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  • Writer's pictureSandy Snyder

Getting Around Southeast Asia

We made three trips to southeast Asia (Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos) in the past twenty years, and learned a great deal about how people and their goods move when necessity becomes the mother of invention. The picture above is my favorite -- how many motorbikes can you see packed onto this truck?

If I had to choose one word to describe the ways people travel, it would be “innovative”. Our western concepts of how to carry cargo – and how much cargo to carry on one vehicle—are irrelevant. The only questions: can I load it and drive it? Can I load something else on with it?

I've concluded that there are no rules. Just load up and go.

Sometimes it's hard to see all the people riding. I saw seven people riding one motorbike, but wasn't fast enough to get a picture.

Load it up and get on the road.

How to describe this vehicle?

In some areas, the roads are great. In others, they are virtually non-existent. Here, we're waiting with others for road workers to let us through a construction area.

If it fits, I sits.

And where would we be without tuk-tuks? We saw them in every Asian country except Japan. You can carry people, animals, or any cargo if you're adventurous enough. This is a very nice tuk-tuk -- it's painted and clean and even has headlights!

Shirley, showing us a very commonly used farm wagon.

On the water, long, shallow-draft boats are the rule. They may motor-driven or people- driven, but they are utilitarian. Materials are where you find them, and boat-building is an honored craft.

This boat is used in Bangkok to move tourists or just to ferry people across the rivers that criss-cross the city. Attached to the engine is a long drive shaft, with the propeller in the water at the end. This one is big, but we saw many that were much smaller.

This boat moves passengers and cargo on the Mekong River. The owner's family lives on board.

Lack of concern for overloading is not restricted to land vehicles.

Boats are hand-built, often of found materials.

We saw canoes built from drop tanks or even aircraft parts left over from the Vietnam War.

Human-powered boats are rowed by hands -- or feet.

Cargo boats of all sizes move along the rivers.

To close, another favorite: a bus ride in Cambodia with the US film, "Evan Almighty" playing on the screen. Even though it was dubbed in Cambodian, it was a bizarre film to show a southeast Asian audience.

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