No taxis, no aeroplanes, no problem: 6 of the best alternative methods of travel


For most travellers, the fastest, most convenient and most familiar method of transport often takes precedent over all the others. At first glance, it makes perfect sense: why spend more time getting from A to B when there’s absolutely no need to? But considering the fact that we travel to experience new things, there’s a case to be made for the merits of searching out more interesting ways to get around. Turkey’s got the underground funicular. Vietnam’s got cyclos. England’s got the hovercraft. And below, you’ll find six more of the world’s more unique modes of transport. Even if you’re not visiting any of the countries mentioned, you may at least find some inspiration for your next adventure.

Tuk tuk, Southeast Asia

In developing countries as varied as Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Indonesia, India and Cuba, three-wheeled tuk tuks, or auto-rickshaws, are a common sight. Usually powered by motorcycle engines, these motorised tin cans gained popularity because of their relative inexpensiveness and maneuverability in tight traffic situations. First modeled on the 1948 Piaggio Ape C (which is still in production) they’re now as much of an icon of their home countries as London’s black cabs. Tuk tuk drivers have a tendency to drive fast, so board at your own risk.

Chicken bus, Central America
Central America’s infamous chicken buses (‘camionettas’) are a popular mode of transport between many Central American towns, cities and villages. Named so because of the occasional few passengers of the poultry persuasion (locals sometimes use them to transport livestock), these brightly-painted buses, which usually originate from the USA or Canada, are a real Central American experience. There’s no such thing as a dull journey on a chicken bus, and local vendors will try and sell you everything from cans of drink to miracle potions en route. It’s worth keeping your wits about you though – the tightly-packed buses are a pickpockets dream and subsequently, a pickpocket’s breeding ground.

Junk boat, China

While the name doesn’t exactly conjure the most illustrious of mental images, China’s junk ships are a majestic link to an ancient past. Thought to have been pioneered between 206 BC and 220 AD, during the Han Dynasty, junks are now found throughout South East Asia, India, China and Hong Kong. Whilst varying in style and aesthetic, a common feature for junks the world over are their sails, which feature battens spanning the width of them, lending them a similar look to oriental folding fans. Setting off on a junk cruise from Vietnam’s Halong Bay could well be the highlight of any visit to the country.

Maglev train, China

According to the Shanghai Mavlev train’s website, “It is transportation that is the direct product of the social link and social relationship of the people”. Whilst that may not be worded as well as it could be, you can grasp the sentiment: transport brings people together, literally. Based on the principle of magnetic levitation (hence the name), Maglev trains hover just above the tracks they travel on, instead of using wheels. They move smoothly and are extremely fast – the Shanghai one capable of travelling the 30km to the airport in minutes. The top speed for a maglev train to date, as recorded by Guiness World Records in Japan in 2003, is 581km per hour. It’s a train ride to remember.

Chiva Express, Ecuador
Typical Chiva buses are old-fashioned Latin American vehicles, with lots of room for produce and livestock that were originally prevalent in Colombia. In some towns, such as Quito, the buses can now be hired for parties and celebrations, with on-board brass bands filling the streets with music. The Chiva Express has the same chassis as the road buses, but it runs along a train track through the Andes, not the road. First built to connect the mountains to the sea, the tracks now take travellers on one of the most scenic train journeys in the region. The best seats in the house are on top of the bus – providing you can withstand the Andean chill.

Bamboo railway, Cambodia

As a response to the infrequent and unreliable rail network, the locals of Battambang, Cambodia took it upon themselves to create their own. 'Norries', as they're known, are slabs of bamboo tied together - much like a raft - plonked on top of four wheels with a motorcycle engine to power them along. They can reach speeds of up to 50km per hour, and despite the fact they have no brakes, they're popular due to low fares, and relative convenience and reliability. Of course, they're also popular with tourists who fancy experiencing a product of Cambodian ingenuity firsthand. If two norries meet on the rails, the one with the lighter load is simply taken apart, carried around, and put back together in a matter of minute. Genius.

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