Thai Tuk Tuk

In the 1930s Japanese manufacturers of the auto rickshaw began exporting their motor tricycles to Thailand.  The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of Japan donated 20,000 used three-wheelers to Southeast Asia, and many of them arrived in cargo ships at the Klong Toey Port in Bangkok.

In these early days, use of these three-wheeled vehicles was mostly confined to Chinatown. However by the late 60s, Bangkok witnessed a decline in the vehicles, as Japanese manufactures seized their production and closed down their factories.

With nowhere to obtain spare parts, tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok were collectively faced with a big problem. One driver named Jumrush Vhooonsri began an initiative to create a tuk tuk factory in his garage.

Vhooonsri altered the structure of the tuk tuk: adding a roof, proper seating, and replacing the engine from a rickshaw to a motorized engine. These events, taking place over 50 years ago, marked the invention of the Thai tuk tuk. The open aired, locally designed taxi has improved its technology and quality over the years, and has emerged as one of Thailand’s most recognizable and identifiable symbols. While the government banned them briefly in the 1980s, the tuk tuk is a now a classic feature of Bangkok’s bustling way of life.

The original Thai tuk tuk can be found today in many places in Thailand, performing many functions, mostly operating as an open air taxi. There are now six tuk tuk manufacturers in Thailand, many of whom have exported the vehicles to India, Sri Lanka, and Singapore over the years. The compact vehicle has spread to every corner of the globe, and is now most popular in Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Nigeria, Peru, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Keep your eyes on the lookout, as owner of a leading producer of tuk tuks in Thailand, Chett Taikratoke, says he plans to start exporting and growing Middle Eastern markets.

Visitors to Thailand are often curious about the tuk tuk, and wonder how it got its name. The vehicle was named after the sound made by its small-capacity, two-cycle engine. The motor had a distinctive hum once it starts up, and the “tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk” sound became a familiar sound to many in need of quick transportation in Bangkok.

While tuk tuks are most commonly used for transporting passengers, many industrial uses for the vehicle have been established due to the vehicle’s convenient size and speed. The small size of the cart allows for easy navigation in small alleys on delivery roots. It is common to see groups of people squished into one tuk tuk or a local holding onto boxes and bags they are taking home from the market. There are about 20,000 tuk tuks registered as taxis in Thailand, with 9,000 reported in Bangkok alone.

Today, tuk tuks are often found in tourist areas, around markets, or cruising the streets for fares. They are known for their audacious drivers and pre-fixed prices (which you must always negotiate before you depart!).

Original Japanese tuk tuk

Original Japanese tuk tuk

Old Thai tuk tuk

Old Thai tuk tuk