The Sunday Six: The Joys of Asian Roads

1: Bridges Can Be Scary

Thanks to Johnny Vagabond for having the presence of mind to photograph this Cambodian bridge after biking over it. I’ve driven over one of these but was too busy with the palpitations after to even contemplate a photo. You can read his full post here.

2: Unexpected Hold-Ups Are Not Uncommon

It took over 24 hours to move this truck off a road in rural Borneo. Unfortunately, we were on a bus, so had to wait there the whole time. Had we had our trusty bike, we’d have driven through the bush like everyone else.

3: Sometimes, It’s Like Driving on Mars

Deeply rutted dirt road outside Kefamenanu, Timor, Indonesia.
The soil was so crumbly on this charming rural road in Indonesian Timor that it was in danger of giving way under our bike at any point. Not just the three-foot ruts.

4: Sometimes, It’s Just Vietnam

Walls of scooters, 6-10 people deep, are the default mode of transport in Vietnam, where road rules are, well, limited. Now imagine a roundabout… Or don’t, of course.

5: Don’t Let The Horses Slow You Down!

Trying to overtake a lorry that was overtaking one of these horsecarts was one of the highlights of driving in Lombok, Indonesia. They come out of nowhere at a glacial pace, but the horses are, at least, unscarable.

6: Look! They’re Working On It!

This is the major road artery of Timor Leste (East Timor), connecting it to Indonesia — basically a freeway, or a motorway. I’m sure it will be lovely when they finish this bit.

What are the *worst* roads you’ve ever driven? Drop me a comment and let me know. If you’ve got any pics, do share: if I get enough I’ll do a follow-up post.

46 Responses

  1. Cam says:

    Ah yes! The good ol roads of Asia. India and Vietnam were definitely the most sketchy driving we’ve experienced

    • Theodora says:

      Not done India! I only did back-country Vietnam — I’d brave the cities now, after INdonesia, but at the time they scared me sh*tless.

  2. Jenna says:

    Yikes. We drove through Bali a lot and saw some of the things you mentioned. That bridge looks seriously scary!!

    • Theodora says:

      This one’s in Cambodia. They also have similar ones in Laos. Most Indonesian bridges, outside Papua, are, thank god, steel and concrete (even if they’re missing bits)…

  3. Ainlay says:

    I wish I had a photo of the one single “highway” I rode from the North to the South of Laos but that was from before digital cameras! Just imagine that Timor road for miles and miles and miles of gutted red dirt. I don’t think a single road besides in Vientiane was paved at that time. Sometimes you just had to get off the scooter and walk it like a pushbike! I have a distinct impression of Laos N to S being straight downhill but I may have just built that up in my imagination now by only remembering the terrifying bits.

    • Theodora says:

      That sounds like the road we rode across Sumbawa. But, Christ, the Lao highlands on dirt roads on a motorbike. Scary stuff…

  4. cripes. i can’t blv ANY of these roads. talk about crazy! i will never complain about roads in ireland again…

    • Theodora says:

      Ireland?! I always thought Irish roads were, well, normal for Western Europe… I think Australia and the US have the best roads on the planet, outside maybe Japan.

  5. Bets says:

    Mongolia. Potholes large enough to swallow a horse, and all the manhole covers were missing. And that was where they had roads. Off-roading in a Russian-made van…is an experience.

    • Theodora says:

      Do they put sticks in their potholes in Mongolia? I’d hoped to get a shot of the classic 4-foot deep pothole with a stick and a bit of cloth on it, but normally when you’ve just missed one of those you don’t have the presence of mind to get a photo. I’d love to visit Mongolia, I have to say…

  6. Maggie says:

    crazy, crazy roads! I remember the thrill of just crossing the road in Vietnam. All you need to do is not stop walking and all the motorbikes go around you. It’s nuts and exhilarating!

    • Theodora says:

      Yep! It’s cross steadily, in increments, on a diagonal. Great road safety training for children of a certain age…

  7. Tracy says:

    That bridge is lethal looking! Our scariest was rural Cambodia – a small backroad in Battambang in a tuk tuk just after it rained. They’d been doing work to the dirt road and had piled dirt up all along the middle just before a ridiculously heavy downpour. Which essentially meant the road was not only mush of thick red dirt, each side had giant potholes and a 30+ degree lean on it. Not the ideal conditions for a tuk tuk with 4 adults and 2 kids. We all ended up getting out and walking/pushing after it almost tipped over for the third time.

    • Theodora says:

      We had to get out and help push a 4WD drive up a road in Sulawesi, which was kind of scary. Well, not so much push, as pull: all tug on a rope and then hope you didn’t get run over when the thing got momentum. Damn! I think I had a shot of that, as well… Maybe one for the round-up? I’m always amazed by what tuk-tuks will go down (and up). The sheer power of a 100cc scooter engine…

  8. Laura says:

    Just looking at that bridge scares me! The worst roads I’ve ever traveled had to be the roads in Bolivia, and they only got worse the farther you went from La Paz! 😉

    • Theodora says:

      Ah, yes. There’s quite a lot of snow melt and tropical rain to contend with in different parts of Bolivia, aren’t there?

  9. Neale says:

    Great photos I just love the hard packed clay roads more so when they are a little wet, just like an ice rink 🙂

    • Theodora says:

      Yes. That’s always elegant. Particularly when you’re having to steer quite vigorously to avoid getting stuck in ruts. Constant danger of slewing and falling…

  10. Amy says:

    We were hiking around Sapa and a construction crew was working on a dirt road on the side of a mountain doing some blasting. There was no safety considerations what so ever. We had to stop while they let off a charge and boulders started to fly down the mountainside. Looking over we noticed there were children playing at the bottom of the mountain! We yelled at the top of our lungs but they didn’t even look our way. Luckily the boulders widely missed them. Crazy!

    • Theodora says:

      It’s funny, isn’t it? Perceptions of safety and risk are so different in Asia. Bet half the crew weren’t even wearing helmets, either. Driving past bulldozers excavating the mountainside always makes me feel uneasy. So god knows what I’d do about a full blasting crew.

  11. Barbara says:

    After more than a year of riding a motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City, I discovered there WERE road rules. And a speed limit. But after telling me there were road rules, I was then told they were “just a suggestion”.

  12. Lauren says:

    Wow, they sound completely insane, especially that bridge! Crazily, I can’t wait to experience it all for myself.

    • Theodora says:

      Not crazy at all! However… We did fail to get our bike up a particularly atrocious piece of near vertical scree the other day. But you kind of get into a zone where it’s all OK.

  13. Very funny! I’m currently in Thailand and looking forward to the mayhem that Vietnam will bring! 🙂

  14. jade says:

    Great photos and really fun/cheeky too!

  15. Sam Lovell says:

    nice post! I can relate to this for sure. I’ve just come back from 11 months in Africa. I spent much of my last week on a bus! haha Keep on truckin’ (hopefully in an acceptable time!)

  16. jim says:

    Agree with Bets! Mongolia! Roads are just tracks through the vast steppes.

    • Theodora says:

      I’d love to visit Mongolia, Jim. Z is, unfortunately, currently not keen. Something about “civilisation” and “infrastructure”?

  17. Mark Wiens says:

    Wow, great idea for an interesting posts and awesome photos to go with it. I lived in Democratic Republic of Congo near the Central African Republic for a few years and those were the the worst roads I’ve ever seen. I think it took us about 4 hours to drive 40 kilometers.

    • Theodora says:

      We had bits in the remoter islands where we would have been faster walking. But I was too focused on crawling through at 10kph, or whatever, to actually get shots of them…

  18. Those look SCARY!!! # 4 reminded me of Cairo though, in fact just like it! I wrote a similar entry about the crazy Cairo traffic, but how a *human being* can cross through it =P here it is in case you want a good laugh:

    Have a good week and hope the traffic’s not bad 😉

    • Theodora says:

      I remember Middle Eastern traffic as being crazy. There’s probably more scooters now, though.

  19. These roads and ‘obstacles’ don’t look too different then Costa Rica’s!

    And with all the corruption in Guatemala, the good roads are quickly starting to become death traps.

    • Theodora says:

      Ah, yes. Indonesia and Timor Leste have a fine line in corruption. Which is probably why they only cover their roads with quarter of an inch of tarmac. I guess it’s the same problem you have there….

  20. Man, that must have sucked waiting a whole day on the road waiting for authorities to clear the truck. Great pictures and a brilliant idea for a post.

    • Theodora says:

      Thanks. It wasn’t so bad, waiting. It was waking up in the morning and realising that we were still in the same place we’d fallen asleep in the night before and going to be there all day that was bad. But there was a little village shop so we had access to water and some food — there was so much traffic queued and so many hungry people waiting that people were coming in from villages down the road (past the blockage) bringing cooked food for sale.

  21. Natalie says:

    I thought Turkish roads were bad but they are not a patch on the pictures above. Enough to make you walk everywhere!

  22. The “road” to Long Beach on Koh Chang, Thailand … many rainy season washouts, impossible, chasis-breaking potholes and ridges, yet the Treehouse Bungalows transport truck *still* braved them.

    Don’t know how I got out of there without giving my rental motobike a flat tire! 😮

    • Theodora says:

      We had some interesting moments biking the Khammuan Loop in Laos during the rainy season just now, actually… We were on Koh Chang in the dry, so I don’t remember the road as being that bad — but I can imagine the wet being pretty bad…

  23. There was a time that coming upon any one of those would give a rise to the blood pressure and get me ticked off. Now the only time that happens is when I am not traveling. When I am on the road I take it all in stride and count it as part of the trip.

    • Theodora says:

      Yep, agreed! Though there is the rush of anxiety that kicks in when one has to actually get oneself across it. Or over it. Or down it. Or up it…