We had heard over the internets that it was possible to rent a tuk tuk in sri lanka, and we immediately got excited – what can possibly be cooler than travelling in your own tuk tuk through asia??
After a little bit of research, turns out it was not only possible, but affordable and totally hassle free!
Here’s everything you need to know.
Is it for me?
Let’s be honest, different strokes for different folks. What we enjoyed doing isn’t necessarily for everyone.
If you are an anxious or newly licensed driver, then I would not recommend driving independently in any asian country. Sri Lanka is no exception, and the traffic can be up there with the best of them. While not as mad as in big cities in Vietnam or India, driving (especially in Kandy/Colombo) can be very stressful.
Hence, if this is your first visit to Asia, rather let someone else do the driving 😉
Driving yourself is a risky activity, especially if you have never driven in Asia before – do not do this if you don’t have adequate travel insurance.
Having your own tuk tuk is a means of travel that gives you ultimate flexibility, but if you are a solo traveller, it will probably be cheaper to use public transport, and if you are a group of more than 3 then you won’t fit into a single vehicle – 2-3 people is the sweet spot.
With that all out the way, having a tuk-tuk is absolutely the best way of seeing Sri Lanka! It will take you off the beaten track, and you’ll be driving the thing up the mountains, through tea gardens, into secluded private beaches, and through beautiful villages and forests. It’ll help you escape the crowds, connect with real local life, and see things that are outside the reach of other tourists sticking to the instagram-trail.
We loved it.
What’s up with the paperwork?
Turns out you need a special driving licence to drive a tuk-tuk – but luckily this is not too much mission to sort out. There are 2 ways of getting this licence – Either you can organize it yourself by going to the AA in Colombo when you arrive, or your rental agency can do it for a nominal fee.
We decided not to sacrifice the day for admin, and our rental agency organized everything for us before we even arrived! Makes a cool souvenir as well 🙂
You’ll need an international driving permit (IDP) issued by the AA in your home country and valid for Sri Lanka, a colour photo and scans/copies of your passport. And obviously a valid car driving licence – you don’t need a motorbike or other code of licence.
Where should I rent my tuk tuk?
There are loads of places to rent a tuk tuk, and searching through them can be a mission. We sifted through loads of places, and eventually settled on CeylonTusker tours – They got good reviews from previous customers and we decided to give them a try. A whatsapp and a few emails later, our licence was organized and we were ready to rumble!
Dayan, our host at CeylonTusker tours, was amazing – not only did we get the best price for a brand new tuk tuk, but his ground support was also amazing! We drove off comfortable in the knowledge that if anything happened to us, we had 24/7 support a phone call away. He was able to organize different sizes and models of Tuk Tuk, and if you have any specific requests such as extra luggage space or a fat driver or whatever, he’ll sort you out!
One of the questions that all the locals will ask you when they see you in a tuk tuk is how much you are paying for it – Everyone who asked us was impressed when we told them what we were paying, it was clearly a bargain!
Ceylon Tusker tours
+94 776 685 331
Dayan told us “Driving in the west is based on road rules, driving in Asia is based on mutual understanding” – and this is the best summary we’ve heard so far! You need to understand your place and other vehicles place in the road hierarchy to be able to manage in the chaos.
Generally speaking, right-of-way is determined by a number of factors balancing each other, including (but not limited to): the size of the vehicle (Busses are at the top of the food chain!), who got there first, and accident avoidance.
Drivers in Asia are very aware of their surroundings, and you’ll find that they (as should you!) are able to anticipate problem situations and slow down or swerve before it becomes a problem. You are supposed to be aware of whats in front of you – and it’s your responsibility to make sure that people in front of you are aware of you. This is where the horn comes in – it’s your way of saying “I’m here!” “I’m overtaking” and various other things – use it liberally!
This is where we went – and it was fantastic! Having such mobile transport means that we could get to really cool places that we didn’t expect to find, and the spots that nobody knew about turned out to be the most fun! We covered almost the whole country, with the exception of Jaffna and the northern province.
Here’s the map!
If we could do it again, we would skip Nuwara Eliya, we found it snobby, expensive and lacking good food options. However, there was a hela bujan hala, where you could get cheap local food, and there was still more authentic local life than in Ella.
Haputale – this is what Ella would have been like 20 years ago, before the crowds, souvenir shops and overpriced restaurants took over – an absolute gem. The views are unbelievable, on both sides of town. We went there to climb Lipton’s seat, and ended up staying an extra day. Definitely worth a stop for a day or 2 if you are driving around the Ella area.
That’s it folks! Let us know if you decide to rent a tuk tuk or have any questions, we’ll do our best to answer them 🙂