The golden age of the 'Hippie Trail'

The golden age of the 'Hippie Trail'

Travelling long distances overland has always captured the imagination and it seems the passion still remains. Three Land Rovers stopped over in Bangkok earlier this week in what is being called "The Last Expedition" which is taking on the more than 14,000km journey overland from Singapore to London.

This mission is essentially a tribute to the 1955 Oxford and Cambridge expedition, which was the first to travel this route, but in the opposite direction, starting in London. One of the Land Rovers, the "Oxford" from the original expedition 64 years ago, is also being used in this current venture. They should be in Myanmar now, having travelled via Nakhon Sawan and Mae Sot. May they have a safe journey.

The late 1960s and 70s was the "golden age of overland travel" with backpackers taking what became known as the "Hippie Trail" from London through to Asia.

A surprising number of expats still living in Thailand came out here at that time via the overland trail. In the early 1970s I shared a house in Sukhumvit with Julian Spindler and Mike Berry, shortly after they had driven their Land Rover, registration SMO 147, from England. According to Julian, "Smo", as the vehicle became affectionately known at our Soi 8 abode, was "a 1957 long wheel base Land Rover" with a deep orange colour.

I enjoyed quite a few rides aboard Smo in Bangkok during those early days and must admit I wouldn't have had the stamina to travel thousands of miles aboard it across Europe and Asia.

The Asian overland adventures ground to a halt in the late 1970s as a result of the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Travellers tales

Travelling overland in those days was quite different to current times. There was no Lonely Planet book to consult, no internet and no Trip Advisor. So you learnt things by word of mouth and from messages left on notice boards in budget hotels encountered on route.

Julian left the UK in Sept 1968 and after travelling through Europe reached Turkey and then Iran, passing through Tabriz, Isfahan and Mashhad. Entering Afghanistan he continued via Herat, Kandahar and Kabul before reaching the Khyber Pass and Pakistan. There followed excursions to Nepal and all over India, before arriving in Penang by boat from what was then Madras.

As Julian says, "We turned left at Penang, drove up to Bangkok and that was the end of our around the world dream."

Apart from the last part, I took a similar route, leaving India via Kolkata. However, this was not in a Land Rover, but an old bus on which we slept. It was a terrific experience, despite being unceremoniously abandoned in the middle of the Afghan desert after the bus had conked out.

Garden ornament

While Smo bravely overcame treacherous mountain roads and deserts across the wildest parts of Asia, it suffered in Bangkok's choking gridlock and eventually expired, much to the distress of our household. Smo had become such a friend that it was like part of the family and was given an honorary retirement parking place under the splendid flame tree which graced our garden.

Smo was to remain under the tree for several years and blended in surprisingly well with the garden. After a while it even developed an ecosystem of its own, with assorted weird-looking plants growing out of it. Eventually, Smo was donated to Don Bosco school in Bangkok and is thought to have ended its days on a Thai farm.

Frozen assets

At least the "Last Expedition" is travelling at a sensible time. I foolishly embarked from England in January, naively thinking that the further we got away from England the warmer it would get. It turned out to be just the opposite, especially in the eastern extremes of Turkey and Iran, where it definitely got "a bit nippy".

The coldest, and perhaps the most unpleasant part of our entire journey came as we approached the Iranian border from Turkey in mid-February. Our bus coughed its way through the formidable Tahir Pass which at its summit is 2,496m. I later read an article about the Pass which warned: "On the steep, ice-sheeted roads, trucks slide even when stationary and when it is too dangerous to brake, the only way to slow down is to run from drift to drift." Thankfully I was blissfully unaware of these horrors.

Old soi dogs

The FCCT is holding an event grippingly entitled, "Three Old Soi Dogs Down Memory Lane", on Thursday, Sept 19 from 7pm. Speakers include internationally-acclaimed novelist and cartoonist Colin Cotterill who has written a successful series about Thai detective Dr Siri and more recently Jimm Juree, a Thai lady investigator. He has also produced a terrific collection of cartoons, Mann Farang.

Also in attendance will be the highly esteemed and always eloquent Jon Prichard who will be waxing lyrically about Taking It Up the Blind Side, featuring wonderful tales of rugby tours in Asia. You have probably guessed the third member of this trio is Crutch, primarily because they couldn't find anyone else. At least I am now officially an "Old Soi Dog".

As the title suggests, we will be recalling times in Thailand and signing our respective books.


Contact PostScript via email at oldcrutch@hotmail.com

Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

Email : oldcrutch@gmail.com


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