We’re all guilty – sometimes, it’s a whole lot easier to hail a taxi or hop on a tour bus when travelling around Asia’s biggest cities. It’s hard enough connecting the dots in a city we’re not familiar with, and making the commute on-board public transportation seems daunting at best, terrifying at worst. So, it’s definitely worth skipping out on public transport to save a bit of time, right? Wrong.
In a region so packed with people and cultures rubbing shoulders in its biggest cities, you’d be hard-pressed to find more fascinating culture and experience inside a tour bus or a taxi than you would alongside the city’s commuters. Sure, you might find your way to your next destination in half the time, but you’re missing out on the cultural discovery the journey from A to B could have been – even if it did require an extra half hour to figure it out.
What makes public transport in Asia such a worthwhile experience on your travels? There are about a thousand reasons why “doing as the locals do” is well worth the extra energy in Asia – but these are the top reasons why an Asia itinerary just isn’t complete without a hefty helping of skytrains, harbour ferries and double-decker trams.
History lives in the city’s public transport.
As cities grow, the need for locals to get around the city quickly and efficiently grows, too. Consequently, public transport is one of those elements of city infrastructure that can tell you a lot about how a city grew and prospered. Better yet, certain forms of public transport haven’t changed much since they first began operating – which can be a mesmerizing window into the past when hopping on-board.
In Hong Kong, for example, the Hong Kong Tramways double-decker trams that connect the city was one of the earliest forms of public transport in the city – and they haven’t changed much since they first began operating over 100 years ago. It’s also one of the only systems in the world still operated exclusively with double-decker trams, which makes these fascinating mode of transportation a charming blend of historic and modern.
Total strangers make the best travel companions.
Let’s face it – most of your best travel memories have very little to do with actual destinations, and a lot more to do with people. Public transportation is one of the only ways you’re likely to rub shoulders with a city’s locals, and makes for a great opportunity to get a sense of how life unfolds there. Unlike a lot of “cultural experiences” that aren’t much more than simply watching the world pass by, public transport requires a certain level of participation – which makes the cultural experience that much richer.
In Yangon – Myanmar’s bustling capital city – one of the strangest and most exhilarating ways to get up-close and personal with local culture is on-board the Yangon Circular Railway. This 39-station loop serves over 100,000 people daily, while also being the city’s cheapest form of public transportation. Consequently, you’re unlikely to find a better vantage point to see how regular people in the capital live their lives. Expect to see clucking chickens, locals with baskets balanced on their heads and more than a few lingering glances your way – you’re likely to be the only foreign face on your train!
Getting lost is a worthwhile adventure.
In Asia’s biggest cities, it’s surprisingly easy to get lost and stay lost for quite a while. Most of us would cringe at the thought of completely losing your way in a foreign city, but the most seasoned of travellers know that “getting lost” is a golden opportunity to discover something new. When its in a city that’s easily connected by public transportation, it’s pretty easy to “get lost” over and over again.
In a city like Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, it’s hard to fathom just how big and frantic the city is. With gridlock a constant issue on the urban streets, most of the locals take to the Bangkok Skytrain system, which whizzes above the congested roads for kilometres in various directions. It’s probably the easiest way to get around the city – but also a great starting point for a walking adventure into the city’s lesser-explored areas. With a map and a decent pair of walking shoes, there’s a lot of adventure waiting in a meandering journey from one BRS station to another!
The tourist track doesn’t have views like this.
If there’s one thing worth witnessing in most of Asia’s biggest cities, its the city skyline. Setting off on an adventure into the hubbub of urban chaos is an experience certainly worth having – but taking a step back to see the cityscape from afar is a great way to get a sense of a city’s size and scope. Thankfully, public transportation is sometimes one of the coolest ways to do it – since you’ll like have a chance to see the city from afar the way the locals do every day.
Take the Hong Kong Star Ferry, for example – chugging across the famous Victoria Harbour, this famous ferry was initially only intended to connect Hong Kong Island with nearby Kowloon. Founded over a century ago, the ferry has sailed past an ever-evolving skyline as the city went from a sleepy port town to a glittering urban metropolis. Nowadays, the Star Ferry offers unrivaled views of the harbour skyline – which earned it a place among the 10 Most Exciting Ferry Rides as named by the American Travel Writers association.
Public transport makes your travel itinerary a little bit greener.
Travel isn’t always the greenest of endeavors. Between plane tickets and taxi rides, travel within cities can sometimes equal a much bigger carbon footprint than we realize. Sometimes it’s not possible to avoid it (unless, of course, you plan on swimming across oceans) but a great way to “stay green” on the road is to engage in a bit of carbon footprint reduction – and that starts with choosing the right travel alternatives.
Rather than jumping in the nearest taxi, swapping a car for a public train means you’re sharing the emissions with a whole host of other people rather than contributing more pollutants on your own. Plus, in cities constantly faced with traffic gridlock, swapping the taxi for the train often means helping to ease congestion in Asia’s biggest cities. So, while the experience of travelling by public transport can be a worthwhile travel experience for yourself, it makes your travel safer and cleaner for the destinations you visit, too.
With our Local Life Tours, we swap taxis and cars for more alternative commute options – including public transportation! Get a taste of what it’s like to live like a local in Asia on-board our destination’s best public transport systems with this brand new line of in-depth tours.