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The Tuk-tuk – with Wired Destinations
The infamous tuk-tuk, a noisily motorized rickshaw tricycle, has become an integral part of the Thailand travel experience. Its birthing can be traced to the man-powered rickshaws that made their entrance on Thai streets during the festivities at the end of absolute monarchy and the induction of a new constitution in 1935.
The tuk-tuk lends its name from the sometimes annoying roar of its two-stroke engines. Originally called samlor (three-wheeler), it looked much unlike the ones seen nowadays and it was pedal-power that would thrust it.
Luan Ponsophon, a local inventor, decided three years after its first appearance that the samlor had to be more energy-efficient. He designed a make-over to ease the drivers’ efforts. Earlier riders had to furiously pedal in the scorching sun. Ingeniously, he customized the vehicle by adding a motorcycle engine. This made the journey faster and also saved quite a bit of drivers’ perspiration. The now motorized rickshaws were called “samlor krerng” (krerng meaning ‘engine’ in Thai).
In the wake of World War II, higher fuel costs made “samlor krerng” rather expensive. Most pedestrians avoided calling for them and by the end of the war, they had all but vanished from the streets of Bangkok.
Yet the samlor was meant to survive. In the late 1940s, with higher demand for cheap transport in the city over short distances, motored travel enjoyed a renaissance as their two-stroke engines were quite fuel-efficient. Obviously, people had not yet begun thinking about air pollution.
With a sense for a unique business opportunity, a Japanese automaker designed a tricycle rickshaw that combusted on a two-stroke engine. Hence, the direct predecessor of today’s tuk-tuk; during the late 70s the samlor was then given a new name, tuk-tuk. The current tuk-tuk design is open to both sides, brightly and multi-colored and sounds as deafening as always. Of course, it still provides great service to tourists and locals alike at affordable prices, particularly in Bangkok's suburbs. In downtown areas, it has become a very popular carrier with tourists traveling to and fro their Bangkok hotels or to go on a Bangkok Sightseeing tour Thai style. The only downside is that a tuk-tuk is not the most ideal way of getting around in the rain.
The ever present tricycles have become as much a symbol of Thailand as orchids, temples or Siamese cats. Tiny plastic and wooden tuk-tuk are sold as remembrance of a pleasant Thailand holiday. Postcards presenting a tuk-tuk are among the best selling items.
The vehicle's symbolic value of Thailand culture was underscored during the 13th Asian Games in Bangkok in December 1998. Tuk-tuk were the official means of transport for athletes and visitors traveling between stadiums or athlete residences.
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