Ten wild cab rides that you’ll never forget

Everyone has their own way of immersing in a culture. Some jump in knees-deep into the food scene, massacring the local food blogs and munching their ways through every gastic adventure that they can find. Others enjoy the philosophical and soft-edged days of lounging in street side cafes, watching passers-by and drinking coffee in the early afternoon sun. Here at Gadling though, we prefer the good old cab ride.

It’s pretty surprising what you can pick up about a culture from the cabs, each driver with his own background, each car holding thousands of untold stories. Inspired by the works at the outstanding blog known as HACK, we’ve thus put together 10 of our favorite rides from around the planet below.

1. Cairo
One of the most fun and arguably scariest things about Cairo city life is the traffic. Here, traffic signals are rare and crosswalks are non-existant, meaning cars, taxis, trucks, people and donkeys are all jumbled into a free-for-all on the dusty Egyptian roads. It takes nerves of steel to brave these roads, which is why it’s so fun sitting shotgun in an experienced cabbie’s car. An average ride will involve darting through city traffic honking up a storm while barreling past 1960′s-era Fiats, diladapidated buildings and remnants of Cairo history, all for the grand sum of no more than 4USD.

2. Moscow/St Petersburg
The funny thing about cabs in Russia is that there really aren’t any. Instead, the majority of car service is provided by everyday residents looking for an extra few dollars of income. All you have to do to flag a car is hold your arm out low and wait for a passing vehicle to pull over — it could be the remnant of a cold-war era beater or a shiny new Volkswagon — then mutter your destination and you’re off to the races.

This could be a little unnerving for the first time hithchiker, which is why we recommend a few Stoli and tonics before trying your first time. Another handy tip: if you don’t speak Russian, take a photo of your destination and show the driver.

2b. Moscow at 5AM
Traffic is so thick in Moscow that it’s hard to ever really appreciate the passing city while gurgling through the congested streets. For a real taste of Russian ridesharing, try taking a cab to Domodedovo at 5AM when the streets are clear and when your car’s throttle can really open up. Roll down the windows and watch the amazing city of Moscow fly by as you get an uninterrupted view of the beautiful capital city.3. Tokyo
The most mindblowing thing about Tokyo cab rides is the cordiality. Approaching your target cab, the first thing that you’ll notice is that the door automatically opens and shuts for you — all controlled by the white-gloved driver. The rest of your ride is strangely reminiscent of a ride in a London taxi, with black, fancy leather and all the pomp and circumstance of a ride through Oxford Circus. Set that against the high-neon and non-stop glam of Tokyo and you’ve got yourself a formula for travel contrast bliss.

4. Bangkok via motorcycle taxi
Tuk-Tuks and taxi cabs are the mainstays of Bangkok public transportation, but if you really want to make progress then take a motorcycle taxi. You can pick them up at stations around the city and they’ll provide a helmet and the ride of your life — all you have to do is lean and and hold on tight.

5. Delhi via Tuk Tuk as told by Mike Barish

Plenty of places have pedicabs and rickshaws that cater mostly to tourists. They’re alternatives to cabs, but exist only to be kitchy. In India, however, the small cabs know as tuk tuks are commonly used by locals and tourists alike to navigate the incredible congested cities in the nation’s capital.

The tiny three-wheeled vehicles are as ubiquitous in Delhi as cows in the streets and the smells of spices in the air. They’re loud, mostly uncomfortable and expose you to the exhaust fumes from the trucks that suffocate the city’s highways.

All that said, tuk tuks are convenient and get you to where you’re going much quicker than walking. They cost a pittance (think $5 or less), can be found everywhere and usually idle on the side of the street, making it easy to approach and speak with the driver about the price. Once you get going, though, don’t expect to converse much. You’ll be lucky if you can still hear your own thoughts.

6. Enroute to Pudong Airport, Shanghai
The only thing slowing your cab driver down between downtown Shanghai and the international airport at city’s edge is the glaringly obvious radar banks over top of the highway. Imagine yourself comfortably crusing at 95 miles/hour on the People’s highway at 6AM when WHAM, the cabbie slams on the brakes and you slow to 45 for 2000 feet. Get a safe distance away and VRRroooooom, you’re pressed against the back of your seat on your way to the International Space Station once more.

7. Zambia as told by Willy Volk
After our bus from Livingston, Zambia, to Sesheke (a border crossing in the southwest of the country) choked and died, my friend and I sat in the scalding sun waiting for repairs. After about 90 minutes, an approaching pickup stopped when it saw potential passengers sprawled in the dust. Able to outbid the others for seats in the uncovered rear of his truck — we paid the equivalent of $2 each — we high-fived each other, jumped in the back, and sat down … on fifty-kilo bags of uncooked sweet potatoes.

For the next four hours — during which we covered maybe 100 kilometers — we rumbled, bumped, and jounced along southwestern Zambia’s dusty, desolate M10 “highway.” Cinnamon-colored dirt coated my skin and, together with the smoke from roadside fires, filled my nostrils. Bouncing over potholes as large as truck engines, we repeatedly flew in the air and landed hard on the solid, gnarled edges of the sweet potatoes. Bang, bang, bang: our asses smacked those unforgiving, rock-hard bags every 10 seconds for hours. Bang! When we were finally able to crawl out of our tortuous ride, we hobbled to the boat launch — Namibia’s immigration office lay on the other side of the Zambezi River — only to discover we’d missed the day’s final boat and had to be ferried across in a dugout canoe.

8. Technology touts in Taipei as told by Darren Murph
One of the unfortunate results of the broad information infrastructure in Taiwan is that streaming video is everywhere on the island, which means that more than a few cabbies are all-too-distracted by what’s going inside of the cab instead of outside. Darren recounts the full experience with photos over at Engadget.

9. Mexico City
They say tha cabs in Mexico City aren’t the safest in the world, but it’s just so hard to resist the cute little green Volkswagon Beetles that chortle through the street. Provided you have a good command over the Spanish language or at least a good idea of where you’re going, make sure to jump in the back seat of one of these vochos — there’s as much history in these taxis as there is in the city at large.

10. London
Sure, it’s cliche to tout the cultural value of the London taxicab, but there’s no question about it: it’s a rite of passage. From the iconic, black taxi styling to flip-down seats to the near-perfection of every London cabbie the experience is sure to please — just make sure you’ve got enough Sterling to make the trip, UK cabs are among the most expensive on the planet.

[Flickr image via Bruno. C.]