If I’m being perfectly candid, we have seen and done some pretty adventurous things during our journey around the world. We’ve trekked in the mountains of Nepal, and over-landed on scooters through the back-country of Laos. We took a tiny boat along some of the wildest and most beautiful coastline in the Philippines, and went scuba diving in some of the world’s best waters. We’ve met real Geisha in Gion, and tried the foul-smelling “king of fruit”, durian, not once but THREE times! We’ve done some epic things, many of them things we never expected that we would ever do.

For the curious, there is now a map of our entire route at the bottom of this post. It doesn’t cover all our perigrinations, but it gives a pretty good idea of where we drove our little red beast.
Update: Thanks to an awesome, and very comprehensive comment here, it seems like you now need to have a Sri Lankan driving permit (an “AAC”) if you want to have a trouble free drive. It sounds like Rocky at Pick ‘n’ Go can help arrange this, which is great.

When it came to Sri Lanka, our last Asian destination before making the jump to Europe and then home, we wanted to do it right. We wanted to dive head-first into this exotic and seemingly little-known country and make the most of our (for us) blink-and-you’ll-miss-it three weeks in the country. And, above all, we wanted to have an adventure.

At first we were considering renting a motorcycle and over-landing, as we had done so many times in various other countries. We looked at various websites and found some okay options, but nothing really spoke to us; beyond that, Sri Lanka’s train system is supposed to be quite good and an attraction in and of themselves, so we were on the fence regarding motorcycles.

But then, lightning struck.

We were looking at a website for a place in Negombo and Steph pointed to the screen.

“Does that say we can rent a ‘three-wheeler?’ For real? That looks… awesome! We have to do it.”

Our Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka

Once the possibility of renting a tuk tuk to tour Sri Lanka made itself known, we knew we had to capitalize on it. The photos looked great, the price was reasonable (all things considered), and the idea of putting around the countryside on Sri Lanka’s most ubiquitous form of transport set our imaginations on fire. We sent an e-mail immediately and entered into negotiations. We crossed our fingers that our shot-in-the-dark choice would end up being the adventure we were looking for in Sri Lanka. Steph started thinking about names for our steed (since naming our rides—the ones we like, anyway— is an old tradition), and we settled on “King Tuk.”

Our Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka

So, what was it like to drive across Sri Lanka in a little red three-wheeler?

In a word, it was epic. If you need a few more words to convince you, consider the fact that although we originally only signed on to wrangle King Tuk for two weeks, within a day, we had called to extend to three.

Every stranger was a friendly, helpful stranger, full of advice and admiration for our journey. Nearly everyone in the country has either owned or driven their own tuk-tuk at some point or another, so help was always at hand, either asked for or otherwise. Police pulled us over just to chat, wandering strangers give us the thumbs-up and mouthed nice ride, without any hint of irony, as they walked by. Handshakes, smiles and looks of surprise were the norm. We were the subject of gossip in any small town and if we stayed for more than a day everyone knew just who we were just because of our unusual (well, for foreigners!) ride. Occasionally, a huckster would overcome their shock quickly enough to try and show us a “good” place to park, or a “good” place to shop, but they were usually easy to escape, considering we were free to drive anywhere we pleased.

Our Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka

The roof kept the sun off our necks and the rain off our faces and luggage. There was storage, an accessory plug, and even a cup-holder. The engine sounded like a hummingbird at highway speeds and, although King Tuk will never win any hill-climb contests, he got us where we were going every single time. We stopped anywhere we wanted, and never had to schlep our bags from guesthouse to guesthouse or argue over a fare with greedy taxi drivers; because we had our own transport, we never worried about rolling into a town without any reservations, and were often able to visit and stay in slightly more removed locations that few other tourists had the means to discover.

In a country as jaw-droppingly, mind alteringly beautiful as Sri Lanka, being able to really appreciate the journey from place to place was worth its weight in gold. No nightmare bus rides, no impatient taxi operators, and no train schedules. Just us, three wheels, the open road, and no agenda.

Of course, there is more to an adventure like this than simply waving at friendly strangers and rolling merrily down the road, so here are our tips, tricks and recommendations for those looking to follow in our tire tracks, so to speak.

Where to Rent, What to Pay

Our Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka

When we were researching tuk tuk rentals, we really only found one place, at least online. Pick ‘n’ Go Rentals is run by a friendly, burly, floppy-haired Sri Lankan named Rocky. He was courteous, helpful and quick during e-mail correspondence, and filled us with confidence both online and in person. Ultimately, we were immensely happy we decided to rent from Rocky and, for the most part, the entire transaction was smooth and worry-free.

We did, however, experience two hiccups with Pick ‘n’ Go Rentals. For one, we arrived early in the day and had to wait over an hour for Rocky to show up at his rather hard to locate shop. It was early, yes, but he knew in advance we were coming and said he would be there. We managed to reach him by phone and were told he would be there in “15 minutes”, but I guess our watches weren’t set to island time… Ultimately we let it go, because things like this happen, and that’s life in Asia, but there was a period of time when we were standing on the side of the street with all of our luggage piled around us, getting pitying looks and solicitations from the local tuk-tuk drivers where we were feeling a little less forgiving.

The second issue was that our tuk-tuk developed a rather nasty gas leak after our initial test-drive (pointed out by a nearby, and very excitable, tuk-tuk driver). As it happened, an in-line gas filter had failed, and it was quickly and easily replaced by Rocky before we signed any paperwork or paid any money. Though we were a little nervous, we decided to trust Rocky’s word that the tuk-tuk was in excellent condition and this was a fluke; our faith paid off as we never had even the remotest problem with the little beast for the rest of our rental period (which is actually pretty unusual, since tuk-tuks are notoriously persnickety). In any case, literally anyone in the entire country can help if there is a problem, and Rocky assured us that he would come and take care of anything that happened, anywhere, within 24 hours.

Our Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka

If you decide not to go with Pick ‘n’ Go, your choices (at least online) may be limited. Try calling or e-mailing other agencies and speaking to someone about the possibility; if you like to fly by the seat of your pants, you will probably find it fairly easy to find somewhere in Negombo (the epicenter of private transport rentals for the country) that rents tuk-tuks. According to this interview with another couple who toured Sri Lanka by tuk-tuk, Alma Tours in Negombo, appears to offer tuk-tuk rental as well. (Obviously we can’t speak to their services or quality as we didn’t go with them, so this is not a recommendation, merely some information.) This being Sri Lanka, I feel it’s extremely likely you’ll find someone who can work something out for you.

We paid about 18 USD/day, and left a 15,000LAK (about 115USD) deposit with Rocky that went towards our extra week of rental when we returned. The longer you rent for in advance, the better your daily rate, but if you extend, your discount is fixed for the initial period you agreed upon. That is to say, if you agree to two weeks, and extend to three once you’ve left, you won’t get the three-week rate, you’ll stay fixed at the two-week rate. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on where you rent from.

What You Need to Know About Operating Your Very Own Tuk-Tuk

Our Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka

General info

There are really only two types of tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka: the Bajaj RE and the Piaggio Apé. We had a Bajaj RE205 (which is the newer model, signified by the 205 tacked on to the name. The older RE will not have the number appended to the name), and that is most likely what you will get as well. The Apé is slightly larger, but it is diesel, loud, rough and dirty to drive. They’re used more like small trucks, while the Bajaj is generally used to move people. There are more tuk-tuks on the road than anything else, so parts, repair, gas, tires, help, or anything you may need will always be at hand. Even in the remotest parts of the country, you’re more likely to see a little three-wheeler putting along than anything else.

Our Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka

Basics of operation

The Bajaj works essentially like a three-wheeled, old school Vespa: You shift by engaging the clutch lever and twisting the handlebar it’s attached to. They have four speeds forward and one in reverse; the brake is a foot pedal on the floor. If you can drive a manual transmission motorcycle, mastering the Bajaj will not take long. In our case, Rocky took us to a quiet part of the beach and gave me instructions on how to drive and shift, and took us down the road once he felt confident that I was capable. I will say that using the clutch/shifter can take a reasonable amount of hand strength, and on a day of busy shifting your hand will end up feeling sore and cramped. Of course, by the end I was used to it, but be prepared for a good workout at first. Also, the shifter operates via a cable, so try not to shift from anything other than neutral or first when the tuk-tuk isn’t moving, otherwise you’ll stretch the cable and shifting will become difficult. You may have to hunt for the right gear every so often, and you may also overshoot as well (from second to fourth, or third down to neutral). Don’t worry, even the seasoned pros have these problems.

The Bajaj is either equipped with a 200 or 205cc engine, and most top out at 55 or 60 km/h on flat ground. I recommend keeping it closer to 40 or 45 km/h because, in most areas, that is the legal limit for a tuk-tuk. In any case, anything over 30 km/h will feel… unstable, especially on a sharp curve, so watch your speed! These are not machines designed for quick maneuvers, so leave your motorcycle instincts at the door.

What to Look for Before You Take Possession

I am by no means a tuk-tuk expert, so this section will be short. Essentially, a tuk-tuk is a three-wheeled motorcycle with a roof, so inspect it the way you would a rental motorbike. Check the tires and brakes for excessive wear. Check all the lights and indicators. Look for (and document) any dents and scratches. When shifting, the shifts should be fairly smooth, but don’t be surprised if you miss second gear shifting up from first, and fall into neutral instead—this is a common occurrence, and shouldn’t be cause for alarm. Make sure the engine runs smoothly and that there isn’t excessive exhaust noise. Make sure the brakes stop the tuk-tuk well and that the pedal doesn’t feel spongy. If given the opportunity, let the tuk-tuk sit for a bit and make sure there aren’t any fluid leaks.

In most cases, any repairs required on the road will come out of your pocket, so make sure that you are comfortable with the operating condition of the tuk-tuk before you sign anything or hand over any money.

Our Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka

Stay Safe… and Legal!

As I mentioned above, keep your speed down! Though you might be able to manage 60 km/h, I don’t recommend it. Sharp turns and avoidance maneuvers are just not an option with a three-wheeled vehicle. Beyond the physics of driving a motorized tripod, there is another consideration: traffic. You’ll encounter all sorts of things on the road in Sri Lanka, from animals to other tuk-tuks to tractors and pedestrians. Perhaps the greatest menace on the roads, however, is the buses. They are numerous, they drive aggressively, and they stop often and usually at random (though also in designated bus-stops). Apart from buses, as long as you are not in Colombo, traffic moves slowly enough that keeping your wits about you (provided you have experience driving in Asia) will suffice, so long as you keep your speed down.

Beyond traffic, which was generally calm and limited outside cities, the second-biggest road hazard is the Sri Lankan police. They will stop you, even if it is only to chat, and they will check your papers.

It is absolutely critical that you have an international driving license with a motorcycle endorsement, because it will be asked for.

Make sure you know where in the little book that accompanies your license it specifies that you are certified to drive a three-wheeled vehicle. This usually accompanies a motorcycle certification, but be sure. We were pulled over MANY times by the police because foreigners driving tuk-tuks are about as common as us riding a unicorn around the country; most Sri Lankans don’t even realize it is possible. The first police officers who pulled us over extracted a $5US bribe from us because they insisted that my international permit did not cover tuk-tuks; if you are only endorsed to drive a car in your home country, then this is probably true. However, if you are endorsed to drive a motorcycle—as I am—then in all likelihood, your international driving certification will also cover a tuk-tuk.

After our first encounter with the cops, we actually took the (nominal) time needed to read what the accompanying booklet for my international permit covered. The motorcycle category also explicitly mentioned “three wheelers”, meaning the next time we were pulled over and told we weren’t allowed to be driving a tuk-tuk, we felt confident enough to argue, backed up as we were by some additional documentation. This seemed to be enough to allow us to avoid any future bribes.

The tuk-tuk should also come with insurance information, as well as registration. Also make sure any tags attached to the windshield have the current year on them.

Our Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka

I’ll say it again: watch your speed. There are speed traps, and from what we understood, the national speed-limit for tuk-tuks (which is lower than that for trucks and buses) was recently lowered to 40 km/h. So just watch it. Most little villages have traffic police smack in the middle, and if they whistle, you must stop, because they WILL pursue you. Believe me, I know from personal experience.

Sri Lankan traffic laws are fairly flexible, though not nearly to the same degree as somewhere like Vietnam or Laos. While you can usually do what you need to do to get by, it is generally expected that you will signal, share the road (unless you’re a bus), stay in your lane, not cross solid center lines, yield to pedestrians in zebra crossings, and generally drive politely. That said, obvious violations will get you a ticket, and you may not be able to bribe your way out of it. So drive conservatively, and if in doubt err on the side of caution.

Our Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka

Some Traffic Do’s and Don’t’s

DON’T
Speed
Cross a solid white line in front of a traffic policeman
Go through Colombo during rush hour without a map 🙂
Forget your papers
Go more than 150km without getting gas
Brake and try to steer at the same time
Run your headlight during the day
Drive a tuk-tuk if you’re not familiar with Asian traffic
Drive on sand/the beach. You will get stuck trying to turn

DO
Drive on the left
Stop often to talk to people and soak in the scenery
Wear sun screen – you have a roof, but the sun will still get you!
Carry a map or GPS
Carry water
Carry a phone with a Sri Lankan SIM card (they are easy to get at the airport)

Would We Recommend Renting a Tuk-Tuk? What We Liked, and What We Didn’t

Our Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka

If you have experience driving in Asian traffic, and can operate a manual clutch motorcycle, we fully, enthusiastically recommend renting a tuk-tuk!

What we liked:

  • You have a roof and rain flaps, so a sudden downpour or a rainy day won’t stop you if you want to/need to go somewhere
  • While the sun can still get in from the sides, the roof is great for keeping you cool and less burned
  • You have a place to put your bags. We carried two 50L bags and two daypacks and had room to spare
  • Everybody will be curious, want to talk to you, and word of the foreigners in a tuk-tuk will spread through small towns faster than you can imagine
  • Freedom. You can stop, stay, eat and visit anywhere you want. No negotiating fees, no long walks between guesthouses, no being trapped with one restaurant, no overpriced trips to sights and no shopping stops (unless you want to)
  • The seating is a lot more comfortable than a motorcycle
  • Finding gas is really easy, and there is usually someone around to help if you need it
  • The Bajaj was bullet-proof: it started every time, ran like a top, shifted great and never once let us down. It was clearly a well-made machine
  • Our tuk-tuk also had an accessory port, making it easy to charge our phone and always have GPS available. We could even play music!

 

What we didn’t like:

  • It’s not a fast way to get around. A 150km day can be a long day (especially when you stop as much as we did), and the driver will be tired at the end
  • The roads in Sri Lanka vary between really quite good and tooth-rattlingly bad. It’s really hard to know how a road will be in advance, and sometimes a road can go from table-top smooth asphalt to moon-like craters in the span of a few kilometers
  • While the seats are nice, there isn’t much suspension, so when the aforementioned roads get bad, it’s not very fun.
  • We sometimes felt pressure to keep moving, since every day the tuk-tuk sits fallow is a day we paid about 20 dollars for something we weren’t using, in a sense. Sri Lanka is generally a very cheap country, and that money could easily double our daily costs.
  • Though WE didn’t mind this, you will get a lot of attention. If you’re a low-profile traveler who likes to fly below the radar, this is a bad choice.
  • Steph REALLY wanted to take one train ride while we were in Sri Lanka, and we weren’t able to fit this in because of the tuk-tuk. Also, we generally find that local transport is a nice way to experience another facet of local life and meet people we otherwise might not; although the tuk-tuk certainly opened certain doors for us, we did (at times) miss rubbing elbows with the locals on public transport

So that’s it! We absolutely loved our three-wheeled adventure, and would recommend it to anyone who feels capable of piloting what is possibly one of the most eccentric (and adorable) vehicles in Asia. If you want a different way to see one of the world’s most beautiful countries, love getting off the beaten track, and want an effortless introduction to the wonderful people who live there and one heck of an ice-breaker, we can’t think of anything better.

Tell us: Have you ever driven yourself through a foreign country? Would you recommend it? Do you have any other questions about renting or driving a tuk-tuk that we didn’t cover here? If so, head down to the comments and let us know!


/* EDIT */
After several requests for the route we took, I’m including a google map that pretty well plots out where we went. It has all our stops and, to the best of my memory, the route is accurate. Hope this helps any curious travelers out there!

Written by: Tony


As a designer by trade and a former professional photographer, there isn't much in the world of visual communication that I haven't worked on. From web projects, to museum interiors, to weddings and portraits, my career to this point has run the gamut of visual media. Born and raised in a sleepy town in southeast Minnesota, I moved to Nashville to pursue my education. I ended up meeting the love of my life and adopting the two best dogs this side of the Mason-Dixon line. I love two-wheeled transport, trying new food and am a bit of a gadget freak. I love a good book, and have music playing almost constantly. After over a decade in the same city, I'm quickly getting used to the idea of having no fixed address, and hope all of you enjoy my ramblings about our ramblings.

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Read comments (79)

  1. Steve C
    September 3, 2014 at 4:59 pm
    Sep. 3, '14

    I loved this post! I’ve been trying to get the word out to long term travelers to get their own wheels, ever since we toured around Europe in a VW camper van. It was our transportation, kitchen and bedroom wherever we went. We put on 15,000 miles (not km’s 🙂 ) over a six month period. We bought ours, then sold it when we were done with it for the same amount we paid for it to begin with.

    With that under our belt, we returned to the US and then bought a pickup, put a camper on the back and drove to Costa Rica R/T from California, over a 1 year period.

    I very much agree with all you said about having your own transportation in a foreign country. Very few guide books even mention this topic as a possibility. It’s mostly word of mouth between travelers.

    My new (to me) pickup and camper are in my driveway as I write this. If everything goes to plan, I should be on the road again as soon as my house sells in a couple months. When are you gonna tell us of your next plans?

    • September 6, 2014 at 9:23 am
      Sep. 6, '14

      Thanks Steve! It can be tough for people to get their own wheels in a foreign country, since purchasing and driving cars as a foreigner on a temporary visa is generally illegal in most countries…. not that we let that stop us most of the time! Renting is a good option, but the more developed a country is, usually the more difficult/expensive it is to do. That said, and as you say, it is so worth it! The freedom of having your own wheels when you’re somewhere you want to explore can’t be beat! I hope you have a great time exploring in your camper! As to our next plans, we’re still getting that figured out for sure, but it will involve driving south with our dogs. Naturally we’ll keep everyone posted as things develop. In the mean time, we have a HUGE backlog of stories from places we’ve been to keep everyone entertained!

    • September 15, 2014 at 5:11 am
      Sep. 15, '14

      Brilliant idea Steve – We read so many blog posts on people buying camper vans to explore Aus, but never heard much of anyone doing it elsewhere – so glad people are doing this!
      Adam @ Round the World we go recently posted..10 Days till Montenegro

  2. September 3, 2014 at 8:06 pm
    Sep. 3, '14

    You have definitely tempted me! What a unique and fun way to get around the country. My brother drove a tuk tuk across India with his friends in a race a few years ago and I wouldn’t want to do it there but sounds like Sri Lanka traffic isn’t as crazy.
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..Sampling the wares in the Hunter Valley and a quick peek at Nelson Bay

    • September 6, 2014 at 9:25 am
      Sep. 6, '14

      Thanks! I hope you get the chance to try it one day! Even riding as a passenger in a tuk-tuk is pretty fun. Sri Lanka’s traffic is definitely more tame than certain other Asian countries, but is still nothing to take lightly! If you want to drive anywhere in Asia, find somewhere quiet to practice first before hitting the open road!

  3. September 3, 2014 at 11:10 pm
    Sep. 3, '14

    What an awesome wrap-up that I’d been looking forward too since learning youhad done this. Very glad to have read since I wouldn’t have known about the motorcycle license requirement until it was probably too late to do anything about it. I’ll need to get licensed because touring by tuk tuk is just too awesome an opportunity to pass up – guess I have something to occupy my time with after our current trip ends in December…. 😀

    • September 6, 2014 at 9:34 am
      Sep. 6, '14

      Glad you enjoyed it! There is definitely no substitute for seeing Sri Lanka by tuk-tuk. If you feel brave enough to face the traffic, then I can’t recommend it enough! I’m glad I could help and I want to hear all about your adventure when you do it!

  4. September 3, 2014 at 11:47 pm
    Sep. 3, '14

    I love, love this idea. The thought never even crossed my mind before. And though I do love traveling via motorbike, a tuk tuk would be so much easier when traveling from place to place, especially if you’re carrying a big backpacking (like I do). I will totally consider doing this in the future. Oh, and you two are officially my heroes for being so creative!!
    Justine recently posted..Traveling to the Philippines – 7 Days after Typhoon Haiyan

    • September 6, 2014 at 9:37 am
      Sep. 6, '14

      Thanks Justine! We never really considered doing something like this either until Sri Lanka. Motorcycles are easily available, but the idea of driving a tuk-tuk just didn’t occur to us, but once it did we knew we HAD to do it! And having the space to put our stuff out of the way, out of the sun and rain, was wonderful! The worst part of overlanding on a motorcycle is always packing your gear on the bike every day (that and being saddle-sore at the end of the day!)

  5. September 4, 2014 at 4:39 am
    Sep. 4, '14

    So cool! I can’t drive one for shit. I tried in Kochi a few times but can’t figure out the clutch and such. I’m definitely going to try to learn so I can do this when I go to Sri lanka
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..All time best Restaurants in Delhi from a Local Foodie

    • September 6, 2014 at 9:40 am
      Sep. 6, '14

      I hope you do! The clutch can take some time, but once you get it, it opens a whole new world of driving options! Admittedly, the clutch on a tuk-tuk is trickier than a standard motorcycle, but it’s the same principle. At least on the tuk-tuk you don’t have to worry about tipping over!

  6. September 4, 2014 at 2:31 pm
    Sep. 4, '14

    We have GOT to get to Sri Lanka! I love that you guys rented a tuk tuk, something that wouldn’t have crossed my mind. What a great couple of weeks.
    Rhonda recently posted..Happy Birthday Porter!

    • September 6, 2014 at 9:41 am
      Sep. 6, '14

      It was really wonderful! And yes, you do need to get to Sri Lanka! It’s the best. We miss it every day!

  7. September 5, 2014 at 2:55 am
    Sep. 5, '14

    I still cannot believe you rented a tuk-tuk instead of motorbikes, how cool is that? It’s definitely a unique way to get around and discover a country. I’m not sure if I’d do it myself though simply because I don’t feel comfortable enough with the Asian traffic and way of driving, but never say never, I guess I have to try first to make my mind up 🙂
    Franca recently posted..For One Week Only We’re Giving Away 20% Off TrustedHousesitters

    • September 6, 2014 at 9:44 am
      Sep. 6, '14

      Yeah, Asian traffic can be very intimidating. The best way is to come in with a lot of experience in your own country, and then ease yourself in somewhere quiet. Once you get your head wrapped around the “rules” of the road in Asia, the rest comes fairly easily.

  8. September 5, 2014 at 7:19 am
    Sep. 5, '14

    You guys had such a unique and amazing experience! I love how you had lots of flexibility, but our venture will be left to trains and buses. I will keep you posted on how that side of travel in Sri Lanka goes 😉
    Emily recently posted..How to Choose a Hot Air Balloon Company in Cappadocia (That Won’t Ruin Your Trip!)

    • September 6, 2014 at 9:47 am
      Sep. 6, '14

      Yeah, definitely let us know how the trains are. We could see fairly well how the buses were (and we did take a few local buses) so were not missing anything there. But, definitely, one of our biggest regrets was not getting to take some of the epic train rides across the country. We know we’ll be back though, so there will always be next time!

  9. September 5, 2014 at 9:28 am
    Sep. 5, '14

    Nice, Tony! Question: The area to place your luggage – was it locked? And if so, how securely? If you left the tuk-tuk somewhere to spend a morning on the beach, did you feel comfortable that your luggage wasn’t too readily accessible? That’d probably be my main concern. But yes, tuk-tuk over motorbike for long trips!
    James recently posted..Nothing Hidden, Everything Sacred

    • September 6, 2014 at 9:51 am
      Sep. 6, '14

      Thanks! No, the luggage area was not locked, it was just an open area behind the seat. As such, we really didn’t leave the tuk-tuk unattended or out of sight if our luggage was in it. However, most of our stops along the way were either somewhere deserted, or within spitting distance of the tuk-tuk. When we would go out to explore (or go to the beach, etc.), we would do so from a base and only bring essentials that we could carry with us when we parked our ride. Travel days were mostly just that, and we did the bulk of our exploring once we’d found a guesthouse.

  10. September 5, 2014 at 2:22 pm
    Sep. 5, '14

    Such an informative post, as always Tony!! Loved the pic of the tuk-tuk beside the motos on the beach, so cute 🙂 I never would have thought of renting a tuk-tuk but I can imagine the amount of attention it garnered and it looks so darn fun, I would definitely do it!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..Surfing in Ucluelet, BC with Wick’d Surf Camps

    • September 6, 2014 at 9:57 am
      Sep. 6, '14

      It was tons of fun to drive! And I never got tired of taking photos of it, either. I think that the tuk-tuk is perhaps the most adorable form of transport there is, and (in my opinion) it made my landscapes so much more interesting! Plus, ours had a groovy custom muffler, so this tiny little red box had quite a growl (though not much power to back it up!).

  11. September 6, 2014 at 1:39 pm
    Sep. 6, '14

    Wow, I am super glad I just read this!!! We are leaving for Sri Lanka in two weeks and I never thought to get international driver liceance .

    • September 6, 2014 at 1:43 pm
      Sep. 6, '14

      Yeah, though you really only need one if you’re driving. Otherwise there’s no reason. Technically most countries require one for driving of any sort, but Sri Lanka was definitely the first place that a policeman ever checked to see if I actually had one.

      • September 6, 2014 at 1:51 pm
        Sep. 6, '14

        Good info, thanks

  12. September 7, 2014 at 6:30 am
    Sep. 7, '14

    Awesome – a tuk-tuk across Sri Lanka? This seriously ups your travel status!!! LOVE IT!
    Tim | UrbanDuniya recently posted..Recipe: Tangy Eggplant Salad

    • September 30, 2014 at 9:03 am
      Sep. 30, '14

      Thanks! It was tons of fun! It hardly felt very daring considering how much we enjoyed it!

  13. September 7, 2014 at 8:06 am
    Sep. 7, '14

    This. Is. Awesome!! Seriously, I would have never thought of renting a tuk-tuk, but it’s perfect. An added bonus, you get have a second money-making gig! 😉
    Katie recently posted..The Temples of Bali

    • September 30, 2014 at 9:05 am
      Sep. 30, '14

      Haha, yeah, there were quite a few confused Sri Lankans who tried to wave us down for a ride and then couldn’t understand why we didn’t stop. Sometimes they saw that I was driving and then just laughed, or stood there with their mouths hanging open.

  14. September 8, 2014 at 2:21 pm
    Sep. 8, '14

    Hi Steph and Tony, what an epic way to travel! That’s definitely one for the book. This is the most adventurous, most fun mode of travel around the country that I’ve read. We’ve driven through a country by car and that’s so lame compare to your King Tut experience. Maybe I can convince Keith to do some tuk-tuk driving when we visit Sri Lanka, even for few days.

    • September 30, 2014 at 9:07 am
      Sep. 30, '14

      Self-drive is never lame when you’re in another country! Having your own wheels is great! Honestly, I would always choose the Tuk-tuk over a car in Sri Lanka, even if money wasn’t an issue. It’s nice to have something a little more substantial than a motorcycle, but easier to maneuver and park than a car. It was a perfect combination!

  15. September 9, 2014 at 12:36 am
    Sep. 9, '14

    I would definitely want to give renting a tuk tuk a try. Looks like you had a lot of fun! =)
    Nicole recently posted..Myths about Taiwan

    • September 30, 2014 at 9:08 am
      Sep. 30, '14

      We sure did! I encourage anyone who feels confident enough to try it, it’s definitely an experience of a lifetime!

  16. September 11, 2014 at 5:07 am
    Sep. 11, '14

    I’m still slowly trying to catch up on your entries guys! Sorry! 🙂 Anyway, I loved this entry. This will be really helpful for a lot of people I imagine, because renting a tuk tuk is still a relatively rare thing to do. I know this post has been published for a little while already but I think I’ll share this one on Facebook!
    Karyn @ Not Done Travelling recently posted..Welcome To My New Look!

    • September 30, 2014 at 9:16 am
      Sep. 30, '14

      Thanks for the share! Hopefully we can help someone else have an adventure too!

  17. September 15, 2014 at 5:09 am
    Sep. 15, '14

    Hi Tony, Great post! I love the idea of driving Tuk-tuks! I do like the idea of buying a vehicle to use whilst travelling a whole country… it kind of just makes total sense at times, and is always an adventure in itself 🙂
    Adam @ Round the World we go recently posted..10 Days till Montenegro

    • September 30, 2014 at 9:17 am
      Sep. 30, '14

      Thanks! Yeah, having our own wheels has always been great. The only time we’ve actually bought the transport was in Vietnam, which we’ll get to writing about soon! But, that said, there is no better way to see a country and meet it’s people!

  18. September 29, 2014 at 7:18 am
    Sep. 29, '14

    This looks awesome. I always considered doing this in India but they have state to state registration laws for cars so it gets complicated unless you use an agency which can be expensive. So how long many hours a day were you driving? Maybe we’ll do this next year with the kids. What would we need, if we drove no more than 2-3 hours a day? A month? Can you fit two adults in the front? Or is it the one seat upfront and a bench seat in the back?

    Sounds awesome though, what a great idea. My friend actually sent me this page and was like “we have to do this!” lol. I was like, hey, I know them!

    • September 30, 2014 at 9:24 am
      Sep. 30, '14

      It was the best! I think you could possibly do four people in one (provided two are children), but it would be tight, since the front seat is really only for one. Plus, they don’t have the biggest engines, so a little tuk-tuk like the one we rented might drag a bit in hill country. You could opt for the Piaggio Apé, they are bigger and stronger, and could probably handle four people. The other trick would be luggage. I’ve seen them with top-racks, and you would definitely need that for four people.

      I’d say we did maybe 5-6 hours of driving at a time, but we usually stayed put for a few days once we arrived. The trouble with driving estimates is that we stopped so frequently to take photos and just stare at the scenery that it’s hard to say how long it would really take to get somewhere. Figure an average speed of 40 k/ph and an average drive of 150km or so, depends on how much you want to see. The whole country is barely over 200km wide at its thickest point, but the roads wind a bit, especially in the central areas. You could definitely hit the highlights in a month, but give yourself as much time as possible, since you’ll want to stay longer! 🙂

  19. RP
    September 29, 2014 at 10:50 am
    Sep. 29, '14

    I am a Sri Lankan currently living in the US. It was so great to read your story, and I am so glad you guys enjoyed your time in mother Lanka!! It is awesome to hear such travel stories. I wish you both many many more adventures to come!

    • September 30, 2014 at 9:26 am
      Sep. 30, '14

      Thanks so much, and we’re glad to hear from you! Your country is amazing, and we’ll definitely be going back as soon as we possibly can!

  20. October 19, 2014 at 9:42 pm
    Oct. 19, '14

    Hi

    We also hired our own tuk tuk in Sri Lanka and drove around for 6 weeks last Nov/Dec.
    It was the best part of our round the world trip. The locals were amazing, we did break down once but a local tuk tuk
    Driver stopped and helped. We experienced lots of villages, had dinner in lots of village houses and we
    were charged by a bull elephant in a National park!!!! Scary but fantastic. I would definately recommend this mode of
    transport.
    We spent a night in a village and experienced a local tradition where the couple could not get pregnant and believed
    their land was possessed by evil spirits, they had a kind of witch doctor (apologies for not remembering correct title),
    who apparently became possessed by a relative, she walked on burning coals. We were honoured to have been
    asked to stay and experience this. None of the villagers had ever met a foreigner before and the young couple
    Even gave up their bed no allowed us to use it.
    If you get the chance drive a tuk tuk and meet some of the most welcoming people in the world
    ☺️

    • October 27, 2014 at 4:57 pm
      Oct. 27, '14

      Thanks for sharing your awesome story, Michelle! It sounds like you really had some crazy adventures during your time in Sri Lanka, some of them that sound quite similar to our own. We are all for anything that helps us connect more with locals and allows us to see a side of the country that we might otherwise miss out. If we could rent a tuk tuk everywhere, we probably would, but as it is, we’re so glad we had the chance that we did.

  21. February 10, 2015 at 11:23 am
    Feb. 10, '15

    Great post. I just came back from doing the Rickshaw Run in India and am mad to some other adventure in a rickshaw. A very helpful article.
    Travellingforfun recently posted..The Rickshaw Run – Day 3-4

  22. Tris
    July 19, 2015 at 1:45 am
    Jul. 19, '15

    Hey Tony,

    Thanks for the inspiration! We’ve lined up a Tuk Tuk for our month in Sri Lanka. We arrive at Colombo airport at 8:00am and have accomodation booked 50 min out of Kandy for that night. Do you think it would be reasonable to drive from Colombo to Kandy after stepping of the plane? I hear the drive is 3 hours so i imagine it would be about maybe 4 in a Tuk Tuk? Interested to hear if you guys did this leg in King Tuk and your thoughts…

    • August 17, 2015 at 8:57 pm
      Aug. 17, '15

      Great to hear (and I hope this gets to you in time!)! Where are you picking up the tuk tuk, Negombo? The road from Negombo to Kandy is pretty nice (we did make that drive, it was the last leg of our journey). However, I’d plan it taking most of the day for several reasons: one, you have to pick up the tuk tuk, which isn’t instant. Two, you’re going to need to learn to drive the tuk tuk, which will take time as well. Three, the traffic on the Negombo-Kandy highway can be… epic. So plan on going extra slow and being pretty tired when you make it to Kandy. Good luck and hit me up with any additional questions you have about the country or our journey!

  23. Anthony
    August 17, 2015 at 3:30 am
    Aug. 17, '15

    Hey Tony!

    Great great post and very useful. We will be going to SL next month and will definitely rent a tuk-tuk!

    Quick question: our villa is in Weligama, in the South. Ho wlong do you think it can take to drive there from Colombo airport?

    Thanks a lot!

    Anthony

    • August 17, 2015 at 9:08 pm
      Aug. 17, '15

      Hi there! Where are you picking up your tuk tuk? You’ll need time to pick it up, learn how to drive it and plenty of time to stop and enjoy the jaw dropping scenery. The coastal road is beautiful, but I recommend avoiding Colombo and swinging back out to the coast once you’re well south of the city. It’s over 200KM, and a day like that would easily take us 6-7 hours to drive, especially the first day where you’ll want to stop every 10 minutes and enjoy the beauty. It took us 6 hours to make it from Negombo to Ambalangoda on our first day and that’s still a bit north from Galle. I wish I could say otherwise, but I think you’re in for a verrrry long day.

      Let me know if you have any questions about our trip or Sri Lanka in general.

  24. August 17, 2015 at 9:14 am
    Aug. 17, '15

    Thank you so much for this detailed post! Do you have a map of your route? I’d love to see that.

    • August 17, 2015 at 9:10 pm
      Aug. 17, '15

      Unfortunately, no. But I can give you some more details about our route if you’re really curious. Let me know!

      Thanks!

      • September 7, 2015 at 4:53 am
        Sep. 7, '15

        Hi Tony

        I’m British living in Sri Lanka and we run a small guest house – Polwatte House in Kandy. I’ve started a blog and I wondered if I could use some of the details in your article and the photos and I will attribute them to you of course and a link to your site. Would this be ok?

        Thanks
        Ailsa

      • November 29, 2015 at 5:41 am
        Nov. 29, '15

        Hi,

        Would love to know more about your Sri Lanka route on a tuk tuk please?

        • December 6, 2015 at 4:37 pm
          Dec. 6, '15

          Hey guys! Due to popular demand, I’ve added a map to the bottom of this post. I hope it helps!

  25. November 1, 2015 at 2:45 am
    Nov. 1, '15

    Thank you, helpfull and enjoyable aricle!Regards, Gabor

  26. Dana Maria
    November 1, 2015 at 10:23 am
    Nov. 1, '15

    Hello!
    So nice to have discovered your adventures!!
    We are planning this next stop in Sri Lanka, and the thought of renting a tuk-tuk came to our mind.
    We’ve started searching for rentals, but I do have some questions: did you ever feel uncomfortable parking it overnight?
    Should I stick to finding accommodation in advance – given the fact that we are planning our journey in December, which I’m afraid it could be a more crowded period?
    I am so excited about the tuk-tuk, but I am also stressed because of the parking and accommodation.

    Thank you so much for your time!

    • December 6, 2015 at 3:24 pm
      Dec. 6, '15

      Hi Dana! You will have an AMAZING time in Sri Lanka & we loved having a tuk tuk to tour the country. We never felt uncomfortable parking it overnight—we always stayed places where we could park the tuk tuk off the road, often in a secure or gated parking area; it never crossed our mind that someone might try to steal it (I don’t think tuk tuk theft is a rampant problem in Sri Lanka…).

      As for booking accommodation in advance, I suppose that really depends on your own preferences. I am sure some beach areas will be busier and you might want to book ahead, but then again, we always found there plenty of places wherever we went and the nice thing about having your own wheels is you can check out as many as you like (and if you’re staying a bit further out of town, it’s not as big a deal). I think a lot of places don’t have websites and online booking as it is, so I think in a place like Sri Lanka you would be ok not pre-booking. But if it is stressing you out, by all means go ahead and reserve a room in advance!

  27. Chris Nowakowski
    December 15, 2015 at 3:21 pm
    Dec. 15, '15

    Did you have to go to the Sri Lanks Driver’s license office with your International Driving permit and license from your home country to get a Sri Lanka International Drivers license? Like what this guys blog says – http://www.ritchyfeet.com/get-international-drivers-permit-sri-lanka/

    • December 15, 2015 at 7:36 pm
      Dec. 15, '15

      I already had an international driver’s permit before we made it to Sri Lanka. It came with a little book that translated my license into quite a few languages. Every policeman who stopped me seemed to think it was sufficient, so if you can get an international permit before coming you should be good, just make sure it includes language about how you are allowed to drive a three-wheeled vehicle (assuming your license allows that).

  28. Laura
    January 7, 2016 at 3:53 am
    Jan. 7, '16

    Dear Tony,
    I was absolutely thrilled to find your blogpost before we are going to Sri Lanka end of this month. We will definitely try to rent a tuk tuk too, my boyfriend loves the idea! However, we have the same problem as you – we wanted to take the train from Kandy to Ella. Now we are thinking of doing that part with the Tuk Tuk (because we reasoned that you can take the train in every country, but not drive your own Tuk Tuk!). You mentioned in your post that the Tuk Tuk will get slow when going up the mountains. Do you think it can make the road from Kandy to Ella?
    Thanks a lot for this cool post!

    • January 7, 2016 at 8:28 am
      Jan. 7, '16

      Our little tuk tuk pulled us up some pretty steep inclines. As long as you don’t mind being in first gear, it will pretty much pull two people up and through nearly anything. It won’t be fast, but it will get the job done! We drove all over Ella, it’s pretty much just one big, steep hill no matter which way you go, and it was fine.

      So glad you enjoyed the post!

  29. Benjamin Goodyear
    January 22, 2016 at 4:32 pm
    Jan. 22, '16

    First, we thank you wholeheartedly for your thread about driving a tuk-tuk through Sri Lanka. It was the inspiration for a fantastic adventure! And we use the word “adventure” and not “holiday” deliberately…

    We just happened across your website when we were searching the Internet for things to do in Sri Lanka. When we saw what you had done, we both looked at each other and said “we have to do that!” So thank you again for taking the time and effort to post this thread.

    We thought we might add a few comments under various headings below to assist in encouraging other people to take on this fantastic adventure.

    MAJOR PROS OF HIRING A TUK TUK

    • Driving a tuk-tuk enabled us to make an instant connection with the locals, who were astonished to see two westerners doing their own driving and couldn’t wait to say hello.

    • The open air travel is perfect for Sri Lanka. You can see everything, enjoy the beautiful weather and there is no danger of carsickness.

    • The freedom it gives you is brilliant. Having our own transport meant that we could stay a bit further out of town and drive a bit further down the road to pick up a piece of fruit, vegetable rotti or a pancake from a streetside stall for breakfast.

    • It’s just jolly good fun driving it! A bit like Super Mario Kart in real life.

    HIRING THE TUK TUK

    We followed your advice and used Pick’N’Go. In a word, the service was excellent. We emailed via the website and got a response within a few days, with lots of information and a quote. We were so excited to hear back so soon that we forgot all about negotiating and just agreed to the price quoted! However, it seemed reasonable to us and worked out to be about US$20 a day. There is no question that it was worth every cent, and a lot more.

    Rocky, the guy who runs the company, was (as you said) very laid-back but also quite professional. Significantly, Rocky did two things. First, he said that if the tuk-tuk ever broke down, all we had to do was call him, and he would get someone out to us within 24 hours to fix the problem, no matter where we were in the country. Secondly, he also said that if we wanted to organise any repairs, we could simply do so, pay for the bill, and then he would reimburse us if we brought the invoice back to him. This gave us great confidence, especially considering that there are hundreds of tuk-tuks everywhere, and corresponding repair shops, so that a repairer never seemed far away.

    As it turned out, our tuk-tuk was indestructible. We really put it through its paces, including some very steep hills, and it just kept going and going and going! I should add that in the mornings when we started it up, we found that we had to use the choke a little bit to get it started, and also rev it using the accelerator, but apart from that it ran very smoothly.

    Rocky also organised our AAC permit (the local Sri Lankan driving permit) which was very helpful. To get this, we did the following (and we know this differs slightly from what is in the main thread). First, we got our international drivers permit from our local Australian office. At this stage, we did not have our motorbike licence, and we never got it. After we read your main thread, we tried to get our motorbike licence, but it would have taken us three months, and we were leaving sooner than that. So in that sense, we took a bit of a risk, I think, but it seemed to be okay in the end. Secondly, after we got our international drivers permits, we scanned and sent them to Rocky, as he had requested. Thirdly, Rocky organised our AAC permit and on that permit, importantly, it included a notation that certified us to drive a “three wheel vehicle”. Technically, we are not sure whether or not we were entitled to that, because our international drivers permits had a separate category pertaining to motorbikes including three wheeled vehicles, and we did not obtain that certification (because we only had a normal car drivers’ license). But in the end, it all worked out okay. In other words, Rocky “beefed up” the type of international drivers’ permit that we had and “converted” it into a license to drive a three wheeled vehicle. The point here is that first, if you can get your local motorbike license that includes certification to drive a three wheeled vehicle, that is probably a safer idea, and secondly, if you cannot do that, you might expressly ask Rocky that he will make sure you get an AAC permit that entitles you to drive the three wheeled Tuk Tuk (but that will be obvious to Rocky if that is what you are hiring).

    Rocky charged us US$45 for each AAC permit that he organised for us, and when he gave them to us, the receipt was attached showing that it cost him about half that. However, we were more than happy to pay extra money, to avoid having to go to the AEC permit office ourselves and run the risk of not getting the correct permit, so my advice would be to get Rocky to organise them, and pay the extra, if you can. (He did not mention this AAC permit cost in his emails, but there were no other hidden costs or surprises – he is legit.)

    Finally, Rocky will give you his phone number so that you can call him if anything goes wrong. We punched it into my mobile and tried calling him at the office while we were sitting together, because we didn’t want to get into any issues with using the wrong prefix or so forth, in a time of dire emergency!

    On wait – one more thing – we stayed at a place called the IceBear Guesthouse in Negombo. It turned out to be right across the road from Pick’N’Go rentals! And it was such a gorgeous place to stay. We highly recommend it. (PS in the emails Rocky sent us he initially sent us an address for another office he has – so just double check exactly where he wants you to pick up the Tuk Tuk from.)

    DRIVING THE TUK TUK

    On the day we took charge of the tuk-tuk, Rocky’s assistant gave us a practical driving lesson, which included a drive around the neighborhood and a trip to the petrol station to fill it up. Rocky’s philosophy is to spend his time teaching one person how to drive it so that that person can pass on their knowledge to the other person, but we both got a go in the driving lesson.

    It’s fair to say that we weren’t strong drivers at the beginning of the trip. The clutch takes a bit of getting used to, not to mention the Sri Lankan “road rules” (more on this later). At first, driving took a lot of concentration and we found that the person sitting in the back basically had to take up the role of co-pilot, warning the driver of the surrounding traffic and giving directions well in advance. For that reason, driving on our first day was quite exhausting because the person in the back couldn’t relax. But by the second driving day, we were much more relaxed and were on quieter roads, and the whole affair became very breezy.

    We never drove in the dark and whenever we could, we got an early start (6:00-6:30am). The roads are much quieter at that hour and it was good to arrive at a destination with a whole afternoon ahead of us for exploring.

    Most of the towns display speed limit signs of 40km/hr for tuk-tuks and we did see a few people being pulled over for speeding. On the long straight, flat roads, the tuk-tuk was happy at speeds of up to about 55km/hr. Through the hills and the tea plantations, the going was much slower at between 15-30km/hr.

    ROUTES

    We took the following routes:

    Driving day 1 (day after hiring the tuk-tuk) – Negombo to Galle (through Colombo). This was about 170kms. In hindsight, it was far too much for the first day. It wasn’t so much the distance (we had drives of equal distance later on the trip, no problem), it was more the busyness of the roads and the difficulty of navigating the Colombo traffic when we were still learning how to drive. At one point we stalled in a large 4 lane, 5 way intersection in 3rd gear and couldn’t get the tuk-tuk started again. Luckily another driver came to our rescue and yanked the gears round. We arrived in Galle a couple of nervous wrecks (don’t worry, we recovered quickly). If you’re thinking of heading south from Negombo, you might consider stopping early on the first day (at somewhere like Bentota). After two or three days, you’ll be ready for big drives and be fine, but just take it easy on the first day especially if you have never driven a motorbike or in Asia etc.

    Driving day 2: Galle to Tangalle. This was a very pleasant drive. The A2 becomes much quieter outside of Galle.

    Driving day 3: Tangalle to Uda Walawe. Another easy drive on quiet roads. We took the A2 from Tangalle to Nonagama and then the A18 to Uda Walawe.

    Driving day 4: Uda Walawe to Ella. We took the B427 and the A23. This was a great drive but be warned: when you hit the hills, the tuk-tuk uses petrol quickly! Along the coast, a tank easily gets you 130kms or 140kms, but on the hills, I think we were using at least twice as much petrol. We arrived in Ella by the skin of our teeth and bought some petrol in wine bottles from a local store which allowed us to get to our accommodation and a petrol station the next day.

    Driving day 5: Ella to Adam’s Peak. This was an incredibly beautiful but slow drive. We stuck to the A16 but the straight lines on the map belie a very twisty, narrow road through the tea plantations, so the distance is actually greater than you think. We also encountered some heavy rain on this leg, which slowed us down a bit. The tuk-tuk handles the wet weather very well but on the steep cliffs we didn’t want to take any chances so we slowed right down (to about 20kms/hr for some parts). But don’t be discouraged! Exploring the hill country on a tuk-tuk was truly phenomenal.

    Driving day 6: Adam’s Peak to Kandy. There are several routes you can take to Kandy. We were going to stick to the main roads but in the end we followed the advice of a local and took the route through Ginigathena, Nawalptiya, and Gampola, which was a very good idea. It was another very pleasant drive. Kandy traffic rivals that of Colombo but we were much more comfortable with the tuk-tuk by then and it didn’t bother us. Beware that “short cuts” from the congested main roads in Kandy city are usually steep and call for some slightly unnerving hill starts!

    Driving day 7: Kandy to Anuradhapura, via Sigirya. This was a long way (about 180kms) on the A9. We got a very early start to make sure we arrived before dark, but in the end there was no need to worry. The roads were so good (surfaced, flat and quiet) that it only took us five hours and we arrived at Anuradaphura at 3pm after climbing Sigirya Rock. I think we were driving on a Sunday too, and the roads seemed quieter then for obvious reasons.

    Driving day 8: Anuradhapura to Negombo. We took the A12 to Puttalam and then the A3 to Negombo. Another drive of long distance, short duration. No problems.

    To avoid doubt, we did not do the above driving days ‘back to back’. We would drive, then park the Tuk Tuk, and have one or two more days in a town where we didn’t use the Tuk Tuk much at all.

    ROADS

    We lived by our trusty “Insight Fleximap” and usually stuck to the principal roads for long distances, with a few incursions onto secondary roads. Even still, the roads varied in quality enormously and without warning. One minute the road would be wide and well-surfaced, the next minute the surfacing would come to an abrupt end, or enormous potholes appeared and the road narrowed to the width of an Australian footpath.

    While a pot-holey road certainly slowed us down, our tuk-tuk coped with everything, including quite deep mud and very steep rocky tracks. There were a couple of occasions when we really wondered if we were pushing it too far but it never let us down.

    PETROL

    Petrol is cheap. We filled up 5 or 6 times. A tank of petrol costs about R700. The attendant at the petrol station will do the filling up. Drivers usually stay in their tuk-tuks.

    As we said, a tank will take you about 130-140kms on the flat, but as soon as you hit the hills, expect to use up petrol rapidly. After our tuk-tuk nearly died of thirst on the way to Ella, we decided to invest in a jerry can (R160 and funnel R45). We recommend it for anyone planning on driving through the hills.

    DANGERS

    The buses are life threatening.

    We saw no evidence that the drivers have any regard for road rules or human life (seriously). Without any hesitation, a bus will overtake a bus, on a blind corner or in the face of close oncoming traffic. They travel at a consistently breakneck speed, even on the narrow roads through the tea plantations. We often found ourselves pulling far onto the verge to escape being squished. We saw three different types of buses: government ones (red), private ones (blue) and a prison bus. Apparently the red buses race each other, which is consistent with our observations. Also, we saw many buses without break lights and it was common for a bus to overtake us and then come to a screeching halt in the middle of the road to let a passenger off. Be careful of the buses. There is a food chain or pecking order on the roads. The buses are king. If you are conscious of buses at all times, you should be fine, as the other cars (and Tuk Tuks and motorbikes) are quite small and nimble and will dodge and weave to avoid accidents. Buses will not.

    Other than that, it is useful to know that in most places there is no real concept of lanes. The idea is that you drive forwards into gaps, no matter how tight the squeeze. Also, drivers pulling into a road will not wait for the road to be clear, rather it is expected that other road users will make room for them.

    POLICE

    There are police everywhere, whistling and waiving in all directions at once. We were pulled over only once – on our first day. The policeman was only interested in seeing our Sri Lankan drivers’ licenses (the AAC permit) and was perfectly content with what Rocky had provided to us. The policeman didn’t even ask for our international drivers’ permit, which we were worried about (because that one did not have the certification for three wheel vehicles). Our advice would be rip out the valid AAC permit and the valid insurance papers and registration for the Tuk Tuk and shove everything valid in front of the policeman and then smile!

    Otherwise, the policemen and women were just curious about two westerners driving a tuk-tuk and liked to hear about our plans. We didn’t have any issues.

    BAGS

    Our tuk-tuk had a roof rack, which was sensational. We put our big packs on the roof and our little packs behind the back seat, which meant that the person in the back could stretch out. We didn’t lock our bags on, but it is probably a good idea to do so. On one occasion a local told us to be careful of our bags when we stopped to get some lunch.
    Watch out for the monkeys, who know very well how to ransack a tuk-tuk. The inside of ours was comprehensively overturned at Sigirya!

    FINAL THOUGHTS

    It will be jolly hard for us to find a travel experience that equals our tuk-tuk adventure. The combination of the Sri Lankan scenery and the small size of the country, the people, the novelty of the mode of transport for foreigners all made this a truly unique experience. We cannot recommend it highly enough!

    Cheers, M & B.

    Thanks again Twenty Years Hence! You inspired us to the best trip of our lives yet!

    • January 22, 2016 at 9:34 pm
      Jan. 22, '16

      Wow! Thanks Benjamin for this epic comment and story of your adventure! I can’t believe that more than a year on we’re still getting comments and activity on this post, and I’m so glad we were able to help you have the adventure of a lifetime in one of our favorite countries. Thanks also for your updates about the process and state of driving in-country. It’s already been far too long since we left, and I can’t tell you how jealous we are that you’re there and we’re not! I’m so glad you had a great time, and if you ever post pictures anywhere we’d love to see them!

  30. Benjamin Goodyear
    January 22, 2016 at 10:42 pm
    Jan. 22, '16

    Yes, we can’t tell you how many times we referred back to your post! And your responses to the various comments were very helpful also.

    I’m not that much of a photographer (compared to your stunning photos) but here is a link to a few odds and ends https://goo.gl/photos/e9GjvHhc7rr91Zv8A The last photo is a picture of our Insight map, with the red line showing our route. We started at Negombo and headed counter-clockwise. The map was really great as it was laminated and waterproof, but still folded up. I must say that pulling into a new town and unfolding the map at the dinner table over a beer, and drawing the latest leg of our fantastic journey on the map, was such a satisfying experience! I may have also been guilty of shoving the map in a few other people’s faces whilst they ate dinner but it was always a great conversation starter and the response was invariably ‘oh my gosh, I did not know you could even hire a Tuk Tuk!’

    Finally, I must say that driving the Tuk Tuk really allowed us to “feel, smell and breathe” the country. We seek out rich (maybe intense) sensory experiences, and being on the ground level, driving the Tuk Tuk and mixing it with the locals on the roads really immersed us in the Sri Lanka experience in a way I haven’t experienced in my other trips overseas.

    Thank you again!

    • January 23, 2016 at 11:30 am
      Jan. 23, '16

      No worries, and I’m just so glad you had a good time. Also glad to hear your physical map was accurate and worth having. We used our Nokia phone with its maps app (Here Maps). It was decent, but not always completely accurate. Good enough to get us where we wanted to go and with turn-by-turn navigation. Generally Here Maps is really, really good, but it suffered a bit in Sri Lanka.

      Thanks for the link to the photos, they look good to me. It looks like you guys had a great time.

      I totally agree with you on the sensory overload, we seek it too, which is why we find ourselves so often renting motorcycles wherever we go. There’s nothing better than being out in the elements (except rain, the tuk tuk wins over the moto there every time) and really feeling like a part of the scenery. And the ease of pulling over to take photos and just generally stare at the landscape is another big one for us. With a moto (or tuk tuk) you can pretty much park anywhere and go anywhere with ease. Can’t be beat!

      Thanks for reading!

  31. Melissa
    February 28, 2016 at 6:51 am
    Feb. 28, '16

    Love this post, really good. Im traveling to SL soon solo women. So i dont know if is better traveling by train or tuk-tuk im used to crazy traffic and crazy drivers too. But is good for me traveling like that or public transport? Are they all manual? Does it takes to much time to get to certain places? Like from colombo to galle and then ella for example. Thank you, any suggestions will help me a lot

    • April 29, 2016 at 11:05 pm
      Apr. 29, '16

      Hi Melissa,
      If you are travelling alone I probably wouldn’t recommend this – trains or taxis are your go. Extended periods driving these things can be taxing and if something went wrong, which I think is a high possibility, I’d probably want a travel buddy around to help out. The train trips in SL are awesome too so I think that would be your best option!

  32. shawn
    April 22, 2016 at 11:01 am
    Apr. 22, '16

    Hi and thanks for your experience in the tuk tuk. As a woman travelling alone I relied on one fabulous driver who was honest, spoke English, knew the best places to see and eat at and I depended on him thoughout my stay. He even drove me from Colombo to Galle and back in the same day! Call him, his name is Ashna and his phone is +94 (77) 397 9330.
    Otherwise I drove in India in Tamil Nadu at night because my driver couldn’t see the road! That was a major experience and I loved it!

  33. April 29, 2016 at 11:01 pm
    Apr. 29, '16

    Fantastic article Tony! I found this whilst writing a post on my own experience with some people who had hired a Tuk Tuk in a similar fashion to you. Linked back to your piece because it has a heap more detail!!

    The guys I were with did a runner on the police when they tried to pull us over. Gutsy! And lucky, judging by your experiences, that we weren’t pursued!

  34. Hannes P
    May 22, 2016 at 8:24 am
    May. 22, '16

    Hi,

    I loved this post. Yesterday I read in my rough guide that you (alma tours) can rent and drive a tuk tuk. I am planning to go in september for a 15 to 20 day trip as a solo traveller.
    Do you think it would be too dangerous or that it could be also handy to give fellow backpackers a ride and drive together. The freedom seems so nice (don’t have a motor drive license but is apparantly not essential). My plan was to start going north to the cultural triangle, then move east and then descend so hopefully the monsoon is nearly finished.

    Hannes

  35. Kelly
    June 29, 2016 at 12:37 pm
    Jun. 29, '16

    This has settled my decision! Saw on a different blog you could do self drive tuk tuk adventure and how could you not? After all this info it’s definitely what im planning to do! Thanks!

  36. Simone
    July 15, 2016 at 2:12 am
    Jul. 15, '16

    Hey guys,
    What an amazing experience!
    I and my girlfriend were thinking of doing it too the next november. I would like to ask you some informations…
    How long did you travelled around Sri Lanka? do you think that in a months i could visite everywhere by tuk tuk?
    About documents… I’ve a motorcycle drive license and soon I’ll do the international drive license too… but … in my driving license there is not simbols who show that I can drive a tuk tuk…
    Thanks so much
    Bye
    Simone

  37. August 24, 2016 at 2:22 am
    Aug. 24, '16

    Great article and very helpful. I did the rickshaw run in India, 3000km in a rickshaw so am only mad to do it again. Good to know about the 3 wheeled vehicle licence because that wasn’t required in India.

  38. November 21, 2016 at 3:47 am
    Nov. 21, '16

    Hi Tony
    Very nice report!
    I was driving a Tuk Tuk in Sri Lanka myself. As it is not so easy to organize everything from abroad in advance, I had the idea to build up a service for renting a Tuk Tuk. I am from Switzerland, but work with a local tour operator in Sri Lanka. On http://www.driveatuktuk.com you can book a Tuk Tuk for your vacation in Sri Lanka.
    Best regards
    Adrian

  39. Richard
    December 10, 2016 at 2:44 am
    Dec. 10, '16

    Sounds like an epic trip!

    For those wanting to do something similar, there’s now an outfit based in Mount Lavinia, Colombo who are specialising in renting tuktuks to tourists for self driving holidays. You can find them here: http://www.tuktukrental.com.

    They give you a driving lesson and can help you obtain a local driving licence.

    I drove a tuktuk for a few days when I was on the east coast of Sri Lanka. It was amazing!

  40. Wayne Munro
    January 20, 2017 at 7:38 am
    Jan. 20, '17

    We are in Sri Lanka at present and hired a Tuk Tuk for just outside Colombo….we have 10 days left but have all ready clocked up over 3000 km going around the coast line and zigzaging inland when we can.
    The county has a lot of beauty to offer and most people won’t see what we have.
    We found just like India that the North is harder on the soul and the heart ,and the South is easier on the mind and body.
    When we finish our trip I will link you to our blog with the route we took and the places we visited….it has been a varied and memorable trip and at 59 these trips take a toll on my bones lol!!
    Your website gave us a good insight as what to expect and have been very valuable.

    Happy travles

    Wayne and Angela

  41. ROBBIE DERRICK
    February 14, 2017 at 2:05 am
    Feb. 14, '17

    Thanks Tony. We’ve been on the verge of doing this for a while and haven’t quite had the balls!
    You mentioned that you had 2 x 50l backpacks, but where did you keep them?!
    Having been on many a bus and train, we’re definitely ready for a change! Just a touch worried about leaving the tuk tuk unguarded…
    Any advice much appreciated!

    • February 16, 2017 at 10:18 am
      Feb. 16, '17

      Hi Robbie! We kept our backpacks on the tray above the motor behind the main seat. There isn’t really any way to secure them, so you just have to park somewhere you can keep an eye on them, or do your adventuring once you’ve found a place to stay (or just bring the bags with you). A lot of the places we stopped between towns were essentially empty, so we didn’t worry too much about our stuff.

    • James
      March 11, 2017 at 9:56 pm
      Mar. 11, '17

      Hi Robbie,

      Can’t recommend doing this more! If you haven’t booked your tuktuk yet, check out http://www.tuktukrental.com

      They specialise in renting tuktuks to thrill-seeking travellers in Sri Lanka. Enjoy!

  42. May 29, 2017 at 9:36 am
    May. 29, '17

    I had an amazing trip in Sri Lanka. Wonderful. My only advice: do not rent a Tuk-tuk with Pick & Go Travel. They are the most expensive company by far. They say it’s because they offer “quality service”, but I can assure you this is completely false. My Tuk-tuk broke down and they didn’t response or pay for the reparation. Plus they were rude and very unprofessional.

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