The idea for this post has been rattling around in the back of my mind for several years but it’s not until now that I have all the photos I need to write it. I’ve been living in Taiwan for eight years now and I’ve traveled a fair bit in east and south east Asia. What I’ve noticed is that there’s a huge variety in the vehicles on the roads in this part of the world compared to Europe. You see, in Europe, the types of vehicles you see are more or less limited to cars, trucks and buses, with a few vans and minibuses here and there, (those should really count as variants of cars and buses respectively) . There are motorcycles out on the roads but they’re quite rare, at least in then north, and in the countryside you might see the odd tractor now and again. In Asia however, things are a bit different. You do of course have cars, trucks and buses, but except for that you also you have a whole slew of other vehicles built for different purposes and different budget levels. As someone who grew up in Sweden, I find this fascinating and I believe there must be others out there who would enjoy reading about it.
One of the first things that travelers in Asia are bound to notice is the ubiquitousness of motorcycles. In Asia everybody, and I do mean everybody, knows how to ride a motorbike. For Europeans however, motorbikes tend to be leisure vehicles, generally big expensive bikes only ridden by people with a specific interest in riding. The bikes in this part of the world are much smaller, and thereby cheaper, than the ones on European roads and people treat them as utility vehicles used for everyday activities: taking the kids to school, commuting to work, going shopping, package or food deliveries and even transporting goods. The people who rely on their bikes have come up with some creative ways of modifying and improving them rather than investing in some bigger, more complex and more expensive cars or trucks. This could be anything from modifying it to fit a disabled person, to extending the carrying capacity for goods transportation, to turning it into a little three wheel taxi. I think I’ve captured most of these variants in my photos below.
Lightly modified bikes used for goods transportation
Sometimes the best way to transport stuff is to hook a trolley to the back of your motorbike
Disabled people can also ride motorbikes, all it takes is some extra wheels
This might look like a crazy contraption but it’s a smart way to give wheelchair bound people access to transportation
If you give your motorcycle three wheels and a truck bed you can haul a lot more stuff
Classic Thai style Tuktuks
This side car style “Tuktuk” is common in southern Laos In Cambodia the passenger compartment is just a trailer pulled by the motorbike
Tourists tend to call all three wheel bike taxis “Tuktuks” but I believe they have different local names
In India the three wheel motorbike taxis are called Auto Rickshaw but the concept remains the same
Except for motorbikes there’s also a whole bunch of other vehicles that I’ve never seen in Europe. A lot of these seem to be some variant of what we in the West would normally refer to as a tractor. Or rather, they have a thumping diesel engine similar to the one in a tractor which gives them tractor-esque characteristics. There’s not much more to say without having some pictures to reference.
This is a typical example of what I like to call a transport tractor. Completely open cab, small diesel engine under the seat, flat truck bed in the back.
Here’s another variant of the transport tractor. It may look like a big trike but it runs on the same kind of diesel engine as the one above. I guess a single front wheel is a simpler construction
This variant is a wetland tractor used by oyster farmers. The engine is mounted higher up than on the other types so it doesn’t get flooded when driving in the water.
A bunch of other transport tractors. As you can see there’s quite a lot of variety in these, not to mention a home made quality to a lot of them.
I like to call this type the motorized handcart. As far as I can work out these must have originally been designed to be pulled by hand but somewhere down the line someone has fitted a small engine, a seat and some driver’s controls without changing the design in any other way.
This type is my favorite. I call it the tractorizer but I’m sure there’s a better name for it in Lao. It’s basically an engine and gearbox with two wheels and two long control arms. You can hook it to the front of any cart and suddenly you will have a motorized vehicle – sort of like a replacement for a horse or donkey. I guess you could also see it as an outboard engine for land use rather than water.
What I think is great about all this, is that almost no matter what your needs are, or how much money you make, there is a vehicle for you. It might not be the best or most comfortable thing ever, but it will get the job done. In the West we seem to be somehow unable or unwilling to stray from that limited selection I mentioned in the beginning. There are some reasons for that, for example motorcycles aren’t really suitable for European winters, but I do think we westerners could learn something from the way people do things over here in Asia.