Sunday, October 28, 2012

The route I took from Kathmandu to Munich

OMG, first snow was falling in Munich yesterday. It kind of marks the end of this year's motorbike season. This makes me a bit said, of course.
I'll still ride my bike from time to time, but probably no more day trips to the Austrian Alps. I suppose many of the higher passes will be covered with snow and ice soon if it hasn't happened yet. Luckily, I had the chance to have a couple of nice trips with my buddy Alex - he rides a Suzuki B-King - there in late summer. Actually, whenever both of us were free, we went for a ride together. That's also one of the reasons why I haven't updated my blog yet, besides a four weeks training with the German Air Force and an exam marathon that basically lasted till this week. Well, that's how it goes if you spent most of the semester driving with a motorbike from Kathmandu to Munich. I don't regret it at all though!
To give you a better idea which route I took in the end, have a look at this picture:

The reason for the gaps is not a teleporting device, but a malfunctioning GPS system. My former Garmin zūmo 660 wasn't working properly quite often as you can see, which was really annoying. That was actually the only annoying thing on this trip. I mean, the punctures I had were bothersome, too, but I consider that as a part of the adventure. Thanks to the support of Touratech Süd and the goodwill of Garmin I could exchange it for a brand new one.
Feel free to download all recorded tracks. You can view them in a software like Garmin's BaseCamp or Google Earth.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The overdue update II

Here comes the sequel to my video from the previous post "The overdue update". Same style, different story.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The overdue update

This is just me summarizing my current trip for about 8 min. Nothing fancy, but at least an update...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Access denied/granted

As previously mentioned, I had some trouble getting the different visa. My short trips to Bangkok didn't make it easier as I always had to take my passport with me.
Nepal's never been an issue because I get it on arrival at the airport.
I was concerned about the Russian visa because they tightened the regulations for Germans recently. But with the support of my friend Sascha from Saint Petersburg I got a letter of invitation from a Russian travel agency with which it was straight forward.
The Chinese visa application center in Singapore insisted to get the original documents from the travel agency in China. FedEx needed 3 days longer than expected so there wasn't enough time left before I had to fly to Bangkok again (the second visit when I had to pick up the spare parts from the airport). To save valuable time I thought I can apply for it there. After 3 hours of queuing it turns out that the letter of invitation from China is only valid for an application in Singapore…once back there, I got it within one working day.
After the third visit to the High Commission of Pakistan in Singapore I eventually got the Pakistani visa. The whole process was really pain in the ass because they requested one more additional thing at every visit, e.g., when I brought the letter of invitation from a government registered Pakistani travel agency they asked for a copy of the passport of the owner of it to proof the genuineness of the document. How ridiculous is that? After some discussion I could convince them to check the registration number of the agency. Three days later I collected my Pakistani visa.
In the end, there wasn't enough time left to get the Indian (requires five working days, no urgent service) and Kazakh visa. So I'll have to apply for them on the way: the Indian one in Kathmandu and the Kazakh one in Urumqi.

When worse comes to worse

This is an accurate description of the happenings since I went to Bangkok more than two weeks ago. The extension of the Thai temporary import permit was straight forward, in terms of Thai bureaucracy. That means it was done within 5 hours visiting only 3 different sites and just less than 10 different offices in total. I am sure it would have taken much longer without the support of one of Mr. Thira's, my shipping agent, employers who did all the talking. I just had to sign a lot of papers and pay the fine of 2000 THB.
Then I wanted to stop by at the local BMW Motorcycle dealer Barcelona Motors to see what spare parts they have in stock for my motorbike (don't ever by genuine parts in Thailand because it's so much more expensive - more on that later…). A package from Germany with important parts for my motorcycle hasn't had arrived yet and so I wanted to check out alternatives. The success with the import documents made me lighthearted and careless to such an extend that I caused an accident. This resulted in a rear end collision, 100% my own fault. Luckily, I haven't got any scratch because it happened at low speed, but fast enough to cause some damage to both my motorbike and the taxi I hit. The radiator of my BMW was leaking and the taillight, the rear bumper and fender on the left side of the car were damaged. 
Damaged tail light & bumper of the taxi and
 leaking radiator of my motorbike.
After the taxi driver got out of his car, he asked me: "How much?" It's better he says a sum, I thought, so I didn't answer. "2000" was his reaction, which was a lot less than I had expected. So I paid the money and the case was closed.
When I stared my motorbike I noticed that the instrument cluster wasn't working anymore, so no warning light for engine temperature, which was particularly bad in this situation. With a stopover at a motorbike workshop on the way to refill some cooling liquid, I finally made it to Barcelona Motors, but it was just before they closed and only two service guys were still there. So I had to wait till the next day (Friday) to get a diagnosis of the damage of the motorbike. It turns out that the fan behind the radiator was broken, too. They said it's very likely that they can fix all the broken parts within a couple of days and no spare parts need to be ordered. The cost wouldn't be very high and the motorbike could be shipped as scheduled on 3rd May. Then I had to catch my flight back to Singapore because I had to write an exam the next day (Saturday), so I had to monitor the repair from there, which isn't easy if people don't answer emails or phone calls...
In the end, I had to postpone the shipping of my motorbike to KTM for one week to 10th May, order a new radiator and fan from Germany and fly to Bangkok one more time to pick up the spare parts at the airport myself. I contacted ADAC (automobiles club in Germany that offers roadside assistance and related services) and asked them to assist me. They were very helpful  and within a couple of days the spare parts arrived at BKK. The customs clearance at the BKK cargo complex was more troublesome than for my motorbike last November and even more expensive.
Apparently, my tout paid a bribe of 40 THB to cut this queue.
5 min later I got the package with the spare parts in it.
I brought the parts to Barcelona Motor and they had them changed the next day. But my motorcycle wasn't ready yet, because they forgot - and ignored my 4 requests over the period of two weeks - to check the instrument cluster, which wasn't working after the crash anymore. My motorbike was supposed to be at the packing house, where they would put it in the crate, by the day after tomorrow (Saturday, 5th May) at latest. Imagine, how upset I was! End of the story: I ordered a new instrument cluster from Germany via ADAC again - to Singapore this time - and told the guys at Barcelona Motor to make the bike ready for shipping as it is. So I'll have to exchange the instrument cluster at Kathmandu myself.
Mr. Keng and a mechanic, both from Barcelona Motors,
helping me preparing the bike for shipping.
The guys from the packing house did a good job
and everything was packed in a couple of hours.
Ready for shipping: 
286 kg (including most of my gear + equipment), 58 x 196 x 127 cm.
 I met Hassan from Iran at the packing house, he was sending two all-new Honda CRF250L to Iran, disassembled due to Iranian import regulations. He's been doing this for 15 years. I had a nice talk with him about Iran vs. the rest of the world and the huge difference of the attitude towards foreigners between the Iranian people and its unpopular government. Apparently, he doesn't like the government and ruling class at all so he won't go back to his home country except for one reason: if there is war, he'll fight for his country and its people as he did before during the war with Iraq. Let's hope this won't happen!

Hassan from Iran and a disassembled Honda CRF250L.
Then I went back to Singapore to get my Chinese and Pakistani visa - another story of difficulties doing such a trip - so I spent one more week in Singapore. As I had nothing to do but waiting for my visa I had plenty of time to do lots of the touristy stuff one can do in Singapore and which I haven't had done during my 9 months there as an exchange student: go to the cinema, visit museums, wander around parks etc.; like a happy end of my stay in Singapore.
Marina Bay Sands seems to tower over Singapore's downtown
 as you can see it from many places while walking through the streets; 
here from the Asian Civilizations Museum.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Route fixed, new passport, no visa

Eventually, I decided to avoid the Iran due to the impending elections and the uncertainty with regard to the Iran-Israel/USA conflict. These are the paper maps that cover my trip:

Nepal, Northeast India, Pakistan, West China, Kazakhstan, West Russia, the Baltic
But then almost everything that can go wrong went wrong so far:
It all started when I realized that my passport doesn't have enough blank pages for all the visa of the various countries I plan to ride through. That was shortly after my stay on Palawan, Philippines, just when I intended to start applying for visa. I was hoping there's the option to attach additional pages to the German passport. Unfortunately, this is not the case; you have to apply for a new one. The other option would have been to apply for a temporary one. The advantages are: cheaper and faster than a new one; disadvantage: only 9 pages. So I started calculating: Nepal, India, Pakistan, China, Kazakhstan, Russia; at least one page for each country's visa sticker. So only 2 left for their stamps. Some countries already state in their information regarding visa application that there must be at least 2 blank pages left. I definitely want to avoid any additional, unnecessary issues at boarders, because the process itself is quite troublesome and time consuming already. Thus, I decided to apply for a new passport; express & big (more pages). It took 3 weeks and cost around 200 €. Much more , of course, than getting it in Germany because they add charges like "Unzuständigkeitsgebühr". Well, that reduced the time for the visa hunt to 3 weeks.

Old, invalid passport (left) and new one (right),
German embassy in Singapore.

In addition, I had booked a flight to Saigon/Ho Chi Min City just about the same day, my new passport was supposed to arrive. If I were lucky, my new passport would have arrived just one day before my departure. Technically, I was lucky, but the German embassy in Singapore still relies on snail mail to inform you about the arrival of your new passport. Thus, I could only miss my flight and book another one to get my new passport or still use my old one. Due to the short amount of time left, I thought I should try to get at least one visa in Vietnam. Therefore, I picked up my passport on the next day and flew to Saigon two days later than scheduled. In Vietnam, however, I wasn't successful in applying for the Indian (processing time of 5 working days would have exceeded my stay) nor for the Chinese (they wanted to see a letter of invitation from the travel agency).
Back in Singapore I tried the High Commission of Pakistan next: "Where is your flight ticket?" "I'll travel overland." "Why do you want to go to Pakistan?" "Because I heard it's an interesting country and it's on the way back to Germany." "Where is your Indian and Chinese visa?" "Well, I'll get the Indian visa in Nepal and for the Chinese visa I'm still waiting for the documents from the travel agency." "OK, please have a seat in the waiting room, we will check your application." 10-15 min later: "Your application is OK, you just need a letter of invitation from a friend in Pakistan." (side note: I called them a couple of weeks ago and asked what documents I need to bring. I was told, a booking confirmation for the hotel is enough.) Luckily, the student body at NUS is quite divers so it didn't take long to find a Pakistani who is willing to do me a big favor. Her name is Gulmina and her father is ambassador of Pakistan - not it Singapore though - so she actually knows some of the people at the embassy. Therefore, I believe my second attempt beginning next week will have good chances to succeed.
Meanwhile, I received the documents from the Chinese  travel agency via email. Just in time before my flight to Bangkok (BKK), Thailand, where I have to organize the air freight of my motorbike. Chinese embassies offer the service of urgent visa application so that you can collect the visa on the next day (almost double the price than normal). I was of good cheer because I had photocopies of all documents and thought it would be easy going. Well, I was wrong. End of the story: I couldn't get the visa before my flight to BKK. They had doubts about the validity of the letter of invitation. The balance so far: 2 weeks of visa hunt, 4 embassies, no visa.
Now I'm in Thailand to organize the shipment of my motorbike to Kathmandu (KTM), Nepal. One problem is already put in place: my temporary import permit expired 2 months ago. I knew it will be the case and I consciously let it happen as I got the information that it is not a very big issue if you keep it below six months. There are different rumors about how much the fine is, but all figures were cheaper than 2 return flights SIN-BKK which would have been necessary for the extension of the permit. I'll go to extend/re-apply for it at the customs headquarter in Bangkok tomorrow; supported by Mr. Thira's logistics agency Excel Transport that I entitled to send my motorbike to KTM. Let's see how it goes…

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Which route to take for my journey home?

Two weeks ago Bianca & Florian, who I met in Ayutthaya during the Southeast Asia road trip, informed me about their plans driving through from Laos to Mongolia via China. They asked me if I want to join their convoy of 2 cars and 2 motorbikes. I welcomed this opportunity because I’ve got worried more and more about the sabre rattling between Iran and Israel/USA. Unfortunately, this option became very unattractive after getting to know more details about their itinerary. First, they are going to enter China mid of May. That means I will have a gap of two weeks after my final exam at NUS. I have a time frame of about 10-12 weeks for the whole journey only. Spending two of them in Southeast Asia would shorten the available time for countries I haven’t been before even more. Second, I was somehow assuming their route will lead towards North/Northwest, e.g., Xinjiang province, but in fact they will head to Beijing as you can see below. Almost two weeks of their itinerary (the whole trip is supposed to last 25 days) is dedicated to cities and attractions I visited during my stay in China in 2008/2009.

View Larger Map

At the time I came up with the idea of my journey home (more than a year ago), I tried to estimate the distance with Google Maps and thought it would be some 20-25k km. The route below shows what I had in mind initially:

View Larger Map

Meanwhile, I figured out it isn’t that far at all. So here’s my new favorite route:

View Larger Map

I still haven’t applied for any visa. Both these options have in common that they go through Iran. Actually, there aren’t that many other routes I can (theoretically) take.
Maybe this one?

View Larger Map
Ignore the part that leads through Afghanistan; it’s due to Google Maps routing. Yet, I’m not sure if there’s a way to go from north Pakistan directly to Tajikistan without transiting Afghanistan (would that be better than Iran?).

Or make my own way through China, which would not only be very expensive but also cause a logistic problem: Where should the tour guide who has to accompany me by law take his seat. There’s actually no space for a pillion on my motorbike.
I haven’t applied for any visa yet, because I really don’t know what to do. Try it via Iran and just hope for the best? Get visas for all other countries as well, in case Iran closes its borders? Find people to go with me through China via Xinjiang?

Any suggestions from your side? Let me know…

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My Southeast Asia road trip is over, the review begins

I returned to Singapore safe & sound on Monday evening.
After my BMW Xchallenge was serviced at BKK Motorcylce last Friday, I parked it at my friend's place at Pattaya. It will be waiting for me there till I start my journey home end of April this year.
A selection (104) of the pictures I took during this trip can still be found at my public Google+ album. Well, there's still a lot more to come: During the next couple of weeks, I'll work on the post-processing of the videos I shot, mainly while riding my motorbike, and on the design & structure of this website. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Back on the road after holidays in Sihanoukville

Happy New Year 2012!
I spent the last couple of days together with friends from Singapore at Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. At the latter we celebrated New Year's Eve together and had a relaxed boat trip the day after.
Yesterday, I hit the road again and rode all the way from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap. This is the last touristic destination of my road trip through Southeast Asia.
Unfortunately, I couldn't discover Cambodia as much as I wanted because my rear tire and my front brake pads are (almost) used up and thus, I had to reduce the mileage. All attempts finding a on/off-road tire in size 140/80-18 at Bangkok, Pattaya and Chonburi - thanks to Kitty, a Thai motorcyclist who helped me a lot - were in vain.