4WD a Must? – Driving from Europe to Southeast Asia

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This is part 1 of the series on the question whether you need 4WD for overland travel. Here are part 2, part 3, and part 4.

Are you preparing for an overland trip to Southeast Asia and do you want to know if your rig is equipped for such a journey? Or maybe you are planning to buy a truck for this adventure?

This may raise the question:

Do You Need 4WD for Asia?

Short answer: No, you don’t need 4WD.

There is a paved road all the way from Europe to the easternmost point in Vietnam. If you want, you don’t have to hit one single unpaved road.

Does that mean a 4WD is useless?

No, it doesn’t. Rest assured, if you want, you can enjoy your share of potholed rough tracks and quagmires.

So don’t ditch the idea of driving a sturdy Land Cruiser or Land Rover just yet.

Asphalt in Bangladesh.
Asphalt in India, Ladakh.

Recommended Books on Driving in Asia

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The Asphalt Route

I don’t know yet how the northern route via Russia and the Stans is. We’ll be driving this in 2018 so stay tuned.

UPDATE 2018: Here are our stories on Russia.

When I am talking about a fully asphalted route, I am talking about the southern route, so to speak. It runs from Europe to Turkey, Iran, the subcontinent, and Southeast Asia.

We drove this route from 2003-2006. You will have a great, beautiful journey with lots of sights along the way and, depending on the country, you will find beautiful places to rough camp.

You can do this with any overland vehicle you like.

Read More: Meet these Awesome 2WD Overland Vehicles

Asphalt in Pakistan, straight through the Baluchistan Desert.
Asphalt in Turkey.

Off-Roading

On the other hand, if you do like to get off-the-beaten track, you may want – but don’t need – to consider another rig, 4WDs like Land Cruisers or Land Rovers are perfect for such a journey.

Driving a 2WD may require a bit more of planning around climates if you plan to drive dirt tracks. In the dry season, expect a lot of dust which is fine but the chances of getting stuck are minimal.

However, driving dirt tracks during the monsoon with a 2WD is less evident (again, not necessarily impossible but does require addional preparations).

Read More: The Essentials – Recovery Gear

The Rainforest Challenge in Malaysia is only about mud.
The Rainforest Challenge in Malaysia with regular tires did raise some challenges.

Recommended Books on Preparing your Overland Journey

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4WD vs. High Clearance

We regularly left the asphalted roads and searched for trails in deserts, forests, and mountains. And found them. Not everywhere, but enough to give an added sense of our already adventurous journey.

We found that:

  • Because the Land Cruiser has that 4WD option, we dare driving deeper into that forest or desert. We have something to rely on to maximize the chances of getting unstuck. Here’s the recovery gear we carry.
  • We used the 4WD on muddy trails in Greek’s forest, to exit a meadow in Turkey that overnight had turned into a quagmire because of a rainstorm, conquered tricky mountainous hills in north Pakistan, and fishtailed through muddy stretches in Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
  • Our one-day 4×4 Off-road Training in the Netherlands has been a great help in this respect.
  • The four-wheel drive has been convenient a couple of times, but, more importantly, the high clearance of our Land Cruiser proved invaluable. The pictures below speak for themselves.

Do you Need 4WD – Conclusion

  • Must: no
  • Added value: yes

Read More: Doing a 4×4 Off-Road Training, or Not?

Toyota Countries on Our Southeast Asia Adventure

  • Pakistan was Land Cruiser paradise because they had many old Land Cruisers. The cities of Peshawar and Rawalpindi were perfect places to get our car fixed.
  • In India are many Toyota garages, however, the majority of the cars are modern ones (from 2000 onward). Finding spare parts for our 1984 Land Cruiser was a challenge. The persistence of Coen and mechanics, combined with a high level of creativity (e.g. making a new part), generally generated a solution.
  • Malaysia and Thailand both had their share of Toyota garages and in Cambodia (Phnom Penh) a Land Rover mechanic helped Coen with some much needed TLC for the Land Cruisers.
  • Note this was in 2003-2006; things may have changed since then.

Tips, Suggestions, Feedback?

Do you agree? What are your experiences, did you need 4WD to drive to Southeast Asia? Please share them with us in the comment section below. Thanks!

Originally published in 2012 / updated in September 2017

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4 thoughts on “4WD a Must? – Driving from Europe to Southeast Asia”

  1. It’s so true..
    I build a Honda Transalp motorcycle who I used for a journey to Russia this summer, build it for going offroad.
    Yes I needed the clearance and it should definitely be lighter on a real offroad track (150km and 9 hours…)
    But on all other bad roads, and it was really bad roads, we meet the locals in their 2wd old Ladas and other regular cars..
    It would be really nice to have a 4wd truck with good clearance there, but necessary? I don’t think so.

    Reply
    • I don’t think 4wd is a must, but a good clearance would be very welcome. Like you say the old Ladas and others likely to have a better clearance in the back due to leafsprings. That’s what we see here in the rural area’s of South America where the old Toyota hatchbacks with leafsprings rule the road.

      Reply
    • Hi Yoel, We are in the Stans right now and you don’t need a Carnet for any of those countries.
      Only when we happen to go farther south we will need one again (in Asia for Iran, Pakistan, and India).
      Visas are easy to get in Central Asia, with the exception of Turkmenistan. I give an overview on the subject in this blogpost.

      Reply

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