Lea Rieck is a third of the way through her circumnavigation of the globe on Cleo, her Tiger XCA 800. FTR caught up with her in Bangkok and the end of the Asian leg of her adventure.
Defying preconceptions – China to Pakistan
China was tough because I had to go on a guided tour and they don’t make it easy for you, so I only spent three days there. Not a disaster as I’d been before and riding there isn’t super-exciting in my opinion because of the lack of freedom. From Kyrgyzstan I headed in towards Kashgar and then the border with Pakistan.
As soon as I got into Pakistan I jumped on the Karakoram Highway, which is absolutely beautiful and one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to. It’s known as the China-Pakistan Friendship Highway, and is one of the highest and best-paved border roads in the world at around 4,000 metres.
It’s difficult to find words to describe this place. Its snow-capped mountain ranges defy adjectives, but I can talk about the people with a smile. You always have preconceptions about countries and their people because of how they’re portrayed in the media; the people in Pakistan were so lovely.
It’s heartbreaking to meet them though – they’re so nice and so aware that visitors have heard about the terrorism going on in their country. Because of that, they approach you determined to let you know they are Muslim, peace-loving and kind.
They used to have a lot of tourists visiting, but the violence means that westerners are very few now, which is so very sad. The people are as beautiful as the scenery, which ranges from rugged mountain ranges to the lush Hunza Valley, where flowers grow and everything is green.
Low expectations shattered – India to Nepal
Through the mountain pass, my first stop was Amritsar and an overnight stay in Chandigarh, where I met a guy who was friends with some Indian journalists, who interviewed me for the Indian Times.
I set off through the mountains towards Shimla and that’s when I had my first problem with Cleo – a flat tyre in the middle of nowhere, an hour’s walk from the nearest town.
It was super-annoying and I was just setting off on foot when a guy rode up and told me there was a garage ahead. He helped me get some air and I rode on the rim back to a garage in town where they’d just read the article about me in the paper.
I was treated like a celebrity as they fitted new tyres and I got on my way to Delhi, where I gave my girl a 20,000km service at Triumph.
Before I went to India, I was scared because of the traffic, but when I went there, my expectations were so low I had a really good time. I rode into Nepal where much of the tourism centres on Kathmandu. What a gorgeous country. Great people and great twisties through the lush greenery of the mountains and mist-covered horizons.
The people are so poor but so incredibly friendly. They all crowded around Cleo but wouldn’t touch her, they were so respectful. These people are prepared to give you everything, even though they expect nothing. I was left wondering whether we would do the same if they showed up in our western neighbourhoods.
I had to join a group with a couple of guys to get through Nepal, but before we got there, we had to go through some of the northern Indian territories including Assam and Nagaland, where a long-running border dispute means the military are everywhere in bushes pointing weapons at you. Scary.
Pagodas in paradise – five-star Myanmar
Myanmar is paradise. Everything is in order, everything is good, the streets are perfect and the people are very soft and friendly. Even in the budget hotels, the treatment is five-star because everyone is so attentive and they want you to be happy above everything.
I’m completely ‘templed out’ – everywhere you turn there’s a celebration of Buddhism, whether it’s monks in their robes or pagodas glinting in the sunshine.
The food is also incredible, like Indian (which I love) but with an added Thai twist. The best thing is that the meals are based around sharing. Rice, noodles and vegetables are placed in the middle of the table and new friendships are born.
I met some American guys on Triumphs here; one on a Tiger 1200 and the other on a Tiger 800 XRX – proof that nothing can stop a Tiger. I stayed a while in Myanmar, blissfully chilling with some of the most relaxed people I’ve ever met.
When it was time to leave for the Thai border, I knew there was hassle waiting for me. I needed permits to get through, and the regulations and laws change every few weeks. Eventually, I got through and faced a long ride to Bangkok, where I arrived late at night and headed straight to bed, totally exhausted.
In my father’s footsteps – Australia next
I’m spending a couple of weeks here before I head to Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur, while my bike will be shipped to Australia for the next leg. My father travelled the coastal road from Sydney when he was younger, so I plan to spend six weeks there before the next stage and South America.
Talking of my father, he and my mum have suddenly become experts in technology. My mother is the biggest Whatsapp user now, but there was a spell of three or four days when I had no Wi-Fi and my dad rang me to check I was alright. I’m not sure if they’re proud of me, but I hope so.
I’m so happy I’m doing this trip but even more glad that I have so many more months to go before the adventure ends. The joy is never knowing what the next country will be like and seeing the correlation between poor people with nothing and how incredibly happy they are.
3 key things I’ve learned
- There is much global publicity about women in India being raped and treated as second-class, but in Chandigarh, I met really brave, tough women, successfully fighting for equality. They are strong and defiant and made me feel really happy to have my preconception of downtrodden victims shattered.
- I visited a place in Imphal in India in the militarised zone and there was a market run entirely by women. They produce, market and sell their produce and are the foundation of the community. It was a revelation to see.
- Nature leaves me breathless and lost for words, so the Karakoram Highway was everything magical rolled into one.