If you’re going to travel the world, would you do it on two wheels? We meet a gutsy and inspiring woman who’s exploring the globe as a scooterista. By Aretha Loh.
Pakistan – In Passu, in front of the famous Passu Cathedral Peak.
“My name is Juvena Huang. I’m your typical 28-yearold Singaporean millennial with an insatiable desire to see the world – except that I’m doing it all alone on my Vespa scooter (named Ebony Rogue). “Right about now, I’m riding along the dusty roads of Iran. I started my journey in May 2015 and have covered seven countries so far: Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Iran. My plan is to go all the way to Europe. “Am I out of my mind to take off solo on this adventure? Possibly. But as a late friend, Lawrence Tan, once told me: ‘It’s about the rider, not the bike.’ “I met Lawrence through mutual friends in 2008. He was a young man of mettle who was always up for a challenge and adventure. I rarely – if ever – heard him utter the word ‘impossible’. Case in point: The motortouring enthusiast took his mother from Singapore to northern Thailand on a Suzuki DR-Z400SM bike in 2008 – she rode pillion all the way. “He was planning a trip to the border of China in 2009 with a friend, but died in a road accident one week before they were supposed to set off . He was only 28 years old. The irony was that he wasn’t on a bike, but was in a van accident. His sudden passing was a startling reminder of life’s brevity and uncertainty, which never left my heart. “Most of all, what happened to him made me question what I wanted to do with my life, and the answer was a combination of my two passions – travelling and riding. The idea of seeing the world on a scooter came up during a casual conversation about Lawrence in 2010, and I’m going on this unique journey partly to honour him.
Becoming a scooterista
“I fell in love with motorbikes on a trip to Vietnam in 2006, when I was 19. Pretty little scooters lined the streets and granted their owners the freedom to roam wherever they wanted. I felt envious and wanted to do the same. “So after half a year of bumping tyres and kerbs, and repeating circuit tests in Singapore, I got my Class 2B licence and my very first Vespa. It only cost me $2,000 and came with a sixyear COE and new paintwork. “Becoming a motorcyclist opened the doors of a new community to me. I met fellow riders who became good friends and who introduced me to other activities, like dirt biking. But as I’m 1.56m tall, everyone told me back then that the KTM 200 dirt bike was too big for me to manoeuvre.
INDIA – Leh-Manali Highway. My scooter and I made it through a stream crossing and crawled through the world’s second-highest pass at 5,328m.
MYANMAR – The Kyaikhteeyoe Pagoda, also known as the Golden Rock, is said to be supported by a strand of Buddha’s hair.
THAILAND – Inside Ayutthaya Historical Park, which is a Unesco World Heritage site.
INDIA – Spent a night in sub-zero temperatures in a tent in Sarchu. It’s one of the highest camping grounds in the world.
“Everyone, that is, except Lawrence. He said: ‘Don’t listen to what others say. It’s just a matter of taking time to get used to the bike. You simply need more practice.’ Thanks to him, I stuck to the sport, got my own dirt bike, and even went on to participate in Enduro and Motocross competitions between 2008 and 2010.
Going for it
“I worked incredibly hard for three and a half years prior to my trip. I did waitressing, was a maths and science tutor, lugged camera equipment around at weddings as a videographer’s assistant, and became a research volunteer and flea market proprietor to raise funds. “There were months when I had to moonlight in multiple jobs to meet my savings target of $30,000. On one particular day, I was running between three jobs for 16 hours!
“Needless to say, I went for weeks without a social life because I was too busy working. Movies become a once- or twice-yearly indulgence, and I tried to cook every meal I ate. It was tough, but I don’t have any regrets now that I’m scootering my way through some of the most picturesque places on the planet. “Money aside, I had to convince my mum that I would be okay travelling solo in foreign lands. It took time to develop her trust in my independence. I started by embarking on small solo trips (for instance, I rode a rented bike in Chiang Mai to meet my friends). I wanted to show her that I could take care of myself and get around just fine. “When it came time to set off on this big trip, friends and family gathered below my block – even Mr Pritam Singh, Member of Parliament, was there to send me off . I felt sad saying goodbye, but also excited about putting my plan into action.
The road less travelled
“Many times I wake up and find it hard to believe I’m travelling the world on a Vespa. It feels like a dream.” “Why travel by bike when I can hop onto a plane? Because it allows me to cover more ground. It intrigues me to see how the cultures, languages and people slowly evolve over every 100km, or the geographical and socio-political barriers I cross. I doubt I’d get the same experience flying thousands of kilometres to a new country.
“Plus, while many shy away from visiting countries like India and Pakistan, which tend to be portrayed negatively in the news, I feel compelled to understand these places. “My three and a half months of travelling in the northern and northeastern regions of India have been some of the best so far. The locals were always helpful with directions, would strike up friendly conversations, and off er me tea and food upon learning about my journey on a bike. “On my first day in Pakistan, I was invited into two homes, treated to a soda and given directions by strangers. For three weeks, Pakistanis hosted me in their homes. And each host would refer me to another in the next town.
Meeting Good Samaritans
“There’s no denying that unfortunate incidents have happened, but the helpfulness and hospitality of others has got me through. “Once, my scooter overheated en route to Dakshinkali, Nepal. I had to push it up a slope until I hit level ground. A stranger, Mr Raju, stopped to help me reload my luggage. We had tea together, but he refused to let me foot the bill. His argument? ‘I don’t want anything in return. I’m just here to help another human.’ “My experiences have provided me with the chance to spread knowledge about the locals I’ve met. Many kind acts often go unnoticed, whereas bad incidents make the headlines. My biggest life lesson to date is that most people are just like you and me, yearning for love and acceptance. I travel alone most of the time, but I do bump into fellow bikers heading the same way occasionally, and we help one another out.
PAKISTAN – Crossing the Hussaini suspension bridge near Passu while exploring the area around Gulmit.
NEPAL – I left my footprint at Rum Doodle Bar and Restaurant, where many adventurers have scribbled messages over the past 30 years.
INDIA – Negotiating rough roads to reach Kynrem Falls in Cherrapunji.
THAILAND – Getting my scooter’s engine checked by Sam the mechanic. A few parts were worn or broken.
INDIA – An amazing “living roots bridge” in Meghalaya, north-east India. The Khasi people who live there have developed a technique of making bridges out of live tree roots. Unlike bamboo bridges which wear down, these live root bridges grow stronger over time.
INDIA – I’ve ridden my bike to some of the coolest places, like Khardung La (the world’s highest mountain pass at 5,359m) in Ladakh, India. A fellow rider I met, Saurabh Khanduri (below), had the ingenious idea of tying nylon ropes round my wheels so my bike wouldn't keep slipping on the icy road.
“While my journey has been amazing, being away from home has been tough. My 13-year-old dog was recently ill, and questions like “Will I be able to see him again?” and “If my relatives become unwell, do I return or continue with my trip?” frequently cross my mind. “At the moment, however, nothing is holding me back. I might be on the road for another year or so, and I can’t say for sure when I’ll return to Singapore. I choose to live by the Latin saying ‘Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero’ (seize the moment, putting as little trust as possible in the future). “After all, the future is unknown.”
INDIA – The Rock Garden of Chandigarh is one of the most impressive works of art I’ve seen. It’s a garden of sculptures made of recycled materials from when Chandigarh was built in the 1950s. From afar, the walls look like typical mosaic or rock, but closer up, you’ll see they’re made of things that include broken ceramic crockery or electrical fittings.
“Many times I wake up and find it hard to believe I’m travelling the world on a Vespa.”
Follow Juvena’s travels at www.thewanderingwasp.blogspot.com and click on “Support This Journey” to recommend hosts in the countries she’s visiting, or make a monetary contribution. You can also check out The Wandering Wasp on Facebook.