UK Tuk-Tuk Tours

Rattle and roll on the Lanka Challenge tuk-tuk race

Actos price increase

What do you get when you put 70 foreigners in charge of 25 tuk-tuks? Charles Starmer-Smith finds out as he leads Team Telegraph on a wild and wonderful 10-day ride across a devastated land that’s slowly regaining its tourism feet a?? and its winning smile.

Night had well and truly set in by the time we reached the village of Dambana, 150 miles east of the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. With just a single flickering beam from our tuk-tuk a?? a motorised rickshaw a?? to guide us, we could barely make out the potholed road ahead. But for a few gaslights hanging from the corrugated shacks clustered along the forest edge, the village was cloaked in darkness. People appeared to lurch forward out of the gloom, their faces momentarily illuminated but their shouts drowned by the whine of the engine. My two team-mates had fallen silent in the back as my grip tightened on the wheel. We were lost.

Just as we were resigning ourselves to an uncomfortable night in the tuk-tuk, a muscle-bound figure leapt out from the undergrowth. He carried a lamp in one hand and a sizeable axe in the other, his modesty preserved only by a tiny Tarzan-style loincloth.

“Hondomay,” he shouted, beckoning us to follow as he set off down a bumpy track through the forest. Had this been any other trip I would already have hightailed it back to Colombo. Instead, I followed, our rickshaw struggling to keep pace as his feet ate up the ground ahead. The glimpses of a fire and the sound of familiar voices in the distance told us that we three unfashionably late guests of the indigenous Veddha tribe had finally made it. Stage two of the inaugural Lanka Challenge was over, but the adventure had only just begun.

Some 25 teams from all across the globe had signed up for this 10-day, 750-mile tuk-tuk race across Sri Lanka. Armed only with maps and a Sinhala phrase book, the two or three-man teams were reliant on the goodwill of locals, a bit of gumption and a heavy dose of good luck. The organisers had promised unique experiences, and we weren’t being disappointed.

Many may question the wisdom of visiting Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the brutal conflict that has seen innocent victims imprisoned in camps in the north-east. Reports of poor conditions, lack of medical aid and accusations of torture have prompted international outrage, with some calling for tourists to stay away.

But what would a boycott achieve, aside from worsening the plight of ordinary Sri Lankans and heaping more harm on a tourism industry already devastated by the tsunami and 35 years of conflict?

“We do not like what happened, all the atrocities, the campsa?? but something had to be done,” said Arjuna, who help run a small local tourism outfit. “Finally we can look forward and hope that people will consider our country again.”

They already are. The number of visitors from Britain is 16 per cent higher than it was last autumn. New areas are opening up; Yala National Park, home to leopard, langur and elephant, is back on the tourist map; plans are in hand to develop the northern resorts of Nilaveli, Trincomalee and Arugam Bay.

Sadly, many British tourists, enticed by cut-price winter sun packages, fail to get beyond the confines of Western-owned beach resorts. But if you argue in favour of going, on the grounds that you want to help the local people, you need to venture beyond the big resorts.

Which is why a trip like this makes sense. It represents responsible tourism at its best: stays in local campsites or small owner-run hotels, use of local transport and shops, and money donated or spent where it is needed most: with the Sri Lankan Red Cross, tsunami relief charities, conservation groups and indigenous peoples. And there can be no better vehicle to get you in among the locals a?? not least because tuk-tuks break down so often.

For more information: 0845 88063333;

The Lanka Challenge ( returns to Sri Lanka between September 1-13, 2010. The trip costs A?705 per person, based on a team of three. Includes food, lodging and tuk-tuk hire, but not flights. Return flight to Colombo with Sri Lanka Airlines (0208 538 200; Yougara shipping from A?365.

By Charles Starmer-Smith
Published: 11:37AM GMT 06 Nov 2009


0 Responses to “UK Tuk-Tuk Tours”

  • No Comments

Leave a Reply