You have probably planned your trip to Thailand and the excitement is starting to kick in. Now is the time to consume huge amounts of internet fodder about every aspect of where you’re going and what you’ll do. Thailand obsessives like us do that, don’t we?
I wish someone had posted information about riding in tuk tuks when we first went to Thailand back in 2012. I was a tuk tuk virgin – no flipping idea how these little lawn mower on wheels things worked. I guess it’s not really alot to figure out, but when you are standing in Bangkok and there’s no taxi to be found, and your brain is saying “tuk tuk – yes? tuk tuk – no?” a little prior knowledge would have been helpful. Wikipedia refers to a tuk tuk as an auto rickshaw. That’s a new one!
Not Every Tuk Tuk is the Same!
What a revelation! Even in the same city, not every tuk tuk is the same. And they certainly aren’t the same in Bangkok as they are in Phuket. These little 3 wheeled things have so much variety, sometimes you’ll be looking at one thinking “ïs this a tuk tuk?”. Let’s look at a couple of varieties of tuk tuks.
This is your garden variety tuk tuk, seen by the gazillions in Bangkok. The most dangerous of all the tuk tuks in the range! You are one step up from a motorbike in this contraption. It looks wildly unstable with that single wheel at the front. I am always amazed at the steering – not even a proper wheel, but bicycle handlbars! Really? This seems so inadequate! And the battery on show at the side near the driver? What’s that about? Will that not have an issue if it gets wet? This particular battery in the above photo comes with a cloth attached – er, why would you need that? This kind of set up doesn’t instill great confidence in hopping into a tuk tuk!
- It will be faster than a taxi
- It could be cheaper than a taxi (depends on trip)
- You will truly experience your surroundings
- Adrenaline rush for sure!
- You could die if you’re in an accident
- You might get scammed & taken to a tailor or gold shop
- You might have your bag snatched by a motorbike thief
- Breathing exhaust fumes isn’t pleasant
- It’s really hot, & possibly wet
The Non Existent Comfort in a Tuk Tuk
While you are weighing up the pros and cons of the tuk tuk ride, don’t forget to consider comfort. Now this does vary according to your size, age and expectations in life. These 3 wheeled demons are notoriously hard to get into, and out of. The roof is designed far too low to give anyone any space to wiggle into the seat. The step in is far too high to be easy to jump in and out. If you are a teenager and quite agile, this will not bother you. However, if you are taller than the average person, you are going to struggle with the tuk tuk. I am 6ft tall. It was horrific. When you step up, you hit the roof. When you sit on the seat, you cannot see a thing unless you lie down! These tuk tuks must have been designed for the small local Thai person! Take note if you are larger than that: this is not going to be a comfortable ride. You have been warned!
I’ve also got to question any vehicle that needs a cage on one side. Take another look at the photos above. On one side in 2 of them, there’s a wire mesh cage thing – what’s that about? Hold you in? Stop thieves taking your bags? Something to hang onto as the 3 wheeled contraption screeches around corners? Again, my confidence in this vehicle is fairly low at this stage! I am pretty well convinced that an air conditioned taxi with seat belts is my preferred option.
The Other Tuk Tuk
I have no idea on the history of the tuk tuk. I haven’t looked it up at this point in time. I’m guessing the traffic just got so crazy in Bangkok that someone got out their lawn mower or bike and built one. The locals probably exclaimed “wow, a lot less wet than our motorbikes” and the tuk tuk was born. And being the entrepreneurs that the Thai people are, the tuk tuk turned into the competition to the taxis. Sounds good anyway. So, down South some ingenious person obviously thought they could improve this garden-variety Bangkokian tuk tuk, because the tuk tuks in Phuket rock over their northern city counterparts.
The Phuketian tuk tuk has evolved and sprung up 4 wheels instead of 3! A baby truck. Cute and red and alot safer than the 3 wheeled demons in Bangkok. It’s still not a really safe option as far as transport goes, but there’s a bit more protection in one of these. And 4 wheels do make it more stable. I’m guessing the hills of Phuket made this a necessity.
What’s so Great About Phuket Tuk Tuks?
Let’s clear up the big issue first off – yes, you can fall out the back of them if the driver slams the brakes on. No door = possible death on road behind tuk tuk after being rolled over by traffic at the rear. Yes, a negative I know. However, let’s think on the positive side. This tuk tuk has 2 steps at the back – no more breaking your back and knees to get in! And a handle to help you get in. They’ve thought of it all.
Look at the windows! Yes, actual windows. This is more like a taxi than a tuk tuk. Well, ok no seat belts, air conditioning or doors, but vaguely taxi-like. If it rains, this little truk-truk (see what I did there?!!) has plastic window curtains to pull over. As long as you don’t sit on top of the open back (we know what can happen if you do, scroll up!), you won’t get wet. Bingo! Bangkok tuk tuk you are hopelessly inadequate!
Some of the little Phuket truk-truks have side openings instead of back openings. I would think these might be a tad safer as the braking issue wouldn’t see you falling out the side. I still worry about how bad the driving is in Thailand, and these vehicles offer next to no protection in an accident. You would be thrown out, or at the very least, thrown around the inside of the vehicle – which is all metal. Not a pleasant thought. I find them acceptable for short trips – like a quick sprint around Patong. The traffic is usually slow, so speed isn’t a big factor. I’d never go over Patong Hill in one of these. A tour bus could wipe you out in an instant.
Northern Tuk Tuk Anyone?
I find alot of things in Chiang Mai much more similar to Bangkok than the islands of Thailand. Tuk tuks are no different. They seem a little more organised and possibly newer.
Still the same safety issues, and getting in and out, well, nothings changed from the Bangkok ones. These are pretty in red! We did manage to find one to squeeze into in Chiang Mai. It even came fully optioned with a plastic stool for our daughter to sit on!
Tuk Tuk Check List
If you are going to take a chance on a tuk tuk ride, here’s what you need to remember:
- Keep your limbs inside the tuk tuk at all times
- Place your belongings on the seat next to you and secure them to you
- If you have a handbag, place it in your lap and the strap crossed over your body
- Wear sunglasses to stop the grit getting in your eyes
- Negotiate the price up front and make it clear NO TOURS, SHOPS, DETOURS!
- Hold on all the time as you never know when there might be an accident
- Do not wave your mobile phone around unless you want someone to snatch it from you
- Be alert to your surroundings when stopped in traffic
- Never fall asleep in a tuk tuk!
The Versatile Tuk Tuk
Most of all, don’t get scammed. The tuk tuk drivers sound really helpful and interested in your welfare – well, they’re not! They are interested in your money and making you part with it. Take some advice from Chris and Angela at TielandtoThailand. Read what they have to say here