Change of Plans

David Hielkema

24 Januari 2017

Before we left we had arranged only a few things. The Carnet de Passage for the car, a visa for Iran and a visa for Pakistan. That was about it. After Pakistan we would see how to get a visa for India, how to drive through Myanmar and what countries we would visit before getting into Indonesia. We had no idea what we actually wanted to see in the countries we were going to visit. The only plan we really had was to drive our car from The Netherlands to Indonesia.

Off we went. We passed Europe, got a visa for Turkey online, travelled there for a month, entered the Middle East, saw Iran, did a crazy border crossing to enter Pakistan, stayed there for over a month and arrived in India a few weeks ago. What a trip so far!

Sometimes, when we drive on dirt roads next to a ravine, when we drive in a busy city while everyone is honking or when we are in a small village where the people have never seen a foreigner driving by, we realize how special all of this is. We drove our car all the way from the Netherlands to India! Can you imagine?

But, we also take this all for granted sometimes. We argue about where to go or not to go, where to camp and we get into a discussion about what to do for the day. But looking outside, the next minute, we realize how lucky we are.  Alright, enough about us. Let’s move on!

We are not the only ones making a trip like this. Beforehand we thought that this was an insane idea, we knew about some people who did it, but not many. We thought we were a bit unique. Travelling overland from Europe to Southeast Asia (and even via Pakistan!); who else is crazy enough to do that? But as soon as we hit the road we found out that there are plenty of other people doing a similar trip. Some by car, some by motorbike, some hitchhiking, some by bicycle and some even walk the whole way.

Kind of disappointing to find out we are not as unique as we thought beforehand, to be really honest. Why do we want to feel special any way, unique? Always these questions… To put it in perspective, looking at the numbers, probably less than 0,01% of the world’s population is making a trip like this. And.. Oh fuck it, what am I talking about. Being unique, wanting to feel special. This is our trip and it is awesome! And we should be lucky and happy that we have opportunities to travel like this.

Back to the story!

Initially our idea was to spend a few months in India, driving through this huge country, before we would really enter Southeast Asia. But that was just an idea and time would tell us what was really possible.

Like I said, we met many people going overland. And if we didn’t meet them, we would hear from other overlanders about people travelling the same route. We would find them on Instagram, or they would find us via our website. The internet makes a lot happen these days.

From a fellow overlander we heard about a Facebook page called Overlanding Asia. We didn’t even think that there would be a page existing like this. How naïve of us? We are the generation who is raised with the internet, everything happens online these days, but still we had no idea and didn’t even look for it… Any way, he told us about it and we got accepted in the group.

I realize I go from one subject to the other, but I will get to point soon!

In Iran we met a girl, Chantal, driving her motor from Australia all the way to the Netherlands. She found us online, we changed numbers and met in the busy city of Tehran. She had been on the road for a long time, but heard rumours about new laws in Thailand. Laws meaning it would be a bit more difficult to drive through the country…

Okay, I know, it starts to be annoying now, but I promise you that after the following paragraphs it all comes together.

Myanmar was on the list of “countries to be visited” as well. But Myanmar is a pain in the ass for all of us overlanders who travel by car or motorbike. They have special rules, meaning you can only drive there if you have a lot of money and you want to be guided all the way. It will cost about 1000 dollars, you get 10 days, you travel together with some other cars or motorbikes and everything you will see is planned out. Everywhere you will eat, sleep and sit is arranged. No freedom. And if there is one thing that most travellers hate, it is not having freedom!

If that only goes for Myanmar, we were happy to do it and get it over with. We could still see a bit of this interesting country and after that we would be in the promised land: Thailand, the heart of Southeast Asia, the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized by Europeans. From there we would go to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia. And of course we would see touristic Thailand and enjoy the best food on the earth (dare me)! But, you’ve guessed it, Chantal was right, and the Overlanding Facebook page almost went offline due to the amount of angry overlanders posting questions when the Thai government made the new law official: from the 1st of January 2017, everyone with a foreign car would need escort. Similar rules as those in Myanmar, and for Thailand the costs are even higher.

I told you it came together. The story. Not our travel plan. Far from it!

The main goal, to drive all the way to Indonesia, all ended there. We got stuck in India. Literally and figuratively speaking. Let me lay out our options:

Option 1: Paying more or less 1000 dollars for Myanmar and another 1200 dollar for Thailand to go straight to Malaysia. We wouldn’t see Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, because it would mean doing the escort thing in Thailand twice (2400 dollar for Thailand it would be then, ha-ha!). So we would end up in Malaysia, practically the end destination of our trip. And from there we would ship the car home, another 2000 dollars. So what about shipping the car home from Vietnam for example? Well, it would cost a lot more, so not an option either. From Indonesia we would of course also need tickets to fly home: another 1000 dollars more or less

Total costs to get the car and us home: 4700 dollar

Option 2: Enjoying India, shipping the car home from Mumbai, 2000 dollars, and backpack our way through Southeast Asia. Well, what is Home Is Where The Car Is without a car? But it was a serious option. Especially Josephine had a difficult time letting go of Southeast Asia, having to miss out on the nature, the climate, the food and all other things it has to offer…

And of course we would need the tickets to fly home. Again 1000 dollars.

Total costs to get the car and us home: 3000 dollar

Option 3: Ship the car from India to Malaysia. It would cost us maybe 800 dollar. And from around there we would ship the car home, another 1500 dollar. What’s the point, if you think about it logically?

And then fly from Indonesia in the end…

Total costs to get the car and us home: 3300 dollar

Option 4: Drive home. Drive home? Yes. But not the same way, right? Right.
A fellow overlander we met in Pakistan, a lively young German who is travelling through Afghanistan at the moment (I kind of envy him), told us about a German couple he had met and was doing a similar trip. He gave us their contact details and we started to chat with them.

They were experiencing the same problems, they would get stuck in India as they did not want to pay the ridiculous amount of money to cross Southeast Asia like that without any freedom in Myanmar and Thailand. They have met other overlanders, or found them via the Facebook page, and started to talk about an alternative route to get to where they wanted to go: back via Pakistan, China (only for four days to make it to the next country), enter Kyrgyzstan and then everyone will go their own way again.

By now you looked at the map and saw that I didn’t discuss China at all yet. Well, China is a like Myanmar and Thailand. It costs a lot of money to cross the country, but depending of the amount of vehicles and the way you go, it will be more or less affordable.

This option would also include no tickets to fly home and no shipping costs. There will be quite a bit of fuel costs, but since wild camping is easier again in the thinly populated countries we are going to pass, it balances each other out.

Total costs to get the car and us home: 1000 dollar.

Long live the internet.

Because of our new German friends, we got invited to a whatsapp chat with other overlanders. A group of five we are, four cars and one motorbike. All wanting to drive a different way than going through Southeast Asia. And not via the Pakistan – Iranian border, but via new countries.

I immediately fell in love with option 4. Although I know we will miss out on great stuff in Southeast Asia, I’m also looking forward to the countries I have never heard that much about until a few months ago (what do you know about Kyrgyzstan?). The explorer in me wants to feel unique again (ha-ha, unique)…

Josephine needed a bit more time to leave Southeast Asia for what it is, but is getting more and more excited as well now.

We need a new visa for Pakistan, a visa for China, a visa for Russia, car papers for China need to be fixed, a Chinese license plate and many more bureaucratic papers. It will cost us more or less 800 dollars to cross from Pakistan through China to get to Kyrgyzstan. One couple in the group is in contact with a Chinese company fixing loads of stuff for us and in the mean time we plan the how’s and what’s.

Bottom-line: We drive our way home. We cross India, fly for some holiday to Sri Lanka, drive back to the north of India, go to Pakistan, cross China, check out Kyrgyzstan, go to Kazakhstan, drive quickly through Russia, go to Georgia and then drive in one way home! July it is. Home sweet home. But first, another beer, some time to enjoy the Rajasthani desert and a swim in the ocean next week!