Buying A Thai Truck

truck calendar

Ever gone out shopping intending to buy just a few things e.g. a tube of toothpaste, a kilo of cheese or a carton of beer but end up buying something much bigger and vastly more expensive. This can range from anything such as a wide screen TV to a bargain basement return plane ticket to Thailand.

Sometimes you congratulate yourself on how much money you have saved with your spur of the moment purchase. Other times you end up clutching your head in both hands and say – “what possessed me to buy that”

Right now I am in the middle of such a dilemma. Last November whilst on our annual holiday in Thailand and over a few beers with some friends in the Village of Ban Phutsa in Isaan I asked a question. Random conversation often leads to random questions especially when consuming beer. The question I asked was whether it was possible or easy to buy a “Rot Tuk Tuk” or Thai truck.

The question came from simple curiousity. The Rot Tuk Tuk or Rot Itan as it is more commonly known in Isaan can be seen frequently in various parts of rural Thailand but never as much as in Isaan. In some respects I would argue that it is probably one of the most recognizable symbols of North-East Thailand.

village truck

I asked the question because although the old fashioned farm truck was still a common sight they appeared to be in danger of being eliminated by modernity. Thais living in an evermore prosperous nation with an expanding road network seemed to be abandoning the old work horse in favour of shiny new Utilities (Pick Up Trucks) from Toyota and Isuzu and bigger trucks from the same stable.

When I visited Isaan for the first time in the eighties, the Thai Farm Truck was the equivalent of today’s Hi Tech. Moving down rural roads and out through the rice fields with the distinctive “ Tuk Tuk Tuk” sound from the diesel pump engine that it was powered by, it was the ultimate can do machine. It’s simplicity of design, robust strength and the stamina of a 102 year old alcoholic meant it was a farmers best friend.

But getting back to that beer session in the village last November. When I asked the question it seemed to develop a life of its own. Soon the half dozen people sitting around the table including my wife Mali were talking with great animation about the virtues of owning such a vehicle. Although the shiny new Utilities were increasingly more popular they couldn’t haul as much rice, tapioca and people as the Rot Itan. The bigger trucks conversely were seen to be in many cases too large and expensive for village people. The Thai Truck was given the thumbs up as the perfect medium.

The short of it was Mali put the hard word on me. How about buying a Rot Itan so that we could set up a family business in the village. On the spur of the moment I said OK, why not. I was further advised not to buy a second hand one but to have one built brand new. That surprised me, as I wasn’t even aware that they were still building the old fashioned vehicle anymore.

The estimated cost between 250 and 300 thousand baht which compared to what was going to be purchased –was not supposed to be a great deal of money. Again I said OK – GULP!!!!!.

truck chassis

The next day we journeyed from the village to the nearby town of Phimai to order our truck. In a large workshop on the outskirts of the town we started to make our decision. The workshop and its environs were cluttered with tools, three existing trucks being repaired and two new truck chassis being welded. Over to the side were two brand new trucks near completion.

painting a truck

Both of them were being painted in the elaborate colours that make this vehicle so distinctive. A husband and wife team ran the business. After dispensing with the social amenities we settled down to business.

After discussing options we settled for a large vehicle and the biggest diesel possible for the vehicles size (I hope I’m not getting to technical here). The truck would also be constructed with a tilt body so that it could be used amongst other things for hauling and dumping land fill. We finally settled on a price and the deal was finally done.

One big catch – due to the size of the business and the large number of orders being received from as far as away as Khon Khaen we were going to have to queue. An estimated wait of four months. We agreed and paid a small deposit.

Two days ago and four months later back in our home in Australia, Mali received a phone call from her sister Porntip in the village. The truck was pretty much ready but wouldn’t be picked up for another two weeks so that they could wait for the start of the rainy season for luck.

The truck will be picked up on the day by family and friends including Mali’s Dad who we are going to name the truck after. From the workshop the truck will be driven to the main Wat in Phimai where its revered abbot will be asked to bless it. From there it will be driven home to the village and housed in the new garage that has been especially built for it. That night there will I suspect, be a humungous big celebration? The next day it goes to work.

The main regret about it is that Mali and I won’t be there to see it. That’s the drawback of being a commuter tourist who only gets to see the kingdom five weeks of the year.

Was buying the truck a sound financial decision (that’s Farang rationalization kicking in). I really don’t know but after almost thirty years of taking back from Thailand in terms of experience, it’s a nice feeling to be finally able to give something back.

If the business does not ultimately go as well as we had hoped I will always be able to find solace in the old Zorba philosophy

“ everyone from time to time needs a little madness in their lives”


29 responses to “Buying A Thai Truck

  1. I think you have made a great social investment -just hope it steers a little better when tanked up than its namesake :-))
    Seriously, Bill, people will always associate the truck with you, remembering that chat in the bar, and bless you when they need it do things -so you will always be present in the village.

  2. Super blog Bill! The village and business will benefit greatly from the new truck. We all know Thais are very generous with their possessions as in “my friend borrow from me” .

    The unique and overall excellent design of the Thai truck proves that “Made In Thailand” can certainly be smiled upon!

    Sorry you & Mali won’t be there for the unveiling, but, you will be back in the Kingdom soon and please post a follow-up story[with picture of you & Mali & your father-in-law on the new rig]…

  3. man, they saw you coming.

  4. You’ll never regret it!

  5. I’m so envious, but my wife would rather have a Toyota 🙁

  6. I enjoyed reading your Blog, Bill. I am sure that the truck will be very useful in your new business. By having a nice truck like that, it will be very easy to do favors for friends, as well as to make new friends. One never has enough friends. By the way, what is the new business?

  7. Thank you fnooner for your kind comment.

    The business is just basic haulage. Just simply picking up things like rice, tapioca, landfill and even transporting workers around the district for a price.

    We rang up the village from Australia over the weekend and were told that the truck is out and about in the district picking up Sugar Cane from the current harvest.


  8. simon Gourlay

    Do you have the name address or better still the phone number of your truck maker?

  9. Simon, I can’t give you the name of the truck maker as its a bit of a mouthfull translating the name from Thai into Phonetic english.

    The workshop is on the outskirts of Phimai on the road to Hin Dad. The street number is 82/83.

    The telephone number is 09-8465125

    Hope this is of some help.


  10. It’s beautiful hand-made truck, more like a clture than a industry. But may not carry so many cargos.

    Steven Hsu

  11. that hand made truck look greatly and very different, i am just wonder what is the function of it, in vietnam handmade mean use server for tourist is cyclo and three wheels bike use for carrying cargo and passengers too, soory can not show the picture of that, if you have chance to travel to vietnam dont miss cyclo ride a round the old quarter

  12. Alan Williams

    Dear Bill

    Many thanks for a great blog. Really grateful for the enlightenment.

    Diego. I pity you mate. Why not open your western eyes to eastern culture?
    Knocking is easy, understanding takes intelligence.

    Might I suggest you read a book called Thailand Fever. In a 2 hour read you will open your mind to all this. If you cannot, why not just watch western TV, stay narrow minded
    and leave us alone you demagog.

    Alan from Australia


  13. I definitely love reading your insight and learning from your blogsite. Thank you for the interesting and informative article. – Diego

  14. I definitely love reading your insight and learning from your blogsite. Thank you for the interesting and informative article. – Pinoy

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    Interesting post, I was talking about this with my friends the other night. There seems to be a lot of debate around the subject.

  19. I enjoyed reading your interesting yet very informative insights. I am looking forward to reading more of your most recent articles and blogs. 😀

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  22. good effort

  23. It is a nice blog. I hope you will provide more information and photos in the future.

  24. Thanks for the article Bill, i will visit you again.

  25. They look like those jeepneys vehicles in Philippines.

  26. woww.. great article 🙂 thanks for sharing buddy.. keep posting

  27. Wow! I’ve never heard of this before and I think they’re awesome!

  28. Good to hear good stories about thailand. I’m there again in two days. love the place.

  29. First visited Thailand in 1989. There were quite a few different versions of the ‘Rot Tuk Tuk’ getting about back then. Even in BKK. I’ve driven trucks & buses in AU for a livelihood but always liked the idea of getting one of those colourful Thai or Indian trucks and taking my one man show on the road.

    I’m writing this from a hotel room in BKK where I’m doing internet research on where to find such a truck. I did my first BKK solo gig last night in Suanluang at a nightspot called “Appisode” with an audience of none (except for staff who probably didn’t understand a word of it). Now I’m thinking, “…if they won’t come to me. I’ll truck it to them!”

    I’d like to get a Rot Tuk Tuk custom built to suit. Rear tray for a stage but also weatherproof and lockable for PA and equipment etc,. Then I’ll be able to truck my repertoire to stupefy & bewilder the masses of Thailand with a view to SE Asia & perhaps even China!

    Thanks Bill for your post. It has given me a few pointers. I’m thinking I may be able to get a cheaper truck in India but I’m in Thailand now and it may be easier to organise here. Interested to hear from anyone who can offer further insights or guidance with buying a custom built truck in Thailand or SE Asia/India?

    I’ll post an update IF, this “Gig On A Rig” ever happens. FYI, you can stream or buy my original songs c/- my artist website (click link).