In Thailand, everywhere you go you’ll hear ‘Tuk Tuk’ tweeted at you as you walk by.
Yes they’re fun every now and then, and of course get you where you’re heading as quickly as possible, weaving dangerously through the traffic. But before Tuk Tuks took over, people were ferried around on three wheeled bicycles called Samlors.
Samlors or Rickshaws as we know them, are rarely seen on the streets anymore, as the city has become overrun with motorbikes, Tuk tuks, and taxis. Tourists eager to dart from one attraction to the other as quickly as possible. Samlors (Sam meaning 3 lor meaning wheels) are gradually becoming extinct in big cities like Chiang Mai where they were once the only way to get from A to B.
There are around 80 samlors left in action in Chiang Mai, usually only wheeled out for special occasions as riding them is a bit of a lost art. The riders are ageing, and many hung their hats up a long time ago.
Green Trails are doing their bit to keep the Samlors and their riders in action. They offer a variety of Chiang Mai tours showcasing the highlights of the city on three wheels. For more details check out the Chiang Mai on Three Wheels website.
We chose the Market Tour and we arrived at Wat Loi Kroh temple, excited to meet our riders and guides. Frans and our guide introduced us to our riders. All aged over 70, with some in their mid 80s, these guys were amazing. They have been riding these streets for decades and it was an honour to be their passenger.
They’re proud as punch to still be doing this job. It keeps them fit as a fiddle, and out of trouble (for the most part).
These guys refuse to go quietly to the old people’s home, and I love that. I hope I’m filling my days with something I enjoy when I’m their age.
Imagine being in your 80’s and still able to ride a Samlor carrying a 12 stone man(?)?!
After a quick tour around the temple, we set off for our first market of the day. On our way, we stopped off at Ancient Lanna House the oldest house in Chiang Mai, where Frans explained the history of the city and how it was built around the teak logging industry.
We took our time getting from one stop to the other (which weren’t far from eachother), and took plenty of rest breaks.
Arriving at the San Pakoy market we were shown around various stalls, sampling weird and wonderful local delicacies along the way. Our particular favourite was the crispy rice cakes topped with watermelon juice and sugar.
We also enjoyed the egg pancake, filled with tofu and fresh veggies, with cucumber pickle.
We crossed the iron bridge and learnt about some of the first Westerners to settle in Chiang Mai, who did (some) great things for the city. We learnt that on the same street there is a Buddhist temple, a Sikh temple, a mosque and a Catholic Church. All along the same road, happily coexisting in the community.
We stopped at the oldest hotel in Chiang Mai which is being used as a Japanese art studio.
Another highlight of the tour for us was visiting the rickety old Wat Ket museum that was filled to the rafters with treasures and wonderful old pictures. A history buffs dream.
It was a joy to see the admiration and respect from passers by on the streets for the Samlor and the riders. People were beaming at us, waving and nodding. It’s a nostalgic thing to see a Samlor, and we were told they were happy to see us tourists choosing to use them over Tuk Tuks.
We continued on, walking over the recently restored Chansom Memorial Bridge, arriving at our final stop on the tour, the Tonlamyai and the fresh foods market next door, Kad Luang.
We tried fresh jackfruit which bizarrely tastes like Harribo sweets. We saw frogs roasted on a stick (poor things) and soaked up the buzzing atmosphere as the locals went about their business. Kad Luang market is really for the locals and so prices are a little cheaper than the tourist trap night market in Chiang Mai. Head there for a bargain.
Green Trails eco tours are a fantastic way to see Chiang Mai. Support the Samlor riders, keep this key piece of Chiang Mai heritage alive and have a wonderful time exploring the markets and the history of the city. It’s a no brainer!
If you’re heading to Chiang Mai, do check them out. You’ll learn lots and will get a real kick out of seeing these gents in action.