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Where have all my Tuk Tuks gone?

by Rhiannon Caldwell

It was March of 2012, I was to be leaving for Thailand on the 1st of April. I had never had a passport before and my first one arrived a whopping 8 days before departure. I really didn’t even know where Thailand was on the map. I didn’t bother to look either until I had been in Samui for a few weeks and felt an earthquake and finally decided it would be a good idea to find out where I was. Turns out I was close enough to feel a huge earthquake that happened off the coast of Indonesia.

Anyway just before I was leaving I chatted with a coworker at my firm who had lived for six years in the town of Phuket. I will always remember that conversation. He asked me what my mode of transportation was going to be in Thailand and I told him I had planned on walking or using public transport. He laughed and said I would be doing one of two things. Riding a motorbike like everyone else, or using a Tuk Tuk. He followed up by asking if I’d ever ridden a scooter before. Nope, never in my life. Then I asked what else did you say? He replied with, “I said Tuk Tuk.” Then I followed up with, “All Right Brandon, what on earth is a Tuk Tuk?”

He proceeded to tell me about this crossbreed vehicle that was half motorbike and half car. Or more like a trailer being pulled by a motorbike. I kind of laughed it off and didn’t really think much more about it. When I arrived in Samui I ended up using a motorbike, and really didn’t see many of these mythical Tuk Tuks running around. However that was all about to change drastically once I accepted my first teaching position in the country.

The town I moved to called Suphan Buri is about 100 km north of Bangkok. It is a rice farming suburb with about 50,000 people but very spread out. There is not a lot of traffic, save two times a day, when school begins and when it lets out. All the schools for the town are right near each other so everyone in the world is trying to get to the same place at the same time, it is pure Thai chaos.

In between the cars, and the motorbikes are tuk tuks, some are filled with a handful of teachers on their way to work, some have students, and some have families just trying to get where they need to go. There are virtually no taxis in town, the tuk tuk drivers do everything a traditional taxi would do, short of taking you to the airport, they will take you to the bus station and stick you on a van for that.

One great thing about a good tuk tuk driver is that if you have a need for transportation they will help you work it out. You tell them where you need to go and they will find a way. I had to get to a town about 30 km away to say goodbye to a friend of mine. It was late, buses were not running, no taxis, the baht buses didn’t go that far but I rode the whole way in the back of a tuk tuk for 500 baht. On the open road, in the rain, and we did it!

Tuk tuks make great designated drivers and in every small town you will need the phone number of a day time driver and a night time driver. You call them, and they will pick you up. You will find them near bus stations and also near large big box retailers like Robinsons Mall, Big C, and Tesco Lotus. I had my own motor scooter but when I made my monthly shopping trip to the Tesco I used a Tuk Tuk to get my purchases home. One time it was a bicycle for my neighbors son and for 50 baht I had instant delivery of the gift.

I used to visit Ayutthaya every 90 days for my address check in. When I got there I noticed the tuk tuks look amphibious. So cool are those boats??? No they are not, although I did believe it the first trip. I found out later that they are like that there because Ayutthaya used to be known as the Venice of the East and to keep the water culture alive they made the tuk tuks into little boat looking vehicles. You have to see them!

Well after two years in the country, and a few trips to Bangkok where I used tuk tuks to get myself and my luggage to the train station on time when a car would have been impossible I find myself in Pattaya and missing the tuk tuks. Where have all my Tuk Tuks gone? They just are not used in Pattaya. Too much fast moving traffic maybe ? There are a few hotels that use them as courtesy vehicles now such as The Mercure that ferries guests from the hotel just behind The Avenue to Walking Street but you just don’t see them very often and I think it’s a shame. I think they are a fantastic way to get around