- About Nick
- People helping the expedition
- Expenses breakdown
- Truck and equipment (Sept. 16)
Posted on December 27th, 2010 Nicolas 58 comments
While in Bangkok, I start the maddening work of finding a vessel sailing to Los Angeles, U.S.A. so I can load my truck as soon as possible. One good thing is that there is a lot of traffic between the two points which results in a price war between shipping companies.
After going back and forth between two competitors, I select China Shipping as they lower their price to US$2,200 including all fees at the departing port. And it is going very fast. Two days after I find myself again in a container. Everything at the port is easy and well organized. As in Malaysia it is very straight forward to go through the procedures and I just spend two hours there. Because the container is going to the U.S., there are few more formalities than usual. Once the doors are closed, the truck is fumigated with bromide and the container later goes through X-Ray. Contact information for shipping is provided at the end of this post.
In the meantime, I try to arrange my visa for China. The original plan was to take the 25-hours train from Hong-Kong to Beijing, and later a ferry to Incheon, South Korea. Unfortunately, as often, that doesn’t go according to plan. Following a dispute between France and China regarding a decision from Paris to give the Dalai Lama honorary citizenship, the Chinese officials retaliated in making visa availability more difficult for my compatriots. Basically, embassies overseas now want travelers to present a return ticket, hotel reservations, detailed itinerary and an invitation letter. In addition, the expedited service had been suspended, making the process last more than a week.
Having arranged everything else and being on a tight schedule, I have no other choice but to skip the un-inviting country.
Few days earlier, shortly after arriving in Bangkok, I moved in the apartment of Sin and Aline, friends of my acquaintance Jeff, a newspaper mogul in New York. It’s fantastic to be able to use their place as headquarter to prepare the next few steps which involve a lot of work online. First I book a ticket to Hong Kong, and then I try to find an inexpensive hotel in the city. But I hit another bump here. Who would have thing that one of the world financial centers is also a popular destination for Christmas? It turns out to be very complicated to find a place there that fits my budget. Fortunately few emails later, Kat who traveled with me few weeks ago, arranges for me to stay with her friend and ex-coworker MinJung. MinJung works for the Wall Street Journal Asia and gracefully will make some space for me in her flat. I also book a flight to South Korea.
Evenings in Bangkok are nice, and dinners always a treat. Sin and Aline live in Bangkok for a long time and they know the places to go to get some amazing street food. I am sad to leave that behind and I try to take advantage of it as I am here and in good company.
Transportation is effortless in the capital, and on one given trip it is not uncommon to use a boat, the subway, and hop behind a motorcycle driver for the rest of the trip. Everything is very cheap too, and the city seems to be a great place to live in. Finally, it is time to get to the airport and fly to Hong Kong (US$ 161).
There, and as expected, I meet with MinJung who welcomes me in the city. I am here for such a short time – two days – and I am up early in the morning so I can explore most of the metropolis in a hurry.
Downtown Hong Kong has an unexpected effect on me. Nowhere did a city remind be more strongly of New York. As I walk the streets and watch people going to work, I realize it will be soon my turn to be one of them. I am not sure how easy it will be to re-adapt. Spending most of my time at work and watching weeks and months going by at lightening speed is somewhat daunting. Soon I will have hot water every day, broadband internet and a cell phone. Maybe I will go for drinks on Friday nights and overhear people debating loudly if they need the newest iPhone this week-end or if it can wait for next week. How will I feel when I will not be on the move anymore? Without the constant pressure, the fights at the ports, the intricate work of getting visas, weeks spent by myself, weeks when I meet many people soon to be friends and the early coffees on mountaintops, will I be able to be happy? Living in a small apartment in a densely populated city will not be easy especially after treating the whole world as my living room.
I feel that the one key for my happiness will be to find a very challenging – and exciting – job. I hope it will also allow me daily to use my problem-solving skills, something I have the weakness to think I am good at. Some action and travel would be good too.
Anyway, one thing is sure: despite the multiple questions on this topic I got from my readers, only now I realize I am on my way home. All these months on the road have been so busy and intense that I feel I have been away for years. But readers shall see on this website how well I will readapt once back home.
There are several reasons why Hong Kong reminds me of New York. The city is made up of older and sometimes decrepit buildings along with very modern ones. As in New York, you can feel that the sea is never far. Temperatures are colder too, and I didn’t feel that since Peru. A light jacket is now welcome as I go around surrounded with many people running everywhere. I walk a lot and go across the island to see less dense areas. Earlier, I took the boat to cross the harbor and have a view of the skyline.
But there’s not much time and soon I am back at the airport getting my luggage back from a locker. The next stop is Incheon, South Korea where I arrive in the evening after a quick flight (US$ 300).
When I arrive there, it is ice cold out. I use to dream about such weather when I was in the deserts of Ethiopia or Djibouti, but when the realty takes the appearance of a freezing wind slapping my face, it doesn’t seem like a dream anymore. South Korea hasn’t seen such temperatures in the last 30 years, and this is the time I chose to visit. At night, the mercury drops as far as -26 C (-15 Fahrenheit), and I can just run to the first hotel I see before falling dead.
Another bad news is that I am back in fully developed countries, and I have to drop US$ 35 to get a room to sleep in what turns out to be a “Love Hotel”. Hotels of this type are common in Asia as well as in Central America. Basically, I am speaking about hotels were unmarried couple meet. These hotels are pretty good and clean, often with more amenities than tourist hotels. Each room as a computer you can use to go on the internet, which is pretty convenient. Also available are channels you would not want your kids to watch…
I wake up in this motel on Christmas day, and despite the biting cold I go out to visit the city. Incheon is the largest port on the east coast of a country that can be compared to an island. North and South Korea are still technically at war since never signed a peace treaty after the Korean War, and nothing crosses the border. So you can only fly or take a boat to get in the southern peninsula.
Chinatown is probably the most atmospheric area to visit, but I also see a few markets and large underground shopping arcades. As always, I am excited about trying the food, as I was a big fan of Koreatown in New York. I am not disappointed by the dumplings I get in the small restaurant where I take refuge from the cold. Few hours later I am in the subway to Seoul.
INFO FOR TRAVELERS:
So far I have been very happy with the services of Transpeed. Just remember to always shop around and get quotes from several companies before finalizing the deal. I wanted to work with them because they are used to ship vehicles. Their price was initially higher than other companies, but they were able to negotiate with their shipping company and bring the price down.
Contact Beer at Transpeed Co., Ltd.
3360/6-8 Soi Manorom Rama 4 Rd.
Klongton, Klongtoey, Bangkok 10110
Tel.: 66 2 249-9001
Posted on December 20th, 2010 Nicolas 53 comments
It’s a two-day drive from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. The weather is pretty bad, and it still takes me few days to get rid of my cold. I am driving across mountains, most of the time above 3,000 feet. There’s a heavy fog that forces me to drive slowly. Northern Laos is decidedly spectacular, and I am glad I didn’t miss that.
I stop for the night in Vang Vieng, an area famous for the limestone cliffs surrounding the city. The night I spend there marks the last night I am sick, and when I wake up in the morning, I am in great shape and ready to fight. Vang Vieng is a strange place. Westerners stop here for few days not only for the incredible landscapes, but also because drugs are easily available. Not my scene.
My cold is better, but not my back. For some reason, the country seems to have the worst mattresses I saw during my journey. Don’t take me wrong, I am OK with hard mattresses. But seriously, harder than concrete? What kind of technology do they use to produce it? This will remain a mystery.
I arrive in Vientiane the following day and as I am now feeling better, I locate a place to camp along the Mekong River. I am glad I went to bed early, principally because a military battalion wakes me up at six in the morning. They dont let me alone until the tent is packed. What can you do? Some days are like that. I fix myself some coffee and go check in a guest house for the following night (Phorntip guesthouse, US$8, recommended). I do know that officials are still not wild about foreigners roaming around like I do, and they prefer us to be registered in hotels…
Vientiane is the kind of capital I love. Small with 200,000 inhabitants, it is exactly as big as Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. For some reason, Laos is not a big sex tourism destination, and I hope it will remain this way, as Vientiane is quite innocent compared to other capitals in the region. This apart, I found the city a little bit less interesting than Phnom Penh, with its charming streets lined with French bistros…
At the guesthouse I meet again with the two crazy French girls I crossed path with in Phongsaly. They are on their way down to Bangkok where they are supposed to catch a flight to Myanmar. We spend the evening together and have a great pizza that reconciles me with the city. (Swedish Pizza & Baking House, best pizza I had since ??)
In the morning we meet again for breakfast. They attempt to buy train tickets for Bangkok, but are told that the train is full. They have to be back in Bangkok in two days time, otherwise they will miss their flight. Few hours later I am rearranging the load in the truck so I can drive these two crazy Frenchies.
We leave at noon and pass the Thailand border without problems as nobody on either side seem to be interested by who we are and what we carry. Unfortunately, few miles later, during a stop to get lunch I notice that there’s something wrong with the vehicle.
For some reasons, probably involving the crazy ride up to Phongsaly, three of the right front wheel bolts broke. The wheel is now just holding by three remaining bolts. Incredibly, the problem is solved quickly as we find a shop swiftly enough. I can’t believe the chap has all the parts I need here, but he does. After two hours pit-stop, we are back on the highway.
We stop to spend the night in Khon Kaen an unremarkable town in eastern Thailand. The road leading there didn’t have much appeal either, and I am glad I have some company to keep me awake.
We arrive on Thursday night in Bangkok, where the girls give me a quick tour of the Banglamphu area. They have to be at the airport very early in the morning and we don’t stay out late. I am pretty tired as well, as we drove 500 miles in the last two days in a pretty hot weather.
But there’s not much rest for me neither the following day, as my time is filled with engagements with shipping companies and other customs brokers. It turns out I should be able to stuff my container in the beginning of the week, and the truck should be in Los Angeles around the end of January. Perfect.
Regrettably there is soon enough another obstacle. The Chinese embassy doesn’t grant visas to French citizens without a return ticket. I decide to postpone the resolution of this matter until Monday. Anyway there’s not much I can do during the week-end.
In the meantime I visit the western part of the city and spend time in restaurants, in an effort to take advantage of the Thai way of cooking before I am gone for good. I find myself alone in the city after many weeks of gathering with a lot of people. Vikas, Kathryn, Philip, Valerie, Sandrine… After such a long time alone on the road as I was crossing Africa or the Middle East, it has been a lot of human contacts lately. It is probably a good training for me before being back in the U.S. where my social life will start again. At least I know that I am still a normal human being… Or almost normal…
When I have time, I begin to organize my bags since I will have to continue the trip without the truck. I will soon be in much colder places and will have to be ready. The temperature in Seoul, South Korea, is only in the 30’s so I have to dig clothes I didn’t use since Peru, which are located deep in the trunk.
The next step will be to switch from southeast to northeast Asia. Apart from the wintry climate, another challenge will be to return in more costly areas where I will not be able to get inexpensive hotel rooms as I do here. Also, without my camping gear, I will have to eat out constantly. Regardless, it’s exciting to be on the move again, soon to discover new horizons.