Thailand is known for many things; its food, vacation spots, nightlife, and so on. Among them, a unique vehicle called a tuk-tuk is also regarded as one of the most iconic things that represent the country.
It is impossible to miss a tuk-tuk in Thailand because they are everywhere! So, it is understandable that this popular and unconventional mode of transportation generates a lot of attention and curiosity.
If you are one of those people who are curious about tuk-tuks in Thailand and want to learn more about these fun and frenetic vehicles, then you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about Thailand’s tuk-tuks (the good and the bad), so you are well informed before jumping on one during your next visit.
What is a Tuk-Tuk? Their History in Thailand
Let’s start with the basics. Tuk-tuks are three-wheeled, open-air vehicles that can usually carry up to 4 people (excluding the driver) at a time and are usually driven at a disturbingly fast speed (1).
To dive a bit into the history, tuk-tuks are the successors of the rickshaws that existed in earlier times and are known as ‘Sam Lor’ in Thai (2).
Sam Lor was first introduced in Thailand during the early 1930s but was then banned from the main roads due to security reasons. Then in 1960, Thailand imported motorized auto-rickshaws from Japan, and since then, tuk-tuks have become a norm on the streets of Thailand (2).
The reason why these vehicles are called ‘tuk-tuk’ is due to the sound made by noisy engines of the earliest models of these motorized rickshaws, as their little engines used to rumble a lot and made them sound like ‘tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk’ (3).
Nowadays, some tuk-tuk drivers have altered the engines so that their vehicles would make loud noises just to attract the attention of prospective passengers.
For more information on the history of Tuk-Tuks, check out our article on The Evolution & Future of Three-Wheeler Taxis in Thailand.
How Do Locals Use Tuk-Tuks?
Even though most tuk-tuks’ customers are traditionally tourists, local people still use tuk-tuks as their way of transportation. Many factories use tuk-tuks to deliver their goods as tuk-tuks’ small size and ability to go through narrow alleys are ideal for delivering things in a relatively shorter amount of time than using other vehicles (3).
Also, tuk-tuks can be seen carrying loads of vegetables and fruits in the market for delivery as many of their regulars are the vendors. Also, students use tuk-tuks to go to their schools in the early morning (2).
Tuk-Tuks in Bangkok
In popular tourist attraction places, the classic yellow-and-blue tuk-tuks are mostly found. But other types of tuk-tuks are found in Bangkok too. There are larger types of tuk-tuks with more seating spaces in the residential areas of Bangkok. And some companies provide ‘crazy tuk-tuks’ or ‘disco tuk-tuks’ to appeal to tourists who want a more exciting and novelty experience.
These tuk-tuks’ are decorated with neon lights and soundbox speakers inside and can be hired on hourly rates for private group tours around Bangkok and other cities like Pattaya (4). These customized tuk-tuks are usually more expensive than normal tuk-tuks and cost around 1500 bahts for a 3-hour tour that includes visits to local attractions, such as the Grand Palace, temples, and markets (5).
Tuk-Tuks in Other Parts of Thailand
When traveling to different parts of Thailand, you are likely to encounter different types of tuk-tuks. The most famous ones are probably the green tuk-tuks often found in Trang and Ayutthaya provinces.
These tuk-tuks are known as Tuk-Tuk Hua Kop’ or ‘Frog-Head Tuk-Tuk’ due to their appearance that resembles, well, as the name suggests, the head of a frog (6). These frog-head tuk-tuks were first brought into the country during the late 1950s and used in the provinces throughout Thailand. They were later replaced by the newer models, so you can only find them in select provinces these days.
You may also come across another type of tuk-tuk in less-visited provinces and upcountry tourist cities like Kanchanaburi. These tuk-tuks are modified motorbikes with either a wooden-bench style. Or a padded seating area fixed to the back or the side of the motorbike (2).
Also, shared-truck-style vehicles called Songtaew can be found in popular islands like Phuket, Koh Pha Ngan, or Koh Samui. These hop-on-hop-off Songtaew-type vehicles can carry many more people than a classic tuk-tuk, and one will usually have to share the ride with other passengers (2).
How Much Does a Tuk-Tuk Ride Cost?
It may come as a bit of a surprise, but tuk-tuks are not a cheap mode of transportation in Thailand. As they are small, noisy, and have minimum facilities inside (no air-con, open-air, uncomfortable seat, etc.), you’d be forgiven for assuming that tuk-tuks are a cost-effective way to travel around in Bangkok. But the truth is, they are not.
When considering the same distance, the cost of a tuk-tuk ride is typically more expensive than that of a normal taxi, or even Grab taxis sometimes. For example, a tuk-tuk usually costs around 100-150 baht, while a meter taxi would only cost about 50-70 baht for the same distance (1). And to be honest, this rate is considered not that expensive for tuk-tuk standards.
In Bangkok’s popular, crowded areas like Siam, Silom, Sukhumvit, and near the tourist hotspots like Grand Palace and Chatuchak markets, there are a lot of tuk-tuk drivers who would ask for a ridiculously high amount of fees to the unsuspecting foreigners. Some tourists have been charged (or, you could say, scammed) up to 400 baht for a short distance ride in a tuk-tuk. And to give you a comparison of how much a regular taxi ride would cost – a trip to the airport from downtown Bangkok only costs around 500-600 baht.
So keep this in mind if you want to avoid paying over-the-odds during your trip. Whatsmore, be prepared to barter hard for a more reasonable price before taking a tuk-tuk ride. If you plan to visit popular tourist areas, such as in front of a shopping mall, a temple, a flea market, or near the hotels, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to brush up on bargaining skills beforehand.
And it is not only tourists or foreigners who got charged with a high price. Locals also often get charged with a high fare, especially when fewer taxis are available, such as when it is raining or during office hours.
4 Reasons Why You Must Ride a Tuk-Tuk When Visiting Thailand
There are many reasons why tuk-tuks are so iconic and why taking a tuk-tuk ride around Bangkok is a must for tourists who are visiting Thailand:
1. The Fun Element
Tuk-tuks can offer a unique and fun way to experience Thailand. A noisy and bumpy tuk-tuk ride through the busy streets of Bangkok will let the passengers experience the everyday life of this beautiful city up close and personal (1). Being on a tuk-tuk and getting your hair swept by the wind as the vehicle zooms through the small alleyways and in-between the cars during the traffic hours is a kind of thrill and fun that any other vehicle can never give.
2. For Sheer Convenience
Tuk-tuks are deceptively fast and can take you to your destination in a shorter time duration than other types of transportations, especially during traffic jam hours. As tuk-tuks are small and agile, they can weave in and out through the cars during a traffic jam and go through narrow back alleys and shortcuts to avoid the main roads. In contrast, other larger vehicles like taxis, buses, and private cars can get stuck for hours in the infamous Bangkok traffic (1). Locals sometimes purposely take a tuk-tuk if they are in a hurry, and vendors also use tuk-tuk as their delivery vehicle for the same reason. As the saying goes, time is money.
3. A Memorable Moment
Another reason one should take a tuk-tuk ride when they are in Thailand is that it’s “good for the gram” (i.e., catching that Instagram-worthy photo.) To attract more passengers to their vehicles, tuk-tuk drivers often decorate their tuk-tuks with unique arts, decorations, trinkets, and even modifications to the vehicles.
As mentioned above, there are ‘disco tuk-tuks’ with neon lights and soundbox speakers, and also tuk-tuks with beautiful drawings on them. Taking a photo with the tuk-tuk or recording a story during your ride would give you that instagrammable kudos that will truly reflect your trip to the Land of Smiles and capture the imagination of your followers.
4. Supporting the Locals
Finally, you will simply be helping the livelihood of tuk-tuk drivers. Like any other part of the tourism sector, tuk-tuks also took a huge hit during the Covid times due to the travel bans. When the country went into lockdowns during 2020 and 2021, tuk-tuks came to a standstill, as curfews were made, and people could not go anywhere.
Many tuk-tuk drivers were forced to go out of business as virtually no tourists came into the country during those times. It is estimated that the number of foreigners to Thailand fell by 85% in 2020. As a result, many tuk-tuks have disappeared from the roads of Bangkok (7). Tuk-tuk drivers are one of the hardest hit by the pandemic’s impact on Thailand’s tourism industry. Considering that a tuk-tuk driver used to earn around 1,500 baht per day before Covid started in Thailand, this is a significant income for an average thai local to lose.
Interestingly, tuk-tuk drivers have received help from the country’s young Kpop and Thai idol fans (8). These young fans put up birthday advertisement banners of their favorite Kpop stars and Thai idols on the back of tuk-tuks for some time. In return, the tuk-tuk drivers of those vehicles will get a fee (around 600 baht a month), a vital new source of income during the most challenging of times (8).
Also, having these idols’ banners on their vehicles helps attract more passengers as other fans would often take photos with the vehicles, use the service of these tuk-tuks and give tips as a way of celebrating their idol’s birthday. So if you are a Kpop fan or a fan of Thai idols, look for the tuk-tuk with your favorites’ banners on them so that you can also take a photo and do your bit to help the drivers as well!
Even though it is highly encouraged for foreigners to try a tuk-tuk when they are in Thailand, some cautions need to be taken.
This is the biggest concern for anyone when taking a tuk-tuk ride. Compared to other vehicles, tuk-tuks lack a lot of safety because they are open-sided and do not have seat belts in most of them. Also, most accidents occur when the drivers try to weave their way in and out of the cars and motorcycles during peak hours. However, the good news is that tuk-tuks have been involved in relatively few fatal accidents because the drivers tend to drive slower when trying to cut their way out of the traffic compared to motorcycles(1).
Lack of Cover:
As tuk-tuks have open sides, it is not ideal to withstand the outside weather. It can get sweaty and uncomfortable during the summer when taking a ride in the tuk-tuk, as there is no air-con inside and no cover from the sun. Furthermore, you are likely to get splashed on rainy days as there is no cover on the sides and the back.
Many tuk-tuks have plastic flaps on the sides that can be pulled down when it rains, but obviously, they are not enough when the rain is heavy or the wind is strong. Some drivers might offer you their umbrellas to shield you from the splashing rain. But it will surely get uncomfortable when you are inside a tuk-tuk during a downpour.
The worst-case scenario for a tuk-tuk ride would be getting stuck in awful traffic when the weather is extremely hot, or the rain is heavy (1). On the other hand, tuk-tuks are surprisingly resourceful during a flood. While taxis and motorbikes grind to a halt during the rainy/monsoon season, tuk-tuks are very efficient when the roads are flooded and are the best option to get you to your destination.
The most common type of tuk-tuk scam is the one where the driver will charge you a ridiculously high price at the end of your ride even though it is just a short distance. To avoid this type of scam, get the driver to agree on a fixed price before getting on the tuk-tuk (1).
Getting the driver to agree to a fixed price beforehand is a must. Otherwise, they might also pretend to ‘misunderstand’ you and take you to the wrong location or take a longer route so that they can charge you a higher price. To avoid this uncomfortable scenario, make sure that your tuk-tuk driver understands the destination point and make it clear that you will not be paying them for any other extra fees than the agreed-upon price before getting on a tuk-tuk (1).
Another common type of tuk-tuk scam is that the driver will offer his service at a low price, but then once you get on the vehicle, he will insist on taking you to specific retailers, such as gem stores, tailors, or oriental medicines sellers (1). This is because these shops give him tips to bring customers to them. Even though you are not required to buy anything from there (in most cases), it is annoying and a waste of your time if you are on a tight schedule. Also, in extreme cases, the drivers and the shops won’t let you leave them unless you buy something from the shop and at a higher price than usual.
Snatch and Run:
Another caution to take during a tuk-tuk ride is that through the open sides of the vehicles, bags or other valuable belongings like smartphones might get snatched by other drivers on the street. These snatchers usually target tourists specifically and are very difficult to catch or chase. So make sure to stay alert and hold your valuable things close to your body and not near the open sides as well (1).
3 Essential Tips on Getting a Fair Priced Tuk-Tuk Ride
Here are a few tips one should remember to avoid getting charged a ridiculously high price for a tuk-tuk ride.
1. Avoid Getting a Tuk-Tuk From Popular Tourist Spots
As mentioned above, tuk-tuk scams usually happen near tourist areas, like in front of a shopping mall, temples, flea markets, etc. Therefore, it is cheaper and less likely to run into a scam if you flag down a tuk-tuk further away from those tourist hotspots (1).
Of course, it might be riskier for a foreigner to get a tuk-tuk when you are in a secluded area (in that case, getting a Grab taxi or using public transportation is highly recommended). So the best way might be to walk a few meters away from the most crowded areas and then jump on a tuk-tuk from there.
2. Negotiate the Price
It is very tempting to hop on the tuk-tuk first and then ask for the price when you are tired after a long day of sightseeing and shopping, but never do that (9). Always negotiate the price first when taking a Tuk-Tuk, or else you are likely to get charged with a higher price at the end of the ride.
Also, be firm and make sure to bargain when negotiating the price. This is not being a cheap person, as many tuk-tuks chance their luck by asking for a higher price from foreigners because they assume you won’t know. Make sure to bargain and compare the price with that of a taxi. If they do not agree on the amount you are willing to pay for that distance, walk away and ask another. More often than not, you will see that they will give in and agree on the price you told them (1). Play them at their own game.
3. Be Firm
Just like any other scam, you are more likely to encounter tuk-tuk scams if you look like you just got off the plane. And even though it may be intimidating to deal with the loud tuk-tuk drivers, don’t let them overwhelm you.
Try to enjoy this unique experience and let go of your polite tendencies. Be firm when talking with them so that they won’t charge you extra fees at the end of the journey. And also, to save yourself time, when they insist on taking you to the places like tailors and gem stores, be assertive and re-affirm that you are not interested.
The Future of Tuk-Tuks in Thailand
In 2021, electronic tuk-tuks launched in Thailand as an alternative way to go around the city with a more eco-friendly method (10). This electronic tuk-tuk service was first introduced to Thailand by MuvMi. They have since deployed 100 clean-riding vehicles in the Sukhumvit area to serve passengers from Soi Sukhumvit 3 and 51, north to New Petchaburi Road.
MuvMi is also already operating in other service areas, such as around Samyan-Siam, Phahonyothin Road-Lat Phrao, Ari-Intramara, Rattanakosin Island, and Kasetsart-Sena Nikhom. As for the price, the fares start at 10 baht and are limited to only the destinations in the same zone (10). These electronic tuk-tuks are good for the environment as they produce no noise and diesel fumes that the classic tuk-tuks are obnoxious for, making them even better options for the passengers.
Due to Covid, many tuk-tuks were forced to disappear from the roads of Thailand. Hopefully, this is only temporary as these small vehicles are one of the iconic symbols that represent Thailand.
Regardless of the good and the bad aspects of tuk-tuks, catching a ride on one is undoubtedly a unique and fun experience that is certain to live long in the memory of your Thailand adventure. Even if you find yourself paying a little over the odds for the occasion, you’ll certainly be supporting the local economy and helping to maintain the remaining tuk-tuks industry.
But don’t be afraid to haggle the price, and of course, remember to hold on tight!
Thai Tuk-Tuks FAQs
Here are some frequently asked questions that may come in handy when planning your tuk-tuk ride in Thailand.
Where does tuk-tuks come from?
These vehicles, which will later be known as tuk-tuks, originated in Japan by Daihatsu (3).
How fast can a tuk-tuk go?
Tuk-tuks can go fast due to their small size. They can travel at up to 25mph (11). And the world record for the fastest tuk-tuk speed is 119.584 km/h (12).
How many tuk-tuks are there in Bangkok?
According to the data from the government, there are more than 9,000 tuk-tuks registered in Bangkok alone (8). There are also different types of tuk-tuks in other provinces such as Trang, Ayutthaya, and islands like Phuket (1).
Are there tuk-tuks in Phuket?
There are tuk-tuks everywhere in Phuket and tend to be clustered in large numbers around the Patong area. In Phuket, tuk-tuks are small red vans that can carry around 5 passengers and have 4-wheels, unlike the 3-wheeled ones in Bangkok (13).
How many people fit in a tuk-tuk?
For a three-wheeled tuk-tuk, it can usually fit up to 4-5 people.
Are tuk-tuks safe in Thailand?
Safety is the biggest concern for tuk-tuks in Thailand as they lack safety features such as safety belts, side covers, etc. (1).
Do tuk-tuks tip over?
It is possible for tuk-tuks to tip over. Although it is relatively safe to be in a tuk-tuk as they generally do not go at a very high speed, there are instances in which tuk-tuks have been known to flip over (14).
How much is a tuk-tuk in Thailand?
It usually costs around 100 baht for a tuk-tuk ride in Thailand. The price is cheaper for Songtaew types as they are shared rides, which start at 10 baht upwards.
How much is a tuk-tuk in Bangkok?
The usual price for a tuk-tuk ride in Bangkok is around 100-150 baht.
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2. Nattakan. The Story Of Thailand’s Tuk Tuks. Expique. [Online] July 20, 2020. https://www.expique.com/article/the-story-of-thailands-tuk-tuks/.
3. Bangkok Tourism Hub. Why Are They Called Tuk-Tuks. Bangkok Tourism Hub. [Online] [Cited: January 14, 2022.] http://www.thaibis.com/a-z/t/tc/faq-s/why-are-they-called-tuk-tuks/.
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8. Tanakasempipat, Patpicha. K-pop Activism A Lifeline For Thailand’s Hard-hit ‘Tuk Tuk’ Drivers. Reuters. [Online] June 28, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/k-pop-activism-lifeline-thailands-hard-hit-tuk-tuk-drivers-2021-06-28/.
9. Abroad, The Not So Innocents. 9 Tuk Tuk Tips. The Not So Innocents Abroad. [Online] July 10, 2017. https://www.thenotsoinnocentsabroad.com/blog/9-tuk-tuk-tips/.
10. Coconuts Bangkok. Electric Tuk-Tuks Roll Into Downtown Bangkok For Less Obnoxious Rides. Coconuts. [Online] March 11, 2021. https://coconuts.co/bangkok/news/electric-tuk-tuks-roll-into-downtown-bangkok-for-less-obnoxious-rides/.
11. BikeHike. Quick Answer: What Are Tuk Tuk Bikes. BikeHike. [Online] [Cited: January 14, 2022.] https://bikehike.org/what-are-tuk-tuk-bikes/#How_fast_does_a_tuk_tuk_go/.
12. Suggitt, Connie. Watch The World’s Fastest Tuk-Tuk Reach Tts Record-breaking 119 km/h. Guinness World Records. [Online] May 29, 2019. https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2019/5/watch-the-worlds-fastest-tuk-tuk-reach-its-record-breaking-119-kmh/.
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14. Hummel, Anita. 20 Interesting Fun Facts About Tuk Tuks You May Not Know! Mondoro. [Online] [Cited: January 14, 2022.] https://mondoro.com/20-interesting-fun-facts-about-tuk-tuks-you-may-not-know/.