Three wheels on my wagon but it tuk tuk me ev­ery­where

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en­gines, though a pal­try 160cc, roar as though they be­long on a jumbo jet – ter­rific fun. And while the top speed is re­stricted to 50kph (31mph), when your ve­hi­cle has three wheels and no doors, the pace feels en­joy­ably fast. The only real chal­lenge is not us­ing the foot brake when I mean to ac­cel­er­ate, but much like switch­ing from a man­ual car to an au­to­matic, my brain quickly adapts and within half an hour I’m up and down the gears like a pro. Dan­ger-wise, my only con­cern is the com­i­cally soft sus­pen­sion, with the bounce of my 36Cs leav­ing me at risk of two black eyes.

Out on the road, the ride is pure unadul­ter­ated joy – noisy revving, sun on my face, wind in my hair, much wav­ing and cheer­ful whoop­ing from amused vil­lagers who clearly can’t be­lieve what they’re see­ing. There’s lit­tle in the way of traf­fic and Liz is nippy enough to ma­noeu­vre out of the way when a car or bike does come along. And the scenery is show-stop­ping, par­tic­u­larly when we slip off the main drag on to a sin­gle­track lane lead­ing past stilted teak houses and mango, lo­gan­berry and roseap­ple farms to the jun­gle tem­ple of Wat Tham Nam Ho. As Thai tem­ples go, it’s a mod­est af­fair, barely more than a tin shed, with a shin­ing blue-tiled floor, a snowy-white statue fields dot­ted with wa­ter buf­falo – turn­ing ev­ery cor­ner a thing of won­der – be­fore wind­ing up­hill to a charm­ing gar­den café serv­ing whole­some bowls of wheat noo­dle khao soi, aro­matic pork curry and zingy som tam salad. It’s the per­fect fuel for the last part of the jour­ney, which takes us to the Mae Wang Ele­phant Home – a for­mer ele­phant-rid­ing camp re­cently turned re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre. It’s a hum­ble set-up with just six res­i­dent ele­phants, in­clud­ing two adorable ba­bies, which we ob­serve from a re­spect­ful dis­tance as they feed from their moth­ers. Two hours are spent here; walk­ing with the herd, feed­ing them corn, pineap­ple and ba­nanas, and wad­ing into the river to throw buck­ets of wa­ter over them while they bathe. It’s a pleas­ingly mucky and thor­oughly mag­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, and heart-warm­ing to know that more and more ele­phant camps are con­vert­ing to a more eth­i­cal model, free from bull hooks and back­break­ing rides.

Hap­pily ex­hausted, we end the tour float­ing serenely down the Mae Wang River on bam­boo rafts, fol­lowed by one last blast on the tuk tuks back to base camp. I feel sad to hand over the keys. I may only have been at the wheel/han­dle­bars for one day, but the ex­cite­ment of learn­ing to drive a new ve­hi­cle, the marvellous scenery and wel­com­ing peo­ple have made it feel like an epic road trip.

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