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Three kiwi boys with a hunger for challenge in their puku and a love of cheeky antics glinting in their eyes.

Two bouts of stomach-twisting food poisoning.

One broken clavicle.

Potholes the size of three beefy motorbikes loaded like packhorses.

An encounter with the Turkish police.

Lunch with a hunter in the Tajikistan highlands.

Vista upon vista of wondrous mountain ranges, roaming wild horses and views so stunning they make your heart ache with endless horizons stretching out above handlebars.

A tale of their epic overland adventure from South East Asia to Europe.


Siska Safari

An Overland Adventure on Motorbikes

Written By
Samantha Mythen

The journey started way back in 2018, when Ryan Stewart, distracted from his engineering studies, found himself deep in a Youtube rabbit hole. He was glued to the screen, watching people travelling the world on motorbikes.

Ryan had grown up riding motorbikes, the same with his university pal Tom Goodman. “Ryan called over to me one day during uni and said, I’m keen to do something like this one day… I thought, well, if you ever decide to pull the trigger, let me know and I’ll see where I’m at in my life and let’s make a plan from there,” said Tom.

A year ago, Tom got the call. Kieran Morrison meanwhile, had never ridden a motorbike in his life. 

“We were in the middle of some basic trip planning, like sorting what visas we had to get, when Kieran, out of nowhere, piped up and said he was keen to come,” said Ryan. “Kieran was also our flatmate in uni and back then we didn’t even ask him if he wanted to come because we thought there would be no way he’d ride a motorbike across the world.”

So why did Kieran want to join? “Well after university, my plan was always to work for a few years and then I wanted to move to London,” he said. “It had been two and a half years and I heard these guys talking about motorbiking through Europe and I thought, well I’m planning on going there at the same time, so it kind of worked out perfectly.”

The boys wanted to leave in a year. So, Kieran had 12 months to learn how to ride a motorbike. 

“I borrowed Tom’s bike and started riding from an absolute beginner level, like zero experience and then I managed to get my restricted licence within a month,” he said.

Three weeks before embarking on their journey this year, Kieran went for his full license. “I failed, doing some basic shit wrong,” he said. “But the tester, whom I’d told about our plans and knew we were leaving in a few weeks was a legend. He said, “Right we’ll do the test again right now." We practised a few things together and then we were away. I don’t think I should’ve passed but I did!”

Ryan interrupts the conversation. I’d video-called the boys and chatted to them squished on the bottom bunk of a Laos hostel. “Naaaah, Kieran was way better the second time! But that guy who did the test is the biggest legend.” “He saw Kieran had the bones but was just getting a few things wrong. He used up another of his slots to give Kieran a training course before his next test so he would pass,” Tom added. After the course, the tester made the boys promise they’d all practice their riding hard over the next few weeks.

A five-year dream, one year of planning and the boys set out on May 6th. They are currently more than 120 days into their who-knows-how-long/until-the-money-runs-out overland journey.

The trip route has seen them exploring Vietnam, buying bikes in Thailand, stopping off in Laos and then entering China, something they had to do with a guide. After that, they hit Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. They would go wherever the wind blew them aka. the easiest route to get visas and avoid any war zones.

“After making it to China, we thought we would kind of just wing it, off of some pre-planning,” said Ryan. “The planning at the start was crazy. We had all these dreams of going to certain places and then it got harder and harder and harder. More countries were fighting and borders closed. Then there was Covid. So, we ended up with this rough route - trying to make the most of the constraints of where we couldn’t go.”

Fate and random coincidences helped them find their motorbikes, with Ryan spending a lot of hours asking questions on good old Facebook groups. “We were originally going to buy the bikes in Vietnam. And when I asked how to buy bikes in Vietnam, a guy called Wayne commented saying it’s way better to buy bikes in Thailand, almost impossible in Vietnam. He ended up sending me a message, saying if you want to buy them, there’s a really good shop in Phuket. I clicked on his profile and saw he had a mutual friend. It was my aunty.” said Ryan. “I thought that’s weird. But turns out he used to flat with my uncle, who used to live in Asia.”

Unfortunately, no one in the recommended shop spoke English. “I was Google translating on my phone and then calling them over my laptop, trying to play Google translate on my laptop asking for an email address so we could communicate that way,” said Ryan. “It was impossible.”

But across the road from this shop was another motorbike seller who spoke perfect English. A local angel hustled for the boys and they were able to get their bikes 12 weeks earlier than they should have. “Things were looking pretty grim for a bit, but it all worked out in the end,” said Tom. “China’s borders opened and everything unravelled well from there.” It’s Ryan’s best piece of advice for his fellow travellers; get on the internet and ask for help. 

They christened their adventure Siska Safari, named after the street they lived on in Christchurch during university.

Part of their journey included some scooter riding in Vietnam, including the Ha Giang Loop, but nothing had prepared them for Bangkok on their motorbikes.

“Bangkok was the biggest shock,” said Tom. “We started riding up from Phuket on the motorway… Heading into Bangkok, I was looking at the GPS thinking, what the hell, how are we coming into Bangkok already, our destination is still two hours away… Basically, Bangkok is humongous. There were so many cars and motorbikes, traffic jams everywhere.”

The roads were chaotically packed with a variety of different motor vehicles and people on bikes. The motorbike riders just rode straight up the middle. “And if you’re not riding with them, you’re in the way. You can’t ride slow down the lanes, you have to commit to it,” Tom explained. “So we just ended up picking locals and following them.”

“We’d be going at half their pace and it was still speedy. Some of them, there’d be a car and they were closing the gap, you’d think I’m not going to make it, and then some guy would swing out from behind you and make the gap. No helmet on, wearing jandals,” said Ryan. “If you weren’t following at speed, you’d become the hazard so you had to ride risky.”

“We’ve gotten a lot better at it now. I’d say we’re pretty advanced,” he added.

“Well, maybe not advanced….” trailed off Kieran.

Tom interrupted: “We’re intermediates, but we were carving it up in Bangkok by the end I reckon. It’s just something you get used to, a different way of driving.”

In Laos, they glided along glossy sealed roads to suddenly come to a halt faced with an ankle-deep, road-wide pothole. “It was dangerous, like riding through a minefield,” said Ryan.

Way back in 1959, a project proposed linking Europe to South East Asia via one mighty overland trade route. It was to be the great Asian highway encouraging transport, trade and tourism. Many of the countries the boys travelled through signed up to the still-to-be completed project, which currently features a combination of upgraded roads and gravel roads that threaten to puncture car tires.

The rainy season was a challenge too, “The wet weather gear is not breathable one bit. We were sweating more on the inside than the monsoon on the outside. It was pretty gross,” he continued. 

If you’re travelling to China with a vehicle, you must have a guide and in order to get your visa, you must have this all documented. Another Facebook group recommendation later, and the boys sorted their Chinese visa out quickly, the tour guide making itineraries to meet all the visa requirements. “It was pages and pages of documents. He told us to print it out, take it to the embassy and that we would get the visa,” said Kieran.

“We did have a lot of doubts. It was stressful. But then it was all good. We got the visa. As long as you have a legitimate itinerary for when you get there, it doesn’t have to match the submitted documents,” said Ryan.

In China, they biked 580km in one day. They saw temperatures as cold as -2 degrees, riding up to 5200m high several times. On another day, they sweated through 48 degrees but were treated to an endless meal by a fellow motorbike they helped after an accident. “You’re full? Oh, I’ll double the order.”

Having lived together, they knew travelling would bring lots of arguments. “There’s obviously ups and downs and we butt heads all the time, but it’s not different from when we were flatting,” said Ryan. "So you never sleep on an argument?" I asked. “Nah, that’s exactly what we do. We just sleep on it. And then it’s fine the next day. We bury it straight under the rug,” said Tom.

Of every single country they’ve travelled so far, the boys have said the best parts are definitely the people they’ve met along the way. A Danish friend made in Ho Chi Minh on their first leg of the journey, ended up meeting with them in Laos, bringing with him Ryan’s airpods he’d left at the other end of the country.

“For me, it’s seeing how the locals live. It’s just so different to home, it’s incredible,” said Tom. “I don’t know how some of them make enough money even to buy food. They will be selling knick-knacks from the side of the street that are worth $1.”

The food has also been a highlight.

“But then Kieran and I had a run-in with some papaya salad…” laughed Tom. “We knew it wasn’t going to be good, just from looking at it. But one meal out of 140 something so far so that’s not too bad, one and done on the food poisoning front hopefully!”*.....

Breakfast on the China leg was a 3$NZD combo of freshly steamed Bao buns, hard-boiled eggs soaked in soy sauce and sweet deep-fried dough. “I’ve been fiending the food while travelling,” said Ryan. “I’ve probably cooked five times since May.”

(*a few months later and unfortunately, the curse of the poisoned food got Tom and Kieran again, but not Ryan and his “iron stomach,” he proudly told me).  

No items found.
No items found.

“On some days though, the absolute shittest things have happened,” said Ryan.

Besides the initial planning, the boys told me everything has been quite easy now that they’re on the road.

“We don’t have to do much during the day, there’s a few hours of riding, figuring out where we need to go, booking accommodation, but even then, it’s all fun,” said Ryan. “I want to say nothing that hard other than choosing what to do!”

“On some days though, the absolute shittest things have happened," he continued.

Ryan was out of action for several weeks after a motorbike accident. He also lost a heap of sacred GoPro footage on a day that saw them camping on the side of the road, suffering with altitude sickness. A heart-in-stomach-up-to-throat moment was when another motorist almost hit Kieran straight on.

“But in those same days, there are also some of the most epic moments ever,” Ryan continued.

“You’ve just got to look for those and be grateful for the good.”

Like when the boys crossed from China into Kyrgyzstan, entering a Martian-like environment; a red dessert, huge grassy plains, towering mountains and wild horses. Or when they saw the top of the world, Mt Everest.

Or when a new Russian friend Toma, helped Ryan sort out complicated life admin after his accident.

“Toma did all of this stuff for me, just because he wanted to help out. I was at an absolute low and this guy did all this work for me for nothing. You’ve got to remember the grand scheme of things and all the good moments and good people it holds.”

The boys are currently riding through Albania. They've visited Turkey and Greece.

They all have different final destinations in mind. And the duration of their travels depends on their budgets. Ryan’s thinking of finding work in Sweden. Tom will head to Germany and Kieran will set up base in London. But with many friends new and old already in England, they’re planning to celebrate with pints and a party in London to cheers to the end of one wild chapter and herald the sure-to-be chaotic next one.

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