Beyond Borders: A 31,000 KM Motorcycle Journey from Laos to Europe

Beyond Borders: A 31,000 KM Motorcycle Journey from Laos to Europe
Dale and Raphi leaving Vientiane Capital for their trip on 20 May. (Photo: Mat Vio)

In the comforts of everyday life, it is uncommon to see someone stop in their tracks and take on a challenge of such great magnitude. However, comfort was not going to stop Dale Garner, an Australian man, and Raphi Ela, a German woman, from spearheading the challenge.

Dale and Raphi are motorcycle adventurers by heart, having taken on the challenging roads of Laos while they were based in the country for five years.

Based in Vientiane Capital, the couple took trips to experience the wonders that Laos has to offer, visiting all 18 provinces of the nature-filled landscape that is Laos. However, one fateful day changed the trajectory of everything.

During a visit to Savannakhet Province in southern Laos, Raphi saw a motorbike parked at a guest house with German number plates. Seeing that sparked curiosity in her, and prompted her to question why the motorcycle was stationed there.

“I wanted to find out who the owner of the bike was, so I asked the lady at the guest house about the bike,” Raphi told The Laotian Times in an interview. Unfortunately, there was no trace of the motoborbike’s owner, or the story behind it.

Deciding to take matters into their own hands, Dale and Raphi contacted German authorities to find out who the owner of the bike was. They reached out to the owner, requesting to buy the motorbike.

“We asked him if we could purchase his bike, but he said no, it’s not for sale,” Dale explained. Not being discouraged, the couple and the owner discussed the possibilities of what they could do with the bike, since it was just stationed at the guest house.

The couple then proposed the idea of returning the bike to the owner, while driving the bike from Laos to Germany. The owner agreed and set in motion what was to come, the trip of a lifetime.

After approximately 18 months of preparation, Dale and Raphi set off on their journey aboard ‘SuzieQ,’ a red Suzuki DR650 equipped for camping as they wanted to rekindle their relationship with nature.

Beyond Borders: A 31,000 KM Motorcycle Journey from Laos to Europe
Sleeping in a yurt in the desert, Turkmenistan. (Photo: Raphaela Hess)

On 20 May, they said goodbye to their lives in Laos and took off on the over 31,000 KM journey from Laos to Europe. The journey started off rough however, as the motorcycle gear was not designed for the Lao weather in May.

“We had to stop along the way to Luang Prabang province on the first day as Raphi was nearly getting heatstroke,” Dale said. The couple powered on and made the journey to Luang Prabang on the first day, before continuing on to Oudomxay Province on the second day and finally reaching the Boten/Kunming border on the third day, where they had to meet their China tour group.

Three weeks and 6 thousand KMs later, the couple made it through China, where they continued into Kyrgyzstan, a landlocked country in Central Asia, for one month.  

They then crossed into Uzbekistan for two weeks, Tajikistan for three weeks, back into Uzbek and then Turkmenistan (guided) for four days, followed by Iran for three weeks, Armenia for a week, Georgia for three weeks, and Turkey for a month.

Beyond Borders: A 31,000 KM Motorcycle Journey from Laos to Europe
Meeting shepherds in Turkey. (Photo: Dale Garner)

Finally, they made it into Europe, going through Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Italy, and now they are currently in Switzerland. 

Recalling some of the trials and tribulations faced along the way, Dale shared a story of when they were in Tajikistan. The extreme heat and humidity in Tajikistan caused cracks to form on the skin of Dale’s hands to the extent that “even holding a cup of coffee incorrectly could cause bleeding.”

“I remember one night at a campsite my hands were all bandaged up while I was trying to cook dinner because they just kept bleeding. There was nothing I could do about it.”

They had also faced some other issues such as small breakdowns, flat tires, various little items being stolen, however, “there was always a solution to every problem, and there was always someone who was happy to help. One of the most surprising, but nicest things about the trip is just how much kindness and generosity we received from all of the people from all of these countries.”

They encourage everyone to go out there and experience the world to its fullest, learning about the diverse histories and cultures each country has to offer.

Although Dale and Raphi are currently in Switzerland, they will be making their final trip to Germany in January where they will return SuzieQ to its owner.

Beyond Borders: A 31,000 KM Motorcycle Journey from Laos to Europe
Dale (left) and Raphi’s (right) highest pass at 4,655m above sea level in Tajikistan. (Photo: Dale Garner)