35,000 km road trip stops just short of Singapore

35,000 km road trip stops just short of Singapore
Ms Dreier near the Taftan border between Iran and Pakistan where she and Mr Duin were accompanied by armed escorts during their eight-day drive from the border to the Pakistani city of Lahore.

It took German couple Steffi Dreier and Jojo Duin eight months to get from their home in Hamburg to Singapore. It took them so long because they drove - most of the way at least.

They travelled across 15 countries including Austria, Bulgaria, Iran, Pakistan, India, Thailand and Malaysia - covering a distance of 35,000km in their trusty green Volkswagen camper van.

But they had to leave behind their vehicle in Kuala Lumpur as Singapore does not allow vehicles such as camper vans with cooking and sleeping facilities on the roads here.

They crossed the Causeway in a bus last Thursday.

"It was kind of sad to leave her as this old lady has made the journey possible and took us all the way here," said Ms Dreier, referring to the van the couple have named Renate. Her father, a bit of an adventurous traveller himself, is driving it back to Hamburg.

But the couple's journey is not quite over yet. They will be taking a ferry to Batam on the way to Jakarta before continuing with their overland journey in Indonesia for the next two months.

Why not just fly?

"By driving, we'd be able to see how the landscape and cultures and the people gradually change from one area to another... That is much more satisfying," said Ms Dreier. "Besides, there is no jet lag."

The 33-year-old quit her job in a renewable energy firm, while 31-year-old Mr Duin, formerly a consultant at KPMG, resigned last September to embark on this 10-month trip.

The couple are no strangers to road trips. In 2009, the year they got together, they drove across Jordan, Syria and Turkey for two months.

And while they have had their fair share of dicey situations, Mr Duin described their latest trip as "intense". They even had to be escorted by armed personnel for the eight days that they drove from the Taftan border between Pakistan and Iran to Lahore, the capital city of Pakistan's Punjab province.

"We did our research and were aware of the dangers. We always thought 'don't be stupid, but don't be scared'," said Mr Duin, who took turns at the wheel.

The people they met along the way helped allay fears.

Ms Dreier, who described the Iranians as among the most helpful, said: "They were different from the way they are portrayed in the media and on the Internet... They offered to guide us, bought us meals and even gave us two large cans of diesel oil as a present!"

While the couple had saved up about 25,000 euros (S$37,000) for this trip, being on the road for so long meant giving up some comforts.

Driving a 25-year-old camper van that has no air-conditioning also meant that the ride, at times, was far from comfortable. The sleeping area was at the back of the van in a cramped space that is as wide as a single-size mattress.

The couple endured the biting sub-zero temperatures in Iran and had to cope with the nightly heatwave and humidity in Laos.

"We were so sweaty and grumpy that we just kept quiet, did not move and waited for the night to be over," said Mr Duin.

The couple would bathe in public toilets, although Mr Duin admitted to going without a proper bath for 11 days in Thailand.

"We were parked at the beach so I would just jump in the sea and soak," he said.

In several of the most remote locations which do not have cellphone coverage or GPS signals, the couple had to ditch their smartphones and rely on wrinkled maps to find their way around. But being free to "go wherever we want and do whatever we want was worth the pain", said Ms Dreier.

And it was a plus to be able to take a break from the phone and Internet for some periods.

Facing each other 24 hours a day, seven days a week has not strained ties, they insisted. Except for three arguments, the couple said they have never been happier together.

"We used to quarrel a lot more in Germany when we saw each other only on weekends," said Ms Dreier.

While they are on holiday in this part of the world, the couple are hopeful about finding jobs around the region.

Ms Dreier, who worked and studied in Singapore and Indonesia for 11/2 years back in 2008 and can speak Bahasa Indonesia, said she loves the diverse cultures of South-east Asia.

When asked about their favourite city in the trip, the couple said: "Maybe Singapore.

"It has a little bit of everything that we like in all the different cities we have been to."

jermync@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 24, 2015.
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