Saturday, August 26, 2017

'Classic' Vespa Glovebox Bag By SIP - Being an unintended guinea pig for a product

As I was riding through Kuala Lumpur, I was introduced to Shauki of Vespa Planet. He gave me something that proves to be one of the most useful and heavily utilised gift in this trip.

It is very easy to install with just 3 velcro straps closed behind the glovebox lid. Shauki strapped it on and it has been there since.

Be it at the traffic light or in the jam, hydration is within reach with the bottle holder. The other compartments hold my compass, maps, insurance document and even my mobile phone as it charges it from my scooter battery.

The glovebox bag also became the object of envy for motorcycle travellers. Rather than fumbling through strapped-down luggages to retrieve vehicle documents for border crossings, I could easily reach them by sliding the zip open. My friend even tasked me to hold his documents when we were crossing the Indo-Pakistan border together. (BAD IDEA to carry someone else's document in case of separation. You may read my frantic border crossing here.)

Somewhere in Switzerland, map within reach from the glovebox bag.

House on the Rock at Drina River, Serbia.
After 27 months, 24 countries, 44,000km and repeated opening and closing of the glovebox, I rolled into SIP Scootershop in Landsberg, Germany. Moritz, who works for SIP, checked out the bag and was impressed with its durability. So was I.

The bag has only deviated from its original colour (caked with dirt from all over the world) but not its functionality - a testament to the quality of the materials and seam stitching. Honestly, the glovebox bag has been quite an indispensable accessory since day 2 of this long ride. 

The latest photo of the glovebox bag!
It takes scooterists themselves to understand what scooterist needs. SIP staff do go on summer tours with scooters to know what can be improved or developed. This simple glovebox bag is exactly a product of their passion.

SIP Scootershop has also been really supportive to send me parts when I was rebuilding the engine last year. So being an unwittingly guinea pig and reviewer for this product is definitely my pleasure and honour.

Thank you so much Shauki of Vespa Planet and SIP Scootershop! I cannot believe the two photos below are more than 2 years apart! The glovebox bag certainly came a long way.

The glovebox bag can be purchased on the SIP Scooter online shop:

Monday, May 01, 2017

Life Lessons and Deepest Thoughts after 2 years on the road - Interview with Ranford Neo

This article was first published by Ranford Neo

Here’s a fun fact: Did you know “Vespa” is the Italian word for “Wasp” ?

Today, I’m happy to share with you a story of one Singaporean’s journey across the globe – on a Vespa.

Here’s a video on her adventure so far…

1) Hey Juvena, share with us who you are and what you’re currently doing right now?

Passu, Pakistan - a good shot after struggling with the selfie stick.
I’m a twenty-nine year old Singaporean, an avid biker and wanderer. On 16th May 2015, I left Singapore on my Vespa scooter to travel world. Twenty-two months, thirteen countries and more than 30,000 kilometres later, I’m still on the road. Right now, I’m taking a hiatus from travelling due to winter. At the same time, I’m also juggling between volunteering in a hostel for free stay and helping at a refugee kitchen.

2) It’s interesting that you chose to travel on your Vespa, how did this idea come about?

I’ve always been a biker first, a traveller second. Naturally, travelling on two wheels is a combination of my two interests. I have a Vespa since I was twenty years old. The idea of travelling was shelved aside as I was caught up in the rat race – working to fund university studies and to pay bills.

Attabad Lake, Pakistan - The raw beauty of the Karakoram mountains.

3) Why did you choose to embark on this journey and how has it been going for you so far?

A good friend of mine planned to set off on a riding adventure to the border of China. A week before the trip, he passed away in an accident while driving. The brevity and uncertainty of life dawned on me. It got me questioning if I should continue only living a life up to societal expectation or beyond that. Travelling was something I want to do since I was eighteen. I decided to waste no time in turning that into a reality.

From 2008 to 2010, there was another couple from Singapore (Singaporedream) who were travelling around the world on a motorcycle too. They have been a big inspiration.

The world has been great so far. Throughout my travel, many people have shown me generosity and kindness by offering food, opening their homes to me and repairing my scooter. It’s in my times of vulnerability that I rediscovered humanity.

Shiraz, Iran - Locals who opened their home to me. This is just one of the many.
4) What were some of the challenges faced while you were travelling and how did you manage to overcome them?

Challenges usually become the norm and are no longer challenges. Humans being are adaptable. However, one challenge that I still have not gotten used to after two years of travelling is having to saying farewell to new found friends.

5) Share with us some of the greatest life lessons learned while you were on the road.

Learning to let go is one of the toughest and most important lessons. Being overtly attached to expectations and desires make us unhappy and anxious. Being always on the move, I’m constantly learning to recognise and accept the impermanence of situations, relationships and emotions. It may not be so evident when we are settled in one place but impermanence is still prevalent in our daily lives. Nothing is forever, like happy moments and also troubled moments. Travelling has made me a much calmer and rational person in times of adversity.

The luggage I carry during this trip is like a metaphor for the material burdens in our lives. I realised I don’t need many things to survive. The less stuff I carry with me, the less worry I have about keeping them safe or maintaining it. Owning things beyond the necessities are just extra weights to carry and source of anxieties. People tend to associate happiness with the amount of things they own but is that truly the case?

Marhaloo Lake, Iran - Getting ready stuck in the mud.
A visit to a secluded village located 1.5 hours trek away from the nearest road redefined poverty. The people here do not have much financially and materialistically. However, the river nearby supplies clean water for our washing, drinking and cooking daily. My host offered me an unripe jackfruit which they just harvested. Their children are healthy because they do not eat junk food and trekked to school half an hour to an hour almost every day.

Their natural surroundings provide well for them as they take care of their environment. A revelation struck me – Poverty is not about the lack of money. It starts when money becomes the only means to get your basic necessities. Probably that’s the reason I see more beggars in cities. The urbanised humans are probably the only species on earth that requires currency to survive.

Nongriat, Northeast India - The village that showed me the alternate way of living in a close knitted community.
6) I’m sure safety is a huge concern. How do you ensure the safety of yourself and your friends during these trips?

If you practice common sense, trust your gut instincts and recognise your limitations, usually safety is of lesser concern. Heed the locals’ advice, do as the Romans do. Even so, situations can be uncertain – be it overseas or even at home. Take the examples of terrorist attacks in 2016, it happened in countries you least expected.

7) “Not all who wander are lost”. What you’re doing is very unconventional. How you handle the naysayers and people who try to talk you out of doing what you’re doing?

Naysayers are usually the ones who don’t venture into the unknown and unconventional, imposing their fears and limitations on others. They perceive the world from the comforts of their home and only through media and hearsays. I usually take their advice with a pinch of salt. Their words may stem from their insecurity but they can be well-intended too. I would say listen to yourself and at the same time, respect the elements of travelling.

I do get talked down to because I’m riding a small old scooter and maybe because of my gender. Very often, we are stronger than we think we are. The only limitations are the ones you set on yourself. If you never even try, you’ll never know how much you can achieve. I’m glad that I pay little heed to naysayers. If not, I would have missed out so much on what the world has to offer.

On the contrary, I spoke and met many people who have done trips like this. They’re always very encouraging. So far, I’ve not met anybody who went on an extended travel and regretted it.

Khardung La, India - Attempting one of the highest road in the world under icy condition made me realise the thin line between bravery and stupidity.
8) What advice would you give someone who wants to travel like you do?

I have many people who come to me saying, “I wish I can do what you are doing” or assume that I am very wealthy. I am just a regular middle-class Singaporean.

Turning your dreams of travelling into reality involves action – stop wishing for it and start working for it. It’s not just for travelling but also for other pursuits.

My actions were saving and moonlighting for three and half years, sold things I don’t need and avoiding the life of a consumer. Then, I left the job I had for six years and set off on this trip, only surviving on my savings and donations from followers.

Abyaneh, Iran - Million stars hotel cost nothing....
It might sound extreme but I know this is what I want as I recognise that I don’t have infinite time and opportunity on this earth. I’m very fortunate that my parents and I are still healthy and have no liabilities. I want to do this while I can.

You’ll never feel or never be 100% financially, mentally or physically prepared. Even if you feel that you are adequately prepared, you cannot be prepared for the unexpected. The world will surprise you in many ways.

Give yourself a reasonable dateline, prepare the best you can and go. Trust me, you’ll learn and grow so much along the way.

9) What are your travel plans for this year and what do you hope to achieve in 2017?

I hope to explore the rest of Europe in 2017. I have been away for two years and I think it’s also time to head home for some time before resuming the trip again.

10) In your own words, what does it mean to “Love the Life You Live and Live the Life You Love”?

Appreciating and loving the things you have in your life and live a life making the best of it.

Greatest Takeaway

Learning to let go, the concept of poverty and handling naysayers are some of the greatest takeaways I’ve learned from Juvena’s adventure on the road.

“The luggage I carry during this trip is like a metaphor for the material burdens in our lives. I realised I don’t need many things to survive. The less stuff I carry with me, the less worry I have about keeping them safe or maintaining it.”

The acceptance of impermanence is a huge lesson all of us can learn as we walk through life and handle all the obstacles and challenges it brings.

“Poverty is not about the lack of money. It starts when money becomes the only means to get your basic necessities.”

Personal development gurus will usually say poverty is a mindset but I like how Juvena puts it because there’s a practical element to it. Differentiating needs from wants is crucial when it comes to tackling poverty. What is it that we really need in order to survive? At what expense does it cost for us to pursue what we want?

Lastly, naysayers. We’ve all experienced them at least once in our lives. You know what you need best and learn to take what these people say with a pinch of salt.

Thanks Juvena for sharing with us your journey and I’m sure this is just a snapshot of what you’ve learned and experienced so far. I wish you all the best for your upcoming travels and continue being the wandering wasp that you are 😉

If you’ll like to stay up to date with Juvena and her Vespa, head over to her facebook page, “The Wandering Wasp”  or on Instagram to let her take you on an adventure you’ll never forget!

Juvena Huang
The Wandering Wasp

Juvena Huang
A Singaporean world traveller on a Vespa scooter. Free-spirited biker, adventurer, animal lover and yogi. Fuelled by an insatiable curiosity and sudden passing of a friend, Juvena decided to discover the world on her Vespa scooter.

Kilometre by kilometre on two wheels, she has transversed Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Iran, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Serbia, savouring each country slowly.

Facebook Page:

This article was first published on Ranford writes on a variety of topics including Business, Life, Entrepreneurship and Travel.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

What Goes on Behind my Round the World Travel that People Do Not See.

A silly idea mentioned over a casual conversation came to fruition two months ago. The allure of travelling around the world seems like an enticing dream to many. We often romanticise the idea of quitting your job to travel, visiting beautiful places and meeting people from all over the world. I have been sharing lots of photos of amazing places and people I have meet on my social media. Before I get anybody steaming green with envy, I would like to bring them to the ground with some aspect of my journey many do not see. It was not always candy floss, unicorns and everything nice.

1. Working my Butts off to save money for the past 3.5 years

People do not know how hard I worked and what I had to give up to get the money for travelling. While many friends were zipping around South East Asia on their big new machines, I had to practise restraint on spending on a new bike, going for long rides and expensive holidays. I sold my KTM 200 EGS and put my favourite activity of dirtbiking on hiatus for a few years.

There were months I was moonlighting a few jobs just to meet my saving target each month. On one particular day, I was running between 3 jobs in 16 hours. As a result, I disappeared from my social circle for months. Movies were a twice a year thing for me. I cooked my food as much as possible instead of eating out always. That period was physically and emotionally draining. Was it all worth it? As the date of departure drew closer, I think it was. Now that I am travelling, it definitely is!

2. The Process of Gaining Trust from Family Members

How am I going to put my mother at ease with me travelling solo in foreign land?

It took time to develop her trust in me. First, by embarking on small trips with my scooter; another time, riding alone in Chiang Mai to meet my friends. I wanted to show her that I know how to take care of myself and get around places.

One year before my intended departure, I stopped moonlighting to spend more time with family and also to recharge myself. I picked up yoga to break my sedentary lifestyle and as a way to maintain fitness during travel.

I brought my mother to Shanghai for a short getaway for bonding and also to make up for my long absence the following year. I did most of the planning for Shanghai to show her that I can be resourceful. 

Sometimes, I think she questions why she has a daughter who always do things to make her worry. Nevertheless, she supports my dream in her little subtle ways. She is not a mother who make decisions for her children, but only wants them to be happy with their decisions. I am very fortunate she did not burn down my scooter upon knowing my plan.

3. The Art of Letting Go

Unbeknownst to me before, the mental preparation preceding the trip was a lot harder. The thought of being away from home and family for such a long time scares me. I am going to miss out on family occasions like Chinese New Year, birthdays, Lantern Festivals. I am not sure if my one year old niece will see me as a stranger once I return home.

My 13 year old dog was recently diagnosed with heart problem and is on daily medications. Being a former Vet-nurse, I was the always the one bringing him to the vets and gets his health issue sorted. Now I have to entrust him to my sister and mother.

If my dog is to fall gravely ill, should I fly back home to see my canine buddy of 13 years off? When I said good bye to my family on 16 May 2015, I know that it may be my last time seeing my dog. Or if any of my relatives were to fall sick or to pass away, who should I return for? (My grandma passed away in August 2016, I could not and also decided not to go back.)

I, like many out there, have these mundane concerns before leaving. Over time, I learnt the art of letting go, partially with the help of yoga - not to let the past or future fret me so much, focusing on present instead.

If I am going to let the future of “what ifs” bother me so much, I should be staying behind in Singapore to take care of the “what ifs”, which may or may not happen.

If any scenarios I mentioned really happens, I will have to make a decision then. As of now, the present is still as such - nothing is holding me back from travelling. I should do it while I can.

Before I left, I had to make every present moment counts, leave nothing unsaid. 

My Italian friend shared with me quote from a Latin poem. "Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero." It means, "Seize the moment, putting as little trust as possible in the future." You can prepare for the future, but future is unprecedented, how can one ever possibly prepare for 1001 possibilities?

It is probably less daunting for me because I do not have the responsibility of raising children or caring for aged parents.

It is also because of these reasons that I want to do it as soon as possible instead of waiting until I have all the riches in the world. I can have more money in 10 years time but may not have the vigour or opportunity by then.

By then, I may have children or need to care for my parents, making such trip more challenging to fulfill.

In the past two months of travelling, I have met people who helped me and offered their friendships in many ways. Travelling alone, I tend to bond with people more than when I am travelling with friends. Eventually, there will come a time when I have to move on.

Saying farewell is the hardest thing to do. Sometimes, tears just well up in my eyes behind my helmet visors after I leave them. At times, I just could not hold it before I say good bye.

At Mae Sot Border, Thailand before crossing over to Myanmar.
Saying farewell is the hardest thing to do!

4. Having Time Vs Having Money to Travel

On the other hand, I came to realise the luxury of such long term travel is not about having lots of money, but having the time. Unlike my past travel with a planned itinerary, I had to stick to it because there is a train or flight booked. Sometimes, I wish to stay longer in a town, but I could not.

Now with my own scooter and time, I can decided to stay at a place longer if I like it. The best thing about doing it solo, you do not have to make compromises for others.

I met a few naysayers before my trip. What if scooter breaks down, what if this and that? But I guess they said what they did because of their expectation of a trip. Everything must be perfect, there should be no room for errors and set backs.

With time, there can be room for errors and set backs. With time, you can nurse your health before continuing with travel. With time, you can spend another day just to get your bike fixed up and running. You do not need to always have to spend big money on the quickest solutions.

With time, ride slower, appreciate your surroundings, your tyres and bike will last longer. With time, you can explore more options for cheaper accommodation in a new town. With time, you can find ways to make money if you really run out of money. With time, chat with the locals, they can provide you alternate insights and perspectives. With time, live with the locals, you will be humbled by their way of life and learn not to sweat over small stuff.

Yes, you still need money to pay for your food and lodging, (I do not like the idea of being a freeloader although I am on a tight budget,). Honestly, with the deposit I placed for Carnet, I do not think I have enough money to last me for the intended travel plan. But I will have time to figure out making money while travelling. Be it writing articles for travel magazines, teaching yoga or PayPal contribution through this blog. With time, you can gain so much more experiences that money and quick fixes cannot give you.

One thing I learn is that you cannot be 100% prepared for everything. I learn to tackle each problem as it comes and not to sweat over small stuff.

5. Stepping out of Comfort Zone.

Travelling on a tight budget also means giving up some of my usual comfort. I always try to look for the cheapest place in town to stay. My first choice is usually hostel or guest house with secure parking. There can be no attached bathrooms or privacy in shared dorms.  It also means having to put up with mosquitoes at times, or having to don a raincoat and torchlight whenever I need the bathroom.

Do not expect having dry and clean clothes to wear or the luxury of having a hot shower all the time.

At times, locals host me. Mum was always telling me over Whatsapp, "Please becareful of people around you." After being brought up not to trust strangers since young, I have to learn to trust strangers in a strange land, based on my instinct. It was a huge psychological barrier to overcome.

Behind the facade of visiting beautiful places and meeting wonderful people, the reality of travelling, is not going to be always a bed of roses.

And with monsoon, landslides, rain and riding in fog.
Two month into my travel, I had fallen from my scooter 5 times, scooter problems, food poisoning, problems drying my laundry in the rainiest place on earth and suffering from toe infection. Wet weather, moist environment in your riding boots are perfect breeding ground for bacteria.

In Guwahati, I had to have my toe nail removed at the hospital and later was vomitting and having diarrhoea from the side effects of antibiotic, busted my budget for lodging because I need to stay near the hospital, then screwed up my scooter when trying to fixed something simple myself. These are my downtimes so far.

So I became a regular at the hospital for my bi-daily antibiotic and end up befriending the nurses and doctor.
However, it is situations like these that you meet Samaritans who bring back your faith in humanity. Bikers are most of the time a helpful bunch.

I screwed up my scooter in my DIY attempt. Arnab got a mechanic to my hotel to salvage the situation.


Many people told me, “I envy you, I wish I can travel like you too.” They did not see what I had to give up or how hard I worked to save my travel fund, or how my family and I cried when I left home two months ago. They do not see the times when I miss my family. 

Luca, another Vespa traveller, shared the same sentiments as me.

Both of us, just like anybody out there, still have our accountabilities to people who love and care for us back at home.

I try to update as often as I can so everybody knows that I am safe. At the same time, I want to share what it is like out there and hopefully others will go and see the world for themselves. So far, the world is too amazing not to share!

If your dream is to travel around the world, are you setting your priorities towards that dream? For some, although they said they want to travel, I do not see their actions gearing towards that goal. They own expensive cars, bikes and spend money blinking them up. They probably can better afford to travel the world than I do but looking at their priorities, they can only say they cannot afford to do so.

After speaking to many overland travellers, I observed overland traveller always talk about solutions towards hurdles. How about emailing to 50 to 60 companies seeking sponsorships? I know one did and now he is paid to travel after building his reputation for the past 3 years.

Whereas, those who only say they want to do it but never did, I often hear excuses. It is too difficult. Of course, it is going to be difficult. If you are going to give up that dream just after a set back, you are not going to make progress in any pursuit.

If there are more excuses not to do it than reasons to do it, probably you do not want it bad enough. Maybe it is just not your priority. 

If you want it bad enough, you will find a way eventually. Quit envying and work for it!

Monday, July 13, 2015

The First Big Step - Malaysia Boleh! My Helpful Neighbours.

Singapore – Malaysia

16th May 2015

The trip my friends and I talked about 5 years ago was finally happening. However, I will be doing it solo. Doing such a long trip requires big financial preparation and commitment. It is difficult to find people who are committed to it as we all have different priorities and expectation of travelling.

Days preceding the trip was crazily hectic. I was knackered from running errands, getting my visas sorted and catching up with friends. The only time for a break was when I leave for the trip.

Friends and family gathered at my block. My MP, Pritam Singh was also there to send me off. It was not a cheery sent off party with waving pom poms. The mood was awkwardly solemn. My family and I were hugging in tears. I could not bear the sight of my mum crying, the most.

I kissed my dog on his forehead as I always do. It may be the last time I am seeing my canine companion of 13 years old. He was diagnosed with heart problem a few months back. I do not know how many years he have left and I was unsure when I will be back.

The ones I will be missing the most while travelling.
Friends who came to send me off. Some I met for the first time. Thank you for your presence.
It is an honour to have Mr Pritam Singh presenting me a Singapore flag.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Ridiculous Things About Getting a Carnet de Passage from Automobile Association of Singapore

In the previous post, I have mentioned about the purpose of Carnet de Passage. I will just go into the ridiculous things I faced during the application process.

1. The deposit value for motorcycle is based on engine capacity, not the vehicle value. I had to place S$10,000 for my scooter. (Please contact AAS for the latest information, as of 2016, I learnt that the deposit is a flat S$5,000 for all motorcycles irregardless of countries to enter.)

My scooter is the most expensive among the Suzuki DR650, Yamaha Tenere 690, Benelli 600 and BMW G650XChallenge that crossed Myanmar with me.
Previously, the deposit amount is based on vehicle value.  Two or three years back, rules have changed. Less than 400cc, the deposit amount is S$5,000. Anything more than that, it is S$15,000.

If you are going to the following countries, the amount is going to be doubled.

Hong Kong

I underlined the countries that I will be visiting. Based on the countries I am going, I am depositing S$10,000 with Automobile Association of Singapore, this is one third of my entire travel budget. If I am going on a big bike, that will be S$30,000 and I can forget about travelling in these countries so soon.

I wrote in to appeal and did not get a reply. So I headed down to AAS personally to ask again. I was told, they cannot concede to my request. I asked if they can reply my email on that, till now, I have not received any reply.

I felt pretty insulted when I was told, can borrow from your mother first, just because I did not have cheque book. You think I am still dependent on my parents at age 27 and that they are ever ready to part S$10,000 to make them worry during my travel. Please, no. My skin is not that thick. I worked, moonlighted and saved like crazy for the past 3.5 years to fund this travel. $5,000 is still ok but S$10,000 is a huge amount for me.

In the end, I got myself a Cashier’s Order to place that deposit.

I find it a ridiculous amount to be depositing for a scooter that cost me S$2,000 when I bought it in 2007. A quick check with friend on the cost of Vespa scooter in Pakistan. He told me, the maximum is US$400, it is as good as scrap metal there.  AAS is loading me 16 times the vehicle value in that country. Really?!

Even if you are using a brand new S$13,000 Honda CRF250L for the journey, the deposit value is still S$10,000. I really do not see this making sense.

I was crossing border from Myanmar to India with the group of bike consisting of Benelli 600, Suzuki DR 650, Yamaha Tenere 690 and BMW G650X Challenge. When submitting our Carnet de Passage to the custom for endorsement, one of them jokingly mentioned, "Your scooter is the ‘most expensive’ among all the bikes here."

It is a big joke whenever travellers ask me about the Carnet deposit I placed.

For Australian vehicles and also for Europeans, they do not have to leave the deposit with their respective Automobile Association. They have the option of paying an insurance premium to insure the deposit amount. Their vehicles will first be evaluated before determining the loading value and thus the premium.

This explains why overlanding with Singapore registered vehicle is something that only the well off can afford. There are so many Australians and European travelling with their vehicles without initial huge financial hurdle. That is why it is so common among them.

I really hope the option of insurance premium for Carnet deposit will be available in Singapore in future. Otherwise, it is all about money talk. Not many people are travelling overland in Singapore so I guess there is no demand for this insurance.

I tried asking Automobile Association of Malaysia if they can issue Carnet for my scooter but sadly, no. Since Singapore has an Automobile Association, it has to be applied from there.

Another idea to avoid this huge initial cost for your overland travel is to buy a Malaysia-registered bike, get it towed to Singapore to do up the bike if you cannot afford to travel Malaysia frequently. I read that among the Southeast Asia countries, Malaysia is where foreigners can easily purchase a vehicle. I am not sure how it works but you can try research and asking if you are really keen on doing the Carnet route. As far as I know, the deposit value there is still based on vehicle value.

The only consolation I have now is that when I return home, I will not be penniless.

2. The road tax and insurance has to be valid for the period that the Carnet is valid for. I am paying for insurance that does not cover where I will be going.

I had to pay for my insurance and road tax in advance. It has to be valid for the the entire one year validity period of Carnet (May 2015 to May 2016). My exisiting scooter insurance and road tax expires in October 2015. So I had to renew my insurance and road tax until October 2016.

I understand that the road tax is required for the vehicle to be valid for road use. Our vehicle insurance in Singapore only covers until some distance from Malaysia –Thailand border. My vehicle insurance is useless if I were to travel beyond that. I do not see why I should be paying for it.

I asked the officer at LTA if it is possible to renew the road tax without paying for the insurance. They said, cannot. You need the insurance and inspection certifate for road tax renewal. I explained that my scooter will not be in the area that the insurance is covered for, why do I still need to pay for it.

The answer is, “You need the insurance to renew road tax.”

My Shi Fu told me he used other countries’ vehicle insurance to renew the road tax in the later part of his travel. LTA accepted. For now, I just have to pay for redundant insurance just to get the Carnet.

Since my vehicle will not be in Singapore, I also have to request from LTA to skip my inspection. I wrote a letter that goes something like this.

Dear Sir/Mdm,

I, {Name}, {NRIC no.}, vehicle owner of {Vehicle No.}, will be riding the said vehicle from Singapore to {Destination} from {Date} to {Date}.

As the vehicle will not be in Singapore for the next inspection, I would like to request permission to skip it. I promise to maintain the vehicle in good, road worthy condition. As soon as the vehicle returns to Singapore I will send it for inspection.

Thank you.

Best regards,
{Your name}

3. You need to be a member of AAS in order to apply for the Carnet de Passage. I am not around to be using their Jackpot room.

It is not much of a big deal. The cheapest membership is the Social Membership which cost only S$32.10 a year.

Checklist for applying Carnet de Passage from AAS
- AAS membership (Go for the cheapest membership.)
- Carnet de Passage Application Form
- International Driving Permit
- Valid Road Tax that covers the Validity period of the Carnet de Passage.
- Valid Vehicle Insurance covering that period.
- Cheque/Cashier’s Order or Banker’s Guarantee for the loading deposit. (I opt for Cashier’s Order because it is cheaper and I do not have any asset to my name for guarantee too. Banker’s Guarantee takes around 2-3 weeks to process because it requires lawyer letters etc. It is a very tedious process and involves additional cost for the lawyer letters. Bank will only hold that money for maximum 18 months and may charge interest for holding that money for you.)
- Driver’s License
- Vehicle Logcard
- Passport
- Vehicle Logcard

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Getting Travel Vaccinations in Singapore - Staying Protected and Healthy for Long Travel

Falling sick while travelling is a major turn off - you feel awful, your itinerary gets disrupted. Language barrier with medical staff, dubious quality of the medications and medical costs are few of things to deal with on top of physical crankiness.

Travelling to foreign land exposes you to bugs that are not endemic to your home country. Often, we lack immunity to these foreign bugs and are susceptible to them.

The good news is, many of the diseases can be easily prevented with prophylaxis or vaccines.

Travel Medicine Clinics can be found in the following Singapore hospitals.
  • Tan Tock Seng Hospital
  • Changi General Hospital
  • Singapore General Hospital
  • Khoo Teck Puat Hospital
  • Raffles Hospital
I chose to go Tan Tock Seng Hospital because everybody else I know went there for their travel vaccinations, even the assistant in my GP told me to go there. I later realised that most of the vaccines in Tan Tock Seng Hospital are cheaper. You can compare the price list below with the price list I found for SGH.

Due to the complexity and long duration of my travel itinerary, I have to consult a doctor. If you are unsure if you need to consult a doctor, you may call them up to check. I was informed that doctor consultation cost $68. I did not have to wait long for an appointment. I called up on Friday and was able to secure an appointment for the following Monday.

Tan Tock Seng Hospital's Travellers' Health and Vaccination Clinic (THVC)
11 Jalan Tan Tock Seng, Singapore 308433
Location: Clinic 4B, Level 4, TTSH Medical Centre
Tel: 6357 2222

Opening hours
Monday to Friday: 8.00am - 5.30pm (Last walk-in appointment at 5:00pm.)
Saturday: 8.00am - 12.30pm (Last walk-in appointment at 12:00pm.)
Sunday & Public Holiday: Closed

Before Your Visit

  • List down the places that you will be visiting, urban or rural places and the duration of stay. You may wish to do a quick research on CDC website to find out what is required for your destinations.
  • If your travel itinerary is complex and long, consult your doctor 2 to 3 months before departure. Some vaccines require booster shots over a period of one month to 6 months. Other than that, 4 to 6 weeks before departure is recommended.
  • Bring your health booklet along (remember that blue booklet issued in primary school? It holds your vaccinations record.) and any other records of past vaccinations. The doctor will thank you for it. Some vaccines confers life-long immunity and are redundant if you have done them before.
  • Print and fill up this form. Attach a list of countries if the space is not enough. Provide tentative dates if your travel is open-ended in nature.
  • Make sure you are feeling well if you have going to receive your vaccinations that day.
  • For ladies, check if you are pregnant. Some vaccines are contraindicated in pregnancy. Doctor and nurses always ask when is your last period for this reason.
  • Bring a notebook to take down health advices from the doctors if you think you cannot remember everything.
If you are just interested in the cost of the vaccines at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, you may skip the rest and go to the bottom of this page.

At the Clinic

I was guided by the receptionist to the comfy couch in the waiting area and soon helped myself to a cup of hot Milo at the dispenser. Before I could take a sip, my name was called up.

In the office, the doctor introduced herself as Prof Lim. Over the next one and half hour, Prof Lim went through the list of places that I will be travelling and went through all the different health risk and precautions at different areas .

She occasionally referred to this book called The Yellow Book which is the CDC Health Information for International Travel. You can find the entire book here. There are advices for all the travel related ailments, from infectious diseases to altitude sickness.

Occasionally, Prof Lim shared her travelling experiences as example. She had travelled extensively when she was my age, sometimes solo, sometimes with friends. So far, she has been to all the continents except Antarctica.

"Once in a long while, I get special cases like yours. Open plan travel for a long duration. A few years back, I saw a couple who was travelling around the world on their motorcycle," she said. I knew she was referring to Goh and Samantha.

Whatever information found here cannot replace a doctor's years of expertise. Please consult a doctor for your travel vaccine requirements. I am different from you in terms of medical, vaccination history and travel itinerary. Please do not try to play smart alec based on information found on Wikipedia. They are not reliable.

After consulting Prof Lim, I need to get 1 oral and 11 injectable vaccination in total, covering almost everything! A nurse later scheduled the vaccinations with instructions from Prof Lim.

The Yellow Booklet which holds all your vaccination record. It is an official document for re-entry into some countries. Please refer to Yellow Fever section below.

Common Travel Vaccines

Hepatitis A

This virus causes inflammation of liver and is transmitted by oral-fecal route. There is no cure for this, only supportive care available. You will need two dose. The first dose will last for 6 months to 1 year, the second dose administered within 6 to 11 months after the first dose will confer life long immunity.

I had one dose in TTSH, my next dose will be done when I am overseas. In order to find a reliable clinic or hospital for Travel Medicine, one can refer to International Society of Travel Medicine website for the global directory. Prof Lim explained that vaccines in developing towns or cities can be dubious in quality. Vaccines need to be stored in low temperature in the fridge or freezer. Frequent power outrage compromises the efficiency of the vaccines.

Hepatitis B

Most Singaporean were vaccinated against it when they are babies. Whether another booster shot is required depends on the antibody titre level in your blood. A blood test can determine that. If it is low, you will need another booster shot to stimulate your body into making more of the antibody.

I had my booster shot done as a poly student as it was required for my internship. I have family members who are chronic carriers. Donated blood are routinely screened for Hep B antigen, and in my case for antibodies too. Being a regular blood donor, I have not heard anything from the blood bank about my blood being unsuitable for donation.

Looking at my history, Prof Lim thinks I am already immunised so I do not need it. Always consult your doctor if in doubt.

There is a 2-in-1 vaccine for Hep A and B which is more economical for those who need both.


Remember that nasty bitter liquid that was dripped into our mouth in Primary 6. Another dose after age 18 will confer lifelong immunity.

Diptheria, Tentatus, Pertusis (DTP)

A 3-in-1 vaccination which is administered to all Primary 6 Singaporean students as part of the National Immunisation Programme. It lasts for only 10 years. If you are in your twenties, you will need another dose of it.

Diptheria and Pertusis (aka whooping cough) are highly infectious. Tentanus is transmitted via an open wound exposed to Corynebacterium diphtheriae which is often found in rusty or low-oxygen environment.

Chickenpox (Varicella) 

Often known as a common childhood disease, symptoms in childhood are often mild. However, chickenpox in adult can sometimes lead to severe symptoms that requires hospitalisation. Our former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong was hospitalised for Chickenpox at age 67.

I never had chickenpox. It is advisable that I get vaccinated. Chickenpox is highly infectious and getting it during travel means difficulty in finding a hotel or hostel that can take you in. 2 doses, 6-8 weeks apart confers lifelong immunity.

Japanese Encephalitis (JE)

This is caused by a virus transmitted by mosquito. Encephalitis means inflammation of the brain. There are incidences of JE throughout Asia, commonly in rural areas. You can click the link in the title to find out the geographical distribution. There is no cure for it. Fatality is 20-30% and 30-50% of survivor suffers from some form of brain or neurological damage.

Short term travellers restricted to urban area have little risk of contracting it.

There are two types of vaccines available for JE. I will be taking Imojev which is a one dose, life long vaccine and also the most expensive of all (S$380). As this is a live weakened form of the virus, Imojev is not suitable for pregnant women.

Typhoid Fever

Often associated with poor sanitation, transmitted by fecal oral route. Recommended if you are travelling to Southern Asia.


Singapore has been enjoying a rabies free status for a long time. Getting bitten by animals is not as much of a big concern as in other countries. In India, threats of rabies are very real. My Indian colleague developed a phobia of dog because he witnessed how his uncle passed away after getting bitten by a rabid dog. If untreated, fatality is 100%.

The course of rabies vaccination includes 3 doses, at Day 0, 7 and 28. Completed course does not eliminate the need for treatment after getting bitten. It only simplified the Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). Upon getting bitten or exposed, you will need two booster of rabies vaccination at day 0 and day 3.

If you have not received rabies vaccines before, the PEP is much more complicated. You will need 4 or 5 doses rabies vaccines over a period of 2 weeks to a month. On top of that, you must be administered rabies immunoglobulin.

Rabies immunoglobulin are very expensive (a few thousands dollars based on body weight) and may not be available in developing countries. They are antibodies isolated from a human or horse who has been previously been immunised against rabies.

Prof Lim told me cases of Bali visitors getting bitten by monkey. They had to be evacuated to Singapore to receive rabies immunoglobulin as it was not available there.

Yellow Fever

This is another viral disease transmitted by mosquitos. If you have travelled to countries with risk of Yellow Fever i.e South America, you need the Yellow Fever vaccination certificate to enter many other countries. I was not sure if I will be travelling there and asked Prof Lim if I could take the jab during my travel once I have decided. I could. However, it is better to get it done here because my records are here. If I ever lose the Yellow Booklet, I can always approach TTSH to retrieve the record. If it is done else where, it will be difficult to do so. Anyway, it confers lifelong immunity.


Again, mosquitos are the vector for spreading malaria. Malaria is caused by protozoan Plasmodium.

There are no vaccines available for Malaria. Antimalarial tablets are the next best bet on protection. They have to be taken before travelling to malaria endemic areas and after leaving. There are many different types of antimalarial tablet out there with different pros and cons and contraindications. What further complicates malaria prophylaxis is the prevalence of drug-resistant strains of Plasmodium in different regions of the world.

I was prescribed Mefloquine based on my itinerary and budget. A small percentage of people have adverse effect to Mefloquine. I was asked if I had history of depression and heart abnormalities. I could have a test dose a month before departure to check if I fall into that small percentage. Do check with your doctor on this.

There is no one-for-all solution for malaria prophylaxis.

Since many of the above mentioned diseases are transmitted by mosquitoes, the other precaution is to prevent yourself from getting bitten in the first place - covering up, mosquito nets, coils, mosquito repellent containing DEET. The higher the concentration of DEET, the longer lasting the protection.

High Altitude Sickness

Prof Lim also covered high altitude sickness and pointed out the symptoms to look out for.

At the end of the consultation, she gave me prescription for the antimalarial tablet and medications for high altitude sickness.

Ending off....

There was a lot of absorb in that one and half hour. It felt like attending Medical Microbiology lecture again in uni. If you have a problem with memory, do bring a notebook to dot down the advices.

On top of discussing about the vaccinations to get, Prof Lim also gave advice on food and drinks to avoid, i.e. no fresh veges and ice in drinks while in India.

So this is briefly what I have learnt about Travel Medicine. These are only general advices, but there are a lot more which I did not mention here. The doctor knows best and will be able to advise based on your itinerary and health condition. I hope this is helpful for your travel. I wish you good health during which. Do drop me a comment if you have any questions.

Some of the common travel vaccines and their price from Tan Tock Seng Hospital. (Price valid for Singaporeans as on 7th March 2015. There is a 15% surcharge for foreigners.)

Thursday, March 05, 2015

North Thailand - Chiang Mai and Bangkok

Pai to Chiang Mai.

The road from Pai to Chiang Mai is just another 136km. More meandering roads were expected in this stretch. At one point the bend was 90 degrees and up a 45 degrees incline.

Nearing Chiang Mai, I had a small mishap. Maybe I was too tired. While we were stuck in the traffic, I rest my back against my backpack on the rear. I got a little too comfortable and ended up falling to the side, almost knocking the tuk tuk next to me. The tuk tuk driver got out and checked on her vehicle immediately. A chap on a motorcycle nearby, stopped and scrambled to help me up. Once he checked that I was ok, he quickly left. I did not even get a chance to know his name and thank him.

The mishap cost me a broken right mirror and 500baht to replace it.

Just right next to where I fell, was an optical shop. For the past few days, Wei Jie's glass frame was flimsily held up with tapes. We decided to stop for a rest while waiting for Wei Jie's glasses to be fixed.

We dropped by Riders' Corner again as Wei Jie and Cherie have yet to say hi to Philip.

It has been 6 days since I left Chiang Mai on my own to meet the rest. Philip asked me how did it go?

I shrugged my shoulders and said "OOkkkkk...." with no mention about what happened earlier. I did not feel like talking about what happened.

Philip's wife kindly asked if we have our accommodation settled. Riders' Corner was already full so she brought us to another guest house nearby.
Food Festival in Chiang Mai
Mobile ATM. They clamped the wheel so you cannot drive it away.
Number of units for the following blood types.
Doppelganger of Wedge's bike. He got a rude shock when he first saw it, thinking his bike was stolen.
This poor dog's face became a canvas probably for some drunken after a Christmas Party.
Wei Jie had been raving about Mike's Original. Nah, conversion failed!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

North Thailand - The Hippie town of Pai

Mae Hong Son to Pai (Highway 1095)

We caught sight of a village with Chinese styled architecture.  Just outside the entrance, a sign board showed Community Based Tourism. A quick google check on what it means.
"Community based tourism is tourism in which local residents (often rural, poor and economically marginalised) invite tourists to visit their communities with the provision of overnight accommodation. The residents earn income as land managers, entrepreneurs, service and produce providers, and employees."
Intriguing, we made a small detour and realised it also leads the way to Susa waterfall. A suicidal chicken almost became a road kill when it jumped into my path.

The road to the waterfall did not look easy and we had to pay. We decided to give it a miss. So much for supporting community based tourism.

The place looked quite forlorn, I am not sure if any travellers stays there, or even if any travellers know the existence of this place. If any of you stayed there, do drop me a comment on your experience.


At this season, guesthouse are always full or overpriced. We were very fortunate to find available rooms in this cutesy guest house called Oor-U-Pai. Probably due to the guest house being relatively new, it may not have much reception from Pai visitors yet.

The garden was adorned with vibrantly coloured flowers and windmills. Seeing more pretty flowers and plants in the interior and corridors could uplift any guest's mood. Considering the price, the mint state, the prime location and further bargain discount of 3 nights' stay, 500baht per pax a night was very worthwhile.

If you are lazy to lug your big tourer bike along to explore Pai, Oor U Pai also provides bicycles free for guest to use.

What drew our hearts even more to this guest house was the hospitality of the owners - a husband and wife couple. Hot tea, some snacks and fruits were served to us every time we return from a day of venturing. While we were having breakfast in the garden, the owner and his young son wiped the morning condensations off our bike seats.