The Tuk Tuk, The Way To Get Around In Thailand
Thailand's Tuk Tuks
One of the first things that people think about when they think about Thailand is the image of a tuk tuk. What is a tuk tuk? The definition of a tuk tuk is "a motorized rickshaw". Most commonly, a tuk tuk will have 3 wheels, however in the Island of Phuket and other Southern Thai provinces you will see a more modern 4 wheel version. Tuk Tuks are most commonly found in Thailand, however neighboring countries may have their own version of a tuk tuk.
In Thailand the tuk tuk does not have a meter, and the fare is to be negotiated with the driver, in most cases this will cost more than a meter taxi. The advantage of using a tuk tuk is that they are able to move quicker through traffic congestion by taking side streets and short cuts that a full sized vehicle may not be able to take. With the recent rise in fuel costs over the past decade, both new and old tuk tuks are having new engines fitted along with LPG conversions.
The Sukhothai Tuk Tuk
Sukhothai is the ancient capital of Thailand, and the tuk tuks in Sukhothai look pretty ancient as well. The most primitive variety of tuk tuks that you will see in Thailand, it looks much like a motorcycle pushing a basket. There is a small area for passengers in the front of the vehicle, and the driver is seated in the rear. These 3 wheelers are slow and they look very uncomfortable.
The Bangkok Tuk Tuk
The most recognizable version of a tuk tuk in Thailand is the style found in the capital city of Bangkok. The Bangkok tuk tuk has a sheet-metal body or open frame resting on three wheels, a canvas roof with drop-down sides, a small cabin in the front of the vehicle for the driver. Today the tuk tuks of Bangkok are more of a tourist attraction than a method of transportation for locals. Normally local Thais will choose an air conditioned taxi, for a lower cost than a tuk tuk. The experience of a tuk tuk ride through the streets of Bangkok is something that most tourists do not want to miss.
The Chiang Mai Tuk Tuk
The tuk tuks in Chiang Mai are the same style as Bangkok, the three wheel variety with the sheet metal body and canvas roof. Because of the small area that most tourists are traveling around in Chiang Mai, the tuk tuk is the preferred method of transportation. Meter taxis are not common in Chiang Mai, and even when available, they are roughly the same price. The cost of a tuk tuk in Chiang Mai is roughly the same as it would be in Bangkok, however because the average distance of the journey is shorter, it is a more affordable option in Chiang Mai. For those who would like to save a few dollars, there are shared transportation in red pick up trucks with benches in the back, not as convenient as travelling by tuk tuk.
The Phuket Tuk Tuk
The tuk tuks in Phuket and surrounding southern Thai provinces are a totally different style, normally painted red and have 4 wheels. They are made by Hijet or Diahatsu, and the are often customized by the drivers with boom boxes and stereo equipment. For years the Phuket tuk tuks have been the nemesis of Phuket's tourism industry. The fares of a Phuket tuk tuk are at least 3 times higher than a meter taxi in Bangkok. Many of the drivers have a reputation for being violent with tourists, and there are several records of crimes involving tuk tuk drivers. Because of the power of the local mafia that controls the tuk tuks, the government has been unsuccessful in many attempts to switch to meter taxis. Today many tourists avoid Phuket, simply because of the lack of affordable transportation, and the cost of tuk tuks.
The Laos/North Eastern Thailand Tuk Tuk
The tuk tuks in the north eastern provinces of Thailand and in the country of Laos are a 3 wheel variety, however much different than the Bangkok style. Sometimes referred to as "Jumbos", these 3 wheelers have handlebars and look more like a motorbike pulling a cart. The power is transferred by chain to an axle mounted to the modified rear fork which drives the two rear wheels. Suspended upon the rear fork is an open cabin with an in-line seat on each side. This arrangement can carry 5-6 people easily. The cost of tuk tuks in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, and neighboring Nong Khai across the river in Thailand, is almost as high as the tuk tuks in Phuket. You are better off walking in most cases if at all possible. In some cities in the north eastern provinces, these tuk tuks will be very affordable.
The Phitsanalouk Tuk Tuk
The Tuk Tuks in Phitsanlouk are quite a bit different than those you see everywhere else in the country. They look like something you would expect to see in India in the 1950s. The Phitsanlouk variety of tuk tuk is a 3 wheeler, similar to the Bangkok style, however the front of the vehicle has a bonnet similar to a Volkswagen. The price of a tuk tuk ride in Phitsanalouk is perhaps one of the cheapest in Thailand. Drivers will take you from the train station to any hotel in town for as little as 20THB.