Three wheels on my wagon but it tuk tuk me everywhere
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.