The tuk-tuk is undoubtedly one of the first things people think of when they think of Thailand.
It has become a national symbol for foreigners and is still an incomparably useful mode of transport for locals to get through the bustling streets of Thailand.
This popular motor tricycle has been around for almost a hundred years and has defied all odds in the face of modernization, and become an irreplaceable piece in Thailand’s culture
The tuk-tuk’s history can be traced back to the 1930s when the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications of Japan donated and transported 20,000 second-hand auto rickshaws to several countries in South East Asia, including Thailand.
These vehicles became immensely popular, so much so that when Japanese manufacturers stopped producing them in the late 1960s tuk-tuk drivers all over the country were facing big problems as they had no way of sourcing spare parts.
That is until a local Thai tuk-tuk driver called Jumrush Vhooonsri decided to open a factory in his garage. This later led him to feeling inspired to make drastic modifications to the Japanese model. Vhooonsri changed the structure by adding a roof, a proper seating area and replaced the engine from a rickshaw to a motorised engine.
These innovative changes marked the invention of the Thai tuk-tuk and essentially sparked the beginning of a long standing history as one of Thailand’s most identifiable symbols.
The general assumption is that tuk-tuks are only used by tourists who come to Thailand to seek the thrill of an authentic Thai mode of transport. You’ll often find them lined up in front of the entrances of popular tourist attractions, like along Khao San Road and the Grand Palace.
This presumption is often made of tuk-tuks in Bangkok where since their arrival in Thailand the city has developed a much more modern transport system.
But these public transport routes actually only really cater to office commuters, the shopping mall revellers, as well as school and university students. But if you remove Bangkok’s contemporary makeup then you will notice that there is still a large chunk of the population that still resort to using tuk-tuks.
You could say that tuk-tuks are the representation of Thailand’s past. They respond to more old fashioned ways of living, for example to accommodate people who still rely on traditional food markets rather than supermarkets. To some extent tuk-tuks are what keep certain Thai traditions alive, like the street food businesses.
Street food vendors who require assistance in transporting large quantities of fresh goods to their street food stalls or restaurants. They are also very popular within certain industries to fulfil big orders and deliveries.
And of course in more rural parts of Thailand, outside of the big city, tuk-tuks are still the most convenient way to get around, acting as a popular open-air taxi ride service. It’s likely that tuk-tuks will stick around for a while because there is still a vast demand for their services, with other modes of transport not being able to replace them.
Over the years the traditional tuk-tuk has been modified from its original form to accommodate new features which has turned some of them into somewhat more of an attraction than a practical way to get around.
You’ll now often find tuk-tuks which have been complete made over to include big sets of speakers as well as bright neon lights and decor, with drivers insisting on blasting all the latest top 40 tracks or playing rock anthems making any journey in a tuk-tuk completely and utterly unforgettable.
Because of this, even as a local resident you can’t help but feel tempted by taking a tuk-tuk when you’re with a group of your friends.
One of the most entertaining things is seeing how many people you can fit into a tuk-tuk (our record is ten people!).
But then the fun really reaches a peak when you’re driving down the road, drifting through traffic and screaming the lyrics to Bon Jovi’s ‘It’s my life’ at the top of your lungs with your group of friends. Definitely a ride you will never forget!
Despite its tumultuous past the tuk-tuk has managed to surpass all expectations of it losing its popularity to more modern modes of transport but this three wheeled contraption just keeps surprising us!
There are even talks of tuk-tuks being turned into electronic vehicles, there is no doubt that they will be around for a while and keep living on as one of the most infamous symbols of Thailand!