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How To Use A Tuk Tuk In Thailand? #1 Best Guide For Tourists

April 23, 2022

A tuk tuk in Thailand is a rather adorable, unique, fun, and adventurous way to get around. Some people have even been known to explore Thailand with them! Tuk-tuks are similar in concept to a taxi and are essentially a motorized three-wheeled form of transportation with a covered seating area to protect from the hot sun (but unfortunately, it does little to protect against strong rain showers).

A tuk-tuk in Thailand isn't enclosed, which allows you to see out of it as you travel through a city and feel the wind in your hair. When riding in a tuk-tuk, passengers sit on a cushioned bench behind the driver. The driver steers not with a steering wheel but rather with what looks like motorcycle handlebars.

These transportations aren't unique to Thailand and exist in other regions of Asia and the entire world, such as Egypt, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, India, Bangladesh, Ecuador, and Peru. In each country, the size, color, and shape of the tuk-tuk will differ. In fact, even within Thailand, cities will have their own variations.

You'll often hear a tuk-tuk before you see one because they run on diesel. There has been a push recently by the government to make tuk-tuks electric to help the environment to reduce noise and smog. Tuk-tuks are loud beasts, but this seems to add to the experience. Even though they don't actually go that fast, it sure feels like you're zipping through the streets and sois (small streets). Riding in one can feel like you are in a race in Mario Kart!

 

History Of Tuk Tuks In Thailand

tuk tuk in thailand

Before motorized tuk-tuks appeared in Thailand, it was popular for people to ride in man-powered cycle rickshaws. These were called Sam Lor, which literally translates to three wheels. You can still find some Sam Lors (cycle rickshaws) around today, although they are usually found in touristy areas and are used to explore tourist geared attractions rather than operate a taxi service getting you from point A to B.

Introduced in 1933, Sam Lors (rickshaws) quickly gained popularity because of their very low price. They almost as quickly fell out of favor due to safety issues and were banned from main streets due to numerous traffic incidents. But, people loved the idea of cheap transportation and replaced Sam Lors with motorized autorickshaws from Japan.

Fast forward to today, and Thailand has put its own unique design on tuk-tuks which have become an iconic symbol of the country, especially in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

 

Where Did The Tuk Tuk Get Its Name?

Well, this one is up for debate. Some historians believe it got its name from the loud noises it makes, similar to a motorbike or car backfiring. 

Others believe it comes from the Thai word for a cheap toque, which would mean tuk-tuk means 'cheap cheap.' This meaning seems to make the most sense as tuk-tuks are cheaper than a metered taxi ride.

Over the years, the Thai nickname has become popular in other regions, where people have begun calling their three-wheeled transport tuk-tuks too!

 

How To Use A Tuk Tuk In Thailand

How to Take a tuk tuk in Thailand

When you visit Thailand, the applications of how to use a tuk-tuk in Thailand can be applied to virtually any mode of taxi-like transportation in Southeast Asia. Tuk-tuks operate a lot like taxis. You simply stand on the street and wave them down. Although, it's actually much more common in tourist areas in Thai cities such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai for a tuk-tuk to find you!

Drivers tend to approach tourists and offer to take them on a trip or a tour. Most visitors will be accosted on numerous occasions, and to be honest, it can get really annoying. Below we'll provide you with some phrases to help you deal with tuk-tuk drivers on your travels.

If you want to travel somewhere, once you have flagged down a tuk-tuk driver, or he (drivers are almost always men) has approached you, then it's time to explain where you want to go visit.

If you're going to tourist destinations, your driver should have no trouble knowing where it is. However, destinations outside of touristy areas can cause a headache. Tuk-tuk drivers are notorious for not knowing how to read a map (even GPS), so you'll really need to know where you are going.

Before you sit in a tuk-tuk, make sure you and the driver are clear on the destination and price. These transportations don't operate like metered taxis, and a flat rate is decided before the wheels start turning. Oh, and never pay before you get to your destination!

 

Vocabulary And Phrases - How To Speak With A Tuk Tuk Driver

(Note: it is Thai custom if you are a woman to add คะ 'ka' at the end of every sentence and for men to add คับ 'khap.')

Scenario #1 - A Regular Situation

Passenger: Hello. I would like to go to __________. สวัสดีฉันอยากไป___________ [Sa wa dee ka. Chan yak bai_ _______________]

Passenger: Do you know where that is? รู้ไหมว่ามันอยู่ที่ไหน [roo mai wa man yuu tee nai?]

Driver: Yes.

Passenger: How much? เท่าไร [tao rai]

Driver: 100 baht

Passenger: Ok

Scenario #2a - An Aggressive Tuk Tuk Driver

(Usually, these conversations take place in English. To get them to stop, if you speak Thai, they will usually listen and leave you alone)

Driver: Hey you! Where do you go?

Passenger: I'm ok (wave hands to say no)

Driver: No problem. I will help you. Where do you go? (They will often approach you, and if you're holding a map, they will try to show you something on it)

Driver: You want to go to the _______? I'll take you there. Good price. (And will often touch your shoulder and direct you to their tuk-tuk)

Passenger: No, thank you. I'm fine. (Often, you will have to repeat this many times and walk away or sometimes hide)

Scenario #2b - An Aggressive Tuk Tuk Driver (What to do)

Driver: Hey! Where do you go?

Passenger: I'm ok (wave hands to say no)

Driver: No problem. I will help you. Where do you go? 

Driver: You want to go to the _______? I'll take you there. Good price. (And will often touch your shoulder and direct you to their tuk-tuk)

Passenger (with a smile): Don't want ไม่เอาครับ [Mai ao ka/khap]

Driver: Oh, you speak Thai!

Passenger: Little bit นิดหน่อย [Nit noi ka/khap]

Passenger (Still smiling): Today I'm not going anywhere. วันนี้ไม่ได้ไปไหน [Wan nee mai bai nai]

Driver: Ok.

 

What To Watch Out For When Taking A Tuk Tuk In Thailand

Quick Facts to Consider:

  • Safety
  • Distance
  • "Short" rides
  • Pay per person or per ride?
  • Local versus tourist price
  • Know where you are going

The first thing would be safety. Traffic accidents in Thailand are the highest in the world! You'll want to keep your arms and legs and head inside the tuk-tuk at all times and keep an eye out for passing motorbikes. It's possible that you may encounter a motorbike that will try to steal your stuff, so keep that close to you.

Most tuk-tuks will drive carefully, while others will tear around corners, and it can feel like you're going to tip over! So hold on!

The other important thing to watch out for is getting ripped off. This can happen in many ways. The first is your time. Some tuk-tuks will take you for a short ride and tell you you're at your destination, which may or may not be true, and still take your money. The short ride trick is a very popular way to rip off unsuspecting tourists. The conversation usually goes like this.

Driver: Where do you want to go?

Passenger: I'd like to go to the Jade Buddha.

Driver: Ok. Very far. 100 baht

Passenger: Ok

In reality, the attraction is meters away, and the ride should've cost you about 20 baht.

Another thing to watch out for is drivers offering you a deal. Watch out for the 20 baht tuk-tuk rides, especially in Bangkok, where this trick is most prevalent. 

The driver will explain to you (but others won't) that he will take you to your desired destination (eventually) for only 20 baht, but that you must make some stops first. You'll end up spending at least an hour tukking around Bangkok, stopping at jewelry shops, gas stations, gold shops, gem shops, and more with the expectation that you'll buy something.

You do NOT have to buy a thing, but the driver expects you to as he will get a commission, or the shop you buy from will buy his gas. If you have time, then do this! It is an interesting way to travel around Bangkok for 20 baht! If you don't buy anything in the end, just pay the driver a good wage.

 

Taking A Tuk Tuk In Chiang Mai

Take a tuk tuk in Chiang Mai Thailand

Tuk-tuks in Chiang Mai isn't nearly as prevalent as in Bangkok as there are so many other ways to get around. Tuk-tuks in Chiang Mai are also found in touristy areas such as around the moat. Prices aren't much different from Bangkok prices.

The large difference is that more locals tend to use tuk-tuks to get around. Drivers are also friendlier and far less aggressive than their Bangkok counterparts. Another difference is that because Chiang Mai is small compared to Bangkok, you're likely to bump into your tuk-tuk driver again, and it can be nice to get their LINE or number to have them at your beck and call.

In Chiang Mai, tuk-tuks are used only around the city and aren't the best choice to go on longer trips. If you want to explore outside the city, it's better to hire a taxi or a private driver.

 

Taking A Tuk Tuk In Bangkok

Take a tuk tuk in Bangkok Thailand

Taking a tuk-tuk in Bangkok can be a harrowing experience. The roads are always filled with vehicles, and in Southeast Asia, drivers don't stick to their lanes. You'll be getting awfully close to other vehicles and zip in and out of traffic as often drivers will want to get you to your destination as quickly as possible.

Tuk-Tuk in Bangkok typically don't have as much patience as they do in Chiang Mai. You'll need to make decisions quickly, or you'll find the driver approaching other passengers before you know it.

 

How Much Does It Cost To Ride A Tuk Tuk In Thailand?

The price of a tuk-tuk ride differs between local Thais and foreigners (who all get lumped into being tourists no matter how long you've been here). Locals often pay between 30 - 60 baht per ride. "Tourist" prices typically start at 60 baht and go up from there.

Tuk-tuks in Thailand will also try to charge per person, so watch out for that. If you agree on the price of 60 baht, make sure that that's for the ride, not per person.

 

How To Bargain Or Haggle For A Tuk Tuk Ride

Ah, bargaining... it's an essential skill when you travel in Thailand. Always try to bargain at 50% less than the price you are told (or lower depending) and bargain from there. Here's how to haggle with a tuk-tuk driver.

Passenger: I would like to go to _________. ฉันอยากไปที่_________ [chan yak bai tee]

Passenger: How much? เท่าไร [tao rai?]

Driver: 200 baht. สองร้อยบาท [song roi baht]

Passenger (Show map): But it's not very far. แต่มันไม่ไกลมาก [tae man mai glai mak]

Passenger: I will give you 100 baht. ฉันจะให้เงินคุณหนึ่งร้อยบาท [chan ja hai wen khun nung roi baht]

Driver: 180 baht. Gas is expensive. หนึ่งร้อยแปดสิบบาทละกัน แก๊สแพง [nung roi bed sip baht la gan. Gas pang]

Passenger: 120 baht. หนึ่งร้อยยี่สิบบาท [nung roi yee sip baht]

Driver (Shakes head): I cannot. 150 last price. ไม่ได้แล้ว หนึ่งร้อยห้าสิบราคาสุดท้าย [Mai dai láew. Nung roi ha sip ra da sut thai]

Passenger: Ok

 

Why You Should Take A Tuk Tuk In Thailand

The Pros Of Taking A Tuk Tuk

How often are you going to get to 'take a tuk-tuk?!' They are such iconic vehicles and could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Many visitors have fond memories of their fun times going on an adventure through the streets of Thai cities. Here are some pros to taking a tuk-tuk:

  • Can be cheap
  • Faster than a rickshaw
  • Can go down smaller streets
  • Can take you on tour (a tuk-tuk tour!)
  • It's a fun adventure!

The Cons Of Taking A Tuk Tuk

As with many experiences in Asia, you will need to negotiate to avoid being ripped off. Here is something travelers need to be wary of when thinking about using a tuk-tuk:

  • Could get ripped off (time and money)
  • You need to negotiate (in Thai is better)
  • Safety concerns
  • Loudness
  • Can't hold that many passengers
  • Open to the weather

 

Learn Thai And Make Your Travels Throughout Thailand So Much More Enjoyable!

Learn Thai Ling App

Thai people are absolutely lovely no matter if you speak Thai or not, but speaking Thai gets you places when you travel. It can help you to make fast friends, to negotiate better, to avoid being ripped off, and mediate any sticky situations.

As many people say, Thai is actually a very easy language to learn! Ling App is here to take you on that learning adventure, and the best part is that with Ling, you can learn Thai while you travel! You'll have us, your language buddy, right in your pocket the whole time.

Psst... we also have a translation app so you can translate Thai on the spot!

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