Top: Alex Bescoby next to the Oxford on Sept. 2, 2019 at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club.
tenth of the way along its drive from Singapore to London, The Last Expedition’s team of eight said Monday that they’re feeling fine – despite rainstorms and a lack of air conditioning.
The Last Expedition, an expedition of three Land Rovers making their way along one of the longest land routes on earth, made a pitstop in Bangkok Monday morning.
“I’ve sweated through all my clothes. I’m wearing the only clothes I have left. Everything else is in the laundry,” expedition director Alex Bescoby said to the press at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, laughing. “I’m so happy to be here so I can get some laundry done.”
The expedition set out from Singapore on Aug. 25 and crossed over the Thai border on Friday in Songkhla province. The team plans to leave Bangkok on Tuesday, before stopping at Nakhon Sawan to camp for the night and leaving Thailand on Wednesday via Mae Sot in Tak province.
Bescoby, charmingly rugged, is the team’s natural leader.
“It’s been amazing to see the changes. You start in Singapore and everything is super modern. Then we come to Malaysia we drove through the beautiful Cameron Highlands, and you’re in what feels like a rainforest. Then you’re driving through southern Thailand, and even from southern Thailand to central Thailand feels very different,” Bescoby said.
The team plans to arrive in London on Nov. 29, or within 100 days of leaving. The entire journey is approximately 16,000 to 18,000 kilometers, Bescoby says.
So far they’ve driven 1,800 km, or 10 percent, and have been on the road for 8 days. “It feels like two months,” he said. “There’s a big party on November 29th in London. We can’t be late!”
“What’s wonderful about this is that you see every mile. You’re not flying over it in a plane. You see the gradual change, the way people dress, the way people speak, different architecture, different religious buildings. It’s been amazing and we’ve only gone 10 percent of the way,” Bescoby said.
The Last Expedition is a reverse journey and tribute to the 1955 Oxford and Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition, where six young men from the Oxbridge universities were the first to drive from London to Singapore. One of the Rovers used in the original journey, the Oxford, has been fixed up and is being driven in this expedition as well.
“I think there’s something really special about using old technology to do a modern-day journey,” Bescoby said. “When you drive this car, you have to concentrate. You feel every single yard of the road. You feel the weather, you feel the temperature, and the response that people have given it has been amazing.”
Unfortunately, 87-year-old Tim Slessor, one of the men from the original expedition who was slated to join the Last Overland, was too sick to travel with the company even though he had spent a year and a half planning the trip.
“He’s 87 but full of fire. We planned this for 18 months. But one month ago he was in intensive care. That was unusual because he was so healthy. But he recovered and went to Singapore,” Bescoby said. “But in a cruel twist of fate, the morning of leaving, he had to stay in bed.”
In a message presented to the press Monday, Slessor said that he would like to thank Thailand for welcoming his expedition 63 years ago, when there were no roads along the last 100 miles (160 kilometers) to the border. In his Bangkok pitstop back in 1956, he also stopped at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club.
The team said they hope Slessor can recover and join them for at least part of the journey.
Although Slessor was absent, 75-year-old Australian expat Kevin Horsfield came to the event with his Land Rover, one of the many Land Rover enthusiasts present.
“I wanted to see this car because it’s not very much older than me,” he said, examining the Oxford.
Khaosod English’s Facebook live with Alex Bescoby and Silverius Purba.
Three weeks before the expedition set off, as Slessor fell ill, the team added the last-minute member Nathan George, Slessor’s 22-year-old grandson. He’s the same age that Slessor was when he set out on the original journey.
Driving north from Songkhla to Bangkok, George says he was drenched by rain leaking through the Oxford’s roof. “I was absolutely soaked. It was like a built-in shower,” George said.
Indonesian Silverius Purba is the team medic in charge of keeping the cars in shape, as well as the expedition’s security.
“If the Land Rover leaks water and not oil, then it’s good,” he said, joking about the Oxford.
His biggest medical concern? Not malaria, surprisingly, but how eight different stomachs will take to different cuisines.
The other two Land Rovers in the expedition are newer Defender models with modern amenities such as air conditioning and radio.
Bescoby, a Yangon-based filmmaker originally from Manchester, is filming a TV series about the journey set to be released in 2020. The other two filmmakers in the team are french Leopold Belanger and New Yorker David Israeli. Managing the expedition’s route is Marcus Allender, founder of the Go Myanmar tourism website.
The only woman on the team is Therese-Marie Becker, the digital strategist whose responsibilities include social media management, brand building, and so on. Singaporean Larry Leong is the team’s IT and communications officer. He’s already driven from London to Singapore twice, once with his five-year-old daughter. Such trips can prove to be addictive so he decided to join the current expedition, he said.
“There’s something really wonderful about getting in a car with your friends, with the food that you need, with camping year, with some music, and just driving,” Bescoby said. “And the whole point of the journey is to make the journey itself.”
Additional reporting Pravit Rojanaphruk