As a tourist, aside from enjoying the different tourist spots or experiencing local food and culture, you are also curious about how it feels to ride on one of those local transportations. And, I know how it feels. We typically commute with our cars or ride the bus, a cab, or the usual train to get to our destination. But, how does it feel to ride these unique modes of transportation?
The Wuppertal Suspension Railway or Wuppertal Schwebebahn is the oldest electric elevated railway with suspended or hanging cars in the world. And, this system is unique in Germany. Eugen Langen designed it, and they opened the first track in 1901. The suspension railway runs along a 13.3 km (8.3 mi) route, and the entire trip would take around 30 minutes. The trail starts at Oberbamen (Eastern Terminal) in Barmen Area, Wuppertal, then ends at Vohwinkel Schwebebahn (Western Terminal).
On 18 November 2018, the operation of the suspension railway was stopped by the management due to a power rail crash. It was back on the trail on 01 August 2019 with a newer fleet.
2. Toboggan (Madeira, Portugal)
The toboggan, locally known as carros de cesto, is a wicker basket attached to two wooden runners. It is one of the famous attractions in Madeira, Portugal. The chauffeur of this unusual transportation is two men dressed in white with straw hats. And, they are called carreiros. These carreiros wear special, rubber-soled shoes to help them steer and stop the toboggan.
The wicker-style toboggan was the primary means of downhill public transport since 1850 in Fuchal (the capital city of Madeira). It is an attraction that entertains tourists and transports them from Nossa Senhora do Monte church downhill to Livramento. The trip takes about 10 minutes, and you can expect to reach up to 30mph speed riding this unusual transportation.
3. Cocotaxi (Cuba)
Cocotaxi is an auto rickshaw-type vehicle introduced in Havana, Cuba, at the end of the 1990s. It is a scooter with a fiberglass body built around it. The seats are bucket-style, which is a little uncomfortable for others, welded into the body. And are positioned just behind the driver. This taxi vehicle is gas-powered with an option to pedal, and it can cruise at a speed of 30 km/h. The yellow coco taxis are designated for tourists, while the less-seen black/blue is for locals.
Why is it called Cocotaxi? The reason is simple – the vehicle looks like a half-shelled coconut.
4. Carballito de Totora (Lake Titicaca, Peru)
The carballito de totora is a reed woven watercraft used by Peruvian fishermen in the past 3000 years ago. The name came from two words, carballito, which means miniature horse in Spanish, and totora, a South American plant. And, they name this watercraft based on how they ride it – straddle. It is a 12-foot one-person watercraft and weighs around 90 pounds. This watercraft came from the same reed, the Totora, used by the Uru people in Lake Titicaca. The fishermen use the carballito de totora to transport their nets and collect fish in the inner cavity.
Archaeological evidence suggests that this ancient water vehicle is the world’s first surfboard. In the town of Huanchaco in Peru, home of carballito de totora, tourists are invited to try this in real surf.
5. Norry – Bamboo Train (Battambang, Cambodia)
Norry or nori, an improvised rail vehicle unique in Cambodia that runs up to 50 km/h (31 mph). It runs on the meter gauge or narrow-gauge tracks around Battambang and Poipet. They initially used them to help transport goods along the country’s battered northern rail line by the United Nations during the United Nations Transitional Authority of Cambodia (UNTAC). They make a norry with a bamboo platform covered with a mat for passenger comfort set on two sets of bogies with a motor at the back and a wooden pole that serves as the brakes and accelerator. This rail vehicle runs in a single track, which means if another norry is heading towards you, one of you must dismantle the carriage to allow the other to pass.
In October 2017, authorities halted the operation of norry to make way to rebuild the rail line from the Thai-Cambodia border town Poipet to Phom Penh. However, a new track has been opened in a new location and has been in operation. The new line starts in Phnom Banan, then continues for 4 km, and ends at Chhoeuteal commune.
6. Tanga (Pakistan)
The tanga or tonga is a light carriage with a single pair of large wheels drawn by one horse and mainly used for transportation. It has a canopy placed over the carriage as protection from the sun and rain. The passenger’s seats are at the rear while the driver sits in front of the carriage. If you have some baggage, you can place them in the space below the carriage, between the wheels.
In Pakistan, tangas are becoming less famous for practical travel and more popular for pleasure. It is a common feature in weddings and other social functions. And, they are mainly in the older parts of the cities and towns.
7. Habal-Habal (Philippines)
Habal-habal is a motorcycle taxi famous in far-flung areas of the Philippines where the roads are rough, steep, and narrow. It is a motorcycle modified to carry up to 6 passengers (including the driver) plus cargo. If you are wondering how it could accommodate six passengers, well, an extension, which serves as seats, is added at the back wheel. A more complex form of habal-habal is called skylab, and it can accommodate up to 13 persons, including their cargo. For skylab, the extension, usually wooden planks, is placed across the motorcycle’s back seat.
Although they often used habal-habal in remote areas in the Philippines, they are still considered illegal. The reason is passenger safety is not guaranteed. However, in urban areas like Manila, Cebu, and Davao habal-habal taxis, motorcycle drivers take only one passenger, and both wear helmets regulated by the government.
8. Tuk-Tuk (Thailand)
Tuk-Tuk is a famous form of transportation in Bangkok, especially for tourists. It is a modern motorized version of the earlier cycle rickshaws known in Thai as ‘sam or back in 1933. After World War II, the first motorized tricycles appeared, and they copied the form of tuk-tuk from the Ape’s design. The Ape was the first motor tricycle launched by the manufacturer Piaggio. If you go around Thailand, you will realize that there are different types of tuk-tuk. You have the classic three-wheel tuk-tuks in Bangkok to larger, six-seater small trucks that roam the roads in some local, residential neighborhoods.
As a tourist, if you want to ride a tuk-tuk, do not step into the vehicle without negotiating the price first. Be ready to haggle; your driver will likely quote an initial overpriced fare. But if you don’t want the hassle of negotiations, then take a tuk-tuk tour instead. Just a heads up, prepare yourself when you ride this vehicle as it could go fast, and I mean fast, especially those tuk-tuks in Bangkok.
9. Jeepney (Philippines)
In the Philippines’ urban areas, jeepneys are the most popular means of transportation due to their affordability. They have recycled Wilys Jeep that American soldiers left in the Philippines after World War II. They use galvanized or stainless steel for the body of these jeepneys and fabric covers instead of the usual side windows and longitudinally-mounted benches that can accommodate up to 20 or more passengers. This type of transport vehicle is available everywhere in the country; however, designs significantly differ from region to region. And, some jeepneys are equipped with robust sound systems to attract commuters.
The Philippine government is introducing modern jeepneys that are more environmentally friendly and comfortable for the passengers (equipped with air-conditioned). However, the fare is a little higher compared to when you ride the traditional jeepneys.
10. Cyclo (Vietnam)
Cyclo is a three-wheel bicycle taxi that first appeared in Vietnam during the French colonial period. The French introduced rickshaws in Vietnam; however, their attempt failed. The cyclo has a double seat – could be one-seat for those tourists with a more prominent body type – supported by the two front wheels with the driver seating behind. The design varies in different areas; for example, Ho Chi Minh’s structure differs from that of Hanoi, where the driver seat is much higher.
In mid-2000, authorities banned cyclo in every major city in Vietnam because they can cause traffic due to their size and speed. Cyclo drivers had to join expensive trade groups or risk having their cyclos confiscated by traffic inspectors. Inspect drivers to charge you a high fare since, nowadays, tourists are the only substantial customer base for these cyclo drivers. Make sure to be patient and haggle the price to at least half. Nowadays, Cyclos are near tourist areas like The Citadel in Hue and the Old Quarter in Hanoi.
11. Matatu (Kenya)
Matatus are privately owned minibusses that owners often decorated with portraits of famous people or slogans and sayings. These transportations are also equipped with a powerful sound system to attract commuters – the same vibe as the Philippine jeepneys. You can trace back the origin of matatus back to the 1960s. But it only saw growth in Kenya in the 1980s and 1990s. And by early 2000, the archetypal form of these matatus was the Japanese microvan. Although more significant, bus-sized vehicles also started to be made into service as matatu.
The matatus ply set routes and are used for both inter-and intra-city travel. Aside from the driver, you will see a conductor, locally known as makanga, or manamba, or donda.
Taking local transportation is a pleasant way to experience how local commutes to their day-to-day destinations. It is another way of relieving the country’s history and culture. So, when you visit a place make sure to take those local transport vehicles.
I'm someone who loves to do research and loves to write. I love to impart the things that I have read and learn to friends and families so, reading and flipping to pages and contents are sometimes a pastime for me.