When we told people we were driving a TukTuk through Sri Lanka a lot of people’s first reactions were to laugh or say in a confused voice… ‘erm… why!?’ Well, our response was always ‘why not!?’
Over the past few years, from our road trip around Oman to travelling and living in a camper van around Bavaria we have loved the freedom a vehicle gives you! You can decide to leave anywhere at any moment, you can go anywhere at any moment, you can stop whenever you like, you can change your plans, you can take detours, you can have a picnic half way through, you can even stop and go to the toilet whenever you need to! Having wheels gives you the ultimate sense of freedom and why would we not want to have that same experience in Sri Lanka?!
Now, I hear you still asking… ‘well then why didn’t you just get a car?’ Well, why would we get a car when we have the option of going on the craziest adventure in a TukTuk? When or where are you ever going to be able to do something like this again? Plus, we were lucky enough to work with TukTukRental.com who gifted us a TukTuk for the week.
We’d never driven a TukTuk before, we’d never even driven a moped before but we knew it was going to be the most amazing adventure and it was.
We’re not going to lie to you. When we first picked up the TukTuk from TukTuk Rental and I (Natalie) had my first driving lesson, I was terrified and I kept saying to Camilla “I don’t know how I’m going to do this.” But, once the instructor had gone, I’d had a little play around and got used to it by myself – without the shame of constantly stalling in front of someone who has driven a TukTuk all their lives – it was incredible.
I still remember the first big drive, it was a cocktail of excitement and nerves! We were driving five hours from Colombo to Dambulla and after the initial bumpy, trying-to-get-used-to-the-clutch-control first ten minutes we were screaming driving along the road in delight! When we hit our first major town those screams did turn to screams of terror as we tried to navigate the masses of buses, cars, vans, TukTuks, motorbikes, bicycles, tractors, people and cows, but we made it through. I became more and more confident with each drive and the towns scared me less and less. However, the buses scared me pretty consistently – never ever mess with a bus!
Our first issue came when we stalled in the middle of a three lane road and couldn’t get the TukTuk back into neutral to restart it. There was an array of beeping behind us and we had to get out of the TukTuk and push it to the other side of the road. As soon as we got out loads of locals ran over to help and after pumping the ‘secret leaver’ a few times we were on the road again.
Every time we got into ‘trouble’ it amazed us at how incredibly kind the locals were and how eager they were to help fix the problem! Apart from this one incident we didn’t have many other problems and now we knew about the ‘secret leaver’ we were able to get ourselves out of any problem that we found ourselves in.
We can’t explain to you the freedom we felt on this trip. There was nothing we loved more than driving down a country road with the insane colour palette of Sri Lanka around you, the sun shining down and the wind whipping through the TukTuk, the locals waving at you and seeing their surprised, happy faces when they see its you driving a TukTuk! Sri Lanka is an amazing country and choosing to travel it this way in our opinion means that you get to experience it at an even deeper level!
Our route through Sri Lanka
- Wathurugama to Dambulla (5hrs)
- Dambulla to Kandy (3hrs)
- Kandy to Ella (6hrs)
- Ella to Galle (6hrs 30mins)
Find more information on our route and what we did in each destination in our ‘Seven Day Guide to Sri Lanka’ blog post. Coming soon!
FAQs about driving a TukTuk in Sri Lanka
Was it scary driving the TukTuk?
I’m not going to lie there were points when it was a little scary. When you’re driving through main towns, when you’re being chased down by a bus or when you’re going up and down bumpy, steep roads it can be scary yes. But, the more you drive the more you get used to it and by the end the nerves totally go! You’re always going to be a bit nervous about doing new things but that shouldn’t stop you right?
What are the roads like in Sri Lanka?
Most of the roads are really good. Smooth concrete, not many pot holes, good sign postage and painted lines. However, the more rural roads are a little different and you just need to make sure you go a little slower. The TukTuk can handle most things if you drive carefully.
Like in all countries you have good drivers and bad drivers. Most drivers are good and they don’t over take in dangerous places, they beep to let you know that they’re there or that they’re going to over take and they allow you to pass by moving into the ‘hard shoulder’ if you let them know you want to. However, there are some bad drivers, you just need to be careful and aware of them.
Our most nerve wracking experiences were always with the blue buses. They work on commission so they’ll drive quickly and dangerously to be the first one to the next stop. If you’re wary of them and allow them to do exactly what they want you’ll be fine! Never take on a bus!!
Do you need a licence and insurance in Sri Lanka?
You do need a licence and insurance to drive the TukTuk, but TukTuk Rental sorts all this out for you. We had a UK drivers licences so we filled in an online form through TukTuk Rental and they did the rest! They had the licence ready and waiting when they dropped off the TukTuk! Also, they sort out all the insurance so all you need to worry about it your own personal travel and health insurance. They make it super easy and it was one of the things that impressed us most.
How much is petrol? Do you need to fill up a lot?
Petrol is super cheap in Sri Lanka and a full tank for the TukTuk will be about 700 Sri Lankan Rupees, which at the time of writing was just over £3 or $4. A full tank would get you about 150km which driving at TukTuk speed is around 4-5 hours.
TukTuk Rental will give you a guide which lists type of petrol you want, just show the guide to the pump assistant when you arrive and they will do the rest! Super easy!
What happens if you breakdown or crash in the TukTuk?
While we were driving we had a few moments when the TukTuk wouldn’t start or just decided to have a tizzy and stop. Each time we were able to use the ‘choke’ or the ‘secret leaver’ which seemed to solve our problems… not 100% sure what either do but they obviously have an array of talents. The locals are also super keen to help so before we knew the magic of the ‘choke’ or the ‘secret leaver’ they would be more than happy to have a fiddle around until it started again.
Luckily, we never had a serious breakdown or accident while we were there. If you do have a breakdown or accident they have a manned WhatsApp where you can get in direct contact with someone from TukTuk Rental, or as a back up there is a group WhatsApp group where everyone who has hired at TukTuk at the time can help.
We felt safe 99% of the time, it is the most magical experience driving through the rural parts of Sri Lanka and even the cities had their own crazy charm. The only time we didn’t feel safe was sometimes around the buses, but as we said you just need to stay aware.
How did you learn how to drive a TukTuk?
If you’ve driven a motorbike or a moped before then you should be absolutely fine, it’s exactly the same. But, for someone who hasn’t driven either before and has only driven an automatic car for the past couple of years like me, you’ll have a lesson when picking up the TukTuk. They’ll go through how the TukTuk works and then you’ll go off for about an hour with the instructor to practise.
I actually found it easier to practice when the instructor wasn’t there because you’re less embarrassed about stalling and you can figure it all out in your own time, but the lesson is key to learning the basics!
How do you look after the TukTuk when you’re on the road?
While you’re having your driving lesson they’ll show you how to take care of it while on the road. The main things that you need to remember to do is; One, fill up with fuel when it has started to get towards a quarter. Two, check the oil each day before you leave and try and keep it near the high level. Three, grease the TukTuk every 1,000 miles. We never reached this but we’re heard you can do it at pretty much any mechanic and it’s only costs 500 Sri Lankan Rupees which is around £2.
What map did you used to drive around Sri Lanka?
We used Google Maps when we we’re driving around. Before we left our hotel and lost WiFi we would type in our destination and then the GPS on the phone would follow us as we drove. We did get a bundle package of data so if the GPS stopped following us we could restart the directions, but overall we didn’t need to do that much. As the drives are so long, unless you’re rolling in data we found this the easiest way!
It is important to remember you have to edit the ‘route options’ to avoid motorways or toll roads as TukTuk’s aren’t allowed on these! We might have accidentally had to reverse back down a toll road when we realised this… maybe…?!
Did you find the language barrier a problem driving round?
We didn’t find it too bad! We used a lot of gesticulating when we were trying to explain problems and because we were following the maps we didn’t need to ask for directions.
Is there enough space for luggage in the TukTuk?
The TukTuk has space for three people and then a small space in the back for bags. In the back the TukTuk only had space for my big backpack and Camilla sat comfortably next to hers. If there is more of you or you have more bags then it should be fine, but you’ll just be a little bit more squashed. There is so space for bags in the front with the driver so it will all need to go in the back. We also saw that people had strapped surf boards to the top of the TukTuk. We’re not cool enough for that but if you are…
What did you do when it rained when you were driving the TukTuk?
Luckily, we only had to drive once in the rain when we were on our trip from Ella to Galle. There are plastic sheets which you can pull out for the people sitting in the back but if you’re driving you’re just going to get a bit wet if the rain is coming from the side. It didn’t make driving anymore difficult, the TukTuk has a windscreen wiper and the breaks are as effective, so just make sure you’re a little more aware and travelling a little slower.
What did you do with the TukTuk when you got the train from Kandy to Ella?
This was one of our favourite parts of our TukTuk Rental experience! Obviously, the famous train journey is going to be on a lot of people’s bucket lists when they’re in Sri Lanka. It should be because it’s beautiful! We went the whole way from Kandy to Ella which we would recommend because you see such diverse landscapes throughout the journey.
Luckily, TukTuk Rental make it so easy! Someone will collect your TukTuk from the station you depart from and then drive it to the hotel you’re staying at or the station you’re travelling to. We opted for the hotel because you can never really tell how long the journeys are going to be. As we arrived before the TukTuk we were able to relax at our new destination instead of waiting at the station!
What did you wear while you were driving the TukTuk?
Sri Lanka has a mixture of religions and there are more conservative areas and more liberal areas. We definitely found the south more relaxed clothing-wise and we felt more comfortable being more covered up in the middle and north. We would wear mid-length skirts and t-shirts most of the time… we avoided short shorts!
Any overall top tips for driving a TukTuk
1. The buses are king of the road. Do not try and challenge them!
2. Take face wipes with you to clean your faces, especially on the longer drives!
3. Take your time, go at your own pace and enjoy it!