The Auto Rickshaw, more commonly known as “Tuk-Tuks” in Thailand is a three-wheeled motorized rickshaw that can hold two to three people at one time. In this article, we’ll cover the reasons to use a tuk-tuk on your next trip to Thailand.
Although created in Japan, it was Thailand that went into production many years later. The name Tuk-Tuk originally came from the noise that the loud engine would make when running it. Although modern technology has subsequently reduced the annoyance of the noise so you should not have to worry about blasting your eardrums at the end of your trip, the name has stuck and has become a name synonymous with Thailand!
These tuk-tuks are a common form of transportation here in Thailand operating primarily as a vehicle for hire or private hire. Your average Tuk Tuk has one seat in the very front for the driver and a bench behind for the passengers. They also have open sides with no doors and a roof made of cloth.
This vehicle is important to Thailand’s tourism industry as it serves to be a cultural attraction to visitors but also a quick and easy way for transportation throughout the country. The design of tuk-tuks varies from country to country, with some unique models appearing every now and then to attract attention and riders.
Although they look small and relatively fragile, Tuk Tuk’s can carry up to 1000 kilograms and apart from the obvious taxi services they provide, many Thai people and businesses use them for hauling and distributing goods through narrow roads that a regular vehicle would have difficulty going through, saving both money and time by doing so.
History of the Tuk-Tuk
The Tuk-Tuks came about in the 1930s when an industrialized Japan encouraged the development of motorized vehicles.
The very first Tuk-Tuk, as some would consider, was the Mazda-Go, a three-wheeled open-truck motorbike that was distributed through parts of southeast Asia for Japan to expand its influence. In doing so, they became incredibly popular in Thailand especially as they replaced the cycle rickshaws which were essentially a non-motorized version of a Tuk-Tuk.
Thailand then started creating their own local production and design years later in 1965 when Japan abolished the three-wheeled motorcycle license, becoming one of the bigger Tuk-Tuk manufacturers in the world to this day.
Cost of a Tuk-Tuk
When it comes to the cost of Tuk-Tuks, you’d probably expect it to be cheaper than taxis due to its size and comfort levels. However, the truth is that surprisingly, most tuk-tuk drivers charge more than your average taxi driver.
In knowing so, getting a tuk-tuk ride is something you must do when you are in Thailand if you want to appreciate the culture. They may not be the best form of transportation, but it is still an experience you will not forget or regret. The driver also usually inflates their prices, especially if they can tell you’re a tourist, so be sure not to accept the first offer and instead, haggle for a fair price that you can both agree on.
Keep in mind that as a traveler, some drivers will notice that you are a tourist and charge you a higher price than usual such as taking you on a longer route. There are many scammy tuk-tuk drivers out there who claim to have knowledge of special shopping places and offer exclusive sightseeing tours in order to charge you more money, so be sure you know your destination and tell your driver you are not interested in any other route.
Tuk-Tuks are a fun experience, but you do not want to be taken for a ride as they are also uncomfortable, have no air conditioning, and are quite open to the heat that Thailand can bring. Another reason why Tuk-Tuks are a popular mode of transportation in Thailand is that 1st Class Insurance is actually compulsory for all motor vehicles and the overall costs for owners to insure a Tuk Tuk is less than normal cars so the owners can focus on profits from you the tourist and not pay such a large amount for their yearly premiums – not that this should concern you in any way.
The Different Types/Modifications of Tuk-Tuks
Although you can find tuk-tuks all over Asia, you will most likely find the best ones in Thailand due to their large and expert production. Therefore, you will likely come across a few whacky, weird modifications and artsy tuk-tuks out there, trying to differentiate themselves from the other drivers.
Usually in Bangkok, the typical tuk-tuk is blue and yellow, however, we can find some unique modifications in the big city such as:
- Large six-seater tuk-tuks
- Human driven tuk-tuks, where the driver pedals on a bike compared to the usual engine-run tuk-tuk
- When we stray away from the big city capital, we can find very unique designs like green tuk tuks and tuk tuks that are more like a modified motorbike with wooden seating attached to its back.
- On the popular islands of Thailand such as Phuket, you will find more truck-shaped tuk-tuk that can load on a larger number of people than your average tuk-tuk.
- You can also find various police riding Tuk-Tuks to navigate through the streets and traffic.
One recent and very modern modification of the Tuk-Tuk is the Electric Rickshaw (also known as e-rickshaws or electric tuk-tuks).
Unfortunately, the loud engine from tuk-tuks produces an unholy amount of air pollution that is already a prevalent problem in the city of Bangkok. Any modifications done on these tuk-tuks make the engine louder and the smoke a little blacker. Very un-environmentally friendly.
However, Tuk-Tuk’s have come a long way since their creation, to the point where we can find some electrically driven tuk-tuks in this modern age. These are mostly manufactured in China and in particular India, which have undergone an e-rickshaw revolution as of recent years. Electric tuk-tuks usually run on 650-1400 watts and are predominant in countries such as Lisbon, Portugal. They serve to allow travelers to explore Thailand in a sustainable, eco-friendly way.
Other Cultures that Utilise the Tuk-Tuk
Although Tuk-Tuks are almost synonymous with Thailand, they are still prevalent in many parts of Asia and across the world. Two countries that are significant in producing and using auto-rickshaws are India and China, although due to culture, they are varieties. So, as you would say in Thailand: Same same, but different.
India is a country that has also utilized the Tuk-Tuk in various aspects of their culture and everyday life. In fact, India’s Bajaj Auto of Pune is the world’s largest Auto Tuk-Tuk Manufacturer. These rickshaws are so popular that India holds an annual rickshaw run for charity in which teams drive auto-rickshaws on various routes across India.
In terms of different cultures, China is one that has utilized the non-automotive pulled Rickshaw as one of their popular forms of transportation in small to medium-sized cities. Very similar to the non-automotive tuk-tuks, these pulled rickshaws were seen as an important element in the urban development of China during the 20th century and are characterized by a human worker pulling the wheeled vehicle carrying its passenger.
They have since been developed into auto-rickshaws and pedal-powered motorbikes which are like the ones in Thailand, calling them sān lún chē which means pedicab or tricycle. This is apart from the fact that they are generally used to transport goods and cargo as rickshaws for passengers are often illegal as they are viewed as too dangerous.
Ultimately, however, the Tuk-Tuk plays a huge role in Thailand’s culture and a trip to the Kingdom of Thailand would not be the same without having a ride on one of these motorized vehicles. The Tuk-Tuk is culturally significant to Thailand so as a tourist wanting to take in the culture of the country you are visiting, having a ride on one of these should be non-negotiable.
7 Reasons to Ride in a Tuk-Tuk
You must be thinking about why you should even take a tuk-tuk when they are more expensive, less comfortable, less environmentally friendly, and drive at slower speeds than your average vehicle.
However, there are several reasons why it is still very much worth your cash and time to ride one of these bad boys.
First and foremost, tuk-tuks are a unique vehicle that you do not see every day if you do not live in Thailand or Asia. If you are visiting Thailand, it is a fun and new experience through the streets of Bangkok or the roads of Phuket, allowing you fresh air with its open sides and a fresh sense of adventure. How many times would you be able to say you have ridden on the back of a tuk-tuk, maneuvering your way through the bustling streets of Thailand?
Be warned the safety of a tuk-tuk is also limited due to the open sides and lack of crash protection, however, the good news is that tuk-tuks are rarely in crashes due to the slower speeds they drive at. Although you might not want to ride one during the peak hours of 7am to 9am or 5pm to 7pm. Being stuck in traffic for hours, sweating in the heat, and breathing in all the toxic fumes of the busy Thai streets is not pleasurable in any way.
3. Art and Adventure
Tuk-Tuk Drivers decorate their vehicles with art, trinkets, hospitality, and chatty mouths. Each experience with a tuk-tuk feels different and allows travelers to enjoy their time, take Thailand in all its hot, bustling culture firsthand, and make for some great photos. Tuk-Tuk’s give you something out of the ordinary and something exciting, so can you really say you have visited Thailand if you haven’t ridden one of these?
Riding a Tuk-Tuk gives you an incredible feeling and an experience that cannot be copied. The tuk-tuk driver usually drives a little fast and sometimes a bit carelessly as it wiggles and sifts through other vehicles on the busy road giving you a unique feeling and a bit of an adrenaline rush. You should not be scared as it is in the nature of a tuk-tuk to be fast and agile. Although in the countryside, they tend to drive a little slower and more relaxed as the streets are not as packed. Many people tend to think of riding a Tuk-Tuk like riding a motorcycle, except you are the passenger in the back.
Riding in a Tuk-Tuk, hearing the engine noise, sifting between vehicles on a busy road and being able to experience the fresh air is something that a closed vehicle cannot beat and is not readily available in every country.
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Tuk-Tuks also allow the riders to travel between cars due to its mobility, this comes in extra handy for big, congested cities like Bangkok making traveling in traffic jams faster than your average car, hence the reason why you will see plenty of police tuk-tuks traveling around.
Tuk-Tuks are also best suited to taking short trips, although a taxi might cost the same amount to get to your destination, the nimbler tuk-tuk can get you there quicker.
All these factors combine to provide a much more unique and enjoyable experience than your average taxi ride, drivers know this and hence they charge you a little more, but it is definitely worth every penny.
Due to its uniqueness, it is a bit difficult to find a tuk-tuk in your country unless you are visiting from another country in Southeast Asia or India. Tuk-Tuks provide very good photography opportunities due to their art and open sides which allow you to easily snap a flick whilst on the busy Thai streets. So, stand next to the Tuk-Tuk and grab a photo with your mates to share or take some photographs on the go whilst your driver hurtles you through the streets.
Many of the best tour guides are riding around in tuk-tuks with some even driving six-seater ones. If you are a tourist looking to take in Thailand for all its culture and experience, the only way to do so is in the back of a Tuk-Tuk. What better way to explore Thailand is there than being down and amongst the busy streets and bustling action of Thai streets. The open sides and agility of the Tuk-Tuk will help you see Thailand in a whole other light than the one you would usually see inside a bus or car.