Thursday, February 26, 2015

Planning a South East Asian Odyssey

When I was on the flight back to India after the successful completion of the drive to London from Kochi I asked if I would like to give myself a break for a year before planning and undertaking the next adventure. While one part of me said I must, the wanderer in me refused to listen to that. Within a month of getting back home I lined up a few alternatives to consider, such as a six month long drive in USA covering 49 states and a portion of Canada, a three month long drive all along the coast of Australia from Perth to Perth, a three month solo drive from Kochi to London and back, a three month solo drive to Indonesia and back, an eighty day backpacking trip retracing the route of Philleas Fogg, the protagonist of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days and a backpacking tour of the North-East of India. For the USA adventure I planned to start in Alaska, buy a car there and motor all the states except Hawaii for six months, finally ending up in California. At the stage of detailed planning I discovered that there are strict emission norms varying across the states of USA. This would make it extremely expensive to buy a car in Alaska and dispose it off in California. Moreover, I cannot spare the time just now on such a trip. The coastal expedition along the Australian trip was also put on hold after detailed scheduling. I was told by Praveen Tomy, my cousin resident in Australia, after a fair amount of research, that it is not advisable to travel alone on the suggested route due to large tracts of uninhabited and sparsely populated areas. The London trip had just been done and hence, would be attempted a few years later, perhaps through Pakistan and Iran. I had covered the North Eastern states of India during the All-India drive in 2010-11. I want to give it a couple of years more before backpacking there.

Thus, the alternatives that remained were a drive of South East Asia and backpacking the Philleas Fogg route. I planned to do them both in 2015-16, hopefully. Since Fogg started his journey from London on 2 October I thought it would be a good idea to start from Mumbai on the same date. Detailed plans for the 80 day journey have been made. The crucial challenges I anticipate for successfully attempting it will be getting visas in time and arranging finances. Planning a journey in South East Asia was crucially dependent on weather conditions, particularly in Myanmar, and the volatile political conditions in some of the countries. From the Myanmar consular office I learned that the season from the second half of May to August is best avoided due to possibility of landslips and poor road conditions following the monsoon. The consul also told me, in response to an anxious query, that it is safer to travel in Myanmar as compared to Manipur! The friendly consul also put me in touch with an approved travel agency in Yangon to get the required permissions and permits. The Myanmar government has stipulated that one of its official and a guide accompany in the vehicle, which make the process a bit cumbersome and fairly expensive. Single room accommodations and food and beverages for the two gentlemen have to be paid for too for the duration of the trip.
It is also for this reason that I took China out of the equation in the itinerary; it is frightfully expensive for a solo traveller as the charges are per vehicle. The South East Asian Odyssey spanning eighty days will cover India, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. While the forward trip will take fifty days the return will take thirty days. I planned to travel both the east and west coasts of Thailand and Malaysia on the two legs. The travel through Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia was planned from either south to north or reverse. To cover Indonesia I decided to take the ferry from Singapore to Batam.

The biggest challenge in planning the South East Asian odyssey was to convince the various consular services to issue visas so much in advance of the journey. The itinerary provided for three crossings through Thailand. The right amount of persuasion by Shrey of Lifestyle Services, my travel agent in Delhi, swung it in my favour. Finally, by the 20th of February all the visas were stamped on my passport, the last one being Singapore. Countries such as Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia have provision for visas ‘on arrival’. I did not want to take any chances since I was driving into these countries and land borders have, at times, different rules and procedures for such facilitating mechanisms as compared to airport immigration. A word about obtaining visas would not be out of place here. Most consulates and embassies operate out of Delhi. Anticipating that travel back and forth, as required by the consulates, would cost me some I decided to engage the expertise of Lifestyle Services, particularly of Shrey to seamlessly work on this aspect for me. The engagement did not come cheap especially since it accounted as overheads for one person. However, it did save me a lot of hassle.
The journey to London gave me the right learnings to prepare and execute a road journey through foreign lands. I did not have to plan for different climatic conditions on this trip and hence, I pruned the packing list. The Ford Endeavour was serviced, thanks to Thomas Cherukara of Kairali Ford, and rebranded for the trip, courtesy UPM Advertising. Although an appeal for sponsorship by Hankook did not go through, Kiran of Tyrex volunteered to fit the car up with new tyres. Sponsorship appeals, once again, fell on deaf ears and hence, the plans were revisited to economise. One of the areas was accommodation. I sacrificed star status for affordable and came up with internet sourced accommodation for INR 150,000 for forty nine days of the journey. The lump sum tariff of INR 340,000 for the 12 day tour of Myanmar includes accommodation for self and the accompanying officials. I am scheduled to stay with friends and in railway rest houses during the travel in India, which is one fourth of the South East Asian itinerary. Fuel will cost about INR 200,000. INR 150,000 is the budget for food. Medical and car insurance have been done. However, I have to take car insurance for individual countries as I enter them. Trans Asian Shipping Services, the company I consult for in Cochin, was extremely gracious in arranging the bank guarantee to procure the Carnet de Passage en Douane (CPD or Carnet).

Without external financial support, the expedition will undoubtedly be a strain on personal finances. But then, any passion, makes you do irrational things; and what others consider sheer madness or unnecessarily risky.


  1. Bon Voyage Bro. Eagerly waiting to see you off from Kolkata.

  2. You remind me of Sinbad the Sailor!

  3. I am interested in travelling by road. I would like to acompany you for your next trip.

  4. Wishing you safe and successful journey, sir!

  5. I hope everything will go wonderful and that on that trip you live one of the best experiences of your life..All the best :)

  6. Uppappan, please help me set the course of my sails at 11am on 28th

  7. I see your blog very late... I welcome to penang if you visit one more time.


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