Samlors (three-wheeled bikes) have been used in Thailand for over 60 years. They have evolved greatly during that time and continue to prove to be a very useful mode of transportation. Though motorcycle taxis are becoming more common for quick trips, there’s still nothing like a samlor for carrying a load or riding in a bit more comfort.
It is said that the first samlor was used in Thailand in Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) Province in 1933 when a Chinese merchant added two wheels to a traditional bicycle. The passenger samlor is now found in virtually every province in the country, though in Bangkok they are not allowed on main streets, only on side streets in older housing developments.
This photo was taken in front of the provincial capital building of Nontaburi Province, just north of Bangkok. It’s nice to note that though Nontaburi has long been a bedroom community of Bangkok with a growing suburbia of ticky-tacky houses, they haven’t yet replaced this building with one made of concrete.
This is the samlor that one normally sees in Southern Thailand and Malaysia–a bicycle with a side car for passengers and their goods.
I find it difficult to believe that this model came second but that’s how the story goes.
This photo was taken near the Prem Thinsulanond Bridge across Songkhla Lake in Songkhla Province.
Next in the evolution of the samlor was adding a passenger compartment to the back of a motorcycle. As distances from shopping centers increased, so did the need for more speed and something other than human power to drive the beast.
These samlors are found throughout the country but are not as common as other species.
The delivery samlor has been used for quite some time but became very important during the major floods in Bangkok in 1983. During that time many major thoroughfares were flooded and most vehicles were unable to pass. The red samlor came to the rescue, moving goods from normal delivery trucks down the flooded streets and sois to waiting customers.
This vehicle is found throughout the country, where ever deliveries have to be made.
What visitor to Thailand hasn’t seen the ubiquitous Tuk-Tuk? Though they don’t make the tuk-tuk sound they did when they ran on diesel, using LPG certainly didn’t make them much quieter, or the drivers anymore knowledgeable about how to reach their destinations.
The Tuk-Tuk originated in Thailand as a modification of a Japanese delivery vehicle around 1960 when traditional samlors were banned from Bangkok streets. Tuk-Tuks are now made and exported to several countries from Thailand.
Tuk-Tuks are now found in most major cities in Thailand and there is now an electric version though the new model is not as common as those with good hearing might prefer.
Tuk-Tuk Song Taow
This is a modification of the Tuk-Tuk that is found in some provinces. In some places the Tuk-Tuk Song Taow runs a semi-regular route, picking up and dropping off passengers, much like its larger cousin, the Song Taow (a small pick-up truck with a top over the bed and two bench seats running the length of the bed).
These vehicles are often found waiting for fares near bus, train stations and schools.
These Tuk-Tuks are not that common, found mainly in Chonburi and ChaChoengSao. Like their souped-up counterparts in the West, these hot-rods can have any number of customization schemes; tucked & rolled cushions, chromed wheels, extra lights, larger engines, LOUDER HORNS, and on and on.
As these tend to be driven by owner-operators, the drivers may show a bit more sense behind the wheel(?) than the drivers of machines rented on a daily basis.
These monsters are large and fast. Again, these are found mainly on the eastern seaboard, especially in ChaChoengSao.
Equipped with automobile engines, they can carry large loads at high speeds and can be a real thrill when cruising down a long stretch of road.
There are a couple of stories about how the Sky Lab got its name. The first says that these vehicles first came out about the same time as the American satellite was making the news and the inventor look the name for his new machine. A more amusing version is that the appellation was given by observers of the handling ability of the beast, likening it to the less than dignified re-entry of the original Sky Lab back into the earth’s atmosphere. Regardless, it’s an interesting name for an interesting vehicle.
Originating in Udon Thani Province in Northeastern Thailand, Sky Labs are now found many upper Essan provinces. The picture here was taken in Kalasin (the wooden thing in the background is a giant version of a Pong Larng, a percussion instrument essential to Essan music) and the front forks of the Sky Lab shown are not nearly as extended as they tend to be in many versions of this popular utility vehicle.
Popular in Prachuapkirikhan Province as a vehicle for paying customers, the Samlor GaiNa is also often used by individuals all over Thailand for carrying loads and family.
Many merchants and farmers have one of these units which they can easily attach to their motorcycle for making deliveries or taking the brood on a Sunday outing.
They are not the best for making sharp corners.
Long before ecology became a buzzword and recycling a habit, Chinese immigrants have roamed the residential areas of Thailand collecting old bottles, papers, and other articles of questionable value using this version of the Samlor.
The phrase Kuat Ma Kai loosely translates as “bottles for sale”, but when you hear the gentleman ringing his bell and calling out this phrase as he rides down the soi, you know he’s not looking to sell you anything.
The last version we’ll look as is the commercial Samlor. The one pictured here sells kanoms (Thai sweets) but there are many different versions; some motorized, some with the goods on the front, some with lights and sound.
These Samlors are used to sell everything from ice cream to fruits to spicy soups and can be seen throughout the Kingdom.