Tuk Tuk, Bangkok

The tuk-tuk, a motorised tricycle rickshaw, or carriage as it is sometimes more glamourously described, has become an integral part of the Thai experience.

Its origins can be traced to the rickshaws that made their debut on the streets during the celebrations marking the end of absolute monarchy and the introduction of a new constitution, at the Suan Amporn in 1935.

The tuk-tuk, which derives its name from the sound its two-stroke engine makes, has, however, had a chequered history. To begin with, it wasn't even called a tuk-tuk, but a samlor(three-wheeler).

It looked quite unlike the ones seen now and it was pedal power that propelled it.

Tuk Tuk

Tuk Tuk

Three years after its first appearance, Luan Ponsophon, a local inventor, decided the samlor had to be made more enery-efficient. He redesigned it to make things easier on the drivers who had to pedal fast and furiously in the hot sun. Later on, he further modified the vehicle by fitting a motorcycle engine to it.

This not only saved drivers from being pulley and chain-assisted beasts of burden, but also made journeys faster. These motorised rickshaws were christened samlor krerng (krerng means engine).

But during World War II, higher fuel prices made samlor krerng rides pretty expensive affairs. Most people shield away from hailing them and by the time the war ended, they had all but disappeared from the busy streets of Bangkok.

But the samlor wasn't destined to die that easily, given the demand in the city for cheap transport over short distances.

In the late 1940s, motor scooters enjoyed a great vogue because their two-stroke engines were very fuel-efficient and people hadn't yet begun thinking about air pollution.

Sebsubg a ripe business opportunity, a Japanese automobile company designed a tricycle rickshaw that ran on two-stroke engine. This vehicle was the direct ancestor of the tuk-tuk of today.

The samlor krerng acquired the new name tuk-tuk during the late 1970s. The tuk-tuk now is open on the sides, often brightly coloured and as norsy as it always was. It still provides great service at an affordable price to locals, especially in Bangkok's residential suburbs. And in areas downtown,

It's become a very popular carrier with tourists wanting to try something different and catch the sights in a leisurely fashion. The only caveat, if one were needed, is this: tuk-tuks are not the most ideal way of getting around when it's wet.

Suprisingly, the noisy-engined tricycles have become as much a symbol of Thailand as much as orchids and Siamese cats. Tiny wooden and plastic tuk-tuks make good souvenirs for visitors who are charmed by this motorised rickshaw. Postcards featuring tuk-tuks are also best sellers.

The vehicle's potency as a symbol of Thai culture was confirmed at the 13th Asian Games held in Bangkok in December 1998.

Tuk-tuks were used as the official transport for athletes and visitors who wanted to travel between stadiums and sports grounds or athlete residences.

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