Family of 3 on 20,000km road trip from Singapore to London via Himalayas and Arctic Circle

Mr Larry Leong and his friends taking a break in the Himalayas.
Mr Larry Leong and his friends taking a break in the Himalayas. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF LARRY LEONG
A taste of home: Tucking into nasi lemak at the back of the Land Rover.
A taste of home: Tucking into nasi lemak at the back of the Land Rover.
Lucy playing in the snow at the Matcha Pass.
Lucy playing in the snow at the Matcha Pass.
The North Altantic Highway, which Mr Leong calls one of the best drives.
The North Altantic Highway, which Mr Leong calls one of the best drives.
The Leong family in Moscow (above).
The Leong family in Moscow (above).

A family of three left Singapore on National Day to drive to London via the Himalayas and Arctic Circle

Driving from London to Singapore is a test of endurance for both man and machine, but a number of Singaporeans have done it.

They include veteran opposition politician Chiam See Tong and his wife Lina, who did so in his Volkswagen Beetle back in the 1970s.

Driving enthusiast and IT consultant Larry Leong, 47, wanted to do the opposite - drive from Singapore to London. After all, in 2007, he had driven from London to Kuala Lumpur with a group of Malaysians.

Marking SG50, he set off on Aug 9 in his Land Rover Defender and arrived in London on Monday - a day ahead of schedule.

Instead of the usual route through the Middle East, Mr Leong - with his wife Simone, 46, and five-year-old daughter Lucy in tow - plotted a 20,000km odyssey through Russia, the Himalayas, Scandinavia and the Arctic Circle.

Both he and his wife, who works for IBM, took three months' no-pay leave.

Close to 30 other people in about a dozen other cars joined them at various parts of the trip. Retired plastic surgeon Ng Chin Lee, 68, co-driver in a Malaysian-registered Toyota Land Cruiser, was the only one who went all the way.

They nearly did not make it. On the way to Lhasa, Tibet, a bridge was washed away in a storm.

"We had to seek approval for an alternative route," Mr Leong tells Life via e-mail from London. "But the only remaining route was damaged by a recent earthquake."

They drove several hundred kilometres looking for a detour that was open to foreigners. But in the end, they had to transport their cars by truck and they were ferried by the local people.

In Norway, they encountered winds that were close to 140kmh.

"There were lots of rain and leaves pelting our cars," Mr Leong recalls. "Visibility was less than 200m and the roads were slippery. And we were driving right on the coast."

He says that stretch was more hazardous than "the dangerous hairpin turns in Tibet".

And about 300km from Moscow, his car developed "a funny scratching sound" which got louder and louder. So they drove at no more than 60kmh.

It turned out to be busted wheel bearings. "It was a miracle I managed to drive more than 1,000km with that problem," he says.

They had wonderful moments too. These include driving 5,000m above sea level and seeing Mount Everest "up close with my family", and playing in the snow.

Mr Leong says: "At the Matcha Pass from Tibet into Xinjiang, we encountered a snow storm and there was enough snow for us to build a snow man. My daughter made her first snow angel. The look on her face was priceless. She missed playing with snow earlier in the week as she was asleep."

In Lapland, they met Santa Claus. "It happened to be the same Santa who was in Singapore during the Finland/Lapland travel fair in July," Mr Leong says.

They visited NordKapp in Norway - the northern-most tip of Europe - and also drove on the stupendous North Atlantic Highway.

Mr Leong exclaims: "The marvels of Norwegian engineering! There were tunnels with roundabouts, tunnels where you enter at the bottom of a mountain and exit a few hundred metres at the top."

Surprisingly, his young daughter fared well during the course of the adventure, which cost US$20,000 (S$27,644) a person.

"The weather and altitude did not affect her," he says. "But she missed her friends back home. So whenever we had Internet access, she would make video calls to them.

"She cried when she found out she would be missing Children's Day on Oct 9 with them."

Mr Leong will be driving around Britain visiting friends. He will then leave his car behind for repairs before shipping it home. He will fly back to Singapore on Oct 30.

"First stop - Changi Village for nasi lemak," he says with a laugh.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2015, with the headline '20,000km road trip to London'. Print Edition | Subscribe