Indeed. It's anyone's guess when it will be possible to do that ride again. A couple of Indian guys came in to Rider's Corner not long before Covid hit... they were riding west to East, all the way to Vietnam and then back via Cambodia, etc. It was a big money tour. They had an accompanying car with guides with them when they came here.
I think the accompanying car is compulsory and guides are too.
Rules changed in 2016 and most neighboring countries have required lead vehicles for years now...Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam included. Small groups don't need a lead car for Cambodia or Thailand, but the definition of a "group" varies according to country. However, a guide is now compulsory for Thailand and I believe 5 vehicles and up requires a lead vehicle. Again, this may have changed and is subject to interpretation of officials.
There was a Chinese group of about 9 vehicles in Mae Sot in mid-December 2019, heading over to Myanmar and then India, after having toured all of SE Asia. They arrived late and overnighted at the same hotel as I was staying at, then left a little before I did in the morning. They had a compulsory lead vehicle and guide with them. After I checked out, I observed them preparing to head across the friendship bridge at around 9am, as I was leaving Mae Sot for Ubon and then Laos the next day. This was only the second Chinese group I have seen in Thailand since 2018. About a week earlier in Hua Hin, there were a couple of Chinese vehicles, presumably also with a guide as that's compulsory and strictly enforced for them since the rules changed in 2016. I didn't see a lead vehicle, but as the vehicles were parked and I only spotted two Chinese cars, it was probably not necessary.
I hope they managed to get back to China safely, since Laos and India, as well as other countries in the region started to restrict entry by Chinese nationals as early as January 2020. However, for Laos, this was at first limited to stopping visas on arrival across their shared land border and presumably they could still return home normally until as late as late March, since China did not close it's borders until the rest of the world did, which happened in the second half of March. Wuhan and Hubei locked down on January 23, but the rest of the country remained open for normal entry/exit for another 2 months (subject to entry restrictions in the destination country). Therefore, assuming they spent limited time in Myanmar before making it to India prior to the end of 2019, they would have been able to get back into Myanmar in January 2020 for their return journey, then Thailand and finally Laos, before returning to China. Depending on the speed of their travels and how much time was spent in each country, I presume they probably would have returned to China well before the end of January 2020. Not necessarily because of the speed with which Covid was starting to make travel more difficult for Chinese nationals, but because their journey had already been a long one and I don't think very many Chinese spend months and months on overland journeys.
There are indications of borders reopening during the course of 2022, starting with land borders Thailand shares with it's neighbors on January 15, 2022. Several tourism operators are expected to fully resume operations by Q4, 2022. This includes a company that runs luxury boat tours down the Irrawaddy in Myanmar. They're already selling tours for the period between October and December 2022.
I believe it will happen. That being said, it will be a gradual process and overlanders will only be able to make plans after the borders have fully reopened and things look stable. I think in 1 year from now it's looking quite good.