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An Introduction to the Famous Tuk-Tuks in Thailand


Tuk-Tuk in Thailand

A typical tuk-tuk in Thailand.

Photo by Greg Rodgers

Tuk-tuks -- the sputtering, three-wheeled motorcycle taxis can be found jockeying for position in the clogged streets of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and other cities in Thailand. While riding in a tuk-tuk can be described as more chaotic than comfortable, taking at least one ride is mandatory for a true, Thailand experience!

Tuk-tuks in Thailand

There are always more tuk-tuk drivers than willing passengers waiting outside of tourist stops in Bangkok. The pushy and fast-talking drivers are experts at somehow convincing travelers to pay more than they normally would for an air-conditioned taxi ride the same distance.

The Tuk-tuks found in Thailand are open-air, three-wheeled carriages attached to a motorcycle chassis. Drivers are fond of decorating their rides with lights, colorful paint, and dangling trinkets to get attention. The typical capacity for a tuk-tuk in Thailand would be two people, although the driver will always find a way to squeeze in an entire family if necessary!

Prices for rides in tuk-tuks must be negotiated in advance. While "tuk" means "cheap" in Thai, the truth is that unless you are an expert haggler or the driver is having an off day, metered taxis are often cheaper than tuk-tuks and offer a much more comfortable ride.

Tips for Using Tuk-tuks in Thailand

  • Tuk-tuks are open-air, so be ready for heat and plenty of exhaust from other vehicles.
  • Keep your bag(s) close. Thieves on motorcycles have been known to snatch bags from moving tuk-tuks.
  • Always, always agree on a price to your destination before getting inside of any vehicle -- especially tuk-tuks.
  • Hailing a passing tuk-tuk on the main street is often cheaper than accepting offers from drivers who are parked in front of tourist places.
  • With no seat belts, an accident in a tuk-tuk could be painful; keep your arms and legs inside!

Tuk-tuk Scams

Ever experienced a timeshare pitch where the end reward never seems to be worth the one hour of hard-selling stress you must endure? Thailand's equivalent is equally as frustrating.

A tuk-tuk driver will offer his services for a day -- sometimes for as low as 50 cents -- if you agree to go inside of three shops throughout the course of the day. In exchange, the driver receives fuel coupons from the shopkeeper. Technically, you do not have to purchase anything, but each shop -- usually a tailor, a jewelry shop, and a souvenir shop -- will rake on the pressure in an effort to recoup the cost of the fuel coupons.

Do yourself a favor: Avoid one of Thailand's oldest tuk-tuk scams by not agreeing to go inside of shops for a driver.

Tuk-Tuk Air Pollution

Unfortunately, tuk-tuks contribute more than their share of pollution in large, Asian cities. Many of the engines are only two-stroke, hence the sputtering noise and black smoke. Sri Lanka, India, and several other countries have banned the high-emission engines or have initiated a conversion to cleaner fuel alternatives such as liquid propane or natural gas.

Tuk-tuks Around the World

Tuk-tuk variants -- referred to as auto rickshaws -- can be found throughout Asia, India, Africa, South America, and even in Europe. Cambodia recently announced a new fleet of low-emission tuk-tuks equipped with Wi-Fi.

Makes and styles of tuk-tuks may differ throughout the world, but most are colorful, chaotic affairs and all come stocked with a fast-talking driver!

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