When traveling to a new country, there is nothing better than experiencing the traditional daily life of the locals. One of the best ways to do this is by skipping the taxi, and using the transportation everyone uses. In many countries, there is one that stands out among the rest – the tuk tuk. This three-wheeled mode of transportation is a rollercoaster-like experience you will never forget. So, let’s delve into what a tuk tuk is, where they came from, and where you can ride one!

WHAT IS A TUK TUK?

Also known as an “auto rickshaw,” this three-wheeled taxi is known as a cheap option for transportation in many countries. The shape and style of tuk tuks change between countries, but all are famous for their colorful paint and bright decorations. Although the tuk tuk looks innocent and fun, it is not the most peaceful ride you will ever have, but may be the most fun! Be brave and jump on one of these tuk tuks, brace yourself, and experience all the unforgettable chaos that may ensue.

TUK TUK HISTORY

The origins of the tuk tuk are quite complicated, and no one really knows how exactly the craze began.  According to Allan R, the first patented vehicle with three wheels came from Germany in 1886. This car was likely the first tuk tuk…before we knew what a tuk tuk was. The modern-day tuk tuk, though, likely comes from the Italian Piaggio. In 1947, an Italian aircraft designer named Carrdino D’Ascanio, designed a lightweight car with three wheels to drive through the rough roads of Italy. The Piaggio was built in Italy for a long time, but moved its operations to India in around 2013. This is likely how the three-wheeled vehicle began its spread throughout the world.

WHAT’S THE BEST PLACE TO RIDE A TUK TUK?

Since these tuk tuks are now in numerous countries, it may be difficult to choose where you should go to experience this small car. We have created a small list of the best countries to ride a tuk tuk, how much they cost, and some tips on how to best enjoy a tuk tuk safely.

Thailand

The small car has become the unofficial symbol of Thailand, and continues to grow in popularity with both locals and tourists. Many say that in Bangkok you’ll see more tuk tuks than people! Khao San Road in Bangkok is famous for being filled with tuk tuk drivers ready to pick up tourists to drive around. Tuk Tuks are quite small though, so it can only fit about two people, or three if you want to get real comfortable.

Tuk tuk infront of Bangkok’s Grand Palace Complex | Bangkok, Thailand

Price: Currently, the standard price for a short ride is about 150 baht ($4.57). One key thing to note is tuk tuks are not metered like taxis are. Many tuk tuk drivers may give you a higher fare at the end of the ride, so make sure to set a price or rate before starting the ride. It’s much harder to negotiate once you’ve already been taken to your destination.

Tips:

  • Keep your bags and belongings close to you. Tuk tuks in Thailand are open air vehicles, so if you leave your bag’s handle flying out of the door, someone on a motorcycle could easily snatch it from you.
  • Similar to taxis, it is better to hail a tuk tuk from the street rather than those waiting at tourist destinations. The drivers parked outside of tourist destinations will likely charge you a much higher fee than other drivers.
  • There are no seatbelts in tuk tuks, so keep your whole body inside at all times to make sure you don’t get injured on the ride.

Peru:

Although tuk tuks are mostly known to be in Southeast Asian countries, their influence has even reached some countries in South America, like Peru. This popular mode of transportation is called a mototaxi, or a Bajaj which comes from the manufacturer’s name. The mototaxi first appeared in the jungles of Peru around the 1980’s and spread to Lima in the 90’s. Although they are now found in the big cities, mototaxis are still mostly popular in the rural areas even having their own mototaxi racing tournament!

There are two main types of mototaxis in Peru. The most common is a converted motorcycle with a bench seat in the back. The other type you can find are the smaller three-wheeled trimovil. It may be a bit more rigid, but the trimovil has an enclosed cabin which helps protect riders from pollution and weather unlike the mototaxi.

Tuk tuk driving along a jungle road | Peru

Prices: Taking a mototaxi is a fantastically cheap option for short trips. According to “How to Take a Mototaxi in Peru,” mototaxis cost around 1 sol ($0.25) for a few blocks, and 5 sols for a longer trip ($1.25). Similar to most tuk tuk like modes of transportation on this list, make sure to negotiate price before starting your ride.

Depending on the day of the week, prices may vary. For instance, Fridays and weekends will likely have higher rates as more people are going out on those days. If you have a lot of luggage, you may also be charged extra for the additional luggage weight.

Tips:

  • Try to avoid taking mototaxis on roads with heavy traffic. Mototaxis are quite small and do not offer a lot of protection, so if there is a collision you will likely get injured.
  • You don’t have to tip mototaxi drivers, and it is not expected for you to do so. If the service is absolutely excellent and you want to give a bit of extra money, that is up to you, but it is not necessary.

INDIA

The humble tuk tuk has become an iconic mode of transportation in India, which can be seen zooming through cars during peak traffic hours. Unlike most countries where tuk tuks are around the same price as taxis, in India, it is the cheapest and most convenient form of transportation for many of the local residents. Tuk tuks have some of the lowest accident rates in India, so don’t be too worried when you ride one, even if it feels like a bit of a bumpy ride. To get a less bumpy ride, try to look for tuk tuks that are newer models as they will withstand the roads much better than older models.

The best places to ride a tuk tuk
Tuk tuk’s frequent the streets near the Rashtrapati Bhavan | New Delhi, India

Prices: The price for a tuk tuk can vary, but for a basic rate it is about 25 rupees ($0.34) for 1.5 km, and 10 rupees ($0.13) for each additional km. If you have luggage with you, that’s an additional 10 rupees for each piece of luggage. Although this is the general standard, ask some of the locals what the rate is. This information will help you when negotiating before starting your ride.

Tips:

  • Bring a handkerchief or face mask with you. This will help you with not breathing in too much pollution while you go through traffic.
  • In the bigger cities, tuk tuks may have a meter, but the drivers will likely try to get you to pay a different price. Practice your haggling and negotiation skills before riding a tuk tuk.
  • Carry small change with you as the driver likely won’t have change for larger bills.

SRI LANKA:

Taking a tuk tuk takes quite a turn in Sri Lanka, as you can rent your own tuk tuk! You could ride one passing by, but if you want a unique and new experience I recommend renting one. There are many companies that rent out tuk tuks, but it is best if you rent from a company that provides insurance and that can help you with driving lessons. Tuk tuks can only travel at 25 miles per hour, so don’t worry about going too fast when you’re on the roads of Sri Lanka.

Renting your own tuk tuk is such a big phenomenon in Sri Lanka, there is even a two-week global tuk tuk race! During these two weeks, small teams drive their tuk tuks throughout Sri Lanka completing challenges to win the most points. This challenge covers all of Sri Lanka and is a fantastic way to see parts of the country that most never get to see. To learn more about this tournament check out their website.

Tuk Tuk travelling down a rural road on the way to tea plantation | Haputale, Sri Lanka

Prices: To rent a tuk tuk, it costs about $20 per day and about $40 for the license. Try to get the license ahead of time if possible so you have it ready for your tuk tuk rental. Prices may vary depending on what rental company you use.

Tips:

  • When driving your own tuk tuk, keep in mind that buses speed, so if you see one get out of its way.
  • Buy a WIFI egg, or sim card for your phone. It’s helpful to have an internet connection and access to Google Maps while you are driving.
  • Get insurance with your tuk tuk rental that covers medical costs. Although you will likely not have any accidents, it is better to have that safety cushion in case.

LAOS:

Tuk tuks in Laos are also quite unique in the fact that they have a bunch of different tuk tuk styles.

Types of tuk tuks:

  • Skylab: these tuk tuks are a motorbike-style car with a covered cart mounted on the back for seating. These seat about eight passengers, and are usually used for safaris. Skylab’s are usually blue, red, and yellow with colorful scenery painted on its side.
  • Jumbo: this is the most popular style of tuk tuk in Laos. It’s similar in style to the skylab, but is much smaller in size and has a less powerful engine.
  • Tuk tuk: just as the name implies, this is your traditional tuk tuk style. In Laos, you will likely see these cars painted green, with colorful decorations and trinkets.
  • Songtaew: likely the biggest tuk tuk on this list, the songtaew is a small truck partially enclosed in the back with benches. These are used for longer trips, or for riders who have lots of luggage.
  • Samlokang: it may be more difficult to find these tuk tuks currently, as their numbers have been decreasing over the years. The samlokang is a regular motorbike with a sidecar attached to it.
  • Samlo: These are even more difficult to find in Laos, as it is quite an antiquated ride…and likely difficult for the driver. Samlo’s are pedal bikes that have a cart attached to them. These carts can only carry two (small) people.
the best places to ride a tuk tuk
Tuk tuk outside the Wat Si Muang Buddhist temple | Vientiane, Laos

Price: The jumbo tuk tuk is the most common tuk tuk in Laos, and costs around LAK 10,000 ($0.95) to LAK 20,000 ($1.90) for a short trip. If you are staying in the city center, a trip to the airport could cost around LAK 50,000 ($4.75).

Tips:

  • Similar to most other tuk tuk rides, negotiate your price beforehand. Tuk tuks do not have meters, so the driver has the upper hand in haggling.
  • Plan out which tuk tuk fits your needs the best and plan accordingly. If you have a large group, the skylab could be the perfect choice for you. But if you’re on a solo trip, you might not feel comfortable sharing that same tuk tuk with a bunch of strangers.

This was a brief introduction to some of the best places to ride a tuk tuk, but there are many other places you can enjoy a ride on these three-wheeled cars. From Nigeria to Egypt, the tuk tuk continues to grow in popularity. These may be a bit intimidating to ride at first, but it will definitely be a one in a lifetime experience! If anything, you will at least improve your bartering skills by taking tuk tuks. Enjoy!