ON HER BIKE - Through busy South Korea and remote Russia

Starting from the beginning

I left Australia on the 11th of April. While I was preparing for the first part of this trip, the fear of arriving too early in Mongolia kept me busy. Mongolia was one of my dream destinations for adventure riding and I didn’t want to miss the fun. It has lots of deserts and it is great in the summer, but if you arrive too early, even in May, the snow will be melting and your only adventure will be to try to survive! That idea got stuck in my mind.

The 11th of April proved a bit too early to leave, but it worked out for the best. I had some issues on my way there and luckily I arrived at the end of May.


My trip started with ten days in South Korea. Usually, ten days are more than enough to visit such a tiny country, but in South Korea the rule does not apply. It just takes so much time to go anywhere. Four hours to do 300 km, and if you need to go through the city you can add three more hours to your ride. The reason? Small country, very populated and 80% is covered by mountains, so the roads are restricted as well. They do have highways, but guess what?! Motorbikes aren’t allowed.


You finally take the road to find out that South Korea is like a spider web of roads, and that it takes forever to get anywhere, that all the signs are in Korean, that most Koreans don’t know English and that the Korean drivers share the same hate towards motorcyclists! They literally try to push you out of the road. Really, an unreal experience.


I was lucky that, through social media, riders from a local BMW club contacted me. They picked me up from the airport and looked after me for the whole time I was there. Thanks to them I also didn’t have to worry about where to stay. You can camp for free in Korea, there is a lot of great camping spots, but finding low budget accommodation can be very tricky. There are super cheap pensions everywhere, but all advertises are in Korean, foreigners aren’t able to find them.


Apart from these negative points you can count on Korea to provide you with beautiful sceneries. The East coast is full of mountains and endless twisty roads, with perfect surfaces, where you ride for hours, corner after corner after corner. All of this fun just because the area is so remote that you won’t see another soul for hours!


Now, if you go to the city, that is a completely different story! Frenzied cities where technology is mind-blowing. The traffic is absolutely chaotic and there seem to be no rules; where there’s a red traffic light there’s someone to ignore it and drive through. For me, it was a big cultural clash.


Most of all, I really enjoyed the people, their kindness and hospitality, and the local food. The food over there is amazing and very varied. Every day we were eating something different. Sometimes really different, like a big bowl of fried silk worms.


After ten lovely days, it was time to take the ferry to Vladivostok.


Warm-hearted but extremely cold Russia

In my imagination, Siberia was very cold, very harsh, remote and flooded by the smell of a heavy past. Back in the 17th century, many Polish were exiled in Siberia due to political reasons. I can only imagine what it was like to live and work hard in such an inhospitable place. I’ve always wanted to see it with my own eyes, to be able to frame all the stories I’ve heard throughout my youth with real images.


After twenty-three hours on a ferry, I finally arrived to Vladivostok. First thought? It could be any eastern European city, be it architecture or culture. It is a beautiful city and, as I experienced before in other remote places, the people are really hospitable.


When I shipped my motorcycle from Australia to South Korea, the company forgot to pack my jacket and my pants. My Korean mates gave me some things to ride with, but when I arrived to Vladivostok I had nothing and the average temperature was fifteen degrees. I had no other solution than to wait for my gear. Luckily, a lovely family, with a child, living in one room apartment, invited me to stay with them. If I would live in such a tiny unit with my husband and my little baby it probably would never cross my mind to offer people to stay with me. For them, this wasn’t a problem at all. They were used to having people over, mostly Couch Surfers, and were happy to be able to practice their English. I was truly touched by their kindness.


During my stay with lovely Roman and Olesya, I was invited to join a group of BMW adventure riders for a weekend in Andreyevka, a little village on the shore. I didn’t think I was going for one of the most interesting experiences of my life when I said “yes”. 

One member was a politician and had organised a trip to the neutral zone of  border with China and North Korea. He had arranged permits for everybody but I was unfortunately too late for registration. This was going to be a once in a lifetime experience and I needed a quick solution. We finally came up with the idea that I could go on the back of a bike pretending to be the Russian wife of one of the guys (who couldn’t make it). All day I was quietly taking pictures and thinking to myself that not many people got the opportunity to be here. It was unreal! A very Russian experience.


When finally my riding gear arrived, I kept going. The roads were ok, so I did long days throughout Siberia. 

Regarding accommodation, this time I was quite careful and I didn’t camp. I spoke with many Russians and they all said exactly the same: “Do not camp! Do not stop in between. Stop for fuel, if you need to, and go!” In Siberia there’s a region of 1200 - 1500 km where there is no police and crime is very high. Some riders actually got killed in the past. I definitely listened to them this time…


Good news is that you have other safe options. You can choose for Couchsurfing or you can also count on the help of a very organised BMW motorcycle club community. In every town they have the so called “bike posts” which can be a garage, a house or a club, and you can come and sleep there. None of them have a shower or a toilet, but they are all safe places for you and your motorcycle to stay. That’s what I did; I drove 500/600 km from town to town and stayed with people. I was really amazed with how organised they were; some of them don’t even know each other, have never met, but they all share contacts with each other and it is not awkward when you call them and say: “Hi, I am in your town. Can I stay?”


You can stay and you’re more than welcome. Again, the big surprise of this trip was the people. Every time I stayed with locals I was amazed by their hospitality. In the countryside of Siberia people live very simple life: no running water, no shower, the toilet is outside and their meals are very basic.


Although they don't have much, they are happy to share what they've got and make you feel at home . It’s just a genuine goodness. I really felt a special connection with them and with some of them I'll probably be friends for life.


After almost 3 months I still get texts from these people asking how I am and If I arrived safe in Mongolia. I did…but that was a close call. I’ll tell you more about it next time!


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