Anyone who’s been to Bangkok will come home with a story or two about tuk tuks. These unique and ubiquitous little motorized rickshaws are an icon of the city itself. And like the city, they often divide opinion – to some they are a menace, while to others they’re a harmless bit of fun. But what are they really? Where did they come from? How much should they cost? And how do you use one to get from A to B?
For answers to all these questions, and more, Trip.com provides everything you need to know about riding a tuk-tuk in Thailand.
What is a tuk tuk?
Tuk tuks are motorized 3-wheeled rickshaws that ferry passengers around Bangkok and most other places in Thailand. The name comes from the sound their engines make, as they splutter through the city streets.
How much is a tuk tuk ride in Bangkok?
Tuk tuk prices can vary, and there’s an art to getting a good deal. Generally speaking, they cost about the same as a taxi, but don’t use a meter. This means the fare can usually be negotiated (more on that later). For a short ride, expect to pay around 50THB (US$1.50).
What is the history of tuk tuks in Thailand?
Tuk tuks can trace their ancestry back to the early 20th century. Back then, they were known simply as “sam lor” (meaning ‘3 wheels’ in Thai) and were pedal-powered.
Legend has it that the first sam lor was wheeled out in Ratchasima (Korat) Province in 1933, when a Chinese merchant attached two big stabilizers to his ordinary bicycle. The design caught on, and pretty soon sam lor were ferrying passengers all over the place.
They became so popular that Bangkok authorities banned them from the city. But sam lor would soon be back with a bang, when motorized rickshaws arrived from Japan in the 1960s. These would evolve into the modern beasts that roam the streets today.
Are there many kinds of tuk tuk in Thailand today?
Nowadays, you’ll find tuk tuks all over Thailand, from the green frog-faced variety in Trang and Ayutthaya, to the stripped-back cycle cabs of Kanchanaburi, and the big songtaew truckers of Phuket and Koh Pha Ngan.
In Bangkok tuk tuks are the pride and joy of their drivers, who show affection by decorating their ride with neon lights, attention-grabbing colors, and sound systems – tuk tuks can sometimes be more carnival float than taxicab.
What is the future for tuk tuks in Bangkok?
From motorization to custom designs, tuk tuks are always changing with the times. Today, Bangkok residents are pushing for a more eco-friendly incarnation. So, what does the future hold for the humble rickshaw? Well, there’s talk of tuk tuks going green, with electric engines and low emissions on the horizon.
Riding a tuk tuk is an essential Bangkok experience (source: Adam Dore / Unsplash).
5 pro tips for riding a tuk-tuk
For most tourists in Bangkok, there are three main objectives when riding a tuk-tuk: Getting from A to B, staying safe and securing a good deal. All very important, but not exactly easy.
Let’s start with safety. Tuk-tuks are essentially a motorbike engine strapped to a Ferris wheel cabin on wheels. Taking a ride on one is certainly an adventure (and the best adventures come with a little danger) but there are some things you can do to stay safe:
1. Take a good look at the driver
Your life is in his hands, so if you think the driver looks a little… tired, say a polite ‘no thanks’ and look for someone else. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
2. Think like a mechanic
Secondly, you can check the general state of your tuk-tuk. If the wheels look like they could fall off at any minute, give it a miss. With so many tuk-tuks to choose from, there’s usually a better, safer option just around the corner.
Tuk-tuks don’t use meters, so the price often comes down to a combination of driver discretion and passenger negotiation skills.
3. Haggle like a champion
Tuk-tuk drivers haggle – and will expect you to give it a go too. Don’t be offended by this back-and-forth – it’s all part of the fun! Reject the first price offered, and you’ll be amazed how far it drops.
4. Agree your price and destination(s) in advance
We really can’t stress this one enough. Some drivers will inflate the fare as you go along, while others will add ‘bonus’ stops to the journey, dropping you off at gemstone stores or other places where they have a commission. To avoid confusion and conflict down the line, it’s best to get the route, and the rate, agreed before you set off.
In terms of personal safety, consider that heavily laden tourists, zooming through the city in an open carriage, are irresistible to pickpockets. Although you’re unlikely to be targeted, it’s best not to invite trouble.
5. Take care of your belongings
Make sure you keep your wallet, purse, camera, phone and any other valuables firmly zipped up and secure when riding a tuk-tuk in Bangkok, to they don’t fall prey to a passing motorbike.
With all the above in mind, here’s one extra tip that many forget when taking a tuk-tuk in Thailand: Smile! As with so many things in the Land of Smiles, a good sense of humor – like a good tuk-tuk – goes a long way.
If you’re planning a trip to Bangkok, remember you can find the best deals on flights, hotels, tours, and attractions over at Trip.com.
A fun way to get around, tuk tuks are always moving with the times (source: Max Bender / Unsplash)
FAQ about riding a tuk tuk
- What does the name ‘tuk-tuk’ mean?The name comes from the tuk-tuks themselves, as this is the sound their engines make.
- Do locals use tuk-tuks, or is it just for tourists?Tuk-tuks are used by everyone in Bangkok. You will see them taking kids to school, transporting groceries, and even helping city residents to move house!
- Are tuk-tuks dangerous?While they do offer less protection than cars, they are still safer than bikes. Because they usually travel at low speeds, you’re less likely to be involved in a major crash, but accidents do happen.
- Do you need to wear a helmet?No-one wears a helmet in Bangkok when riding a tuk-tuk, and it is very unlikely you will be offered one. Because it has three wheels, it’s technically a vehicle rather than a motorbike, so the law does not require you to wear a helmet.
- How much does a tuk-tuk cost?Expect to pay about 40-50 THB (less than US$2) for a short ride, but prices go up in more touristy areas or during rush hour.