Learning to drive a Tuk Tuk – A 1st class guide for beginners

What’s a Tuk Tuk?

Tuk Tuks are essentially three wheeled buggies. There’s a single powerless wheel at the front that is used for steering, and two wheels at the back that drive the vehicle forwards. After that though the definition becomes a little looser and you start to see many variations in all sorts of cultures. Our Tuk-Tuks are of the traditional Bangkok style and look more similar to a car without doors than a built up motorcycle that you may see in Southern Asia.

Learning to drive a Tuk-Tuk is easy. We receive emails all the time from potential travelers who are worried they won’t be able to grasp the concept (and that is a valid concern to have). Lots of people worry that they’re unsafe or unpredictable. Many think they won’t be able to grasp the concept of a hand throttle and foot brake. But don’t fear, we cover everything in this guide for beginners!

For those who’ve travelled in Bangkok and Southeast Asia before you may be familiar with Tuk-Tuks. Fast-paced and chaotic three-wheelers, zipping through traffic like a bat out of hell. And that might be a source of fear for some people. Well fear not, our Tuk-Tuks are nothing like that. Whilst they do have bigger engines and they could be driven to those extremes we are with you every step of the way to ensure that you can’t (and won’t) be tempted to do that.

A traveler learning to drive a Tuk Tuk.

Our Tuk Tuks

Our Tuk-Tuks are built from the ground up. Like all Tuk-Tuks they are comprised of parts from other vehicles, all carefully fitted into the traditional three wheeled frame. Our engines are taken from Daihatsu cars – highly reliable and much more capable than the traditional Bangkok counterparts. Originally made with a manual transmission, they’ve since been converted to automatics so that everyone can drive them, and with ease.

We maintain them ourselves, with our full-time handyman and local trusted mechanic – and we fix any issues as soon as them come to fruition (at the end of the day they are machines and with all moving parts there is the possibility that something happens not according to plan). Our guides also know these machines inside out, having worked with them every day for the past 6 years so they all know nifty tips and tricks to make minor repairs whilst out on an adventure.

The Tuk-Tuks all have their own personality. Each of the 12 vehicles have been given unique names – mostly named after significant people in our history and more often than not are true to their human counterparts. For example, Rock – on the right of the image below – is famed for being reliable, much like the man it is named after. That Tuk-Tuk will always get you to your end point with no complaints, no matter what may be going on under the ‘bonnet’.

Four of our Tuk Tuks ready for a day of adventuring.

Learning to drive our Tuk Tuks

All our self-drive Tuk-Tuk Adventures start with a few hours (or a full morning) of training and testing. We don’t let anyone drive onto the open roads without passing, but our team are all great teachers and we’ve not yet had anyone fail…

Our mornings start with a pick-up in Chiang Mai town and transfer to our base in Mae Wang. Here we collect the Tuk-Tuks for the trip and check in to our hotel if you on one of our longer adventures. The training process begins with an introduction to the machines – we show you the engine and battery so you can have a bit of an understanding and then we talk you through all the buttons and dials as it is slightly different to a car. Once everyone is comfortable with their hardware, we start by rolling forwards and backwards to familiarize ourselves with the handling and throttle.

Each Tuk-Tuk is slightly different in sensitivity so it’s a good idea to stick with the one you train with for the whole trip. We then begin our ‘obstacle’ course of a training area, starting by driving in a square and then graduating to our slalom and finally our rallycross style circuit (an on road section using cones to simulate cars and turns and an offroad section to really test your handling ability). If you can manage three complete circuits without touching a cone, then we consider you ready for the open roads!

We understand that there’s a huge difference between driving on a training field and a real road (not to mention in an unfamiliar country too). That’s why our 1-day trips stay in the surrounding area of Mae Wang, on quieter roads that aren’t too steep or complex and our longer trips stay in the area for a few days at minimum before slowly moving on to steeper and longer drives. Don’t worry though, we’ve been using our practice and testing system since we started in 2017 and 99% of our travelers have become great Tuk-Tuk drivers by the end of their adventure.

A pair of travelers driving their own Tuk Tuk after successfully passing our training course.

If you think you’re now ready for a real Tuk Tuk Adventure get in touch with us here or find more information on our trips here (and do let us know that our guide for beginners helped you realize you really can drive a Tuk Tuk)

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