An Ode to the Humble Tuk-tuk
.The first time I rode a tuk-tuk was probably in Bangkok. I didn’t have the best memories of that ride. I remember trying to bargain down the price. The driver was a young guy, wearing a t-shirt, jeans and flip-flops. He insisted on 100 baht for the journey, and was indignant when we offered only half that. We eventually agreed on 80 baht. He beckoned for us to board his three-wheeler, and we did. He was the pilot, and we the passengers. Of course, I later realised that we were still paying more than three times what the locals paid.
Despite that experience, it is hard not to be a fan of the humble tuktuk. I have travelled to more countries since then, to many places where the ubiquitous tuktuk is the mode of transport of choice of the local populace. Often painted in bright colours, their exteriors are simple, though in some countries, the sides and back panels are decorated with flowers, stickers and lavish patterns. Proud tuktuk drivers furnish the interiors of their tuk-tuks with fascinating paraphernalia that gives each tuktuk its own distinct personality.
In my opinion, the tuktuk is the best way for a solo traveller to get around. More versatile than buses, but cheaper than taxi cabs, the tuktuk can take one passenger and one backpack comfortably. Most can take up to two or three passengers, though I been squeezed in with five before. The tuktuk has a top speed of around 100 km/hr, though most are content to chug along at 60 km/hr. The biggest advantage of a tuk-tuk over a cab is that it is able to slip in and out of little side roads and bypass heavy traffic jams. They are also surprisingly able to cut through rough terrain. It’s perhaps not the best form of transport if you are sensitive to dust and fumes, since most tuktuk models are exposed to the outside environment. Also, they don’t do steep inclines very well, they: I’ve actually been charged more for a ride going uphill in Udaipur, India.
Here is a series of photos of the different variants of Tuk-tuks found all over the world.
More commonly known as Bajaj, after the manufacturer’s brand, Bajaj Auto. Tuktuks in Jakarta traverse the city, each within its own district, which is often listed on the front door.
A Jakarta bajaj driver sportingly gives the peace sign
I’ve seen another form of three-wheeler in Indonesia. This motorcycle and sidecar is the preferred mode of transport in Aceh and some other parts in Sumatra, Indonesia. Called the becak, it’s more pleasant to ride on one, since it gives you a better view of your surroundings. Also, you get the wind in your hair.
A photo of two becaks taken from inside a becak. Aceh
The Cambodian variant of the three wheeler is different from normal tuk-tuks, though both use the same name. This one seen in Siem Reap is a motorcyle attached to a cabin in the rear. Kind of like a motorcyle-powered bullock cart.
A parked tuktuk by the side of the road
The tuktuks in India are called autos, short for auto-rickshaws. These are found everywhere in the country. Best for short distances, but I’ve taken a 15 minute ride after a late night in Delhi. Try your best to get them to use the meters.
Besides passengers, tuktuks also carry other loads. Trivandrum, India.
Autos on the streets of Trivandrum
Autos parked outside Jagdish temple in Udaipur
The only time I sat in a tuk-tuk in China was in Kaiping, en route to see the famous diaolous. This was the Chinese variant of the Tuktuk. Another type I’ve seen are those that resemble 3 wheeled mini-trucks, called san-lun 三轮 san-lun
A san lun on the streets of Xingping, Guangxi, China
A san lun in the Dong minority village of Zhaoxing, Guizhou, China
View from behind a tuktuk driver in Kaiping city.
In Sri Lanka, they call them tuk-tuks. Very much similar to the Indian auto, they are found in many cities all over Sri Lanka, in various shades.
Tuktuk drivers watching a game of cricket at Galle’s Old Fortress
Colourful tuktuks of Hikkaduwa.
A decorated interior of a tuktuk. Hikkaduwa
A bearded tuktuk driver taking a break in Kandy
A row of parked tuktuks in Nuwara Eliya
Tuktuks exists elsewhere too. This was a scene in the capital of Sudan, Khartoum. Locally known as rakshas, they are used to get from place to place all over town.
Rakshas in the central market area of Khartoum
Rakshas in the town of Kuraymah
Three travellers inside a Sudanese raksha
The tuktuk in Ethiopia are known as a Bajaj, again after the brand. All of them are blue in colour, with a white canvas top.
A tuk-tuk turns the corner on the streets of Mekele.
Parked tuktuks by the road in Harar.
The tuktuks that roam the streets of Dhaka in Bangladesh are called CNGs, named after their fuel source. They are green in colour, to indicate the environmentally friendly fuel that they use. Interestingly, Dhaka CNGs all have metal grills separating the driver from the passenger.
Looking out of the side window, towards another CNG. Dhaka
The driver takes a break at a traffic light
A lone CNG struggles to get past the other popular form of three-wheeler in Dhaka, the cycle-rickshaw
In Pakistan, I’ve seen two different kinds of auto-rickshaws. One is the Vespa three-wheeler model, similar to the Indian models, but more angular in design. They are called rikshaws¸and often have fancy decorated windows and sides.
A rikshaw in Multan
The other type of three wheeled tuktuk I have seen in Pakistan is the modified motorcyle. This type is called the Qingqi, named after the Chinese brand that made it.
A Qingqi in Multan