Transport

Travel Thailand authentically by way of tuk tuk

For travellers arriving in Thailand, one thing that may be quite interesting is seeing the locals and tourists alike, taking a tuk tuk around the city. In Bangkok and other large cities especially, you can see the cute little motorbikes that have been turned into carriages, being used as taxis. The Thai tuk tuk is unofficially a national emblem of the country, with many souvenirs featuring the miniature taxis. Although foreigners may think it is just a fun way to ride around, the locals see it as a valuable mode of transportation. The open-aired, 3 wheeled vehicles are great for travelling around as they are readily available and cheap. As they are a bit safer than motorbikes and offer a unique way to travel, tuk tuks have always been a popular way to travel.

History

Tuk tuks were created after the earlier cycle rickshaws, which are known as “Sam Lor” in Thai language. The name literally means ‘3 wheels’ in Thai. Sam Lors were introduced to the country in 1933, but then were banned from the roads due to security reasons. In response, Thailand then imported Japanese motorised rickshaws in 1960 which was a step up from the manual rickshaws. A further upgrade saw the modern-day tuk tuks taking over the roads, with their name rumoured to have been created due to the sound that their engines make.

Tuk Tuks for locals

As many travellers assume tuk tuks are geared for unique tourism experiences, they are usually surprised to see Thai locals using them as well. Even though there are regular taxis, motorbikes, and subways, the locals still use the tuk tuks for short distances and for delivery orders. At fresh markets, tuk tuks are normally lined up waiting to unload fruits and vegetables, as their regular customers include that of vendors. Students also crowd into tuk tuks to go to school. Some tuk tuks even feature a larger seating area, with many in local neighbourhoods including as many as 6 seats.

In such local areas, tuk tuks are known to travel a pre-destined route, oftentimes going from the start of a long road to the end. And, in areas like Pak Kret district, which is further away from Bangkok’s metropolitan, the humble Sam Lor or rickshaw is still being used. Going farther from Bangkok, you will see many different variations of the tuk tuk, like the green ones in Trang and Ayutthaya provinces. In upcountry, tourist hotspots like Kanchanaburi, you can see tuk tuks that resemble a very organic modified motorbike. These feature a padded, wooden bench-style seat that is affixed to the side or back of the motorbike.

Other tuk tuk versions include the Songtaew as it is called in Thai language. This version is a much larger type of tuk tuk which can transport groups of people. Students, again, also take Songtaews to school and locals are known to crowd into the tiny motorised vehicles.

Bangkok tuk tuks

Although it is a unique experience taking a tuk tuk in Bangkok, there are a few things that travellers need to consider. As some tuk tuk drivers are looking for quick money, they can definitely try to scam tourists. The best advice if you want to travel via tuk tuk in big cities, is to agree on a price before you take off. Initially, such taxi tuk tuks will quote a rather largely inflated fare, which is usually open to negotiating. As they are unmetered, they can be more than a taxi. During rain, rush hour, and around tourist attractions, you can expect to pay a higher fare for the convenience of riding in a tuk tuk.

Other things to consider include bag snatchers. Although it isn’t common, it has been reported by tourists that their bags were placed near the outside of the tuk tuk in which passing motorbike drivers snatched.

Cost of tuk tuks

Tuk tuks can vary in price, according to the area, driver, and situation. Some can be more than the cost of a taxi over the same distance as taxi fees are usually calculated by a metre. Tuk tuks don’t have meters and usually the drivers decide on a fare that suits them. Bargaining is your best bet as a tourist, as the tuk tuk drivers are aware of the financial opportunities to be had by unassuming tourists. Drivers know they can get higher prices from a tourist, especially from first-time visitors that aren’t aware of the inflated prices targetted towards them. Keep in mind that the average base fare for a tuk tuk in Bangkok starts at 50 baht for a short ride. In tourist areas, another scam includes tuk tuk drivers offering a seemingly very low price or even a free ride for a few hours. Then they will take you to the places in which they receive commissions from. However, your best bet to experience a tuk tuk is by finding one at a local market or non-touristic place.

As riding in a tuk tuk is somewhat like a rite of passage for travellers in Thailand, it is a great way to experience life like a local, while taking in the tropical weather that engulfs the country. Seeing beautiful attractions by tuk tuk is quite popular, whether you agree with the fare pricing or not.

Ann Carter

Ann Carter is an award-winning journalist from the United States with over 12 years experience in print and broadcast news. Her work has been featured in America, China and Thailand as she has worked internationally at major news stations as a writer and producer. Carter graduated from the Walter Williams Missouri School of Journalism in the USA.