Tuktuk in Bangkok

November 10, 2010

Tuktuks are the iconic little three-wheeled taxis of Bangkok. Wherever you are – a Tuktuk is never far.

Tuktuks can be found in several countries in Southeast Asia, not just in Thailand – yet, they have become an iconic Thai symbol. What’s funny is that they are actually not a Thai invention at all – they’re a Japanese invention. It was in 1833 that a Japanese added an engine to a rickshaw (which was normally driven by manpower). Then in 1872 the first Tuktuk came to Thailand.  In 1960 the Japanese sold 4000 Tuktuks to Thailand – although they looked a little bit different back then than they look now. You can still see some of these old versions in the previous capital of Thailand, Ayutthaya.

Here’s a video clip that shows where Tuktuks are produced:

Tourists in Bangkok enjoy riding Tuktuks, because it really is a cool experience – the loud sound of the engine, driving in that quirky little thing at speeds that give you an adrenaline kick. When sitting in one of these machines with a particularly eager driver, you will sometimes feel as if the Tuktuk is about to tip over in a curve at high speeds. Hopefully that won’t happen – because a Tuktuk really doesn’t provide any protection for passengers.

Sometimes, there’s also a practical aspect, because it can navigate through traffic more quickly sometimes, because it’s a bit smaller than cars. And if you have to transport a lot of luggage or items, a Tuktuk driver will often be willing to do so. Oftentimes you can see Thai people, particularly in the area of Chinatown, transporting half a household on the back of a Tuktuk.

Also, be prepared to negotiate. Most tuktuk drivers always try to quote you a heavily inflated price. Some although give you the real fare right away and won’t negotiate further down, but they are the exception. It’s best if you know equivalent taxi rates. Some people think tuktuks are cheaper than metered taxis, but that is often not the case. Just make sure to agree on a price BEFORE you get on the tuktuk.

Also, sometimes they’ll offer to bring you for free to a place if you just go into a shop where they sell suits or jewelry. You have to stay in the shop at least 10 minutes and act as if you are actually interested in buying something while in the shop, but after that you can just go out without buying anything – the tuktuk driver will then get some money for bringing somebody into the store.

Now companies have introduced Tuktuks to some European cities – although they are quiter and more environmentally friendly. It’s too early to determine whether this business model will work out or not. It actually started in Thailand, where an inventor created an eco-friendly, quiet Tuktuk.

It’s a lot of fun to go on a Tuktuk Bangkok sightseeing tour, because you get a more direct contact and more intense impressions of the city.

And finally, here a funny visa ad with James Bond and a Tuktuk driver:

There are more than 7000 Tuktuks in Bangkok, and then more than 40000 in the rest of the country. Thailand is still manufacturing new ones, many of them for export into neighbouring countries.

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