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While taxis are usually victims of traffic jams, tuk tuks can slip and slide through the gaps.

(Photo: Debayan Dutta)

In Photos: A Tuk Tuk Ride Through The Bangkok Night

What aptly sums up Bangkok? Riding a tuk tuk at 3 in the morning while the driver tries to reach terminal velocity.

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4 min read

As the clock hits 5:30 pm, 19-year-old Kho gets ready to head out. He starts the engine, lights a cigarette and revs hard on his accelerator. Kho and his tuk tuk are all set to tear down the streets of Bangkok on another of their daily midnight runs.

Tuk tuks have developed into a long standing symbol of Thailand – besides being a tourist attraction, they are an efficient means of transport (especially when it comes to maneuvering long rows of traffic).

Riding in a tuk tuk at three in the morning while the driver tries to reach terminal velocity. Yes, with flashy fairy lights, roaring buzz saw engines and reckless driving that makes you clutch onto your seats as you pray for your life – now that sums up Bangkok.

Riding a tuk tuk in Bangkok is much more than an effective means of transport – your trip is incomplete without this experience.

Kho has been driving the tuk tuk for over a year now. He says he gave up his education so that he could earn a living. He usually waits at the entrance of Khaosan road, which is one of Bangkok’s heavily visited touristy areas.

He energetically calls out to potential customers. Sporting a t-shirt and shorts, he will greet you with a kind smile before the two of you start to bargain over your fare (as is usually the case in Bangkok). He is usually rides from 6pm to 4am.

He has picked up some English from his conversations with tourists and says it has helped him attract more customers. Kho, who is shy by nature, says he prefers to smoke his cigarette than talk to his passengers during the journey.

Tuk tuks, or what is locally known as Sam Lor in Thai (which literally translates to three wheels), have been around since the World War II era, evolving from hand-pulled rickshaws to the motorised three-wheelers that we see today.

They get their name from the sound that the older engines used to make.

A blue and yellow tuk tuk zipping through traffic with the flashy lights and roaring engine is a common sight and sound in Bangkok.

But the outskirts are a different story. Here, the tuk tuks give up their flashy blue and yellow shells for a dull greenish tone. They are used as shuttle cabs or to transport goods.

It is interesting to note that these three-wheelers were originally designed to carry bulky goods. They still stand true to their nature. You will notice a stark drop in rates when you are negotiating with the tuk tuk drivers on the outskirts or in other cities of Thailand.

While the tuk tuk was an important means of transport back in the day, the establishment of the MRT, monorail and effective cab services have proven to be stiff competition. However, tourists still flock to these open air three-wheelers for a dose of adrenaline.

Rest assured, they will be around for a while. 

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