At first glance he looks as out of place as possible. A rail thin wrinkled man bobbing among the throngs of rush hour traffic, trying to squeeze their way through the tight streets of Chiang Mai’s Warorot Market. His rice leaf hat bobbing up above the crowds, then back down, again and again as he slowly works his way through the masses.

On closer inspection the bobbing is revealed to be pedalling. Pulling an ancient looking, yet oddly beautiful red, yellow, and blue, three-wheeled bicycle rickshaw, passenger and groceries in tow. His progress looks oh so painful, slowly steering around parked cars, dodging pedestrians, and holding up traffic without a care in the world.

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He is one of Chiang Mai’s last Samlaw drivers, a disappearing breed of incredibly brave, patient, and remarkably fit men who continue the old ways of ferrying passengers and their cargo through the maze and the mayhem of Chiang Mai.

Before the introduction of the three wheeled motorized Tuk-Tuks from Japan some forty-five years ago during Thailand’s economic boom, the small, light, bicycle-powered Samlaw was one of the primary forms of transportation through the Northern Thailand’s busy streets.

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They still are used throughout the city, often times by locals, who use them to ferry heavy goods and groceries from the market (it is remarkable just what they can fit onto those spindly three wheels).

If you are ever in Chiang Mai and want a taste of how the roads felt fifty years ago or more, hire one for a spin through the market and the downtown. Don’t expect speed or a comfortable ride, but these drivers are all characters, with mountains of experience, and can often be hilarious to talk too. An experience well worth the few dollars and sore backside.

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Chiang Mai Samlaw / Tuk Tuk photos by James MacDonald Photography