Top Alternative Transportation Picks in Southeast Asia

Cyclers in Vietnam
Biking is a great way to get around Vietnam.

By Marie Javins

Take the “Reunification Express” from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. This 36-44 hour train journey goes through both cities and rural countryside, hitting most Vietnamese tourist highlights. From $50-$120. Reserve three days or more in advance from a travel agent or train station in Vietnam. vietnamtourism.comHalong Bay, Vietnam.  photo: John C. Foster.

Pelni ships connect the islands of Indonesia with each other and with the Philippines. Local ferries link many islands, but Pelni ships travel to remote areas such as Sulawesi and Irian Jaya. There are four classes of travel, fitting most budgets. pelni.com

For some real culture shock, take the “Ekonomi” train on Java. Seat assignments are ignored. Grab any available space, open the window to let the tobacco smoke escape, and sit back to watch the show. Peddlers race up and down the aisles, selling all kinds of strange and normal things. Wandering musicians provide entertainment.

Take a Fast Boat

Go from Phnom Penh to Angkor Wat on a fast boat. Tourists zip down Cambodia’s Tonle Sap river on a modern speedboat. Boats leave at 7 a.m. from both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

Sinh Cafe open bus in Vietnam.
Sinh Cafe open bus in Vietnam.

The trip takes 4-7 hours. Passage is $25 and should be purchased a day in advance. For more information

Float down the Mekong on a boat. Catch a fifty-cent ferry across the Mekong from Chiang Khong, Thailand to Huay Xai, Laos. Get your passport stamped and then head down the river in a $15 slow boat to the charming French colonial city of Luang Prabang. The trip takes two leisurely days, with an overnight stop in the river village of Pak Beng.

Take the Skytrain across Bangkok. The air-conditioned Skytrain was built to alleviate Bangkok’s notorious traffic problems. A good way to get across the city quickly and easily! Website

Vietnam’s Travelers Cafes

To get around Vietnam, discover the Traveler Cafes, where buses depart including comfortable sleeping buses that travel the length of the country.  Many travelers rely on these private ventures because publicly run services are not as reliable.

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