Some considerable thought and debate was given to our preferred mode of transport while we were away and while we have fond memories of travelling to and fro the Angkor Wat National Park by tuk-tuk in the blistering Cambodian heat in April, tuk-tuk is not a serious contention for travelling any particular distance in any weather. Tuk-tuk is the romantic winner, not the practical one.
Trains are wonderful. We have both always loved trains and this was only reinforced after 4 months of travelling by train from London all the way to Saigon (with the odd bus journey in between).
Trains power across changing landscapes vast, beautiful, and sometimes forbidding. The constant rhythm is reassuring and hypnotic. While the train is moving, time speeds along with it although the opposite is true when the train is stopped at a station or, even worse, border control.
For hours on end the view can appear unchanged through seemingly neverending silver birch forests, or desert or steppe. Eyes are still drawn to the scenery outside searching for signs of life and excitedly spotting colourful houses, a herd of cows, or a small gathering of gers on the Mongolian steppe.
At times the carriage is plunged into darkness as the train hurtles through a tunnel stubbornly dug through a mountain by Russians in the early 20th century or, the case of China, probably last week. Emerging from the tunnel back into sunshine another scenic vista races past the windows and whether it is the lush green of rice paddies or the sparkling shores of Lake Baikal holding you spellbound it is difficult to tear your eyes away from the glass to read that copy of War and Peace you downloaded onto your Kindle because you’d have hours doing nothing.
Boats are also wonderful but subject to the weather. There is something adventurous about climbing on board a boat to travel across a stretch of water to a destination particularly if it is unreachable by other means. The standard of enjoyment will largely depend on the nature, condition and size of the boat. Speedboats sound extremely glamourous but if you’ve just climbed out of the water having spent the last hour diving or snorkelling the last thing you want is to be literally bouncing across waves into the wind, freezing to death in what is supposed to be tropical Indonesia.
Ferries are lovely if they are reliable (again, in Indonesian, ferries are a lot of things – reliable they are not). In Indonesia in particular it is a false economy to try to travel by boat when travelling significant distances. Some ferries only operate on a fortnightly or monthly basis – you will end up seeing less of the country and probably spend more time waiting for ferries than actually travelling on them (there is a timetable, they just don’t stick to it). More frequent and shorter ferry routes are a different story, particularly if the route is s0 short that hiring a local boat in the event of a cancellation won’t break the budget.
Buses are generally death traps all over Asia, make no mistake. However your route will generally dictate how terrified you will be i.e. the more mountainous the terrain the higher up the fear scale the journey will fare whereas a long trip through busy streets or across scrub and desert probably won’t put the fear of god into you quite so much. Often you will be too busy wondering how 25 people have squeezed into a minibus built to transport 11 people including the driver to actually think about your chances of survival in the event of an accident. There may be the added distraction of 3 motorbikes tied onto the roof, the 3 chicken cages (holding 12 chickens) strapped to the back, and the engineering genius of someone who dismantled a massive timber staircase and managed to squeeze it under the seats. Before you know it, you’ve arrived at your destination unscathed. (Note: this trip actually happened in Cambodia.)
Taxis can be expensive but it’s all relative. Seriously, if you have to argue over 50p you need to go home and save a bit more money. People have to earn a living.
Motorbike taxis are generally cheap everywhere but you at least have to share it with the person who is steering the thing who is usually balancing your heavy backpack on his handlebars thereby shielding his view of everything ahead. We spent a lot of time on motorbike taxis and they are cheap but the stress levels are quite high.
Camels are remarkably comfortable and practical for climbing sand dunes but a bit grumpy when saddled with a 20 stone Wooky, and a bit on the slow side.
Elephants should never be ridden. It is the most uncomfortable mode of transport even invented. They are beautiful and majestic creatures but if you are going to put one to work, get it carry things not people. And their penchant for cashews, when elephant trekking through a cashew nut tree forest makes it an incredibly slow painful journey. Nothing will get in between an elephant and his cashew nuts and he will eat his fill before taking another step, no matter what you do to him.
Air travel is essential somewhere like Indonesia where you can only get a 60 day visa. If you need to do any amount of travelling from one area to another you will use half your time in transit unless you take to the air. But be prepared to witness at least one near air disaster on local television in the departure lounge. It’s all part of the Indonesian flying experience.