Thailand’s tuk-tuks go global as popularity wanes at home

BANGKOK, Oct 29, 2006 (AFP) – London has its black cabs, Venice its gondolas, and Bangkok its tuk-tuks, but Thailand’s iconic three-wheeled taxis are going global as foreigners scramble to pick up a piece of Thai culture. The smoke-belching motorized rickshaws can now be seen plying Britain’s seaside towns, Canada’s golf courses and Tokyo’s neon-lit streets, and manufacturers have seen a surge in global sales and recognition.

“Japan they have Toyota, they have Nissan, so Thailand has a car also — a tuk-tuk,” says Anuwat Yuteeraprapa, owner of Expertise, a tuk-tuk manufacturer which exports 95 percent of its vehicles abroad.

Anuwat says it is clear why foreign dealers and nostalgic tourists are seeking their own tuk-tuks, known for their white-knuckle rides through Bangkok’s congested streets.

“They are really cute and unique,” explains the 32-year-old entrepreneur, who exports to the United States, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Britain and elsewhere in Europe.

“Tourists come to Thailand and they know the beaches, temples and tuk-tuks. It has become a big symbol of Thailand.”

But as foreigners snap up the tiny taxis, Thais are turning away from the traditional transport, favouring the slick modernity of