What is a Tuk Tuk?

Seems obvious doesn’t it? A Tuk Tuk is a Tuk Tuk and everyone knows that! But what’s the difference between a Tuk Tuk and a Rikshaw, a Tuk Tuk and a Samlor and why on earth is a Tuk Tuk called a Tuk Tuk? What is a Tuk Tuk???

Tuk Tuks are, as you probably know, those wonderful three wheeled vehicles that you see in pretty much every street scene of Bangkok. Brightly coloured, highly decorated and jazzed up by their driver, finding gaps in the traffic where no gaps seem to exist and a ‘must do’ for everyone when visiting Bangkok. But let’s take it back to basics…

Back in the mists of time the humble samlor was seen all over the larger towns and cities of Thailand. A three wheeled bicycle with comfortable seats at the back and a small roof to keep passengers cool, and dryish when it rained. Great for the passengers who can relax on the rear seats, blooming hard work for the ‘driver’ having to pedal heavy loads everywhere.

Then, in the 1960’s Thailand started to import motorised ‘samlors’ from Japan and, surprise, surprise they took off rather quickly. No more aching thighs and sweaty brow for the driver, instead a fantastic three wheeled vehicle, much cheaper than a car, much easier to navigate through narrow or traffic clogged streets and much more fun. And, the Thai Tuk Tuk was born.

Whilst you can still find traditional cycle samlors in Thailand – there are lots near Nonthaburi market which is no distance from Bangkok and also several in Chiang Mai which can be a great way to explore the ‘old city – the motorised Tuk Tuk quickly became pretty much an emblem of Thailand. So much so that a recent Thai entry into the Miss World competition even dressed as a Tuk Tuk!

You can find several theories as to why Tuk Tuks are called Tuk Tuks but the most sensible of them note that it’s all to do with the ‘puttering’ sound that the original motorised Tuk Tuks made. And if this isn’t right then it really should be and we’re sticking with it. And the Oxford English dictionary seems to agree so……

But what’s the difference between a Rickshaw and a Tuk Tuk?

This is where we get onto interesting ground and are bound to cause a few arguments. Being huge fans of the most iconic of all Tuk Tuks – the Bangkok style Thailand Tuk Tuk – we’re going to argue that a Tuk Tuk is a three wheeled vehicle running around the streets of Thailand. Sure, there are other three wheelers all over the world that look similar-ish – but aren’t as cool – with the classic Indian / Sri Lankan model (smaller, slower, less robust and of course not as much fun) to the three wheelers used in parts of Africa such as Ethiopia.

A Tuk Tuk in front of a statue of Jesus Christ
The traditional – and best – Tuk Tuk, Bangkok style

But Thailand is, at least to us, the home of the Tuk Tuk. If you to India / Pakistan etc and you’re more likely to hear the three wheelers referred to as ‘autos’ or ‘rikshaws’ rather than Tuk Tuks which is pretty logical as they are automated rikshaws, but in Thailand Tuk Tuk is THE word (unless you’re being fancy and trying to say ‘samlor’ which just means ‘three wheels’.

So what is the difference between a Tuk Tuk and a Rickshaw? We guess it’s quite simple really. Three wheelers with engines in Thailand are called Tuk Tuks. Even through you’ll come across several different designs around the country, from the rocket nose cone style in Ayutthya to the more motorbike and sidecar set up in the North East, they’re all called Tuk Tuks and tend to be bigger, faster, more stable and more comfortable than their cousins in other parts of the world. Right, that’s settled then

At the end of the day though it doesn’t really matter. Thailand is the home of the Tuk Tuk (and The Tuk Tuk Club is the home of the Tuk Tuk Adventure) and any trip to the Land of Smiles is not complete without at least one trip in these magical vehicles. And if you get the chance then every trip to Thailand is made at least 10 times better if you have a Tuk Tuk Adventure.

For more information on Tuk Tuks and the fun you can have on three wheels have a look here

Comments are closed.