An iconic symbol of Thailand, the three-wheeled open-air motorized vehicle is the successor to the human-powered rickshaw, and has been in existence for about 50 years.  The unusual name came from the sound made by the small-capacity, two-cycle engine; when it is started, it sounds like “tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk”.


Although their primary function is to transport people, tuk-tuks are also used for industrial purposes due to their small size, which is convenient for navigating small alleys on delivery routes.  There are about 20,000 tuk-tuks in Thailand, with 9,000 in Bangkok.  They are found most often in tourist areas, around markets or cruising the streets for fares.  Designs vary around the country.  The classic yellow and blue vehicles are found in the major cities of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, but the most creative are in Trang and Ayutthaya provinces, where the green tuk-tuks are nicknamed for their appearance that looks like a frog’s head.


There are no meters in tuk-tuks, so it is necessary to barter for the fare.  Although the fares are usually close to those of taxis, the experience of an open-air ride is a major attraction for tourists.  Agreeing on a fare is a must before climbing into the tuk-tuk, or a big surprise might result at the end of the ride.  Scams are also common, particularly when a driver quotes a low fare and then takes the passengers to gem stores or tailors, where they will be pressured into buying something.  If the fare seems far too low, this is probably the driver’s intention, as he can afford to entice passengers into his vehicle this way, knowing he will receive a kickback from the vendor.  When the suggested fare is very low, beware!


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