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Reflections: Overloaded Vehicles – It Looks Like Fun, But Believe Me It’s Not!

When it comes to insanely overloaded and overcrowded transport, over the years I’ve seen my fair share. Of course there’s the usual suspects. The overloaded vehicles in Africa and across the expansive continent of Asia. With people and animals piled onto the roofs, and others grimly hanging off the sides. I also once spotted a family of seven on a tiny little scooter, driving along a suburban street in Iran.

Then there’s the king of all overloaded vehicles. The infamous images of the ridiculous and no doubt extremely dangerous, overloaded trains leaving Bangladeshi railway stations. As the passengers head home to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

Over the years, I’ve also done my fair share of travelling aboard these types of vehicles. Yes it looks like fun, but believe me it’s not. After the first 30 minutes the novelty quickly begins to wear off. As you really start to get a little annoyed with the situation. Beginning to jostle with others on board for a favourable place to put your limbs.

Numbness soon begins to set in, and the amount of times I’ve suffered the ‘pins and needles’ whilst being shoehorned into a truck or van is countless. After 8-10 hours of this type of transport and you seriously start to mentally suffer.

Yes It Looks Like Fun, But After 30 Minutes The Novelty Wears Off

Recently on a trip to Myanmar we visited the magnificent Pagodas of Bagan, and were lucky enough to have our visit marry up with the ‘Ananda Pagoda Festival’, held in January of each year.

The festival brought many people into the small town of Old Bagan. Some would arrive by bullock cart and others by bicycle, but the vast majority would arrive in extremely overloaded vehicles as seen in the images in this post.

It was during the proceeding days of the festival that I captured many images of some insanely overloaded vehicles. As drivers would shuttle people back and forth to the surrounding villages on jeeps, trucks and scooters.

As you can see, this jeep in this article is seriously overcrowded. To the point where the driver would have a hard time seeing through the windscreen. Let alone the stress put on the chassis from the excessive weight of the people (not to mention the enormous fuel bill as well).

During The Festival We Spotted Many Insanely Overloaded Vehicles

 I’ve tried my best to count the people on the Jeep with the different angles in these images. I’ve come up with an answer of somewhere in the vicinity of 26 to 30 people.

As the trucks and cars cruised by, my mate Tony would capture their attention and get the people to wave at us (I’ll post some more of these images over the coming weeks and months), but as with Burmese people in general. They driver was more than happy to stop his vehicle for me to take some photos. Somewhat proud of the number of people he had managed to squeeze into it.

Everyone was still smiling (obviously the journey had just begun…), and as the vehicle got closer you could then make out not only the massive amount of people squashed aboard, but also many bags and goods that were strapped to the sides.

Your Thoughts and Comments?

How many people can you count aboard? What about other parts of the world, where else have you seen vehicles loaded as heavily as this? I’m also curious to hear from anyone who’s ever witnessed the overloaded trains of Bangladesh. It’s something I’d love to photograph.

A Little More About The Author

Jason has traveled the world extensively during the last 20 years, with overland journeys on six continents and across over 90 countries. This site serves as a chronicle of the images and tales from these journeys, as well as offering advice and general information for other like minded travelers.

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  1. Nyle Keith Walton says:

    From Bhopal in central India I took an express bus to see the ruined city of Mandu. Unsure of the time for the return trip I neglected to reserve a seat and was compelled to take a second-class bus back to Bhopal. This bus took twice as long as the express bus and was so overcrowded that I had to stand up most of the way. When I shifted a foot another foot took its place. I was so miserable that I finally got off the bus ten miles short of Bhopal and took a bajaj scooter rickshaw the remaining distance to my hotel. I would have been more comfortable hitchhiking.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Nyle, So close, you nearly made it. I feel your pain though, as it’s something that i’ve had to endure many times over the years. The journey starts out great and you’re all excited and then about an hour or two in you start thinking to yourself ‘What an I doing here!’.

  2. Chan Tha says:

    You may say their lives are harsh, poor, and the country’s lack of rules. But the people, they find their own ways to get along, and still survive all of the darkness and hardness.
    Also for me, riding inside an overcrowded bus is one of the things I hate the most. But luckily, I’ve never ride like this described above.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Chan Tha, Getting along is certainly one trait that you would need riding in a vehicle so crowded that’s for sure. As the journey for these people was only a short distance I think it was more of a novelty but to endure many hours on bad roads in such a manner would be tough thats for sure.

  3. Nyle Keith Walton says:

    Overloaded vehicles are prevalent throughout the Third World. I remember back in 1958 when Karl and I waited for rides along side the road along the Andes between Lima and Cuzco. Most of the trucks were piled high with both cargo and people and we often had to refuse a lift because there wasn’t any room for us. This was the only form of long-range transport back then and we found it quite comfortable to spread our sleeping bags across a flat load and get a night’s sleep while the truck slowly labored down into one deep valley and up to the next pass. I remember awakening one morning and peeking out from under the canvas cover to admire the view of the valley of Abancay under a layer of clouds far below us. It was a wonderful way to travel.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Nyle, I most certainly agree with your sentiments of hitching rides on trucks. I certainly did my fair share of this in Africa in the nineties. Although I have yet to travel to West Africa, I feel from my own experiences that the Asian countries do seem to push the overloading a little further than most. I did have had many rides in cramped Mini Vans in Africa over the years. Including one in Uganda where I had a drunken soldier with his AK47 pushing into my side for most of the journey.

      I’ve never managed to roll out a sleeping bag and get any sleep on any of my truck or Jeep riding adventures. Although there is a mythical legend of a hitchiker in Africa many years ago. That caught a ride from Nairobi to the Ethiopian border on the top of a mattress truck! Some people get all the luck….

    • Nyle Keith Walton says:

      A comparison of what what you experienced in the 1990s and what I experienced in 1958 shows just how much the world has changed in nearly forty years. The world’s population has nearly tripled since those innocent times that I first traveled. The teeming hordes that populate our burgeoning cities makes it more necessary for people to double- or triple-up to transport themselves. The ease of travel that Karl and I experienced fifty-four years ago would be more difficult if not impossible today. I would be especially leery of trying to hitch a ride anywhere in Africa today.

  4. Great examples of one of my favourite things to see when travelling.

    I love the craziness of the overloading and the vehicles can be pretty unique too, but it’s the smiles and waves you get from the people on board when they see you and you smile or wave that I love the most…

    • Jason says:

      Hey Jonathan, Yeah it’s always great to checkout the crazy situations some people put them selves in just to get from point A to B. As I pointed out, I’ve got myself into some crazy situations myself whilst travelling, but the big difference is that I did it by choice, but most of the local people in these situations do it as there is just no other option available to them.

      The smiles from the people we stopped in the jeep above were quite genuine. As it was a festival at the time, everyone was just in a great mood all over town. As a photographer yourself mate, Im not sure if you’ve been to Myanmar. If you haven’t, put it on your list as it was a great place to travel with camera in hand.

    • Oh, don’t you worry, it’s definately on the list!!

  5. Phil says:

    It’s illegal to overload over here… in fact, preventing it is what I do for a living.

    With the amount of deaths happening in India, Africa and especially China, it is only a matter of time before the authorities do something there too!

    I read an article recently about a 60 tonne truck in china that collapsed a bridge (fortunately not killing anyone) because it was carrying 125 Tonnes of sheet steel… imagine if that hit something!

    • Jason says:

      Hey Phil, A truck carrying 120 Tonnes of sheet metal is a recipe for disaster. Trying to pull it up in a hurry should anything go wrong, would just not happen.

      I suppose slowly but surely the authorities will begin to regulate this type of thing, but I fear that in countries like Myanmar it will be decades away. There’s just no other way for these people to get around.

  6. Shannon says:

    So if you wanted to ride one of these WITHOUT the crowds; which I would almost have to do as I’m prone to being numb almost instantly given the right situation (yes, any pressure on any part of my leg, arm, foot, hands will make it go numb and its quite painful when its pins & needles.

    How would one going to a country where crowds on a vehicle is fairly common get a ride with less crowds? (I would have to safely guess you can’t eliminate all crowds but you could get less crowded to achieve more comfort hopefully?)

    • Jason says:

      Hey Shannon, The images in this article are of vehicles loaded up for a festival, but I did see this overcrowding at many places throughout Myanmar. I suppose you can always fly (budget permitting), as the flights in Myanmar are pretty cheap for a Western traveller.

      As for those pins and needles. I am one that has suffered these for years. I used to skydive many years ago. As the plane made it’s way to altitude, you would be crammed in like sardines. My foot would always go to sleep, and I jumped many times with a dead foot.

  7. Dave says:

    I read this the other day, and it got me thinking before writing up a comment. That’s usually a good sign!

    I’m trying to think of the most crowded form of transport I’ve come across.

    I’m thinking the bush taxi’s of West Africa. So many times there was a close call. Three people in the front passenger side. Six in the back. Four behind them.

    I’ve done the whole jeepney roof ride in the Philippines. Safer than it looks. But there was one ferry during a festival that seriously worrying. Not even enough room to sit down. And lots of sinkings that year too.

    It’s the element of danger that makes overcrowding so bad. And a difference in living with it, and just passing through.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Dave, I haven’t experienced the bush taxis of West Africa as yet, but I’ve been in plenty of overcrowded mini vans in central Africa, and I’m guessing they would be pretty similar.

      I think an overcrowded ferry would be more that dangerous in any country. When these things go down in the middle of the night, whether it be Europe, Asia Africa or where ever. There’s always casualties.

      You last point is the one that really sums up this whole article. As travellers we all experience these things from time to time, but to live in these conditions and undertake these journeys everyday is whole different way of looking at it.

  8. ciki says:

    Imagine if they were all from the same family! Yeah, i agree, they are a resilient bunch.. i would have dropped off in say 3 minutes? :P

    • Jason says:

      Hey Ciki, It may not be out of the realm of possibility that these people were related (or at least all close friends). I did get that sort of feeling from there reactions to me taking their photo.

  9. nyle walton says:

    This is why it is so difficult to hitchhike in these countries.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Nyle, I think your onto something there. Hitching in Asia (or at least SE Asia) is something I have not done, where as I have hitched all over Central and Southern Africa.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Andi, The funny thing was, that in all my time watching these overloaded vehicles ferry people back and forth. I didn’t see one instance of anything even going close to an accident. They weren’t travelling to fast though.

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