain. Bargaining is part of the culture in Indonesia so you need to accept this and not get frustrated. Of course it helps to speak a little Indonesian as most of the Becak drivers do not speak English. You will find some that speak fairly good English though is rare.

When you tell them where you want to go they will give you a price which is usually 3 or 4 times the amount the trip should cost (probably cheaper if you are Indonesian though they know Ďbuleí have more money so expect to charge more). If you tell them that it is too expensive they will always say that it is far away, even if it is just around the corner.

You need to tell them that it is not far and you have been there many times. The price will eventually come down to a reasonable price. Walking away and saying no thank you will usually get a good response from them in a much lower price. There are always lots of becak drivers just waiting around so not hard to find another on. In Medan you will see them everywhere.

Usually the trip is uneventful though Iíve had some of the following experiences:

Running out of petrol Ė I was getting one becak from Pinang Baris Bus terminal to the centre of Medan. I had done this trip many times and the driver didnít seem to know the way. He had started off in the right direction though he missed a left hand turn. I said to him we should have turned left back there and he just didnít respond. He kept on heading in the wrong direction. At first I thought maybe he knew a different way though after about 5 minutes I was sure we were heading in the wrong direction.

I asked him if he was sure he knew where he was going and still he just looked straight ahead and didnít respond. I think he just didnít want to admit that he didnít know the way. After about a minute his becak started to splutter and eventually his engine stopped running and becak rolled to a stop.

He just tried to start it a few times though nothing. It was obvious he had run out of petrol though he just sat there looking straight ahead. I was quiet for about 30 seconds amazed that he didnít say anything or try to go get petrol. He just sat there silent.

I said youíve run out of petrol havenít you? He said nothing. I asked if he was going to go get petrol and he just looked blank at me and smiled.

I got out of the becak, grabbed my bag and paid him 10,000Rp less than half what the trip would have cost though he had now taken me the wrong way and would cost about the same to back track. He quickly took the money then started to walk down the street looking for petrol.

I crossed the road and grabbed the next becak to head in the right direction. Luckily this guy knew the correct way.

I had another becak driver run out of petrol another time doing the same trip though in the different direction, centre of Medan to Pinang Baris Bus terminal. This time I think the guy did it on purpose. I had negotiated hard and he agreed to take 20,000Rp for the trip which is probably what it is worth. Of a 20 minute trip, after about half way he started playing with the choke on his becak and it started to sputter and then he pulled over as the engine died. He said no petrol so I gave him 20,000Rp and got another becak. As I was pulling away I saw him start his becak and drive back from where we were going. He obviously didnít want to go all the way.

Same trip on the way to Pinang Baris I had a becak get a flat tire. He had pulled to the side of the road next to a shop that fixed punctures. I had grabbed my bag to go get another becak though he insisted it wouldnít be long. I was in no rush so decided to wait. It took about 15 minutes to have it repaired. All the time I waited, I had people from the shop and passers by stop and have a chat with me and ask the usual questions - where I was from and where I was going. At least that kept me entertained.

Once I was in a becak trying to light a cigarette though the wind kept blowing out my lighter. The becak driver saw this and just pulled to the side of the road, let me light the cigarette and then took off again. Very considerate of him! 

All the becaks I have caught, and Iíve ridden in a lot of them Iíve only ever been in one accident, and that was minor. We had just taken off in the centre of Medan and another becak brushed up against us. The 2 becak drivers got off their bikes and had a massive argument. They pulled the becaks apart and discovered there was no damaged and jumped back on the bikes and kept on going. My driver just smiled at me and said Ďgilaí (crazy!).



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Contributed 12th July 2009

Bukit Lawang and North Sumatra Organised Tours























































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