Forget the planes, the trains and the automobiles. Sure, they’re perfectly acceptable ways to get around. They’re convenient. They’re simple. In many cases they’re unavoidable. However, if you have a passion for transport plus a thirst for adventure, there are far more interesting ways to get around the world.
These are forms of transport that are often unique to their country of origin, and a ride on them is as much a part of the travel experience as any market or museum, any hotel or bar. They turn the act of travel into an adventure, into the sort of thing you’ll write home and tell your friends about, the sort of thing you’ll seriously miss by the time you get home. Matatu, Kenya
You’re unlikely to forget your first experience in Kenya’s most affordable form of mass transport. Matatus are clapped-out minivans that roam Kenya’s cities and countryside ferrying sometimes frightening numbers of people from place to place for the equivalent of a few cents. Climb aboard and you’ll be in for a treat, packed between brightly clothed locals, trying to figure out if you’re in the right van, trying to decide where will be the best place to yell out and say you want to get off. This isn’t the safest way to get around Kenya, but it’s certainly the most memorable. Tuk-tuk, Asia
Call them what you like – tuk-tuks in Thailand, rickshaws in India, CNGs in Bangladesh, bajais in Indonesia – but the system is essentially the same. You climb onto the back seat of a little motorised three-wheeler, negotiate a price and a destination, and then off you go on a hair-raising blast through dense traffic, pausing occasionally for red lights, passing cows, and the odd entreaty from your driver to visit a carpet emporium or jewellery store. This is the transport of the people, simple and cheap, and it’s something every traveller should embrace. Scooter, South-east Asia
Have a look around you in Vietnam, Cambodia or Thailand, and notice what the vast percentage of locals are using to get from A to B: scooters. Small Hondas or their Chinese-made equivalents loaded down with building supplies, cooking equipment, live animals or entire families. For a true adventure, you should be on one too. Either take a “xe om”, a taxi service on the back of a scooter, or hire your own for proper white-knuckle fun. Just make sure you know what you’re doing, and that you’re covered by insurance. Long-tail, Thailand
Anyone who’s been to Thailand has seen – or rather, heard – these things roaring along the country’s rivers, canals and coastal regions. Long-tails are traditional old boats that have had gigantic car engines plonked on the back, and propellers stuck in the water. They make a lot of noise, but they’re also a lot of fun. While they’re mostly used to transport tourists in the big cities and major tourism centres, once you get out into rural areas you’ll find these are common forms of transport for public and cargo. Get on board and enjoy. Cable car, Bolivia
Cable cars are no longer purely the domain of fur-clad European ski bunnies. In South American cities such as Medellin in Colombia, and La Paz in Bolivia, cable cars have become vital public transport, whisking commuters and tourists over the top of chaotic streets to get them to their destinations safely and quickly. It’s a brilliant idea that’s sure to spread, and it not only makes for a convenient way to get to your destination, but provides beautiful views as well. Funicular, Europe
It doesn’t matter where you try this form of transport – whether it’s in Istanbul or Salzburg, Barcelona or Budapest – the experience will be similar. You’ll climb aboard a rickety old railway car, often with stepped seating to keep you upright on the steep climb to come, and then slowly rattle your way up a hill, passing the one other car coming down as you’re winched to the top. Many of Europe’s funiculars are classic old beasts that are as much historical artefacts as they are modes of transport. Hovercraft, England
Much like the Concorde or the lunar rocket, the hovercraft is a fairly old form of transport that still seems like it’s from the distant future. I’m still not really sure how these things work – something to do with a pillow of air that makes large marine vessels skim across the surface of the water. Though they were hugely popular in the 1960s and ’70s, there’s only one commercial hovercraft service left these days, running from Portsmouth in southern England to the Isle of Wight. Get it while you still can. Maglev, China
Yes, technically this is actually a train – which kind of goes against the purpose of this list. Still, the Maglev, which runs from Shanghai airport to the city centre, is no ordinary train. It uses magnetic levitation (mag-lev) to reduce friction and therefore increase velocity, which means you’ll hit a top speed of somewhere around 427 km/h on your journey into town – and that’s easy to tell, because each carriage has a speedometer. There’s talk of developing a Maglev line in too; but don’t hold your breath. Chicken bus, Guatemala
What happens to North American school buses when they’re deemed too old for regular service? They end up in Central American countries such as Guatemala and Honduras, where they’re painted up in outrageous colours and sent in to battle on the highways and city streets. A ride in a chicken bus is an experience all of its own, a bumpy, slow journey through beautiful countryside that you’ll share with plenty of locals, plenty of luggage, and yes, occasionally a few live chickens. Camel, Middle East
Look, I’m not going to claim this is necessarily a great idea. Camels are pretty uncomfortable, intemperate beasts to spend long periods of time on top of, and it won’t be long before you’re swearing off them for life. Still, this is a bona fide, traditional mode of transport in the desert, and no trip to the Middle East is complete without a little time on camel-back. It might, however, be a case of first time and last.
What has been your favourite form of transport on your travels? Are there any you wouldn’t recommend?
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