The most unique transportation tools in Thailand

The Tuk-Tuk - Auto Rickshaw

  • Thailand Transportation
The Tuk-Tuk

First of all, what is a Tuk-Tuk?  Also known as an auto rickshaw, the vehicle made its first appearance and became popular in Southeast Asia, the three-wheeled, open-air vehicle is one of the most unique transportation tools and just continues to grow in popularity around the world. 

At beginning, a two or three-wheeled cart pulled by a person came into use around 1879.  And those human powered versions are now the ones known as rickshaws. Dating back to 1933, rickshaws were introduced to Thailand. Later, Thailand imported engine powered auto rickshaws from Japan in around 1960. They were used to replace the human powered rickshaws.

Actually the low key Thai tuk-tuk is a national symbol of Thailand and among the top of the authentic experience for all visitors. Of course the tuk-tuk also serves as an important mode of transport for locals in Thailand. The vehicle fits perfectly into local people’s everyday life. You’ll see more variation in Tuk-Tuk design in Thailand such as dazzling lights, colorful paints as well as other decorations to attract customers.


Tuk Tuk in Thailand


Tuk-Tuks vs. Taxis

The reason to use a tuk-tuk instead of taking a taxi? Some visitors take it for granted that the tuk-tuk is a cheaper method to get around. Some basic logic supports the idea. Obviously, the smaller tuk-tuks are short of the spacious comfort compared with regular taxis and it seems tuk-tuks are economical of fuels.

To be frank, locals are more likely to get an honest fare when taking tuk-tuks, but travelers may have difficult in doing so. Tuk-Tuks are unmetered. You'll have to negotiate the deal of fare with your driver. Without the basic knowledge of the regular price for routes, you are already placed at a disadvantage.

The cost for a taxi ride can be the same or often less expensive than the cost of a tuk-tuk ride for the same distance. Besides, taxis are safer with the seating belt. And you can avoid the exhaust fumes from other vehicles when you are stuck in Bangkok's heavy traffic. Not to mention, taxis are air conditioned.
Taking all the above into account, why do you still choose to take a tuk-tuk instead of a taxi? The only reason is for more fun experience!


Fun experience in TukTuk


The Tuk-Tuks in Thailand

It seems that there are always more tuk-tuk drivers than potential passengers waiting outside of tourist spots in Bangkok. Parked tuk-tuks dominate the end of Khao San Road of Bangkok with their drivers hunting for backpackers.

Typically a tuk-tuk in Thailand can ride two medium-sized passengers, perhaps three at most while sophisticated drivers sometimes are even able to squeeze the whole family inside when needed.

Keep this in mind: always agree the price of your ride before you get into the Tuk-Tuk. Your driver will likely quote an initially over-priced fare, anticipating that you will knock him or her down to at least some degree.  In general, will be a little more expensive than a taxi. However, it shouldn’t cost much more than the equivalent fare in a metered taxi.

Note: In some places of Thailand, tuk-tuks are the main method of public transportation. For instance, Chiang Mai in Thailand is among the places where tuk-tuks are most usual tools for getting around. However, Songthaews are another choice there.


Tuk Tuk in Khao San Road, Bangkok


Tips for Using Tuk-Tuks

  • With tuk-tuks being open-aired, you cannot avoid sweating in hot weather when not moving and take in lots of exhaust in Bangkok's heavy traffic.
  • When you’re on your ride, do take care of your belongings and keep an eye out for bag-snatchers on passing motorcycles. You’re unlikely to fall prey, but it is always to be alert.
  • The key rule of transportation in Asia is to always agree on the price for the route before hopping on any vehicles - especially tuk-tuks.
  • It's usually cheaper to hail a passing tuk-tuk on the street - the main avenues are better - than choosing a driver who waits in front of a tourist attraction the whole day.
  • Tuk-tuks don't offer seat belts and you take the risk by yourself! 

The Classic Tuk-Tuk Scam

There can be no denying that the lack of meter gives opportunistic drivers the chance to charge more. This is usually the experience of travelers. But is often the case for locals as well and especially at times when there are few taxis available (e.g. when raining).

While Tuk-Tuks are a great way to get around Thailand, there are some bad apples among Tuk-Tuk drivers scamming passengers.

Tuk-Tuk drivers know who they can charge high prices, especially first- time visitors who have no ideas of how much they should pay. Generally, this means there is also opportunity to negotiate a little bit, but always ask before you get in. Most Tuk-Tuks will start charging at around 50THB for a short ride.

In tourist areas, you also do need to watch out for Tuk-Tuks who scam by offering you a very low price (or even free) for a few hours. They will take you to shopping places where they get commissions from. You can find Tuk-Tuks with normal prices at local markets or non-touristic places.


Tourists bargaining with Tuk Tuk driver


Air Pollution from Tuk-Tuks

Unfortunately, tuk tuks cause a lot of pollution to the existing problems in big cities, which have already been suffocated by poor air quality. Despite the fact that some auto rickshaws use liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), many old two-stroke engines cause serious pollution. Some drivers uninstall the catalytic converter in order to improve fuel efficiency. The modification is at the expense of even "dirtier" vehicles, so sputter noise and black smoke will be generated.

Some countries like Sri Lanka and India have banned the use of high emission vehicles or taken measures to encourage the use of more eco-friendly alternatives. Electric rickshaws are becoming more and more popular in South India.

Auto Rickshaws Around the World

You can find variants of Tuk-tuk / automatic rickshaw all over Asia, Africa, South America and even in Europe. Just as the jeeps in the Philippines is celebrated for its tenacious and unique glory, tuk-tuks are also respected in Thailand and neighboring countries.

In the year of 2011, Cambodia increased its bets and launched a number of low emission tuk-tuks, which were even equipped with Wi-Fi. Annually, the Rickshaw Challenge attracts brave travelers to buy and then customize rickshaws for long-distance races in India.

With different brands and styles, tuk-tuks vary all over the world. Many are interesting, colorful, and sometimes even eccentric. But whichever country, you can expect most of them to have a fast-talking driver!