One Singaporean’s journey across the globe — on a Vespa
SINGAPORE — A few days before she crossed the border from Myanmar into Manipur on June 9 last year, a deadly militant attack shook the Indian state. And just days after she left Pakistan in early March this year, suicide bombings took place in Lahore and Mardan.
Still, 28-year-old Juvena Huang, who is 14 months into her solo trip around the world on a Vespa, remains undaunted.
Speaking about terror attacks, for instance, in Paris, Jakarta and Belgium, she said: “Some of these attacks happened in countries you least expected. Now I began wondering if there is anywhere 100 per cent safe. No, it is more like being at the wrong place at the wrong time, rather than not staying safe enough.”
There were also several “not so nice encounters with police and authorities ... but I never felt that my life was being threatened”, she said. In Armenia, for example, the Singaporean was told to pay a “discounted tourist” fee for alleged speeding, and to hand over a custom clearance fee for her scooter, without an official receipt in return.
“I snapped photos of the anti-bribery posters, threatened to contact customs authority and then they returned me most of my money,” she told TODAY via email from Georgia.
Ms Huang, a former research assistant at Temasek Polytechnic, set off on her journey in May last year after saving enough to fund her travel plans. The death of her good friend in 2009 in a car accident spurred her to “do something ‘crazy’” for once, she told TODAY in a previous interview.
From Singapore, her first stop was Malacca. She has since travelled some 22,000km, made more than 100 stopovers in nine countries and visited far-flung sites such as Pakistan’s Attabad Lake in Gojal Valley and Passu Cathedral in Passu, as well as Iran’s Abyaneh and India’s Mawlynnong villages. Her journey is documented on her Facebook account The Wandering Wasp, where she uploads pictures and journals her encounters.
She initially planned to reach Europe in eight to nine months, but ended up spending more time in some countries. For instance, Ms Huang spent 3.5 months in India, 4.5 months in Pakistan and 3 months in Iran.
The experience so far has been liberating, she said.
Ms Huang recounted the “incredible hospitality” she experienced in Iran and Pakistan, where she was mostly hosted by locals in their homes, and invited to the occasional family wedding.
“When I was visiting Abbottabad, Pakistan, a gentleman wanted to slaughter two goats to honour my arrival until my host stopped him to inform him that I am a vegetarian. There were countless of occasions when my payment for foods and services were refused because shopkeepers said I am their guest,” she said.
In Pakistan, she lived with at least 10 families “who have treated me like their daughter, sister or aunty”, and in Iran, a group of motorcyclist enthusiasts overhauled her scooter — a Vespa Excel 150 — and bought her a new exhaust, cylinder and piston.
“When I wanted to pay them, they told me to do it after I complete my trip,” she said. “My gratitude debt is huge in Iran.”
For now, Ms Huang is in no hurry to end her adventure. Her plans remain flexible — she may “lie low” in Georgia given the recent attempted military coup in Turkey, which was supposed to be her next destination or she may head on to Azerbaijan or take a ferry across the Black Sea to Romania. She also wants to visit Greece or Bulgaria, and travel to South America after Europe, if funds permit.
“Recently, a Georgian offered me a place to stay in the village so I can look after his new guesthouse. I haven’t decide on that offer. Again, it is about different options, sometimes options show up at last minute,” she added.
But while her plans ahead are uncertain, one thing’s for sure. Said Ms Huang: “At the end of the day, I will still come back to Singapore.”
JUVENA’S TIPS ON SOLO TRAVEL
1. It is okay if you do not speak the native language but it is good to learn basics. At least learn to say “Thank you” and “Where is the toilet?”.
2. People will be curious about you, talk to you or even invite you for tea or live with them. We were taught not to trust strangers since young but if you carry on this constant distrust during travel, it can be very isolating. Instead of answering all the questions strangers ask, ask them some questions to get a gist of their intentions.
3. You can never be 100 per cent prepared. Set youself a target travel fund and a date to set off. Prepare the best you can. When you meet with problems, don’t be afraid to ask for help.