A tuk tuk is a small three wheeled taxi in common use throughout Thailand (and apparently in India as well). The name "tuk tuk" comes from the sound of the the LPG fueled engine that powers the vehicle, and sounds similar to a demented chainsaw that has been involved crossbreeding experiment with a wasp's nest.

Tuks tuks are essentially three wheeled motorized samlors used in and around major urban centres. The machines are based around a tricycle design, and steered via a motorbike handlebar system. The passenger section of the vehicle is usually a padded foam bench surrounded by a highly ornate steel "fence".

Usually painted a garish shade of blue or orange, tuk tuks are a cheap and highly efficient way of moving around busy cities whilst receiving a healthy dose of carbon monoxide poisoning. In peak hours the tiny machines can often weave in and out of traffic faster than any car, but the drivers are expert at picking out a farangs, and they will try to take you for all you're worth, but once you've learnt how to haggle you might only pay 2-3 times the local rate.

Due to the lack of inbuilt safety gear and the fact that tuk tuk drivers have a bad habit of driving the wrong way up one way streets during rush hour, there are quite a few tuk tuk accidents, and most of those result in serious injuries to the passengers. Because of this the sale of new tuk tuks is allegedly illegal in Thailand, but this doesn't seem to reduce their numbers.

The Thai tuk tuk is known as the "auto rickshaw" in India (sometimes shortened to "auto") and the "bajaj" in Indonesia (from the most popular manufacturer, Bajaj Motors). All three share essentially the same design with the driver up front, the passengers behind, and the two rear wheels driven by a bicycle-chain system.

As our Indian host put it, "When accidents happen, there's no arguing, because usually one of the drivers ends up dead."

The Philippine variant, the tricycle (or traysikel) is a little different; it is essentially an unmodified motorcycle fitted with a sidecar, and a roof over both. Two passengers sit in the sidecar, beside the driver, and one sits side-saddle behind.

I also believe Malaysia has the tuk tuk, although I've never been there to confirm it (or to find out what it's called.) China, Taiwan, Singapore or Hong Kong, apparently do not.

blaaf says: I can confirm that Taiwan does not have the tuk tuk; taxis are everywhere in cities. Can't say for China, but kunming at least has taxis, no tuk tuks.

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