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Silvers On Expedition: 98 Days and 25,000km On The Road From London To Singapore

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Silvers On Expedition Drive: 98 Days and 25,000km On The Road From London To Singapore
In an epic adventure of a lifetime, 30 Singaporeans undertook the arduous journey — going overland from London back home. These weren’t young lads and lasses trying to have an adventure before knuckling down to careers, but a group averaging 65 years who wanted to keep the flame of adventure lit.
The reward for such intrepid derring-do was an amalgam of experiences worthy of a novel.
Young Iranians in Isfahan crowding to enter the Vank Cathedral on a public holiday while on television, adult men tearfully mourn the death of the eighth Imam who passed away centuries ago.
A Chinese girl, far from her home in Hubei, and nowhere close to teetering as she hefts hefting several lagers in Munich’s famed Hofbräuhaus pub dressed as an iconic beer Fraulein. Mount Nemrut – the biblical Nimrod – bathed in gold as the sun sets on royal Roman tombs from first century BCE, 2134m above sea level.
These are some of the profound sights we soaked in as we journeyed over 25,000km from London to Singapore in a convoy of a dozen cars.
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Epic expedition drive
Silvers On Expedition Drive: 98 Days and 25,000km On The Road From London To Singapore - View
We covered 70 cities in a little over three months, wending our way through the Christian nations of the United Kingdom, Germany and Hungary, through the Islamic countries of Turkey, Iran and the Central Asia nations, towards the Confucian society of China, the Buddhist heartlands of Laos and Thailand, through Malaysia and ending up back home in sunny Singapore.
It was a remarkable – and remarkably lengthy– expedition, not that we were trying to get anywhere in any particular hurry.
We rolled along at a leisurely trot, stopping often to play tourist and relax while relishing each other’s company. After all, it’s not every day you get to go on a 98-day journey from West to East.
The road trip begins
Silvers On Expedition Drive: 98 Days and 25,000km On The Road From London To Singapore - The road trip begins
It takes a gargantuan amount of planning to pull off such a transcontinental voyage – so we have the Automobile Association of Singapore (AAS) to thank for doing most of the heavy lifting behind the scenes.
In some cases, this was literal – they helped ship over the hardy SUVs (sports utility vehicles) that would become our workhorses for the next quarter of the year, though it was I (having arrived two weeks prior to explore Belgium and the Netherlands) that ended up as an unwitting ferryman shuttling the off-roaders from the port city of Dover to London, our starting line.
As it turned out, that would become my heaviest driving stint for the trip. As a 76-year-old, I was relegated to co-driver for the lead car once the trip began – a position that I had no problem with, since it left both eyes and hands free to soak in the sights, then capture them for later.
The four-wheel-drive Hyundai Santa Fe I rode in was comfortably large with plenty of elbow room, but make no mistake – we were not roughing it up in our SUVs overnighting at truck stops.
With an estimated cost of around $65,000 for the entire endeavour, we enjoyed our nights in five-star hotels like the Ritz Carlton and Kempinski, and made detours to savour fine-dining restaurants on the Michelin Guide (just as the French tyre company intended); on other days, we found board at boutique inns, while supping at authentic joints patronised only by locals – and us. All were experiences we met with equal gusto.
Expedition drive: Sights just a window away
Travelling by car means that the only thing separating you from stunning landscapes is about 0.5cm of glass.
Want to slow your roll and take a couple of pictures? Find a suitable parking spot and snap away.
Silvers On Expedition Drive: 98 Days and 25,000km On The Road From London To Singapore - Persepolis
With an automobile, glimpses of the natural wonders of our world and faraway UNESCO-recognised heritage sites are just a drive away. As a history buff, I was in my element.
We passed through Iran’s major city of Yazd, an exceptionally well-preserved historic centre and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation World Heritage Site famous for its underground water system, hammams, mosques, synagogues and Zoroastrian temples.
In Isfahan, we visited the 400-year-old Naqsh-e Jahan Square, joining the monarchs, merchants and the mullahs at the city’s nexus. Tabriz’s sprawling Grand Bazaar and historic Blue Mosque, a masterpiece of turquoise mosaics, also was a sight to behold.
Silvers On Expedition Drive: 98 Days and 25,000km On The Road From London To Singapore - Turkmenistan's Desert
One of the most memorable adventures took us deep into the middle of the Karakum Desert, about 260km north of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s capital, to visit the Darvaza gas craters — smouldering leftovers from Soviet-era gas exploration, when they were set ablaze in a bid to clear poisonous, flammable gas from a cavern system.
Silvers On Expedition Drive: 98 Days and 25,000km On The Road From London To Singapore - Gates of Hell
The so-called Gates of Hell have now become a major fixture for tourism in the area – which was good news for us, as it meant that we had yurts with proper toilets to rest in for the night.
Road Trip Adventures
Of course, there were also occasions where we’d leave our cars behind for a different sort of adventure.
We went on dinner cruises along the Danube, Rhine and Bosphorus, capturing gorgeous city scenic sights with stunning sunsets to boot.
Silvers On Expedition Drive: 98 Days and 25,000km On The Road From London To Singapore - Cappadocia
When in Cappadocia, we came full circle on our own journey around the world when we took to the air, viewing cave churches and fairy chimneys dotting the arid desert landscape from the vantage point of a hot air balloon.
We trekked through Croatia’s UNESCO Plitvice Lakes National Park with its waters flowing over limestone and chalk, over thousands of years, creating a series of beautiful lakes, caves and waterfalls.
Sometimes, we had no choice but to leave our vehicles behind. In the case of Ashgabat, any car that isn’t pearly white is forbidden from the city (a rule stemming from ex-president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow’s reign) – which meant that we had to park our SUVs on its outskirts, and explore the city in white-coloured rentals instead.
Hairy misadventures make the trip
It was a journey not without challenges. Border crossings from UK through Europe proved a breeze but narratives of misadventures were plentiful for border crossings after Turkey, through Iran and the Central Asian countries.
An estimated six hours from the border town of Van in Turkey to Tabriz became a 14-hour nightmarish encounter. It was chaotic from the get-go, with locals banging on our vehicles’ hoods to get ahead of us foreigners.
Things only became worse when we reached the Iranian side of immigration, as some of our number had bought bottles of liquor on their way across Europe – not knowing that the stuff is banned in Iran.
Our cars were subjected to an extensive search, and we were left idling in a waiting room with no food and no Internet. Updates were scant, and it was close to midnight by the time we were told to gather – in the dark – outside the nearby police station.
It turned out that the authorities just wanted witnesses as they disposed of the alcohol. It was a huge relief – all we had left was to tackle a hundred kilometres of unfamiliar, winding mountainous roads in the pitch dark.
By the time we reached our hotel, it was close to dawn, putting an end to the border crossing of a lifetime.
Who knew that we’d have another exciting crossing from Iran to Ashgabat less than two weeks later, facing an off-road drive with nasty potholes and washboard-like roads. Several times, we ran into sand banks on the side of the “road” and needed assistance from passing trucks to get back to firmer ground; one among us even had to turn back and join us the next day, after they blew out all four tyres, spares included.
Hairy stuff indeed, but par for the course when considering that the 30 of us were a long, long way off from the well-paved, well-lit roads of Singapore.
If you’re asking me whether I’d do it again, well, the answer’s yes.

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Basskaran Nair

Basskaran Nair is a media industry stalwart that headed communications for the Government’s Press Department, DBS Bank and CapitaLand Group. In 2022, he was inducted into the first Singapore Media Industry Hall of Fame for his contributions, and continues to teach at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS.

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