BUSAN, Sept 22 — Every now and then, you come across an idea that makes you wonder why no one thought of it sooner. Shipping 16 motorcycles from Singapore to South Korea just for a roadtrip? Why not? Earlier this month, BMW Motorrad Singapore took 16 owners of BMW motorcycles on a five-day roadtrip through South Korea.
We followed the group on their roadtrip from Busan to Seoul, through unyielding rains and winding roads, humid days and crazy winds, in an attempt to understand what the fuss was all about.
Reunited and it feels so good
Our journey began with a two-hour train ride from Seoul to Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city. The men had been without their motorcycles for a while now, and today, they would be reunited with their “wives”. To get their vehicles over to South Korea, the motorcycles had embarked on this journey two weeks earlier.
“To ship these motorcycles to South Korea, you’ll need four documents,” explained Noor Iibrahim Abdillah Ab Manap, sales consultant at BMW Motorrad Singapore, Performance Motors Limited. “The carnet, your passport, your vehicle’s log card, and your international driver’s licence.” Iibrahim himself is a seasoned expeditionary motorcyclist and has taken his bike through Central Asia, Europe and Western China. He handled the logistics of shipping these 16 motorcycles to Busan Port.
The excitement, however, was dented slightly when, upon boarding the coach at Busan Station, we found out that two motorcycles had tipped over inside the container and had suffered some damages. Anthony Chaw, marketing manager of BMW Motorrad Singapore, Performance Motors Limited, assured the group that steps were being taken to make the necessary insurance claims. Still, what could one do? Having flown all the way here, no one was going to allow a fallen side mirror to change anything.
With no bikes in sight, we made our way to the Jagalchi Fish Market for lunch. Here, customers can purchase live seafood from the many stalls and go to any of the eateries there to have them cooked for a nominal price.
After lunch, we headed to the Gamcheon Culture Village. A former shanty town, the area — known for its steep streets, twisting alleys and brightly painted houses — is now an Instagrammer’s wet dream. Whimsical murals adorn the walls of many houses, and every corner is a craft boutique selling handmade souvenirs and accessories. From the village’s highest point, you will be able to see the coloured houses, a view reminding you somewhat of the Rocinha Favela in Rio de Janeiro.
We arrived at Busan Port slightly after 3pm. Only the owners were allowed into the port to retrieve the motorcycles. This would turn out to be a three-hour wait for the rest of us. While waiting, one of the wives who had accompanied her husband here jokingly said: “To be a wife of one of these men, you definitely cannot be the jealous sort; the moment he saw his ‘baby’ just now, his eyes lit up with love! Good grief!”
Rain, rain go away
The following morning began with a drizzle that would turn into a two-day shower. We pulled out of the Novotel Ambassador Busan hotel and began the 90km ride to Gyeongju.
The Singapore-registered motorcycles were not allowed on the freeways so the entire trip would be done on B-roads. We got off to a dreary start as the convoy negotiated the rain, wind and South Korea’s left-hand drive. Once the motorcyclists got the hang of things, their desire to speed up became palpable. At one traffic stop, Chaw pulled up next to the lead car and asked if the roads were going to be this boring. But safety could not be compromised — the guys would continue on this uneventful ride until we arrived at the Hilton Gyeongju.
The capital of the ancient kingdom of Silla, Gyeongju, is often referred to as “a museum without walls”. It has a number of Unesco World Heritage Sites, but the weather permitted only a visit to the Bulguksa Temple. While not being able to see more of the ancient city was a dampener, what proved to be an even bigger bummer was definitely the fact that we had to abandon the original plan to ride the motorcycles to the sights.
“It’s a pity that we had to skip some of the sights due to the rain,” said Andy Soo, owner of a BMW K1600 GT. “But the weather did not dampen our enthusiasm. I still enjoyed myself despite the downpour!”
The main event
Finally, the day the motorcyclists had been waiting for — the BMW Motorrad Days 2016, a gathering of BMW motorbike enthusiasts. With a 400km journey ahead of us, we set off from the warm comforts of the Hilton and rode into the rain for Pyeongchang.
The convoy moved at a much faster pace on this day, perhaps they could not wait to get to the event. The rain did not make it any easier, but the riders managed to keep their spirits up.
The road up to Pyeongchang, venue of the 2018 Winter Olympics, did not disappoint. Long and winding, the motorcyclists devoured the tarmac, responding to every twist in the misty road with bodily nod towards the bend.
“On the way up to Alpensia, we had to ride on a long stretch of narrow, winding road,” said Soo. “However, the good condition of the road gave me the confidence to take on some of the corners. I felt that my tyres had a good grip on the tarmac despite the wet weather. It was an awesome ride!”
As the weather began to clear up, we arrived to a hero’s welcome at the Alpensia Ski Resort. There, members of the South Korean press lined up to take pictures of the contingent. It was considered a big event, given that this was the first time a group of Singaporean motorcyclists shipped their bikes to South Korea for the BMW Motorrad Days.
An approximate 1,200 motorcyclists and fans descended on the ski resort for a weekend of all things involving BMW motorcycles. Booths dotted the carpark of the resort, selling food, riding gear, customisation services and more. At night, everyone was treated to a buffet dinner and live performances by Korean pop singers. Through a translator, Chaw gave a short presentation about the riding culture of Singapore and talked about the regular rideaways to Malaysia and Thailand.
He further revealed that this trip has been more than six months in the making and was opened to a core group of BMW clients who even took leave from work before they knew for sure they could ship 16 Singapore-registered bikes over to South Korea to be used on the roads. Each motorcycle-owner paid about S$5,000 to participate in this.
Onward, we marched
We remained at Pyeongchang for another day and night, during which the motorcyclists spent the day riding around the area, making pitstops to take the cable car up to Dragon’s Peak and for lunch at a quaint traditional restaurant called Unduryeong.
It was off to the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) and the group rode towards Cheorwon, about 300km away. Initially, the plan was to ride the motorcycles into the DMZ but due to security reasons, the military refused our request and instructed us to join a local tour group.
Our first stop was the DMZ Second Tunnel, which was originally made by the North Koreans to infiltrate the South. It sits 50m to 160m below the surface and is 3.5km long. This turned out to be a rather tough hike for some of the motorcyclists who did not expect the steep incline of the steps leading in and out of the tunnel.
We visited the Cheorwon Peace Observatory next, where we were given strict instructions not to take pictures of the North Korean side. Thinking no one was going to enforce the rule, I took my phone out to snap a picture of the forest and was immediately told by a DMZ staff to delete that shot.
Thanks for the memories!
The roadtrip entered its final leg the following day. Before getting the motorcycles ready to be shipped back to Singapore, the group made one last stop at the Paju Premium Outlets for some retail therapy. It is a shopper’s paradise, housing brands such as Adidas, Nike, Ecco, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein and more. However, for the bikers, it clearly was not the right time to shop because they were all decked out in their protective suits and boots. But no word of complaint was uttered; everyone simply made their way to a burger restaurant for lunch.
“You have to be flexible and be okay to go with the flow when on a ride,” said Iibrahim. “You have to come with the mindset that things can change. If you obsess too much about a certain detail, it’ll take away the joy of the whole experience.”
Not being able to catch the sights was not that big a deal for these motorcycle owners; being able to ride their beloved vehicles in a new country, on some beautiful roads — that was the whole point of this vacation.
“I give the whole trip a 10 out of 10! I’m really glad I was able to join this fly-and-ride event and I look forward to the next one,” said Soo. — TODAY