Preparation. (Why, Shipping, Medical, Visas, etc.)
The Beginning April 24th 2011
What's it all about? Just before any trip there's a not so delicious moment of panic when all that can be done has been done, and if it hasn't been then its not going to be done. With the added complication of sorting the garden out after the flood, in truth we've had a few of those moments.

Not surprising really as we are driving through Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, China, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, ..... etc .... through Europe for niece's wedding in Scotland, Easter 2012. Return on a more southerly route, probably shipping Tardis from India back to Aus. 

The first  moment was when the Tardis was installed in its container home for the three week sea trip from Brisbane to Port Klang in Malaysia. The list of little jobs, written during the 5 month Oz commissioning trip, was nowhere near ticked off. The important things got done, like the hook for the tea towel and the extra solar panels, but the small things will have to wait. Trying to pack the Tardis, while leaving out the things we needed to take with us first to Canberra, then to Kuala Lumpur, until we rejoined Tardis was an interesting juggling act. But the important special cable (don't you just hate that) to connect camera to computer was remembered.

The second moment was when we left the house to the house sitters. And the pool fence builder repairing the one decimated in the flood. Is everything in working order ..... of course not, but there's a time to simply hand things over.

The third moment was leaving our car with eldest daughter, still on P plates. I'm mechanically minded so happy with a few interesting features in our 1981 Mercedes 300D. Not so Jennifer. Replace the radiator, fix the oil leak, fix the diesel leaks caused when fixing the oil leak, replace the tyres plus wheel alignment, change the oil, adjust the steering, ...... take Jennifer through the idiosyncracies while describing them as "value add". Jennifer has elected to take a "basic car maintenance course". Her aim of course is not to learn about cars, more likely find a fellow course member who is interested in maintaining things.

Perversely, the bit we'd been most concerned about, visas, had gone relatively smoothly. We have visas for Laos, China, Russia and Ukraine. Mongolia we'll collect in Beijing or nearer the border. Others are just stamps at borders for us.

After all that it only remained to "open the box" in Port Klang. Fortunately we didn't have time to stress out over whether the webbing straps holding the Tardis in the container would break or whether 125mm each side was enough to have it not hit the walls.

Shipping We weren't too sure what to expect of Malaysian bureaucracy. Australia had been not to bad. The carnet had to be re-issued a few days before it was required for export. Aus Customs needed 24 hours to stamp it (which meant two 40km round trips to the office at the airport). Malaysia wasn't too bad, the agent did the hard work and the container was released to the "multimodal transport hub" (a yard near the port) without inspection. I was present to cut the seal off. Minor hiccough was regaining possession of the carnet - the port office of the agent was 10km from the port and 20km from the town office where we'd first given it to the agent. A bit of taxiing and we were able to drive North from the port. We'd arrived in KL on Sunday evening, left on Thursday evening. Somewhere between best and worst estimates.

Good news (if you've read the preamble this far well done). Tardis arrived in one piece, started first time, and was duly re-assembled over a few hours, with the help of a thunder storm and some more than willing Malays who left hand marks over the panels. We now know that Cif is the Malaysian brand name for what's called Jif in Oz, Nifti in NZ and who knows what in the rest of the world..

Tardis was a tight fit in the container which involved a bit of gymnastics to climb out the cab window. Surprisingly it was easy to reverse in, using low range it was lined up from about 30m away and just crawled into the container. At the slow crawl it was very easy to see if it was going off course.
Visas For those interested in the bureaucratic bit ... I'm sure there's someone. We are travelling mostly on UK (Julian) and NZ (Ali) passports though we are both also Aus citizens.

China visas were obtained over the counter in Brisbane. An invitation was provided by Tracy at No mention was made of driving. We provided scanned copies of vehicle registration, driving licences and passports to Tracy at Permits will be applied for while we are en route 

Russia visas had to be applied for in the country of residence. There was some doubt as to whether they could be obtained more than 90 days ahead of entry but that didn't seem to be a problem. A letter of invitation was required which we obtained over the internet from

Ukraine was similar to Russia for Ali. However, the internet invitation wasn't appropriate as they also needed confirmed and paid for hotel bookings. Valentina at Iris Tours in Sydney came to the rescue by providing an invitation plus instructions on completing the visa application for submission to the Ukraine consulate in Canberra. Ukraine recognises the Shengen agreement so UK passport holders don't require a visa.

We decided "visa on entry" would be ok for Cambodia. We didn't quite understand what that meant - basically apply for a visa at the border at one window, then advance to the next window for immigration. Not quite the same as no visa required. There was a slick agency operating at the Thai - Cambodia border and we let ourselves be hussled into them filling in the forms, racing off to the visa on entry window and returning with visa in about 10 minutes - for a small fee.   

Visas for Laos were straightforward and obtained in Canberra as they had to be issued less than 90 days before entry. There was also a "visa on entry" window at the Cambodia - Laos border.

Visas for Mongolia will be obtained in Beijing with the help of our guide.

In preparation we did what we said we'd do several times in the last few years and became Aus citizens. For Ali it was by virtue of residence and needed the test and ceremony which nearly didn't happen in time. For me it was by descent, even though my father's birth certificate is a historic document and Aus was a colony when he was born - a bit of behind the scenes discussion and I guess that they decided since I'd already been here for 20 years they might as well let me stay.

Part of the value of dual passports was explained to us by a Eric and Lydie (French and Swiss cyclist couple we met in Thailand) who had sat still for two to three weeks waiting for visas for the 'Stans. Two passports means one can be used while the other is away awaiting a visas, or both getting different visas.

We messed up on Thailand as a land entry is only valid for 15 days, not the 30 days for airport entry. Immigration at the border suggested "go out and come back in again before 15 days".

Carnet We needed a Carnet for the vehicle. It covers the cost of import duty if the vehicle isn't re-exported, without actually paying the duty. That was obtained from AAA (Australian Automobile Association) in Canberra through RACQ. Things have changed since I last needed one about 30 years ago. AAA offer the alternative of reasonable priced insurance to cover the value of duty whereas it used to be only a bank guarantee for (in our case) four times the value of the vehicle. A bit astronomical. 

Be careful though. My understanding is that the "insurance" delays the evil day when duty must be paid if the vehicle is left inside a country. A substitute for a bank guarantee, without tying up money in the bank. 

We still aren't quite clear about renewal of the carnet but will cross that bridge at the time. We know it can be extended for a second year, not sure about what happens for renewal beyond that but we believe its possible. 

Its essential that the carnet be stamped on entry and exit for each country.

Vehicle Insurance Insurance for each country is usually purchased on entry. An unknown cost it usually pays to have some local currency available.

We also need "green card" insurance for Europe, which includes Russia. That was future dated to coincide with entry to Russia and provided by Assurantiekantoor Alessie at  

Driving Licences The truck has a GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) of 4495kg which means in Queensland it can be driven on a car licence and doesn't need annual inspections.

The IDP (International Driving Permit) has vehicle classes below and above 3500kg. Just in case, we had lessons for MR (Medium Rigid) vehicles and passed the driving test. That means in Aus we can drive vehicles with two axles up to 12000kg. Our IDPs have "yes" stamps for all classes of vehicles except motorbikes. The IDP isn't actually a licence, just a translation to make it easier. Worth the small cost from RACQ we think. In Cambodia a genuine police check (as opposed to a revenue seeking one) demanded Ali's IDP and stated we couldn't drive in Cambodia without one.

A bizarre feature of the IDP vehicle categories is that motorhomes don't logically fit into any of them. Its been that way for the last 50 years or so and no-one has worried about it. So we won't. No doubt it will all be re-negotiated at some point in the future. 

Camping in Europe We decided we should purchase an international camping card which is a sort of insurance useful for campgrounds in Europe. In particular it means that passports don't have to be left at the campsite office, just the camping card..
Border Crossing The procedure for crossing borders is a sequence of exit immigration for us, customs exit for the carnet, purchase vehicle insurance for next country, purchase "road tax" if necessary, customs entry for the carnet, entry immigration for us.
Maps We bought a few paper maps. Principally SE Asia and China. Russia has proven hard to get. With a few days before departure we purchased an eBay gps with iGO8 software, but, more importantly, a DVD with "world maps". At the time of writing this we are using the Thailand maps. Albeit after a bit of learning how to get the maps from the disk to the gps - including searching for the gps port. Its a bit light on detail but so far so good. Importantly we now have a map of Russia. Since Mongolia has no formal road system we'll probably get the compass out, though simply knowing lat and long is a plus. The disk also has a complete set of Europe maps which will be useful.
Vaccinations We feel like pincushions. Or worse still that the nurse is some sort of witch doctor who likes sticking needles in real people instead of just dolls.

We started early and needed 3 visits plus a blood test a couple of weeks after the last one.

Each visit was multiple vaccinations in both arms. Grin and bear it seems the only response. Fortunately no adverse reactions although it did slow the garden clean up noticeably on the day after.

Jabs were Hepatitis A and B, Flu A B and Swine Flu, Typhoid, Rabies, Diptheria, Whooping Cough and Tetanus. There may also have been Polio but can't remember about that. 

We decided against Japanese Encephalitis and Malaria prophylactics. We decided on insect sprays and screens instead. The travel doctor's view was that local people have become much more aware of the potential effects of being bitten and cases of Malaria (in particular) are falling. The same goes for Dengue Fever and other insect born stuff.

We went to "The Travel Doctor" in Brisbane as they had the information, the vaccines, and the experience. They are part of Medibank.

Money Not the bit you've been looking for surely!

Very simple really. ATMs, and if that fails a bank in a major city.

On previous overseas trips we simply used a Visa Debit card linked to a savings account and withdrew from that.

Unfortunately marketing have got in on the act and there are now travel cards and other product differentiations. Of course the more complicated it becomes the more expensive and the less useful it becomes. For example, topping up a travel card costs 3% and the currencies are limited. ANZ Visa (we bank with ANZ) credit, debit and savings account transactions have a 3% fee on top of everything else. And so on.

NAB to the rescue. We now have an NAB Gold Visa Debit Card. There is a $10 / month fee for the associated savings account which is waved if more than $5000 goes through the account. Given our spend rate we'll transfer twice our spend every other month for no other reason than we can and $60 is better in our pockets. There are no charges for the debit card. The exchange rates seem to be reasonable and at least comparable to or better than other methods.

In SE Asia at least there's an ATM charge (not the same everywhere but up to $5).

We expected local currency from overseas ATMs. In Cambodia they dispense US$.

There are daily limits to cash withdrawals.

Not quite sure about ATMs in remoter areas of China so we stacked up with US$ in Cambodia and converted to CHY at a bank in Laos. Got rid of excess Baht at the same time.

We'll do similar for Russia and Mongolia currency while in Beijing (waiting for Mongolia visa).

We also have some US$ cash stacked away. With some low denomination.

We have a spreadsheet to keep track of costs. All converted to AU$.

Bank statements and keeping NAB topped up from ANZ is through internet bank. We've also managed a couple of share trades.

Phone We purchased a TravelSim card in Aus for an old Nokia (3230) phone we have. Cheaper than international roaming with the major networks, more expensive than local sim card. It works everywhere except Laos. Its actually an Estonian mobile number. There is a freecall (1800 number) arrangement in Aus for people to call us (with $0.35 / min receive call cost).

Mobile phones in China aren't normally capable of international calls out. Hopefully the TravelSim is. At least with a local sim card we'll be able to receive calls without the travelsim receive charge.

We also have a satellite phone (Thuraya) from eBay as all the Aus remote area subsidy does is push up the base price from Aus suppliers . Sim card from Dubai (eBay) to avoid the exorbitant Optus monthly plan. Recharge through eBay.

Internet and Phone We have a Nokia E51. An early smart phone.

The phone is all mobile band capable (including Telstra's unique NextG), but importantly 3G on all frequencies.

Its also Wi-fi capable.

We added a very clever little app (application) JokiuSpot Premium. It connects the phone to the mobile network as well as creating a wi-fi hotspot. Our two (his and hers, gives redundancy) Samsung Netbooks connect to the phone over wi-fi. Its a secure peer to peer wi-fi network so the password needs setting up on both the phone and the netbooks. After that connection is automatic.

The key is how the mobile phone network allows setting up an "access point" which has to be configured in the phone for JokiuSpot to use.

iPhones and more recent Nokias as well as Samsung Galaxy probably do it more easily and have the equivalent of JokiuSpot built in. But I suspect it still needs that important info about the access point from the network provider. Basically smart phones.

Obtaining a sim card in each country is interesting. In Kuala Lumpur we picked a DigiCell outlet near our hotel. $5 for unlimited internet for the month. Thailand totally failed, but we could survive for a couple of weeks. Cambodia bought a sim card at the border with enough credit on it. The DigiCell settings from Malaysia worked.

In retrospect I think the Malaysian sim card was clever enough to provide the necessary information about the access point without having to set it up ourselves. Laos we had to do it manually.

In Laos we tried buying a sim card in the market. Important to distinguish between the many phone sellers with small stalls and the network support offices that don't sell many phones but do sell sim cards and know about their network. The second attempt in Laos was through a network office (Unitel) in Paksong. It took half an hour but with sign language, a bit of writing, and lots of joint button pushing we achieved a connection.

Coverage is excellent. Cost is low. 

Getting Started - Canberra to Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Selangor