Tuk Tuks, Samlors and Songthaews


I recently received an email from Thai expat forum site Thaivisa which led me to the holiday island of Phuket. Ivan Anwar, 51, a Canadian who teaches English in Tokyo was on the island with his wife as part of one of their regular holidays to Thailand. Dissatisfied with their hotel the couple decided to move to another one and hired a tuk tuk (taxi) for the exchange. Mr Anwar agreed a price of 150 baht (£2.80) for the ride which turned out to be a lot shorter than he had expected.

On arrival at their new hotel Mr Anwar argued with the driver about the excessively priced fare. The Phuket Gazette takes up the story….

Mr Anwar offered the driver a discounted fare of 100 baht, feeling this was all the trip was worth and got out of the tuk-tuk. At this point, Mr Anwar said the driver telephoned a second man who then arrived on the scene almost immediately.

“The driver then got out of the tuk-tuk and punched me four or five times in the face,” said Mr Anwar.

The second man was reported to have restrained Mr Anwar during the attack. Both men then fled the scene in the tuk-tuk, Mr Anwar said. After witnessing the attack, workers from a nearby hotel took the bloodied Mr Anwar and his wife to Kathu Police Station in the hotel’s mini-bus.

At about 3pm, tuk-tuk driver Tassanarit Damthong, 30, handed himself in at Kathu Police Station. Mr Tassanarit was promptly arrested and charged with assault.

Violence against any fellow human being cannot be condoned, especially in a Buddhist country where it goes totally against the grain. However, I have very little sympathy towards Mr Anwar. The time to argue in any such incident like this one, is before you get into the tuk tuk, and not when you get out.

As with any city in the world, taxi rides can be a complete rip off, but if you have agreed a fare then on completion of your journey you really are obliged to pay. Sorry Mr Anwar, you get no sympathy vote from me, but thanks for giving me a solid introduction to my latest post.


Hiring a car in any of Thailand’s big cities is an obvious advantage if you want to escape the municipality and venture out on day trips to national parks and other attractions. At possibly over 1000 baht a day during peak season periods, renting a car to just tour the city is really an expense which one can really do without. Public and private hire transport are a remedy and a cure for those wanting to stretch their fistful of dollars a bit more.

Udon Thani city doesn’t have tuk tuks, instead it has a mode of taxi service called a samlor or samlaaw (pictured above). The principle is exactly the same as with the tuk tuk and these three seater motorized carriages can be seen just about everywhere in the city. You agree a fare, and on your journey’s end you pay the amount, perhaps with a small tip on top.

samlor-ThailandA three to four kilometre ride in Udon Thani will cost anything between 60 – 100 baht (£1.20-£2), depending on your skills in negotiation, or if you are travelling with a Thai partner or friend and they can cut a better deal.

The samlors are known to most westerners as skylabs and sometimes if you are in the quieter regions of the city they can be a little harder to find, even more so in the evening. The surest way of locating a samlor if you can’t find one, is to stand at some traffic lights and close your eyes until you hear the sound of screeching brakes, that’s a samlor.

Udon Thani is where the skylab originates and their space tag is thought to have evolved from the vehicle being developed around the same period as when NASA’s more famed version was first launched.

Skylabs are fairly racy, and ideal for finding gaps and weaving amongst slow-moving traffic, but if a more sleepy and leisurely ride is more to your liking then the traditional samlor is more ideal.


These two-seater cabs are pedal powered and perfect for a gentle paced sightseeing tour. The lung power and leg muscles needed by the riders is impressive, and some of them are not too young of age.

The pedaled samlor is perfect for photographic and video shoots of the city, and is much less bone jarring than the slicker moving skylabs. They are used a lot by older Thai people for trips to and from the markets with the elderly citizens perhaps preferring them as a more traditional means of travel, and their unwillingness to accept the wheels of change. Prices for a skylab and pedal rickshaw are very similar, although after all the effort put in by your rickshaw driver you may feel the need to offer a larger tip.


If your budget is running low you can cut costs and jump on a songthaew bus which run many different routes around Udon Thani city. During peak hours, these small buses can get jam-packed and the commuters inside get squeezed in, and those who hop on next find themselves hanging on to the rear rails. If you like to call your space your own, then avoid songthaews late afternoon when the schools close.

Songthaew buses are cheaper than samlors. A similar distance ride in a samlor costing 70 baht would be about 10 baht by songthaew, although as a tourist you’d probably feel obliged to add a tip as well. Travelling around Thailand’s cities and towns really is as cheap as you want it to be because tuk tuks, samlors and songthaews give you lots of options and lots of value for your buck.



Photo tuk tuk by Eustaquio Santimano


I'm a sixty-year-old Englishman living in the town of Swindon in rural Wiltshire and I have a real deep desire to retire in Thailand one day. If you don't have a dream then you won't have a dream come true.

15 Responses

  1. Mike says:

    Martyn I had similar thoughts when I read about the guy in Phuket.

    I believe he was also charged with assault.

    I’ve been ripped off a few times but at the end of the day you have to put it down to experience.

    One of my best experiences was a cycle rickshaw ride in Kanchanaburi, on a group holiday back in 2005, the “drivers” ended up having a race with us hanging on for dear life, rolling around laughing!!
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Discovering Unseen Thailand-Thai ASEAN News Network =-.

  2. Hoo Don says:

    Mike it’s not as if the chap was in Thailand for the first time, he’d been there quite a few times before although this was his first visit to Phuket. I believe he should have been a little more streetwise about it all.

    Rickshaw racing in Kanchanaburi, sounds great fun. Perhaps you should challenge Malcolm to a race from the night market to the famous bridge.

  3. malcolm says:

    Martyn, I’m up for a good race , “bring it on”. We waited 2 years after moving to Thailand before buying our truck as we wanted to see how easy or difficult it would be to get around from place to place. We found just like you ,there are lots of ways to travel , but the big draw back was once you get to a place you are pretty much stuck there unless someone else has a car or truck and is going where you want to go . So buying our own has made it a lot easier to get around , but it’s still fun to jump on ,for a train ride, or tuk-tuk or a bench ride in the back of a small pick-up truck.I agree with the both of you as far as the tourist , all I have to say is “SOM NAM NA”. Malcolm
    .-= malcolm´s last blog .."UP TO YOU" =-.

  4. Hoo Don says:

    Howdy Malcolm, I would agree that if you live in Thailand, especially outside of a big city then having your own transport is very important. However for those who spend a lot of time in the big city then these types of transport are ideal. For a tourist like myself I only rent a car when we stay at the village as I feel hiring one for the city is a waste of hard earned money. The Kanchanaburi Rickshaw Grand Prix would surely be a bridge too far for one of you. Good luck to you both.

  5. Catherine says:

    Martyn, fabulous photos! I don’t take enough snaps of the different tuk tuks around, and who knows how long they will be in the city. They’ve been turfed out of inner Mumbai so maybe here too. Eventually.

    I don’t want a car in BKK, but I would love to have a tuk tuk. I realise I can’t (I’m not a national or some such?) but that does not stop the want.

    Ari has decent tuk tuk prices. If you travel within Ari on the Soi 7 side, it’s a grand 20 baht. But once you cross the highway (still in Ari), you are into serious money – 40 baht.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Successful Thai Language Learners: Colin Cotterill =-.

  6. Steve says:

    Overall the songthaew, tuk tuk, buses, etc are a great bargain for traveling about in Thailand. Compared to the costs of taxi’s in NYC or London they are a downright steal in many cases.

    Phuket may be the lone exception to this. I can understand this guys frustration because it does seem that they have jacked the prices unreasonably in Phuket, but that still doesn’t excuse his behavior…after all it was only an extra 50 baht ffs. I remember being charged 200 baht to go something like 200-300 yards in Kata Noi. Basically it was 2am, Golf and I were drunk and it was up a steep hill. Were we overcharged? Yeah I think we were and I was kind of pissed about it, on the other hand we didn’t want to walk up that freaking hill, so in that respect it was a bargain.

  7. Talen says:

    Martyn, I don’t like being ripped off but the tourist was quoted a price then changed his mind. A report came out the day after the incident that claimed the whole incident was caught on the hotels cctv camera’s and the driver was telling the truth that the tourist hit him first. Not sure what came of it but 100 baht is never good cause for a fight from either side…I would have considered it a very cheap lesson learned and moved on.

    Great pictures as Cat said and if you aren’t living in the sticks you never have a reason to buy a vehicle when such cheap transport is always available. Even in Mukdahan you can grab a tuk tuk back to the village for 10 baht…but you may be waiting a while to get one back to the city .

  8. Hoo Don says:

    Catherine thanks for the compliment about the photos, my £89 Samsung takes a half decent shot although at night it struggles a bit. I don’t think the samlors will be ousted from the roads of Udon for a long time although last year Udon saw the introduction of metered taxis. Give me a samlor anytime.

  9. Hoo Don says:

    Steve I love your story about the steep hill and the 200 baht. I would have paid up the same as you did. The samlors, tuk tuks and buses are great value and you seem to see so much more of the city than if you were sat in a car. I did read but don’t know if it’s true that the area of Phuket that Mr Anwar was in has a minimum 150 baht charge. Talen’s comment reveals a little bit more about the incident.

  10. Hoo Don says:

    Talen I did read that Mr Anwar had since been fined 1000 baht and the tuk tuk driver had been bailed and was waiting for his case to go to the courts. The trouble that has been caused because of a paltry 50 baht is amazing. Paying just 10 baht for a tuk tuk ride to your village from Mukdahan must mean the village is very close to the city limits. Wilai’s village does actually have a couple of samlors.

  11. Talen says:

    Martyn, yeah, the village is just on the edge of town the same ride in Nakhon Phanom to the family house in the village there would be quite a bit more.

  12. Leosia says:

    Actually I don’t think the issue is about whether it is right or wrong to argue the price once it has been agreed (although I agree it’s not a smart thing to do in Thailand). I once saw a situation where a taxi driver tried to claim that a customer (a tourist) agreed to pay 1,000 baht for a journey from Thaniya Plaza to Siam Square. The meter cost would have been around 45 baht. He even threatened to call the police, saying he had to pay part of this money to the police anyway. I was in the taxi with the group – all the customer had done was take money from his pocket to check he had cash, and he had 1,000 baht. The taxi driver took that as confirmation of the fare.

    The issue is the willingness of taxi and Tuk Tuk drivers in Thailand to resort to violence in order to scam their own customers or to sort out a simple disagreement. Taxi drivers in particular often carry long metal bars under their seats and are only too willing to use them if they get into a simple disagreement. Imagine that in Singapore or Tokyo!

    That’s the issue – and Buddhism has got nothing to do with it. Thailand does not practice Buddhism. It “pretends” to practice Buddhism. If you want to see the real thing in action go to Taiwan, Japan or Nepal.

  13. Hoo Don says:

    Talen, Wi’s village is about 3 km from a small town but around 65 km from Udon Thani. That makes hiring a car quite important.

  14. Hoo Don says:

    Leosia I have never had any problem before with tuk tuk or samlor drivers. I ask the price before I board and if I think I’m being ripped off then I’ll either try and negotiate or politely turn the ride down. I do try and make sure I always have plenty of small notes and change on me to pay them, I’ll even buy a couple of packets of cigarettes to ensure I do have change. I’ve never been a big fan of Bangkok and your metal bars reference makes me even less liable to be. Thanks.

  15. CCTV worcestershire says:

    Hiring a car is essential, it also takes a worry out of how you’re going to get around and see the things you want to see. I love Thailand, one of my favourite places in the World.

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