Traveling the world is incredibly exciting and the unique modes of transport found in different places on the planet make the whole experience even better. Buses, local trains, and cabs sound so boring after trying some of the world’s most unique modes of transportation. Most of them are a result of different cultures and traditions while some of them have just been invented for the sake of practicality in that particular region. In this article, I will show you some of the most interesting alternative modes of transportation around the world!
1. Habal Habal, Philippines
Motorbikes are without a doubt, the preferred way of transportation in Southeast Asia. However, in the Philippines, they took it one step further. This unique two-wheeled mode of transportation can easily carry a family of 8, even 10 people. But that’s not all: in the rural areas, a lot of farmers use the habal-habal for transportation of goods.
2. Cyclo, Vietnam
This bicycle taxi is very popular in Vietnam, especially in the touristy areas like the Old Quarter of Hanoi or the neighborhoods surrounding the Hoan Kiem Lake. However, locals use the Cyclo too. The traffic in Vietnam is horrible, and these bicycle taxis can oftentimes be even faster than a car! Plus, they are a good solution that contributes to reducing the air pollution, especially in the big Vietnamese cities.
3. Tuk-tuk, Thailand
The tuk-tuk is probably the most famous vehicle on this list. There’s not a lot I can tell you about the small and compact tuk-tuk which you already don’t know. It’s a great way to speed your way through the dense traffic and no trip to Thailand is complete without riding in one.
4. Bamboo Train, Cambodia
Also known as Norry, this wooden train has been the way to go for a lot of Cambodians in the 20th century. Today, the Bamboo Train only passes by around Battambang, as the rest of the rail hasn’t been used after it was shut down by the Khmer Rouge. Even though it looks rather primitive, this train can achieve a speed of 35 miles per hour (55 km/h).
5. Track Tuk-tuk, Laos
Laos also has tuk-tuks but they are a bit different than the ones in Thailand. The tuk-tuks in Laos are much bigger, fit more people, and are used as a ride-sharing alternative. When you book a sight-seeing tour with your hostel, expect one of these. They have been made for such purpose: to fit more people going in similar directions.
6. Auto Rickshaw India
Opposite to the tuk-tuk in Laos, the Indian auto-rickshaw is even smaller than its Thai counterpart. However, it fits the same number of people. Indian auto drivers make it happen, making it one of India’s most used and needed jugaads. The auto-rickshaw experience in India is much more hardcore compared to other Asian countries. Indian drivers are by far the most aggressive ones I’ve seen and the chaotic road conditions just add to the thrilling ride.
7. Shikara, Jammu
Srinagar, the summer capital of the Indian state Jammu and Kashmir wouldn’t be the real Venice of the east if it didn’t have its own version of the gondola. The shikara is a wooden boat that you can only see in one of Srinagar’s lakes and rivers. Just like the gondolas of Venice, shikaras are a cultural symbol of Jammu and Kashmir.
8. Tangah, Pakistan
This is a great budget substitute if you want to explore Pakistan and avoid cabs and Tuk-tuks. The tangah is a medieval light carriage placed on top of two big wooden wheels which is pulled by one or two horses. The passengers get to their seats from the rear without having to make the driver leave his seat.
9. Felucca, Egypt
The felucca has been a primary transportation of the Nile for centuries. You can still spot its gracious flowing along the Nile as it has been since the Pharaohs Era. The felucca offers a unique experience, one you won’t find on a cruise liner or a ferry. It’s a lot calmer than a motorboat and it offers a rural camping vibe.
10. Matatu, Kenya
Matatus are privately owned minibusses which are used as a ride-sharing alternative. After becoming a very popular transportation mode in Kenya, the matatu started appearing in the neighboring countries too but it remains a cultural symbol of Kenya. Most matatus are painted in a lot of different colors and feature portraits of celebrities or famous quotes. With their chaotic schedule, loud music and frequent stops, the matatu will give you the ultimate Kenyan experience.
11. Underground funicular, Turkey
This tramway is moving up and down the hill via an inclined railway with the help of a cable. The most popular one in Turkey is probably the underground tunnel in Istanbul that covers a 60-meter height distance between the seaside and Istikal Avenue. It has been around since 1874, which makes it the second oldest subway in the world, after London’s Underground.
12. Marshrutka, Russia
The marshrutka is a small minibus that’s part of the public transport in a lot of cities across Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia (the country). Even though it’s very small even compared to a minibus it’s still not uncommon to see people standing in a marshrutka. During rush hour, drivers try to squeeze in as many passengers as they can, especially in rural areas with limited public transport. No Russian experience is complete without riding in an overcrowded marshrutka.
13. Double Decker bus, Skopje
We’ve all seen them in Harry Potter and in London in the 60s but very few people know that the iconic red double-deckers are the main way of transportation in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. The buses are a new, ecologic, Chinese version of the famous red double-deckers used in London in the past.
14. Hydrofoil, Greece
Greece is famous for its beautiful islands, 6,000 in total. However, most of these don’t have airports and for the people living there, the hydrofoil is the most popular method of transportation. The hydrofoil is a boat with shaped vanes underneath which lift the hull clear of the water and just skim across the water. This makes the hydrofoil by far the most efficient way of transportation for island hoppers in Greece.
15. Suspension Railway, Germany
This famous German invention features an elevated monorail built above streets, existing railways, and waterways and a suspended vehicle that hangs from it. The first suspension railway was built in 1901. It took 19,000 tonnes of steel to produce railway stations and supporting elements. Today, more than 20 million people use the suspension railway every year.
16. Gondola, Venice
There are no cars and railways in Venice so gondola has been the only mean of transportation for the locals for centuries. This iconic boat is similar to the canoe, just narrower in order to fit the spaces of Venetian canals. Today, gondolas are mostly used for transporting tourists around the canals.
17. Toboggan, Canada and Madeira (Portugal)
Toboggans were mostly used by the Innu and Cree people in Northern Canada for taking people down the hill in snowy areas during the winter. Portugal rarely sees snow but because of the specific geography of Madeira (it’s a hilly area), the (summer version of the) toboggan found use there too. Going down the hill, it can reach a speed of up to 30 miles per hour.
18. Totora Boat, Peru
Even though not as convenient as taking a bus from Lima to Arequipa, this method of transportation has been working for the Uros people for hundreds of years. The Uros are indigenous people that live on floating islands in Lake Titicaca. For them, this reed boat is the only thing that allows them to commute from their homes to the rest of the country.
The Uros have been making and using these boats for thousands of years and their civilization is actually older than the one of the Incas. And if you think, they have it hard, wait until you hear about La Rinconada, the highest human settlement in the world (located, also in Peru, not too far from Lake Titicaca).
19. Chiva Express, Colombia
The Chiva Express is a unique Colombian invention: it’s a bus that rides (mostly) on rails. It was used as a viable way of transportation because it connected the remote mountain villages to the seashore. Nowadays, the Chiva Express mostly serves as a tourist attraction. In cities like Cartagena, Chiva Express tours that take visitors on a tour around the city for $20-$30 are extremely popular among tourists. If you’re planning to visit Cartagena and experience this on your own, also check out this list of the best hotels in town.
20. Chicken bus, Central America
It might be a normal type of transportation in Central America but nothing on this planet compares to the iconic Chicken bus. Thousands of passengers commute with these old U.S. school basis on daily basis and chickens and goats aren’t an uncommon sight either. If you’re planning to use one, however, be careful: petty crimes are a part of the experience.
21. Zip Lines
This one isn’t related to a certain country or even region but is a way of daily commute for a lot of people living in remote regions in China, Colombia, South Africa, and several other countries in Central America. Countries like Costa Rica are famous for zip line tours but would you use an improvised version of zip lines every day in order to get to your school or work?
22. Coco Taxi, Cuba
This coconut-shaped taxi, found in Havana and Varadero is the Cuban version of the tuk-tuk. The Coco Taxi has a fiberglass body sitting on three wheels, a two-stroke engine and fits up to three passengers. You can see two versions of coco taxi on the street: yellow used by tourists and black used by locals. These vehicles are small, compact, really fast, and built to avoid the heavy traffic.
23. Camel bus, Cuba
Obviously, Cuba has more than one unusual vehicle on the road. The Camel bus was introduced to Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union. It’s basically a semi-truck that pulls passengers on a sloped back trailer. Locals jokingly compare it with an adult movie as it contains all elements of one: sex, violence, and expletive language. Nowadays, camel buses are slowly being phased out and being replaced with new Chinese buses.
24. Terra Bus, Canada
Canada is known for its freezing, snowy winters and there are a few places in the country where the only way to get around the snow and the ice fields is the Terra Bus. This all-terrain transporter really can’t be classified as a bus and could be described as a combo of a monster truck and a school bus.
Have you ever experienced riding in one of these iconic methods of transportation? Or maybe you came across some I forgot to mention? Share your experiences below!