Known for their revving motors, colourful paint jobs and entertaining rides, tuk tuks are an iconic symbol of Thailand. Now travellers can do more than simply hire a tuk tuk for a quick ride around town and actually get behind the wheels themselves! Recently Christian Sutton, Diethelm’s Director of Product & Contracting for Thailand went on this wild ride himself and here shares what it was like to drive one of these iconic three-wheeled rickshaws.
I’ve heard of plenty of tuk tuk tours offered in Thailand but the idea of actually driving my own tuk tuk sounded like an opportunity not to miss. Apart from being very excited about the idea of driving my very own tuk tuk, I was also a bit nervous as, living in Bangkok, I’m used to the busy streets of Thailand’s capital. My reservations were quickly laid to rest however as none of the driving takes place in urban areas and instead is along the quiet back roads just outside of Chiang Mai.
Along with two colleagues, we were picked up from our Chiang Mai hotel by minivan and drove about 45 minutes out of the city to the beautiful Mae Wang area to meet our tuk tuks for the day. Our first job was to learn how to drive these three-wheeled machines. We practised on a local football field and it was a bit like a driving test as we drove around the track learning how to use the gearbox and going in and out of traffic cones.
Tuk tuks are interesting to drive because they are a cross between a motorbike and a car; there’s a gear stick between your legs, a clutch by the left foot, a brake by the right but also a throttle used by your right hand like a motorbike. It took me a few circuits to stop using the brake as an accelerator (!) but after about 30 minutes I felt ready to head out on the quiet country roads. Before we did so, our guide gave us a thorough safety briefing and said that he only lets people on the roads if they are ready to…then we were off!
Our first bit driving was through some windy quiet roads and we all drove in a convoy with the lead vehicle out front and another guide tuk tuk at the back, kind of like of bicycle tour. The backdrop in this part of northern Thailand is simply stunning, especially as we stopped at a local temple and climbed the hill to see the views of Chiang Mai in the distance. The temple was incredibly peaceful and we didn’t spot any other tourists, just local Thais and monks.
As the next part involved a bit more driving on a slightly busier road (we actually saw other signs of life!) the three of us travelled in one tuk tuk which worked out really well as one could drive whilst the two in the comfy seat at the back could relax, take pictures and simply enjoy the ride. We swapped positions every 20 minutes or so as we made our way up the small inclines at the bottom of Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest peak. We climbed gradually at a slow pace making stops for some unbelievable photo opportunities. The roads were quiet but the few people in cars that we did see seemed astounded to see foreigners driving tuk tuks up a mountain – many even stopped to take photos of us! There were lots of smiles and friendly conversation between the passersby and our guide… although I suspect that some of the smiles might have been meant for me as they saw me struggling with my gearbox up a steep climb. I can now admit to my two colleagues who I did the trip with that, yes, they were better than me!
After stopping for a tasty local lunch (when isn’t local food tasty in Thailand?!) we arrived at a lovely elephant home. Here we learnt all about how the knowledgeable owner has changed his elephant experience in recent years and now doesn’t offer riding on any of his elephants, a change in practice that Diethelm Travel fully supports as none of our elephant experiences include riding either. We didn’t have too much time to visit, but during Diethelm’s new Northern Thailand Self-Drive Tuk Tuk Adventure day trip guests are able to even help bathe the elephants after meeting with them and walking through the jungle. During the day tour, after waving good-bye to the elephants guests then change modes of transport for an hour moving from a tuk tuk to a bamboo raft to float gently down the river – a leisurely way to travel!
The final hour of our trip was spent driving back to the starting point. For us this was probably the most fun part of the entire experience as we felt most confident after a day of driving. We arrived back in Chiang Mai in the early evening pleasantly exhausted after an exhilarating and incredibly fun day out!
Diethelm’s one-day tuk-tuk tour is perfect for those who have a sense of adventure and are after something truly unique on their holiday in Thailand. For those who have a bit more time, I highly recommend our longer 5- and 11-day itineraries where you get to explore more of the most beautiful parts of Northern Thailand, such as Mae Hong Son and Pai. Even better, the longer trips take the journey at a leisurely pace (some days there isn’t any driving involved and you can just to relax by the pool), which is important for many on their well-deserved vacations!
Ready to get behind the wheel of a tuk tuk yourself? Learn more about the new Northern Thailand Self-Drive Tuk Tuk Adventure here: