Whilst travelling about on your gap year, there's no escaping long hours in buses, trains or cars. So, to break up the monotony of these more traditional modes of transport, we've picked out a few of our favourite 'quirky alternatives' from around the world, which will add a little humour to your gap year journey time.
1. Coco Taxi – Cuba
Coco taxis, common around Havana and Varadero, have been described as hollowed out coconuts or a football helmets on wheels! Despite their small size, they can go surprisingly quickly and can fit about two or three passengers in the back.
They can be cheaper than other taxis but you'll have to do some hard bartering, which is an essential skill for a successful gap year, so get practising. Practically speaking though, a regular taxi probably makes more sense for longer journeys, especially to and from the airport, but definitely seek one out if Cuba is part of your gap year.
Watch out for: Yellow taxis' are for tourists and black for locals – don’t get into the wrong one.
2. Longtail Boat - Thailand
Longtail boats are long, slim, banana-shaped boats originally designed for the canals that used to run through Bangkok. They are now found in the gap year resorts of Krabi and Phuket where they ferry gap year tourists out on fishing trips or to the nearby islands.
You’ll have to wade through the water to get onto one of these boats and once you're on you're definitely going to get wet. The driest place to sit is either at the back or on the platform at the very front. These boats are an iconic image of any Thai beach, so a longtail selfie is a must.
Watch out for: Your valuables - make sure everything is waterproofed and hang onto everything tightly on the bumpy high seas.
3. Jeepney - Philippines
Jeepneys are colourful old American Jeeps, easily spotted thanks to their crazy decoration that has become a symbol of Philippine art and culture.
They are the most common form of public transport throughout the Philippines, despite the fact that there's no air-conditioning and are massively overcrowded with people, chickens, rice or pigs...best described in this article.
Jeepneys have no designated stops and a lot of the time the drivers won’t even stop, they just slow down enough for passengers to jump on or off.
They are the cheapest and most convenient way to travel around the Philippines, however they are not always roadworthy and so it's important to take a view on length of your journey and what actually turns up on the day.
Watch out for: It's considered very rude to talk loudly, jostle or shove passengers despite their over crowded nature.
Did you know the Philippines is a hot to trot gap year destination? Have a look at our program which includes 4 weeks exploring, volunteering and chilling in this amazing part of Asia.
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4. Barco de Totora (Reed Boats) – Peru and Bolivia
These are found on Lake Titicaca, which stretches across the border of Peru and Bolivia.
The Uros people live on this lake, on floating islands made from the ‘totora’ reed which also makes their boats. These boats have become iconic in Peru and Bolivia and are sometimes built in the shape of a dragon to ward off evil spirits.
A gap year itinerary to Peru or Bolivia must include this trip - despite reports that it is getting a little touristy.
Watch out for: The altitude. The lake is situated at 3810m above sea level, so be prepared to feel out of breath from walking only a short distance – you’re not suddenly dangerously unfit.
5. Bamboo train - Cambodia
This bamboo train, locally known as Nori, is a gap year must. Nori is made out of a bamboo platform on reused military tank wheels, powered by an electric generator and journeys between Battambang and a nearby village about 7km away. It can travel up to 40km/h, but when packed with people or rice, the speed can plummet to around 15km/h.
It's basic and bumpy but definitely wins points for being different and a fun way to get around. There are plans to close the railway in the near future, so get there quickly while it’s still around.
Watch out for: If you meet another train coming in the other direction, the train with the lighter load has to get off the tracks and be carried around.
6. Rickshaws and Tuk-tuks - All-over Asia
Most commonly known as rickshaws, but are known as ‘Becaks’ in Indonesia and ‘Cyclos’ in Vietnam. They are essentially light, small, three-wheeled vehicles pulled or pedalled by one or two people. Hugely popular by the gap year traveller and a perfect way to zip around.
However, the auto-rickshaw or tuk-tuk is the motorised, wifi version which is taking over Asia. These are arguably the most iconic form of transport around Asia, particularly in India and Thailand. The word ‘tuk’ actually means ‘cheap’ in Thai, which can be true if you are good at haggling.
Watch out for: Make sure you agree the fare before you start your journey.
7. Motorbike Taxis - Pretty Much Everywhere
Motorbike taxis are a fast, but chaotic, way to get around and are perfect for weaving through the traffic of big cities like Bangkok.
In the Philippines, they are known as ‘habal-habal’ and are slightly different with an extra seat extended over the back wheel, to seat 4-5 people, or found with a wooden plank across the back seat that acts as a bench, allowing them to seat up to 13!
Watch out for: Be careful to choose licenced taxis, which are usually indicated by something such as a colour scheme for example in India, licenced motorbike taxis are black and yellow.
8. Songthaew - Thailand and Laos
The songthaew, also known as a baht bus, is a covered pick up truck adapted to transport passengers. It translates as ‘two rows’ as two benches fit along the insides of the truck. They can be jam-packed with passengers and animals.
Once you figure out how they run they are a quick way to get around. Some songthaew's have signs indicating where they’re going, but others are just colour coded.
To flag one down, treat it like a taxi and hail one on the side of the road (which is easier said than done on the chaotic roads of Chiang Mai). Luckily fares are fixed in songthaews, saving you the hassle of showing your gap year bartering skills.
Watch out for: Lack of seat belts. However, drivers do tend to drive quite safely and slowly because they’re used to ferrying lots of tourists.
9. Matatu - Kenya
Matatus are privately owned mini buses which play loud music, have erratic schedules and are used by 70% of Kenya’s population.
Expect a bumpy, fast, loud ride. Part of the package is the loud music, with speakers fitted under the seats, screens at the front to play music videos, and sometimes even LED lights, giving the whole bus a disco vibe.
If the interior isn’t enough, the outside of these buses are covered in colourful graffiti, forming a sort of competition – the more colourful the bus, the more well-known it is and the more likely it is to attract passengers.
Watch out for: Your safety. Pretty hilarious to observe, but notoriously dangerous. The safest place to sit is near the middle, away from the windows. Possibly best avoided on your gap year.
10. Cable Car - Medellin, Colombia and La Paz, Bolivia
In Medellin there is a massive metrocable, made of three cable car lines that climb both sides of the valley in which Medellin sits. They travel into the previously hard to reach favelas (shanty towns) in the surrounding hills.
Travelling above the city by metrocable is a quick, cheap (only costs about £1) and scenic journey with amazing views down into the valley where you can see just how far the huge city sprawls.
The view quickly changes as you rise from the tall, modern buildings and clean streets to the corrugated iron roofs and narrow and uneven streets of the favelas.
This is definitely one of the cheapest modes of transport that doubles as the chance for some incredible gap year photographs of this vast city.
Watch out for: The districts higher up the valley sides are notoriously dangerous, poor areas, so don't hang about.
Similarly, in La Paz, Bolivia, the ‘Teleferico La Paz-El Alto’ is a cable car system that connects La Paz with neighbouring city El Alto.
El Alto is a poorer city located on a plateau 400m above the valley La Paz is situated in, so the cable car has made traveling between the two cities a lot easier. Like in Medellin, it is a great way to see how the landscape changes, and allows you to visit sites like the El Alto witches market.
Watch out for: The altitude. El Alto is at a height of 4,150m above sea level so expect to feel a little bit weird when you venture this high.
Travelling Outside the Box
So there you have it - our top ten weird and wonderful modes of transport from around the world. A great way to experience a country and to really mingle with the local people while seeing the sights at the same time. Don't miss the chance.
However, one word of advice: safety. Use your head when choosing between the quirky or the mainstream choices.
Not sure how to start planning your gap year? Don't panic! Download The Gap Adventure Blueprint Our comprehensive gap year advice guide, which contains several chapters on preparing for your adventure.
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on 04 / 08 / 2016