Road to Saigon 2018
4 February - 2 March 2018
The Road to Saigon Rally 2018
Sunday 4 February – Friday 2 March 2018
From the bustling trading city of Singapore the Road to Saigon rally transported crews from this epitome of the modern world to the heart of ancient civilisations in Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, with everything else in between.
Retracing our original steps for some of the Rally taking the best from the highly acclaimed 2015 Road to Mandalay as far as the northern Thai town of Mae Sot, where we diverged and cut a new path further into Thailand before branching out to the East and visiting Cambodia and Vietnam for the first time.
The Road to Saigon 2018 – Participants
updated 20th January 2018
|1||David Ayre(GB) / Karen Ayre(GB)||1907 – Itala 40||7500|
|2||Graham Goodwin(GB) / Marina Goodwin(GB)||1925 – Bentley Super Sports||2996|
|3||Manuel Dubs(CH) / Irene Dubs(CH)||1932 – Rockne Six 75||3365|
|4||Andrew Webster(SGP) / Ian Robertson(GB)||1939 – Chevrolet Master 85 Coupe||3350|
|5||Erik Andersen(NZ) / Peter Elkington(GB)||1950 – Oldsmobile 88||6080|
|6||David Roberts(GB) / Jo Roberts(GB)||1963 – Triumph TR4||2138|
|7||Keith Ashworth(GB) / Norah Ashworth(GB)||1955 – Jaguar XK140 DHC||3442|
|8||Charles Stuart-Menteth(GB) / John Carter(GB)||1962 – MGA MkII||1622|
|9||Marco Halter(CH) / Claudia Engelhardt(D)||1963 – Ford Falcon||5400|
|10||Amin Hwaidak(D) / Jens Jarzombek(D)||1965 – Ford Mustang Fastback||4740|
|12||Alan Beardshaw(GB) / Tina Beardshaw(GB)||1965 – Sunbeam Tiger||4260|
|14||Stan Gold(USA) / Brant Parsons(USA)||1965 – Porsche 911||2000|
|15||Claudine Bloom(GB) / Andrew Twort(GB)||1965 – Volvo 122||1780|
|16||Russell Jordan(GB) / Bill Crossan(GB)||1967 – Austin Healey 3000 MkIII||3000|
|17||Marc Buchanan(USA) / Ralf Weiss(D)||1967 – Ford Mustang||4735|
|18||Heather Worth(NZ) / Glenda Lawrence(AUS)||1968 – Volvo Amazon 122S||1958|
|19||Rogier Quekel(NL) / Marjan te Velde e/v Quekel(NL)||1970 – Mercedes Benz 280SE||3499|
|20||Peter Wild(CH) / Minka Nyberg(CH)||1971 – Mercedes Benz 250 CE||2496|
|21||Martin Hilti(LI) / Renate Hilti(A)||1971 – Mercedes Benz 280SE||3500|
|22||Filip Engelen(B) / Ann Gillis(B)||1972 – Alfa Romeo 6C||2000|
|23||David Gainer(AUS) / Kerry Finn(AUS)||1972 – Datsun 240Z||2393|
|24||Steve Lambert(AUS) / Ruth Lambert(AUS)||1972 – BMW 2002 Ti||1990|
|25||Markus Wintsch(CH) / Anna Feichtinger(A)||1973 – Mercedes Benz 350 SL||3500|
|26||David Danglard(USA) / Susan Danglard(USA)||1973 – Porsche 911||2341|
|27||Gerry Crown(AUS) / Matt Bryson(AUS)||1974 – Leyland P76||4400|
|28||Adrian Hodgson(GB) / Mark Bramall(GB)||1975 – Peugeot 504 Ti||1971|
|29||Christian Collenberg(CH) / Beatrice Collenberg(CH)||1975 – Range Rover Series 1||3528|
|30||Paul Smith(AUS) / Ben Smith(AUS)||1977 – Mercedes Benz 280E||2800|
|32||Sherif Hwaidak(D) / Sayed Zein El Din(D)||1977 – Porsche 911 SC 3.0||2956|
The Road to Saigon – Route Outline
Day 1 – Singapore to Malacca
We roar off from The Lion City and journey through the excellent network of highways and bridges that take us past towering skyscrapers, over the Straits of Johor and into Malaysia. Fortunately, the border is quick and efficient and with passports duly stamped, we’re ready for the real fun to begin…
The red earth tracks which snake through miles of jungle and palm plantations make excellent test venues so prepare to get the watches synchronised and put the power down in a bid to get an early place on the leader board. Make sure you keep enough in the bag for later though, as we’re off to the Melaka International Circuit for a short, sharp blast of excitement before heading into the city and our overnight halt; the Casa del Rio hotel. This luxurious hotel is situated on the river bank overlooking the colonial Portuguese old town which is a UNESCO Heritage Site.
Day 2 – Malacca to Kuantan
We start the day with a proper wake-up call as we return to the race circuit for some more high-octane fun before we leave the modern world behind us and strike out into the heart of South East Asia. The route takes us across the Malaysian Peninsula and from the southern end of the Straits of Malacca, we head to Kuantan which sits at the mouth of the Kuantan River on the Gulf of Thailand. The route is lined with temples, mosques and other fascinating photographic opportunities – make sure you bring your selfie stick for maximum social media points!
After lunch – where you should definitely sample some of Kuantan’s famous fish crackers – we tackle an 8km plantation test which proved extremely popular on the Road to Mandalay event.
We then head off for a well-earned rest at our overnight halt… and relax …
Day 3 – Kuantan to Cameron Highlands
Today, we’ll breakfast at sea level before climbing through botanic jungle on quiet roads which will be interspersed with the odd regularity section and a plantation test, prior to making a sinuous ascent to well over 1,100 metres and the final control, situated at the Cameron Highlands Tea Shoppe. Here we’ll stop for a refreshing cuppa and then start a relaxed run to the hotel at the summit – happily the air up here is fresh, fragrant and provides a chance for us all to cool down.
Day 4 – Cameron Highlands to George Town
Having squeezed in a final cup of Cameron Highlands’ finest blend at breakfast, we head off through the impressive countryside towards the Island of Penang on the northern end of the Malacca Strait. Today’s route incorporates the Dato Sagor circuit test, then north the old favourite ‘Tour de France’ 10km tarmac hill-climb test and then drops down to cross the 24km Penang Second Bridge – the longest bridge in South East Asia.
A testing day, for sure, so the welcoming portico of the Eastern and Orient Hotel – The Pearl of Penang – will be a welcome sight and provide us with some much-needed rest.
Day 5 – George Town – Rest Day
The last full day in Malaysia offers us a chance to take in the best of George Town which is a vibrant city; large parts of it are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Thus, a stroll to explore the old town is highly recommended and refreshments are widely available from the countless bars, restaurants and cafes dotted around and about. Once you’ve had enough, a pedal rickshaw ride back to the E&O is also recommended. Back at the hotel, you might want to take advantage of the fully equipped spa and leisure complex to ease you into the evening.
Day 6 – George Town to Trang
Relaxed and refreshed, we head off today for the Thai border and en route, we’ll take in a paddy field test and a mixed surface test based on the Unimap Circuit. Local agents will be on hand to help guide us seamlessly through the border crossing and onto the Buddhist Kingdom where the warmth of the local people will be unforgettable. Statues of Buddha abound as do the monks and nuns who walk the roads beside us.
Trang is a popular town for backpackers in transit to the islands so a colourful and vibrant tourist scene awaits us at our overnight halt.
Day 7 – Trang to Krabi
Today, we head inland and the route winds and climbs through ‘backwoods’ jungle which offer a mix of gravel and surfaced tracks. We continue on a road run to our lunch halt at a lakeside restaurant before heading west and south to Krabi. Along the way, more tricky backwoods present a navigation challenge before we get a chance to blow the cobwebs away at the Krabi Kart circuit. Afterwards, we take in a short run to our overnight halt at the beautiful beachfront Sofitel Phokeethra which has, allegedly, the largest swimming pool in Thailand. No diving, petting or ducking allowed, we are told!
Day 8 – Krabi to Chumphon
Yet another fantastic driving day is guaranteed today as we cross west to east along the peninsula from the Andaman Sea to the Gulf of Thailand. We’ll pass through the beautiful Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park and the Laem Son National Park before taking in a coastal drive, mountain scenery and dense rainforest.
Day 9 – Chumphon to Kanchanaburi
A highway run takes us up the isthmus … not an undiscovered ‘Carry On’ film but the 11km wide strip sandwiched between the Myanmar border and the South China Sea. This takes us to the Majestic Creek Golf Club for an early lunch halt before we embark upon an exhilarating perimeter roads test. Afterwards, we head to the Kaeng Krachan circuit – the longest race track in Thailand – where the tarmac specialists will have a ball! From here, we let our pulses return to normal and get set for a rural run to the infamous River Kwai and our impressive hotel for tonight, which is sited on its bank.
Day 10 – Kanchanaburi – Rest Day
Today offers us a chance to cool our heels somewhat and take in the sights of this provincial town. February is a great time to visit with far lower temperatures than later in the year when it becomes way too hot to handle! While its WWII history is well known and there are many famous places to visit and reflect such as The Bridge over the River Kwai, the Hellfire Pass Railway Museum and the Allied Warm Cemetery , Kanchanaburi also offers much in the way of other diversions such as bamboo rafting, the Khmer temple ruins and the local gemstone market.
Day 11 – Kanchanaburi to Nakhon Sawan
We head north today into the Chaloem National Park and some exhilarating driving along the shores of the Srinagaram lake. Coffee in a delightful lakeside setting is followed by some interesting climbs and descents over the mountains, before dropping to the central plains. A slight diversion takes us to a quirky wat for a short break and, finally, an ‘agricultural’ test prior to a run into the ‘Heavenly City’ of Nakhon Sawan.
Day 12 – Nakhon Sawn to Mae Sot
Rural roads and some demanding navigation sections take us, via a short test, to the ancient Thai capital, Sukhothai – the ‘Rising of Happiness’ – and a lunch halt among the ancient monuments. After lunch, we follow some unusual gravel sections through farmland and then onto the roller-coaster highway to the city of Mae Sot where there is a busy and important jade and gemstone industry, bustling markets and a general feeling of fun and enthusiasm.
Day 13 – Mae Sot to Mae Hong Son
Today we blast north, shadowing the Myanmar border through hill-tribe country. The roads are real ‘drivers’ roads’; sinuous and undulating with little or no traffic to hinder progress onwards to the remote, mountainous province of Mae Hong Son – known to the locals as ‘Misty Town’. Of interest are the refugee camps along the road; not plastic cities but picturesque leaf-thatched wooden huts.
A riverside lunch at Mae Sariang precedes the ‘Thai Breaker’ test through rural tracks, parallel to the route and then the run home to our hotel which sits on a private patch of teak woodland.
Day 14 – Mae Hong Son to Chiang Mai
More challenging and rewarding roads are on the cards today including the ‘road of 2000 bends’ which gives the Alps a run for their money!
A pause at Pai to enjoy a coffee at ‘Coffee in Love’ precedes a very technical test and then a lovely run through the mountains on a new, almost completed, road to a late picnic lunch at the Khun Khan National Park. We then take on an interesting test on the way to Chiang Mai – Tiger Woods! – but no need to pack your golf clubs, it’s a fast-flowing jungle track.
Our hotel while in Chiang Mai is the Shangri-La which is situated in a beautiful garden setting and is renowned for its Asian hospitality.
Day 15 – Chiang Mai – Rest Day
Today’s rest day affords us a chance to recover from yesterday’s efforts in this interesting city – the largest in northern Thailand – which is surrounded by some truly spectacular countryside. You can choose to kick back and relax in our fantastic hotel or take a trip out and visit the Old City which has architectural remains from its history as a cultural and religious centre as well as many Buddhist temples. There are also multiple other tourist activities including zip wires that skim the jungle canopy and offer the opportunity to spot a gibbon or two as you pass through and the Elephant Nature Park which has been saving and providing sanctuary for elephants since the 1990s. Visitors here can feed, bathe and hang out with these magnificent and intelligent animals safe in the knowledge that they are utterly content and free from harm.
Sorry, did we say rest day?
Day 16 – Chiang Mai to Uttaradit
To the hills! Waving goodbye to Chiang Mai will be a wrench but we’ve got a schedule to keep to… We’re back into the hills and then a run through a mining area which keeps us occupied until we stop for lunch. Afterwards, the Lampang Motor Club has devised a test for us before the run down to Uttaradit – the Port of the North – where we are promised a very warm welcome.
Day 17 – Uttaradit to Khao Kho
Today, we head north towards the Laos border taking in another rural test before turning south for rebel country; the infamous hairpin climb to Rong Kla; previously the strategic and tactical home of communist rebels until being declared a national park in 1984. The park has hundreds of bird species, lots of wildlife and is home to beautiful waterfalls and lush forests so we thought it rude not to take the route through it, really!
From here, we motor on to the overnight halt at a beautiful hill resort. Our hotel is a Swiss-style retreat set in 200 acres, high up the mountainside.
Day 18 – Khao Kho to Nakhon Ratchasima
Today, we head north and briefly touch the hills of the King’s Summer Palace before skirting Phetchabun and onto the ‘Chicken Run’ test which was previously described as ‘Thai Clipstone Forest’. From here, we turn east and the ruins of the Khmer temples come into view as we motor onwards to the busy city of Nakhon Ratchasima which is also known as ‘Khorat’.
Our hotel for the night has a swimming pool and a spa for those in need of a bit of winding down and a fitness studio for those who … don’t!
Day 19 – Nakhon Ratchisima to Siem Reap
A highway run eastwards brings us to the city of Buriram – home of the brand new Chang International Circuit. We’ll stop for a break before taking to the tarmac for a circuit test and then head off to the border and O Smach – the gateway to Cambodia – and a switch to driving on the right hand side of the road.
The final kilometres of the day lead us to the ancient and spectacular Angkor Wat temple, the largest religious monument in the world, in the bustling and charming city of Siem Reap.
Day 20 – Siem Reap – Rest Day
There’s plenty to do in Siem Reap which is the gateway to an ancient world. The Ruins of Angkor is a fascinating and vast complex of approximately 70 ruined temples of the Khmer Empire including the main temple of Angkor Wat, which is pictured on Cambodia’s national flag. Temples aside, Siem Reap offers other, more modern, diversions including shopping, restaurant, bars and the Cambodia Cultural Village Theme Park.
Modern or ancient – the choice is yours!
Day 21 – Siem Reap to Phnom Penh
After the delights of Angkor, we head to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s busy capital city. The drive today is relatively undemanding but the experience will be unforgettable and an assault on the senses!
Phnom Penh sits at the crossing of three main rivers; the mighty Mekong, Tonle Bassac and the Tonle Sap and was a hub for both the Khmer Empire and the French. It is the cultural, commercial and political centre of Cambodia and is awash with history as well as modern life. Tourist attractions include the art deco Central Market, the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the National Museum.
Day 22 – Phnom Penh to Banlung
Today we cross the Mekong river and head north towards the Vietnamese border which takes us through lotus fields and on into pepper country where peppercorns have been grown since the 13th Century.
Lunch is taken at Sen Monorom – a developing resort which has been built up around what was a wartime US airstrip. After lunch, we embark upon an interesting run to our over overnight halt at Banlung, affectionately known as ‘Red Earth’.
Our beds for the night are provided by a local hotel which offers a spa and a sky bar giving a fantastic birds-eye view of the city.
Day 23 – Banlung to Quy Nhon
An early start takes us to Le Thanh, the Vietnamese frontier, where there’s a distinct change in atmosphere and you’re advised to watch out for small motorcycles and riders whizzing about with questionable road etiquette. Coffee plants grow and dry along the roadside which are initially somewhat mundane but then improve dramatically as we head into the lowly populated central region where there are some very good driving roads accompanied by spectacular scenery. We drop down to the coast of the Eastern Sea and our beachside hotel – The Avani, just south of Quy Nhon.
Day 24 – Quy Nhon – Rest Day
At this point in the proceedings, a relaxing day by the beach could be just the thing and if so, Quy Nhon is the place to be. Stunning beaches are in abundance and with fishing being the main industry, this is also a paradise for seafood lovers.
If lounging around on the beach doesn’t take your fancy you can take a trip into the town where there are various bases, airstrips and battles which shaped the conflict of the Vietnam War. Other attractions include the small Binh Dinh Museum which focuses on regional history, the Thap Doi Cham Towers and Quy Nhon’s main pagoda, Long Khanh, which features a 17-metre tall Buddha.
Day 25 – Quy Nhon to Nha Trang
Today, we head inland on a route that snakes through the countryside and is definitely well off the beaten tourist track before returning to the well-developed coastal resort of Nha Trang. The interior of Vietnam is distinctly rural with no tourist development and a lack of available facilities… however, this actually adds to its charm. This mature resort has a 4km long main strip of beaches and a lovely seafront offering park-like walks interspersed with bars and restaurants.
Our hotel for tonight is situated in the heart of Nha Trang, overlooking its beautiful bay.
Day 26 – Nha Trang to Mui Ne
We set off along the spectacular coastline for most of the drive today and ‘Costa Smeralda’ comes to mind as we twist, climb and descend the coast road which offers stunning views over the sea, beaches and small fishing harbours. Then, the sparkling white sands morph into increasingly sizeable dunes which creep inland and allude to a desert landscape frequented by jeeps and thrill-seekers.
The beach resort of Mui Ne provides our overnight halt before we head off tomorrow on our last driving day – to Saigon.
Day 27 – Mui Ne to Saigon
Today we wave Goodbye to the beach and say Hello to the countryside for a final fling in the hills before dropping down on to the Expressway which will lead us into Ho Chi Minh City – more commonly known as Saigon.
We make our way to the breath-taking Park Hyatt Hotel which plays host to our overnight halt and traditional ERA Prize-giving Gala Dinner.
Day 0 – Car Collection Day – Singapore
Singapore, one of the great trading nations of the world, is where the Road to Saigon finds itself this morning. The first ERA rally of 2018 has rolled into town and, in varying states of jet lag and climatic confusion, the crews and the organising team awoke, blinking and yawning in their suites at the Capella Resort on Sentosa Island, the self styled State of Fun and the southernmost point of continental Asia.
Today is car collection day and there’s something about the atmosphere inside a customs shed which is hard to describe and even harder to replicate. Whatever the recipe though, it’s a heady mix and seemingly quite addictive as the number of familiar faces attests to.
Today, the unmistakable aroma of old cars combined with the steamy 30° tropical fug of the Lion City and it wrapped itself around the chugging diesel cargo carriers, the towering cranes and the hi visibility and scurrying port workers.
At a given signal then some 29 anxious crews rushed headlong into this miasma to be reunited with their cars after the long sea journey in scenes reminiscent of Christmas morning and an airport arrivals gate.
Somewhere deep in the Stygian gloom of the warehouse, David Ayre got the show on the road and, swinging on his starting handle caused his venerable Itala to burst into song. Andrew Twort turned the key to Amy Amazon which also obliged first time and this pretty much set the pattern for the rest of the crews.
Keith Ashworth’s new Jaguar and Eric Andersen’s Oldsmobile were in fact the only two cars which failed to start because of flat batteries, but Andy Inskip was on hand with his jump leads to breath life into the old lumps and in next to no time they were back with the pack.
Amidst this oriental noise and heat, Melvyn Palmer of CARS ran operation reunion with a glacial coolness and the precision of a Seiko watch. Thanks to his weeks of pre – planning and preparation all that was required from the crews this morning was a quick passport check, one scribbled signature and then the ‘fun and games’ and the roads of Singapore were there for the taking.
So it was then that well before lunch all of the cars and crews were safely back at the Capella to sort out those annoying last minute niggles, real or imagined ……..
Tomorrow the paper trail begins with signing on, scrutineering and the competitors briefing, so sharpen your pencils.
Today we also heard the sad news that one of our own, Rod Taylor has died after a long illness. Rod took part in the London Cape Town epic (with the likes of Mark Buchanan and Ralf Weiss who are here with us in Singapore) and he also drove with his wife Rosemary in two editions of the Alpine Trial and the Flying Scotsman.
Day 0 – Scrutineering Day – Singapore
The breakfast buffet this morning revealed that, in many cases the internal body clocks and local time zones, which the crews have to deal with, are yet to converge. Bleary eyes looked at the sumptuous Asian breakfast buffet with suspicion as the associated stomach was expecting something more of an evening meal.
But, there was still work to be done and thankfully, with the cars already safely ensconced in the car park, today was one characterised by what could be described as light duties.
Eleonora Piccolo and Gill Cotton led the charge on the paperwork front in the pop up Rally Office, along with Dr Geoff Watson who was tasked with dispensing all things medical and Pete Stone, who was offering GPS guidance. All who arrived left with armfuls of rally bags and associated paraphernalia, and soon we saw clusters of fully equipped crews sat around with their map book and the two road books for company.
Down in the sweltering underground car park meanwhile, Andy Inskip, Jamie Turner, Bob Harrod and Tony Jones checked the cars for compliance and safety and, no doubt, were making mental notes of who they’d be seeing more of over the next four weeks. Today, few issues were reported – thankfully.
Most of this pre rally action was therefore over by midday, which left plenty of time for some exploration and sightseeing. A popular area for the crews to visit was the China Town district on the main island, which was, given that it’s the middle of the Chinese New Year celebrations, as much of an assault on the senses as you could possibly imagine.
The heady scents of fruit such as durian; the sharp tang of dried, salted and seasoned fish and meat and, the sickly sweet notes of hot confectionary fought with each other for supremacy with none of them actually managing to totally overcome the others but the battle was indeed intense.
Later, back at the hotel there was the competitors briefing to enjoy followed by the welcome dinner where the rest of the rally sang a hearty happy birthday to the evergreen Alan Beardshaw, who celebrated a ‘significant’ birthday today and we wish him many happy returns.
The Rally Director and the Clerk of the Course formally welcomed the crews and also gave few hints and tips to anyone who might need them.
The advance car left us today to begin their lonely odyssey as the often unsung, but always invaluable 24 hour car. However we gained Lucas Davicino, our Argentinian tango meister and hotel supremo who now knows more than a thing or two about jet lag.
Tomorrow, the flag will drop and, at 9.01am the first car, the Itala, will nose its way northwards. By tomorrow night, we’ll have a leader and more stories to tell.
Day 1 – Singapore to Malacca – Singapore Slung
Today was the day when the show finally got on the road and, after the heavy overnight had cleared, we woke to a heavy early morning dampness and a group of kilt clad piper’s which momentarily transported us to Gleneagles and the Flying Scotsman. But then, the strutting and screeching peacocks brought us right back to the tropics.
A sizeable and appreciative crowd had assembled in the hotel carpark and our old friends Bruce Washington, Gary and Carolyn Anderson along with Sia and Eric (with Brumby, the newly restored Rolls Royce) had sportingly turned up to cheer us on our way. Andrew Webster’s family had also turned out en masse which meant that the Chevy Called Caroline could well have been the most well supported car on the start line.
The flagging off, at 9.01am was undertaken jointly by Fred Gallagher and Fernando, the Hotel manager and it was David and Karen Ayre’s Itala which was the first out of the blocks, the rest of the crews followed at precisely one minute intervals
From reading their road books and looking through their map books, the crews knew that ahead of them lies something like 8,600km of top class rally action comprising 20 Tests and 14 Regularities through five amazing countries. Modern high tech cities will give way to ancient towns, steamy jungles to precipitous mountains. No wonder some of them looked anxious.
The fist few kilometres of the journey though were easy ones. Sunday morning is a good time to leave Singapore and we had the excellent freeways to ourselves which meant that we arrived at the border in plenty of time. These same highways and bridges then whisked us over the Straits of Johor and into Malaysia where the real fun began.
The Kulai test for example. This was a short and sharp jungle blast through a dense palm plantation which gave both the driver and the navigator something to do without being too taxing. A coffee halt soon after allowed the crews to compare notes before a run through rural Malaysia to a buffet lunch at the Marina Bay Yacht Club in Mular.
With lunch barely digested then the rally hit the Malacca International race Circuit for two exciting laps of the track before heading into the city and the overnight halt; the Casa del Rio. This charming and luxurious hotel is on the river bank and overlooks the Portuguese old town which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tonights results then show that Graham and Marina Goodwin are sitting in top spot in the vintageant category after their efforts, with Andrew Webster and Ian Robertson in second place from Manuel and Irene Dubs.
Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson head up the Classics from Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt and David Gainer and Kerry Finn.
There’s still almost a month of the rally to run though, so while no-one will be feeling complacent, its possible that some encouragement has been taken from the numbers.
Tomorrow, the show rolls on to Kuantan all of the way over on the East Coast.
Day 2 – Malacca to Kuantan – Cross Country
We started the day with a return to the race circuit we first saw yesterday afternoon and, very quickly we saw that those earlier sighting laps were being put to good effect.
Graham and Marina Goodwin, the overnight leaders of the Vintageant category shot their Bentley Super Sports from corner to corner with the usual taughtness and precision you’d expect from such a machine whilst Christian and Beatrice Collenberg, cajoled their 1975 Range Rover Series 1 through the hairpins and straights with the usual reluctance and squealing you’d expect from such a machine. Whatever the crews drove though they seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly.
Once the fun and games at the circuit had ended, the Rally route took us on a West to East lope across the Malaysian peninsula from the southern end of the Straits of Malacca, to Kuantan on the Gulf of Thailand. This was typical Malaysia indeed, far from the tourist trail and the location of the midday time control in Muadzam Shah gave the crews a chance to enjoy a freshly cooked buffet lunch in a typical Malaysian cafe.
After lunch there was some serious off road action planned in the shape of an epic 8km plantation test around Boustead, which proved extremely popular on the 2015 Road to Mandalay event. Three years down the line though the palm trees have grown significantly and today it wasn’t raining either, which meant no sight lines through the palm groves and much more grip. A platoon of local marshals had once again been drafted, in armed with miles of warning tape and two way radios to make this another memorable way to shake up the leaderboard.
There were some troubles along the road today which were sorted out by the trusty sweep crews. Filip Engelen and Ann Gillis’s Alfa had some recurring fuelling issues which were solved by swapping the pump and adding some length to the line into the carbs leading a grateful Anne to declare that; ’those guys are truly magicians’.
Andrew Webster and Ian Robertson’s Chevy called Caroline lost her gears some 20km from the night halt but thankfully it turned out to be a selector linkage problem which was quickly sorted by Jamie Turner and Bob Harrod.
Martin and Renate Hilti’s Mercedes unfortunately didn’t start with us today, they opted to head into Kuala Lumpur to source some new suspension parts with the help of Sia, who’s still with us as we drive through his beautiful country. They should be with us tomorrow night though.
Erik Andersen and Peter Elkington’s Oldsmobile lost an exhaust silencer in the plantation test but Andy Inskip and Tony Jones quickly reattached it once they rejoined the tarmac.
The well appointed Zenith Hotel in Kuantan is where the day’s events are being analysed over oysters, tenderloin of beef and a selection of traditional Malaysian dishes and the results board, like the menu, makes for interesting reading.
Graham and Marin Goodwin still lead the Vintageant category this evening with Manuel and Irene Dubs, the winners of last years Classic Safari now in second. Sadly though, after their travails today Andrew Webster and Ian Robertson have dropped to third.
Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt now top the Classics category with David Gainer and Kerry Finn in second, whilst Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson slip to third.
Tomorrow we’re leaving the coast and we’re going climbing, up to the awesome Cameron Highlands to be exact.
Day 3 – Kuantan to Cameron Highlands – Highland Fling
Today, we ate breakfast at sea level before taking to the roads once again and beginning the ascent to our beds at 1600m. The route, from mattress to mattress, took the crews through yet more dense jungle and palm plantations, past a landmark Hindu temple at Karangan Laju and then onto a smooth tarmac, 17km long, regularity section.
We also caught sight of the first rice paddy of our trip on the way to lunch which was at the Laman Persona resort. Another gravel test was scheduled for the afternoon session but, after reports from the local marshals, John Spiller – the Clerk of the Course reluctantly cancelled it, as a herd of cows seemed to be loose within the estate grounds. This well and truly took the pressure off the leaders and allowed the rally to kick back a little and to enjoy the run up the end of the day.
This is a famously well developed agricultural area and we climbed through packed terraces, miles of greenhouses, orchards, neatly trimmed tea gardens and dozens of derelict Land Rovers all ripe for a barn-find restoration.
As we climbed, the temperature began to fall and by the time we reached the final control of the day, which was fittingly in the Cameron Highlands Tea House, it was a bracing 24°c. Overlooking its very own garden, a traditional afternoon tea was served here – at around 4.00pm – naturally – and the crews were served pots of tea and plates of scones with cream and jam, cakes and pastries.
Once the crumbs bad been cleared and the cups had been drained, all that was left then was to head a little bit further up the hill, to the Copthorne Hotel which is where we’ve been billeted for the night.
There were naturally a few mechanical problems along the way today but, as usual, the sweeps were fixing them almost as quickly as the crews were breaking them.
Sherif Hwaidak and Sayed Zein El Din’s Porsche 911 shed a half shaft soon after the morning’s regularity, but this was deftly slotted back into place by Andy Inskip and Tony Jones and allowed the crew to rejoin the rest of the rally for lunch.
Marc Buchanan’s and Ralf Weiss’s Ford Mustang broke its lower shock mounts late in the day but well before bedtime the big Ford was ‘washered and welded’ and will be back on the road tomorrow’.
The Classics leader, David Gainer repurposed some Toyota Hilux brake pads to save wear on the discs as he felt that the pads he’d brought with him were far too aggressive.
Graham and Marina Goodwin still lead the Vintageant category this evening with Manuel and Irene Dubs, in second. Andrew Webster and Ian Robertson meanwhile hold on to third.
Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt are still at the top the Classics category with David Gainer and Kerry Finn in second. Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson hold third.
Finally, we’re pleased to welcome back Martin and Renate Hilti who’ve sourced new suspension parts and are now looking to getting stuck into things more fully.
Day 4 – Cameron Highlands to George Town – All Downhill
Thanks to the altitude, a cool and misty dawn greeted the Road to Saigon this morning and there was an early start because of the packed schedule which was planned. So, bleary eyed and slightly chilled the crews corkscrewed their way down the hill past dozens of watercress sheds, strawberry farms and cut flower plantations.
The first stop of the day was a passage control in the heat of the valley at Batu Karang whereas the first action of the day came at the Dato Sagor Circuit where the crews were given another two laps to either upset the leaderboard or just to have a thoroughly good thrash.
This is the first track we’ve seen Martin and Renate Hilti at since they sorted the springs on their silver Mercedes and, from what we saw the car was handling very well and looked to be stiffer than a viagra testing centre. With a performance improvement like that it’s was no wonder that the crew were grinning from ear to ear.
Matt Bryson, the apprentice, took the controls of the P76 whilst Gerry Crown, the time served master, sat alongside doubtless imparting wise words and advice in a cool and rational manner.
Some of the other navigators sat out the test completely, with the excuse that they’d only be unnecessary weight on such a well defined track but the ones who braved the circuit were all well pleased that they did.
There was a long pull to lunch after this where soon afterwards the second running of the ‘Tour de France’ hill climb test was enacted.
First used in 2015, this 8km closed road ramp took the rally on a thrilling high speed twisting trajectory through a dense jungle and, we must thank once again the Malaysian Traffic Police for their assistance.
Adrian Hodgson and his Peugeot 504 Ti were spotted stopped by the side of the road soon after the test finish though with the sweeps in attendance. The word is that he and Mark are being towed back to the night halt where an assessment will be made tomorrow.
The rest of the rally meanwhile was motoring onwards, to the Eastern and Oriental Hotel in George Town. Set on the island of Penang and reached via the 24km long Penang Second Bridge – the longest in South East Asia.
Tomorrow is the first rest day of the rally and what better place to spend it in The Pearl of Penang.
After such a testing day there has been a reshuffling at the top of the Classics category although the Vintageants remain as they were. Graham and Marin Goodwin still lead therefore with Manuel and Irene Dubs in second. Andrew Webster and Ian Robertson hold on to third. Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt are still at the top the Classics category but Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson are now second with David Gainer and Kerry Finn in third.
Day 5 – George Town – Rest Day
The Eastern and Oriental hotel serves a good breakfast which was just the thing to set the crews up for whatever they had planned for the day.
Obviously, the cars came first though and most of them were up on their axle stands well before lunch, having their wheels rotated, nipples greased, fluids replenished and brake pads checked.
It’s still early on in the rally so there weren’t any major problems to deal with other than the sad tale of Adrian Hodgson and Mark Bramall who have had to truck their Peugeot to Kuala Lumpur today to see if they can fit a new engine to it. Apparently the old one seized completely yesterday and nothing that the sweeps could do by the side of the road was able to get it going again.
Our old friend and fixer extraordinaire Sia is going with them to see what strings he can pull to get them aback on the road. We hope that we see them back soon, perhaps with a repurposed Toyota engine under the lid.
Marco Halter was in a particularly good mood, he’s never led an ERA rally before and he looks to be thoroughly enjoying it. He and one of his main rivals, Matt Bryson, engaged in some friendly tyre talk in the garage. The tracks we’ve been to, they tell us, have had very coarse surfaces and the rubber is coming off in chunks on both the Ford and the Leyland. Spares are being carried, naturally, but neither of these guys are the sort to lift off to save the tread.
Russel Jordan’s Healey has fully working brakes but they’re squealing to the point of distraction, so Bob Harrod took them off, deglazed them, cleaned the discs and crossed his fingers that this will do the trick.
David Ayre was busy with some basic spanner checks and quietly delved into the oily depths of his Itala with a feeler gauge. From what we’ve seen over the years this partnership is man and machine in perfect harmony.
The delights of George Town are many and after the cars had been sorted there was the whole afternoon to look around this fascinating city on the sea.
Tomorrow the road takes us to Thailand.
Day 6 – George Town to Trang – Cornucopia
As we expected it was a difficult moment when the alarm went off this morning. We had to leave the luxury of this fine old hotel and point ourselves once more up the road, this time to the Kingdom of Thailand.
The journey to the Land of Smiles was not going to be a straightforward one for the Road to Saigon though as a full day was planned with two morning tests thereby leaving the afternoon free to negotiate the border and enjoy some time by the pool.
The first section, the Fields of Athenrice test – first run in 2015, was a 7km slalom through acres of working paddyfields on a raised causeway. Sharp turns and narrow bridges took the cars from dyke to sluice and back again with ignominious and presumably malodorous drops into an irrigation canal for anyone who got their entry or exit wrong.
The Orange Shirts Brigade, which forms part of John Spiller’s New Model Marshalling Army, were once again out in force and did another excellent job in keeping the many scooter mounted rally fans at a safe distance.
Another short sharp blast followed hard on the heels of the paddy fields at the Unimap circuit before the run to the buffet lunch, at the newly opened but now critically acclaimed, Bistro 315.
Our galloping gourmets, Graham Wild and Dr Geoff Watson, had raced ahead from breakfast and set up a camp kitchen in a disused conference centre. With a little bit of initiative, some basic tools and a handful of well chosen, locally sourced ingredients, they knocked up a fine meal. A delectable three bean salad, a commendable potato salad, a selection of cold meats, fruit, tea and coffee, chilled drinks and, at the specific behest of the noted gastronome, Fred Gallagher, a choice of pot noodles. The bar has been set high, and tomorrow we’re looking forward to afternoon tea with scones, jam and clotted cream.
Full of beans, so to speak, the rally then headed up to the remote border post at Khuan Don where they were welcomed by the efficient Malaysian border staff and very quickly were sent on their way to Thailand, where the Customs and Immigration officers posed with every car for the seemingly compulsory selfie.
The night halt in the Rua Rusada Hotel in Trang came some 169km later and as we’d gained an extra hour thanks to a time zone change there was plenty of time to enjoy the facilities and maybe a cool beer.
The sweep crews tell us that no one required roadside repair today but as they were packing away their spanners we learned that Mark Buchanan’s Mustang is now on its third Monit trip meter. Two failed today, one before the border and one just after it.
Additionally it’s been noted that maybe David Gainer has been running his tyres in the wrong direction. Could this explain the erratic run up and down the leaderboard?
As for the results. There has been yet another swap around. Graham and Marina Goodwin still lead the Vintageant class with Andrew Webster and Ian Robertson moving to second, Manuel and Irene Dubs slip to third.
Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt still head the Classics category but today they share the top spot with David Gainer and Kerry Finn. Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson are in third with David and Susan Danglard’s Porsche holding on to fourth place.
Today, we said goodbye to Kik, one of our Malaysian agents but his colleague KeeYen stays with us along with Chariya, and will doubtless continue the great work we’ve so far enjoyed.
Day 7 – Trang to Phokeethra – Kings of the Jungle
Dawn broke on our first morning in Thailand and, as our heads stirred on the pillows, a strange metallic sound filled the air. Clerk of the Course, John Spiller was up early and, from what we saw from the windows in the breakfast buffet, he was a busy man.
Through the sparks from his anvil we could see that he was forging machetes; the reason being that, apparently we’d need them along the route today. A full day was scheduled once again, but this time there was going to be a lot of back country action involving unmade roads and dense woodland. Many crews were also asking, would this be the day that Paul and Ben Smith got to use the shovel, which is strapped to the front of their car?
Almost as soon as the rally set out from the Rua Rasada therefore, it found itself deep in another world, namely that of the dense rubber plantations for which this area is famous. Itala, Bentley, Porsche, Mercedes et al, jockeyed for position with the ubiquitous step through scooters on roads barely wide enough for two of them to pass. Workers scurried to and fro with gallon drums of the precious white latex which had dripped laboriously into tiny bowls from millions of trees.
This sort of terrain was hard work for both the driver and navigator, the distances between the turns were short and there was a lot of unmade ground to be carefully picked over. An accurate trip meter was essential as was using it correctly. There were few visual references – this was flying on instruments but, tense as it was, all those who came out of the other end were rightfully well pleased with themselves.
Their reward for escaping this arboreal labyrinth was another fine lunch, this time in a floating dining room at the Chobrimnam Restaurant on Lake Kathun. Jim Smith and Pete Stone manned the Time Control here as the crews walked the rickety plank to the dining shelter across a storm tossed lake to enjoy delicacies such as Thai fish soup, spinach and beancurd and fragrant rice.
The afternoon session was a little easier on the crews, although there was still some tricky woodland to negotiate through Song Phraek on the run into the Krabi Kart circuit where any pent up rage could finally be released.
Our halt tonight is the beautiful beachfront Sofitel in Phokeethra which has, apparently, the largest swimming pool in Thailand. It also has a large carpark which is where we caught up with the sweep crews and their tales of a quite remarkable day.
Erik Andersen and Peter Elkington’s Oldsmobile needed some help before lunch primarily because of a fuel evaporation issue, which isn’t uncommon in this heat, but they also discovered a tank venting problem and a cracked exhaust manifold which will need welding on the rest day in Kanchanaburi.
Martin Hilti and Renate Hilti’s Mercedes Benz meanwhile needed nothing more than a throttle linkage repair.
Russell Jordan and Bill Crossan’s Austin Healey had a bit of a prang this morning unfortunately, but the crew are both well and the car will continue in the rally tomorrow. Jamie Turner though managed to hit himself in the ribs with a hammer whilst on panel beating duties and will be hoping not to laugh to heartily for the next few weeks.
Tomorrow we push even deeper into Thailand.
Day 8 – Phokeethra to Chumphon – North by North East
After the efforts of yesterday the crews perhaps felt that they deserved a slightly easier run today and, once they’d opened their route books they saw that their wish had been granted. Partly at least.
Although todays route was much longer than yesterday, this was going to be a lot more straightforward with only one tarmac regularity to upset the applecart and not so much tricky navigation. From the Andaman sea in the West, we were simply going to make our way North Eastwards to Chumphon on the Gulf of Thailand.
Following the 8.00am start and a fine Sofitel breakfast, the first Time Control sprang into view after 128km in the lakeside village of Ban Bang Kan where Jamie Turner and Bob Harrod had parked up next to an outdoor gym which gave them and some of the crews the ideal opportunity to have a quick workout on either the spinning bike, the striding machine or the ever popular pec’ deck. In the space of half an hour this little corner of Thailand transformed itself into Venice Beach.
Some 95 km down the road, the next passage control, at Suk Samran was manned by the Dutch doctoring team of Maud Timmers and Margriet van Unen who, under a haze of high powered deet and suncream, stamped and signed the timecards offered to them before they sent the crews onwards towards a very popular mid morning time control in the Kapoe Coffee hut where the rally was served very some welcome choc’ ices, cakes and coffee. Any benefits derived from the workout at the Turner / Harrod boot camp were quickly lost here.
Already full of cake, the rally only had another 99km to drive until (another) superb lunch in the family run, La Un Cafe. Banana leaf bowls of noodles were topped with freshly sautéed spinach, garlic and shredded chicken. Whole coconuts were taken from an ice bath and were deftly cut and expertly opened with a parang and served with a straw thereby providing a very refreshing drink, and a delicious desert.
The days Regularity came soon after at Kra Isthmus and comprised 7.5km of combined hill climb and descent on a newly laid, wide and smooth tarmac road.
We were glad to see David Gainer and Kerry Finn manage to get themselves back to running with the pack here, after losing time over the course of the morning with an alternator failure. By the night halt this was going to end up costing them dearly.
Once out of the regularity and with the rally heading towards the final passage control of the day, at Ban Khao Lan, we spotted the sweep team of Jamie Turner and Bob Harrod themselves struggling with a broken trip meter. This was an unfortunate place to lose the ability to measure distance as the last section required some quick changes of direction as it wound through betel nut plantations, banana groves and dozens of small wooden settlements.
Our night halt, the Novotel, on the beach in Chumphon, soon arrived though and after the obligatory spanner checks the rally relaxed poolside with an excellent dinner and digested yet another upset leaderboard.
The Vintageant class still has Graham and Marina Goodwin at the top with Andrew Webster and Ian Robertson snapping in second place and Manuel and Irene Dubs in third.
The Classics category though has been shaken and stirred by the David Gainer / Kerry Finn alternator issue as they drop to 21st and almost everyone else shuffles up a notch. Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt are still leading from Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson whilst Amin Hwaidak and Jens Jarzombek have leapfrogged into third spot.
There are more two more tests tomorrow so expect more changes.
Day 9 – Chumphon to Kanchanaburi – The Longest Day, Every rally has one
Today was a day for some big mile munching and as such it needed an early start, which is why in the soft half light of dawn big steaming bowls of chilli infused garlic and spinach were served to some yawning and blinking crews for breakfast. In some cases it proved just the thing to get them up and running.
From the bustling town of Chumphon we then began the long pull up the busy north / south freeway to the first Time Control at Thap Sakae after 169km. Here the Amazon Cafe did a roaring trade serving up the best coffee we’ve had since leaving Singapore. The espresso machine glowed red with exertion but still the rally came back for more.
It was a caffeine feeding frenzy and within minutes most of us began to enjoy the once familiar sensations of sweating, shaking and heart palpitations. The toilets were busy as well.
More freeway followed on the way to the second Time Control which was another 130km down the road. We passed within 20km of the border with Myanmar, ran along the Pran Puri dam wall, past pineapple fields and sugar cane planantions. A short sharp shower of rain did little to bring down the temperature but did serve to clean the windscreen.
Finally we arrived at the Majestic Creek Country Club which hosted a lunch for us and allowed the vintage cars to park up on the apron to the 18th hole of the golf course in full view of the bar, the clubhouse and the restaurant.
The test just after lunch was aptly named ‘Thai Tee Time’ and it gave the golfers something more interesting to look at for a few minutes. Jim Smith and Pete Stone, along with Chris Elkins and Gavin Bull had laid out an almost 8km mixed surface circuit, with long straights, sharp corners and many quick changes of direction.
Policemen and marshals had been posted at strategic junctions which let the crews tackle the test as they saw fit.
Another hot and heavy rain shower hit the early runners and Graham Goodwin was seen simultaneously cornering and clearing his windscreen. How much time this cost him is anyone’s guess ……
Soon enough though all 28 cars were through the finish line and we began the trek up country once again to the ‘From Thaim to Thaim’ test at the Kaeng Krachan Circuit. Opened in 2010 this is the longest race track in Thailand and today we had it all to ourselves. For almost an hour the ERA ‘Run What You Brung Trophy’ lit up the 3kms of turns and twists.
Each crew was slated to do three laps although Russell Jordan and Bill Crossan enjoyed it so much in their Healey that they sneaked in an extra one.
Surprisingly, after such a day, the leaderboard for both categories has changed very little. The vintageant class is exactly as it was yesterday. Graham and Marina Goodwin maintain their position at the top with Andrew Webster and Ian Robertson in second place and Manuel and Irene Dubs in third.
In the Classic category, Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt are still leading but Amin Hwaidak and Jens Jarzombek are now in second place. Gerry Crown and Mat Bryson didn’t enjoy the track experience as much as they’d have hoped to. A fuel line blockage almost spelled disaster for the big Leyland and its crew. Tonight, after a tense afternoon, they have slipped to third place.
The night halt in Kanchanaburi is at the Dheva Mantra Resort and Spa where we also have a rest day so this evening the crews were well and truly making themselves at home.
Day 10 – Kanchanaburi Rest Day
Kanchanaburi is a town on the backpacking trail out of Bangkok and is famous for the Death Railway which was built during WWII by thousands of Allied POWs over the River Khwae Yai on which the town sits. The film, The Bridge on the River Kwai, with Alec Guinness, gives a somewhat inaccurate representation of real events but is nonetheless, a ripping good yarn.
Nearby thousands of Allied soldiers who died whilst working on the railway are buried at the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.
As we’ve got a rest day here, some crews went to visit these important landmarks and some also took a trip up to the museum and memorial at Hellfire Pass some 70 km further up the road.
Whatever they chose to do though there were cars to check on first and the classics leader set the example by appearing bright and early int he car park this morning Marco Halter to spanner check his big Falcon whilst Claudia brushed out the interior.
In what ever shade they could find, the rest of the crews pulled on their overalls and picked up their tools. Xena, Heather Worth’s well travelled Volvo, was lucky enough to receive a foreign visitor. Arve Larsen who’s from the Norska Amazon Klubb but is based in Thailand was seen checking the old girl over during the course of the morning and as you’d expect he pronounced a clean bill of health.
Rogier and Marjan Quekel’s Mercedes Benz had its windows thoroughly washed and polished because Rogier felt that, just as everyone else was busy, then he should be doing something as well. But, as the car is going very well he didn’t want to do too much.
Jens Jarzombek, currently sitting in second place in the blue Mustang was lending a hand with the white Porsche of Sherif Hwaidak and Sayed Zein El Din. There’s nothing wrong with the car we should add, it’s more that Jens likes to tinker with things. As far as his own car is concerned, this is also going well and he assures us that there’s no problem with the steering, but getting his driver, Amin Hwaidak, to keep it in a straight line is something he’s working on.
Russell Jordan’s steering column snapped today on the way out of a tyre repair place, but as luck would have it the same family owned a car repair facility and within a few hours something of a repair had been lashed up. His wife’s flying out with spares for a more permanent fix next week.
Erik Andersen and Peter Elkington’s Oldsmobile was also in bits and the crew were running around with pieces of manifold in their hands looking to get them welded. This Rally is a shake down event for them as they run up to the next Peking to Paris so every problem is pretty much an opportunity to get to know their car a little bit better.
The pool and the spa have been busy today and tonight the restaurants in town might be well advised to lay on extra staff.
Day 11 – Kanchanaburi to Nakhon Sawan – Caned
The road out of town today was lined with an eclectic mix of garden centres, infantry regiments and rock art sellers. There are also lots of signs warning us of elephants along the road but there were no actual sightings of them anywhere in the Chaloem National Park.
For the first part of the morning we ran along the River Kwai itself but soon climbed away from it and quickly reached the dizzy heights of 370m. Not since the Cameron Highlands have we been this high, and the cooling effect of even this modest altitude was welcomed by all.
There was also a choice to be made this morning, crews could either take a rickety old vehicle ferry to the Time Control in the Azimuth restaurant at Mae Lamun or make a 27km detour around Srinagaram Lake and have more of a chance of seeing those elusive elephants. The split was roughly 50% and nobody seemed to regret their choice. Those on the car ferry arrived as if onboard an oversized Gloriana, gliding through a tropical mist, whilst those who’d taken the road spoke of stunning views and an incredible landscape.
The refreshments at the Azimuth were very good and set the crews up nicely for the first Regularity at Srinagarindra which wound up the side of a mountain and topped out at 800m. From here the roads became more twisty, and many crews found this a challenging section as there was not an inch of straight road for almost 99km, but the Phutoei National Park was indeed very beautiful as well as interesting.
All along the route, the fields were full of workers picking pineapples, pak choi and cutting cane and we passed many lorries laden with produce from this industrial scale agriculture.
The lunch Time Control was at Wat Tham Kao Wong where we saw Bistro 315 in action once again serving teas, coffee, cold drinks and snacks before the crews set off to drive through yet more pineapple fields to the highlight of the day, the Agrimaize Test. Almost 4.5km of roughly made tracks; through, across and between, a soon to be harvested cane crop, had been closed for us by another crack team of marshals and policemen with miles of warning tape and two way radios at their disposal.
To say that the crews enjoyed themselves would be an understatement but they weren’t the only ones grinning. Hundreds of estate workers took the opportunity to down tools for a while and cheer the mad motorists on their way.
The leader boards tonight are as they were before the rest day; Graham and Marina Goodwin at the top of the Vintageants with Andrew Webster and Ian Robertson in second place and Manuel and Irene Dubs in third.
Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt hold their lead in the Classics. Amin Hwaidak and Jens Jarzombek in the Mustang drop a few places allowing Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson to move up to second with David Gainer and Kerry Finn’s Datsun 240z in third.
Tonight we’re in the Chic Hotel in Nakhon Sawan, the ‘Heavenly City’ on the banks of the Chao Phraya River.
Day 12 – Nakhon Sawan to Mae Sot – By the Book
Straight out of the traps this morning the crews were given another chance to drive the Agrimaize test which they enjoyed so much yesterday evening.
Today, the Clerk of the Course, John Spiller had made a few changes though. He ran it in reverse and aptly renamed it Eziamirga. Getting to it was also a bit of a challenge and this set the tone for much of the rest of the day where there would be more twists and turns than the Brexit negotiations.
We were taken well and truly off the beaten path today and the navigators were kept fully engaged with their route books and tripmeters throughout. Given the way some of the cars arrived at this test though, well out of their starting order, it seems that there may have been a level of disengagement early on. No matter, there were plenty of kilometres left with which they could get back on terms.
Following the Test, the first Time Control was at the ‘Garden Centre’ some 80km away and here we found David Ayre looking for help sourcing a workshop with a lathe so he could turn himself a new steering kingpin, having broken one of his earlier in the day. Armed with a few addresses and phone numbers he headed straight from the control to Mae Sot and, when the rest of the crews arrived at the night halt they found the Itala up on its axle stands looking a little forlorn. David meanwhile, was busy downtown in a machine shop and, just before darkness fell he returned and, along with Andy Inskip had the newly fashioned part installed.
For the rest of the rally, they had an excellent route to enjoy, 151km of rural Thailand which led them to the lunch halt, once again hosted by Bistro 315 in the Old City Park at Sukothai, the ‘Rising of Happiness’, the ancient Thai capital.
Messrs Wild and Watson provided hard boiled eggs, crudités and savoury croissants to a hot and hungry rally, washed down with iced fruit juice or chilled water; has there ever been a finer al fresco diner?
As well as enjoying the food though, some crews needed a pit stop and between mouthfuls of lunch Jaime Turner, Tony Jones et al, took a look at a sticky clutch cable belonging to David and Susan Danglard’s Porsche, and also reseated the sump guard on Filip Engelen’s Alfa which had taken a big hit somewhere in the bush.
Steve and Ruth Lambert had left the lunch in fine spirits aboard their yellow BMW, but soon afterwards their suspension collapsed which left them feeling a little bit flat. Bob Harrod and the rest of his sweep crew soon had them up and running though, and they made the night halt along with everyone else.
On the way to Mae Sot, the terrain changed dramatically. From the gravel and broken tarmac of the morning we enjoyed a swooping roller coaster of a wide new road through the big and busy town of Tak sat on the Ping River where we hit a new high of 40°c. From here, a modern three lane highway climbed to the Huai Ya U checkpoint and topped out at 838m alongside the old Doi Muso Market which looked very out of place given its new surroundings.
The night halt is the Centara Mae Sot Hill Resort where the results have been thoroughly examined and discussed over a fiery ‘Northern Style’ pork curry and a slightly milder chicken one, with ginger, which we presumed to be Southern style.
Graham and Marina Goodwin are still at the top of the Vintageants with Andrew Webster and Ian Robertson in second place and Manuel and Irene Dubs in third.
There has been yet another slight change to the Classics leaderboard. Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt still lead with Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson in second while David Gainer and Kerry Finn slip a place to fourth behind David and Susan Danglard who take over third.
Day 13 – Mae Sot to Mae Hong Son – Checkpoint Charlies
Today we shot northwards on remote but remarkably well maintained roads hugging the Myanmar border through heavily wooded Karen hill-tribe country and along the wide and shallow Moei River. This area has had a troubled history and in this first section alone we counted eight checkpoints and miles of permanent refugee camps over which a pall of smoke and mist hung in the air.
Buddhist monks and ornate temples were our travelling companions today and, at the first Time Control in Ban Mae Salit Luang after a twisty 114 km, one of the monks was kind enough to pose with Graham and Marina Goodwin’s Bentley. For a man of few possessions he displayed remarkably good taste.
Shortly after leaving this coffee halt Andy Inskip and Tony Jones were once again hard at it working on David Danglard’s clutch which is still giving him some problems. Whilst the two sweeps worked on the car David reflected on his current third place in this only his second rally and he says that he’s still feeling is way in.
The second Time Control was also the lunch venue at the cafe in Mae Sariang where we dined on a superb buffet of noodles, chicken and rice. Seating was either by the cool blue pool or under a thatched shady roof. David and Jo Roberts were a little late to the table though having had an issue with their alternator wiring, which was quickly diagnosed and expertly repaired by Bob Harrod.
The sport for the day came soon after lunch, the Thai Brake Test, which was short and to the point. A few tight turns, a narrow bridge, a climb and a descent all packed into four kilometres. David Danglard managed a small pirouette whilst Heather ‘heavy right foot’ Worth locked her wheels momentarily, threatening to send the Amazon into a ditch, only to release the pedal in the nick of time and make the turn with pride intact.
Graham Goodwin was also seen wrestling with his steering wheel on a sweeping bend. Hunkered down in the cockpit of the Bentley, his forearms were tensed, there was sweat on his brow and he was definitely on opposite lock.
The run to the Passage Control in Khun Yuam and then on the night halt mirrored that of the morning. Excellent tarmac, lots of checkpoints and plenty local culture to look at along the roadside.
After their steering problems yesterday David and Karen Ayre had a little more drama today as they ran out of fuel some 26km from the hotel but Manuel Dubs sportingly donated 10 litres of petrol from his Rockne to get Borghese’s chariot to the finish line.
Mae Hong Son is the most northerly point of the rally and is known locally as ‘Misty Town’. The hotel this evening, The Imperial, pulled out all of the stops even to the extent of serving freshly cooked French Fries along with the usual rice and noodles.
Day 14 – Mae Hong Son to Chiang Mai – Twisted
The day of the 1000 hairpins dawned, and the town of the Misty Hills lived up to its name as there was barely 25m visibility across the hotel grounds and into the teak plantation for which it is famous.
The mist didn’t last long though and soon enough there was blue sky and the promise of full sun wherever there wasn’t a mountain throwing its shade on our parade.
As we’d been led to believe by John Spiller, the Clerk of the Course, this was going to be an upper body workout sort of day and almost as soon as we’d left Mae Song Hon, the fun and games began. Up, down, around and around. This was a corkscrewing helter skelter sort of road where one bend required full footed braking whilst the next needed full gas.
David and Karen Ayre gunned their Itala through these tornanti with a grace and precision which seemed to fly in the face of a piece of engineering more than a century old.
Aside from the driving, a Thai money tree festival held our attention on the way to the Time Control in Pai. In this elaborate and noisy gathering crowds of women dressed in their best clothes paraded brightly coloured trees hung with notes of varying denominations. These trees are then be presented to the local monastery for the upkeep of their monks and the buildings.
The Time Control in the exquisite Coffee in Love Cafe was a welcome break after such a morning and whilst Graham Goodwin enjoyed the coffee and cake, he admitted to feeling short changed as he’d counted only 627 hairpins so far. He was reassured though that there were plenty more to come.
The regularity at Ban Man Don Ton certainly brought the total closer to the 1,000 Graham was looking for. In something like 5km, the narrow concrete strip of road rose, fell and turned through the driest and most dense jungle we’ve seen so far.
Paul and Ben Smith suffered a clutch problem on the way to this section and were late into it as a consequence but they recovered sufficiently to make lunch and the afternoon test.
Sadly, some kilometres further down the road we found a forlorn Manuel and Irene Dubs sat by their Rockne at the passage control in Pooh Tanak. The popular and resourceful winners of last year’s Classic Safari had suffered a major breakdown, so the car was loaded onto a truck and sent straight to Chiang Mai for further diagnosis and, hopefully, a repair.
Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson, along with Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt were seen topping up their tanks – the old fashioned way. Using fuel from a hand pumped drum, just before they themselves refuelled at the lunch break in the Kun Khan National Park where the now firmly established Bistro 315, served up a nourishing tuna and bean salad, fresh strawberries, pastries, fruit juice and tea and coffee.
Today had a press on sort of flavour to it so, after twenty short minutes most of the crews were back in their cars and had set a course for the Tiger Woods Test, a 6.5km fast-flowing jungle track with some sharp rocky sections, off camber corners and steep slippery climbs. Everyone enjoyed it, whatever their level of expertise!
Erik Andersen and Peter Elkington’s Oldsmobile 88 found the day just a bit too much and, over the course of it lost both its suspension and steering which meant that they were a little late into the night halt.
There have been some changes to the results table. This evening we see that whilst Graham and Marina Goodwin still hold onto top spot in the Vintageant category, Andrew Webster and Ian Robertson have moved to second with David and Karen Ayre in third. Manual and Irene Dubs sadly have fallen to last.
The Classics category seems to change everyday but today the first five places remain unchanged, Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt are still leading with Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson in second, David Gainer and Kerry Finn are in third.
Tomorrow is a rest day and our hotel for the next two nights is the Shangri-La which is renowned for its Asian hospitality and at this, the half way point of the Road to Saigon Rally, most crews are ready for a bit of pampering.
Day 15 – Chiang Mai Rest Day
The rest days are settling into a pattern now and this one is no different. The sweeps hit the breakfast buffet bright and early, ready for their half day shift of running repairs and the rest of us booked dirty clothes into the laundry and looked at the rest of the ‘to do’ list with dismay.
Some of the crews were up early as well as the sweeps though, getting set for their five minutes of fame in front of the impressive array of film cameras and production staff who have this morning descended en masse upon the rally. Obediently, the Road to Saigon cast list marched into hair and makeup and, whilst it is true that some took longer than others to emerge, we can’t say who.
The cars were prepped as well, many had been freshly washed and waxed and, like a troupe of theatrical grandes dames they commanded centre stage.
Away from the hotel and the car park, there was plenty to see and do in Chiang Mai and, lots of distractions to take the crews away from whatever they want taking away from.
The Old Town for example, was a popular destination with its labyrinth of passages and alleyways with street food and souvenir shops a’ plenty as well as more high tech’ establishments offering cheap dental work and or cosmetic fillers.
There was some serious business to attend to for one of the crews though, Manuel Dubs has a major engine issue and has today set off in search of a solution, although the chances of finding crankshaft, cylinders and piston parts for a Rockne in this part of the world are slim. It’s looking likely that he and Irene will retire the car and are pondering their next move.
Adrian Hodgson is back with us, his Peugeot has a new engine and he’s been joined by Eric Sia for the rest of the trip. They have had an epic odyssey up the peninsula and keen to get stuck in once again. Also, Russell Jordan and Bill Crossan’s Healey has been in town for a few days and looks like it’s back to fighting strength after the issue with the steering in Kanchanaburi.
Tomorrow the wagons roll once again.
Day 16 – Chiang Mai to Uttaradit – Back on the chain gang
The Monday morning traffic was heavy today, but luckily we were leaving the city and, as we drove out over the Ping River through a hazy and steamy downtown Chiang Mai, the streets, lined with countless shuttered massage parlours, disappeared into our rear view mirrors and beneath our wheels.
Within 25km, the busy urban sprawl gave way to paddy fields and corn and the day took on an altogether greener and more wholesome aspect.
On the way to the Chae Son National Park we climbed and climbed to a total of 1440m through an incongruous mixture of dense ancient jungle and wide new tarmac and at one point the hills were so steep that the Itala required a bit of assistance from a local with a 4×4 and a stout tow rope.
All of this effort led us to the first Regularity which eased the crews back into the swing of things after their day off. From here it was an easy and picturesque run to the Time Control at Chae Son where they served exceptional coffee which was grown and roasted on the estate. This was indeed rocket fuel and served to give the rally something of a turbo boost for the next leg to the lunchtime Time Control at Ban Mae Mo.
Situated in a roadside cafe the menu of rice noodles and spicy vegetables fairly flew off the hotplates in the general direction of a hungry rally and paradoxically served to sharpen their appetites for the next section, the test at Thai Mout which they attacked with gusto.
Along with Chupon, our Thai fixer who hails from Uttaradit, the Lampang Motor Club had devised a 7km gravel excursion with fast long bends, short changes of direction and a modest jump. This heady mixture brought out the best and the worst (in some cases) of all of the crews. There was some slipping, there was some sliding and there were some heavy landings, but it was great fun with David Gainer and Kerry Finn comfortably leading the aerobatics display.
Once the dust had settled on this high octane section the crews set a more sedate pace for the Passage Control at Bang Phong Salian and from there onwards to the night halt in Uttaradit which sits on the Nan River and, in years gone, by was an important trading port.
The Governor of the Province popped in to say hello and joined us for dinner as John Spiller set to rehearsing a selection of soulful eighties ballads with the local ‘troubadours’ who had been booked to entertain us as we ate. Most of the audience loved the performance although one or two felt that they could have done it better.
As far as the results go, Graham and Marina Goodwin still hold onto top spot in the Vintageant category, Andrew Webster and Ian Robertson are still second and David and Karen Ayre in third.
The Classics category has seen a lot of movement but today remains unchanged, Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt are still leading with Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson in second with David Gainer and Kerry Finn in third.
Day 17 – Uttaradit to Khao Kho – Rebels and a causeway
Aided and abetted by the Clerk of the Course, John Spiller; Chupon, our Thai fixer and the Provincial Governor all the stops were pulled to lay on quite a party for today’s AIA Raddit Warren test. As the cars arrived an alternative jazz band struck up a thumping good beat, gifts and garlands were handed out to each of the crews and every car drove through what could only be described as a beauty pageant of enthusiastic rally fans on their way to the start.
Once they’d negotiated this fun filled melee and had taken the countdown, a 5.4km section lay ahead of them threading through steaming paddy fields and terraced vegetable patches, along a sinuous gravel causeway with rustic shelters and workers toiling in knee deep water as their backdrop.
Jo Roberts almost found herself knee deep in the water as well; David and the TR briefly left the road and bumped through a, thankfully dry, paddy. So that the TR could rejoin the road, Jo sportingly vacated her seat and ran alongside the vehicle to lighten the load little. A couple of hundred metres and one personal best later, the situation was resolved and the crew progressed as though nothing had happened.
The first Time control Ban Rom Kall gave the rest of crews a chance to cool down, catch their breath, collect their thoughts and ready themselves for the change of pace that was the Regularity at the aptly named Laosy View which led us right to the border with Laos (the country) at Mujang Pheir along a steep, steamy and overgrown road.
The Time Control at Ban Dan Sai gave the rally a chance to eat lunch before the second and final Regularity at Rongkla Klaim some 69km further along the road. This multi hairpin climb led to the former and tactical home of the communist rebels in the 1970’s. The last Passage Control of the day was in the lush Phu Hin forest which was declared a National Park in 1984 and is famed for its wildlife, waterfalls and birdlife and at 1600m the temperature here was a very agreeable 21°c.
From here, we pressed on to our night halt, the Imperial Phukaew Hill Resort which is a Swiss-style retreat set in 200 acres, high up the mountainside where an international menu was featured for dinner. Thai duck terrine, a selection of classic Asian dishes and French onion soup washed down with the coldest of beers.
Away from the buffet tables though and down in the carpark, the sweeps were burning a little midnight oil, refitting a head gasket to Heather Worth’s Volvo. It was as tense few hours but Jaimie Turner is confident that Xena, the Warrior Princess, will be back to battle fitness in the morning.
As far as the results go, Graham and Marina Goodwin still hold onto top spot in the Vintageant category, Andrew Webster and Ian Robertson are still second and David and Karen Ayre in third.
The Classics category also remains unchanged, Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt are still leading with Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson in second with David Gainer and Kerry Finn in third.
Day 18 – Khao Kho to Nakhon Ratchasima – Rally School
On a day where we get ever closer to Cambodia the Rally pulled out of the Imperial Phukaew Hill Resort and onto a selection of fast, misty and traffic free roads.
The first Passage Control at was at a PTT fuel station at a nice round 100km from the start which gave the crews a chance to take on a cold drink or two as the mercury was once again heading to the mid 30°’s with a humidity level of 70%. Charles Stuart-Menteth pointed out that whilst the engine of his MG was coping well in the heat, it was a different story for the crew.
At 160km, a Time Control in the Garden Hill Cafe saw the crews gather for the Chicken Run Test a mere 2km further down the lane. Set in the grounds of a boarding school, opposite a poultry unit and with an abandoned hotel in the middle this test had all of the ingredients for one memorable morning behind the wheel. Countless children came to admire the cars and to have their pictures taken with the crews but, when the bell rang for class they all obediently filed away and left the Rally to the next chapter in the route book.
Almost 7km of rough cut tracks led the Rally through a cassava cane slalom course, into deep, dark woodland tunnels, through wet muddy corners, up rocky rutted climbs and then down suspension shaking descents.
It was a great Test and, prior to the first car setting off, the ERA Test co-ordinators, Chris Elkins and Gavin Bull set out miles of warning tape, planted dozens of care boards and carefully positioned the “orange squad”, the local marshals we’ve come to rely on so much during this event. Jim Smith and Pete Stone positioned themselves strategically, with their tow rope attached and the Hilux already in low range 4WD. In the event though, happily their services weren’t required.
Once the clock started, there were some crews who took a softly softly approach to this section and fairly tiptoed around the course and there were others who let rip and perhaps risked paying a price for this further down the road.
Markus Wintsch and Anna Feichtinger’s Mercedes lost its exhaust towards the end of the Test and it had to be temporarily re-attached after the final time control by Jaimie Turner and Bob Harrod under the watchful eye of a toothless old farmer.
The leaders of the Classics category though, Marco Halter, was playing with fire when, he snapped his gear lever mid way through the Test which could have severely compromised his performance. In the event he still held onto his first place.
The lunch Time Control was at the Si Thep Park, a site which contains the ruins of ancient Phetchabun. It is believed to have been built during the Khmer Empire and is no less than 1,000 years old. The old town, surrounded by a moat, swamps and ponds is where we found Bistro 315 back in action serving up wholesome and healthy fayre. Luckily though an ice cream tuk tuk parked up next to us to and provided the other side of a balanced diet.
Whilst the crews refuelled themselves the sweep crews attended to the cars. Andy Inskip was lashing Marco Halter’s gear lever together and Tony Jones was working on a more permanent fix for Markus Wintsch and Anna Feichtinger’s Mercedes’ exhaust.
All that was left for the afternoon then was a run to a Passage Control at Dan Khun Thot for more cold drinks and onwards to the Dusit Princess Hotel in Nakhon Ratchasima. Sadly, this is our last night in Thailand for tomorrow we head to Cambodia.
The American Airforce also seem to be in town and we’re told that they have been putting on a bit of a show, whether they’ll manage a flypast for the restart in the morning remains to be seen.
As far as the results go, Graham and Marina Goodwin still hold onto top spot in the Vintageant category, Andrew Webster and Ian Robertson are still second and David and Karen Ayre are third.
The Classics category also remains unchanged, Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt are still leading with Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson in second with David Gainer and Kerry Finn in third.
Day 19 – Nakhon Ratchasima to Siem Reap – Choum reap sor!
Choum reap sor! As they say in the Khmer language of Cambodia.
As we left the hotel this morning, sadly there was no USAF fly past. But we did see them performing a textbook dawn patrol, circling in tight formation around the breakfast buffet. Picking off eggs, muffins, fruit salad the like, as their acquisition systems locked onto the hapless targets there was only ever going to be one result. The inflight refuelling at the coffee machine was also good to watch, not a drop was spilled and each of them had a wingman covering as they took on enough of the previous black juice to get them through their mission. As they say Stateside, “No One Comes Close”.
Border days can be slow though and today went some way to proving that.
Thailand just didn’t want to let some of us go and thanks to a minor paperwork glitch a few of us lost an hour of pre rest day chilling in the sumptuous Sofitel of Siem Reap.
Keen to make amends though, the Cambodian customs on the other side of the fence were very slick and our legendary Peking to Paris fixing team had set things up so that each car and crew was checked through in a matter of minutes and out of the 39°c heat.
With a quick sampeah, the O Smach border whisked us into Cambodia and as well as a switch to driving on the right hand side of the road this was like taking a step back from the modern world. Compared to Thailand there were less cars and many more scooters and bicycles. There were dozens of Chinese tractor barrows pulling logs, cane and charcoal into villages and towns alongside brightly coloured trucks belching diesel smoke with very change of gear.
Our destination was the city of Siem Reap, home to the ancient and spectacular Angkor Wat temple, the largest religious monument in the world. For the next two nights we’re at the Sofitel and very nice it is too.
Tomorrow no doubt, there’ll be some sightseeing to be done.
Chum reap leah
Day 20 – Siem Reap – Rest day
Once your car is fixed the thing to do in Siem Reap is to visit the 12th Century Angkor Wat Temple. Occupying a 162.6 hectare site the complex has been a UNESCO world Heritage Site for more than 25 years and is a significant tourist draw for this part of the world. It’s immense, ramshackle, imposing and today was very crowded.
Getting there was part of the adventure as well and for the 6km journey from the hotel countless tuk tuks jostled for position with, and raced away from, tour buses, traffic lights and junctions. The fact that it was wet and muddy added to the drama and coated everything with an epic, ochre red mist.
A thorough visit to Angkor Wat can easily take a whole day, but for most people, a half day excursion is all that’s required and there’s a lot of walking, climbing and waiting to get into the best spots.
Monastic blessings were also available – for a price – and these saffron clad monks rubbed alongside hordes of tourists clutching a jungle of selfie sticks, Burberry clad iPads and shiny plastic Hello Kitty bags to better record the moment of enlightenment.
Those who had mechanical issues to address today included Andrew Twort, of Amy Amazon fame who was seen tightening up some of his steering components and checking on his fluid levels whilst Claudine mopped his brow.
The Sofitel carpark was a hot place by mid morning made even hotter by thick cotton overalls.
Alan Beardshaw unfurled his tool roll for the second time in two years, removed a spanner and took off a wheel. He had a look around and commented on how well built the car was and probably didn’t need anything else doing to it other than this.
The sweeps kept a close eye on him to make sure everything went back correctly and that nothing of any importance was left on the ground.
There was a fair amount of car washing and cleaning as well. We still have the film crew here and they all want to look their best.
In the evening, and by way of contrast to this morning, the Rally enjoyed a lavish meal at the Kravan Temple in the grounds of Angkor Wat. We had the place to ourselves with dancers, musicians and a son et lumiere under a waxing moon and a star filled sky. The floodlights cutting through the darkness and the feeling of quiet and solitude we enjoyed in this special place was quite overpowering and the food wasn’t too bad either.
A fleet of buses finally ferried the crews back the Sofitel ready for their beds.
Day 21 – Siem Reap to Phnom Penh – Creepy Crawlies
Following last nights temple dinner extravaganza the Rally needed an easy day and by and large it got one with a straightforward run down to Phnom Penh.
Today was described as a ‘liaison day’, so at 9.00am sharp we fired up our engines and began liaising. Much of the route ran along a busy two lane highway and almost all of the rally managed this in around four hours, which meant they were back in the pool (or the bar) by mid afternoon.
The long straight road ran through many towns and settlements past houses built on stilts with families sheltering beneath them from the fierce sun, swinging lazily on netted hammocks.
The first Passage Control was at Kampong Svay in a busy lakeside restaurant which sold a wide selection of conventional snacks and drinks but no-one dared to eat too much for fear of spoiling their appetite for the main event which was yet to come.
The second Passage Control, the lunch time slot if you will, was at Cheung Prey and was set amongst dozens of market stalls selling delicious plates of edible insects. Deep fried spicy locust was popular as was the less fiery option, sautéed arachnid. Of course if entomological eating – entomophagy if you prefer – wasn’t your thing there was always the fall back of a dried fillet of fish to nibble on.
Whether they went for sirloin of cicada, or carpaccio of cricket, everyone who tried them agreed that they were the best insects they’d ever had the pleasure to dine on.
After lunch it was straightforward drive into Phnom Penh and on the way we caught or first glance of the mighty Mekong River.
Tonight we’re in more Sofitel luxury but after parking their cars and checking in one or two crews tore themselves away from the French colonial grandeur and braved the crazy Cambodian traffic once again to visit the Killing Fields and the memorial to the millions who lost their lives under Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime. This was a sobering place to say the least.
Day 22 – Phnom Penh to Ban Lung – Easy like Sunday Morning
We enjoyed an unusually early 7.00 am start today and after a superb Sofitel breakfast the Rally began to weave its way through a sleepy Phnom Penh. Asian sleepy however is still quite busy by most standards but nothing which caused anyone any too much trouble.
It was slated to be a long day behind the wheel and with one Regularity at about the halfway point there was always going to be something to either look forward to or reflect upon.
The first 30km ran across the Tonlé Sap River then alongside it. Next we enjoyed the banks of the Mekong before we crossed it at the Prek Tamak Bridge and immediately entered a much more agricultural world.
Sadly, disaster struck for the Itala, along with its crew, David and Karen Ayre, soon after this landmark. They broke a left hand side half shaft and lost a wheel. There was nothing to be done by the side of the road save arrange a recovery truck and tonight they and their old warhorse are stabled once again in Phnom Penh awaiting shipment to Saigon.
For the rest of the rally it was another engaging drive which took them through busy towns, past workers in rice paddies, lotus fields in full bloom and yet more countless scooters and lorries to share the road with.
The first Passage Control was at Ampil right on the Vietnamese border, in the King Rooster Casino which luckily featured a franchise of Bistro 315 serving coffee and tea and giving the odds of red 13 coming up on the roulette wheel.
Pepper plantations, rubber trees and ponds filled with ducks lined the roads as we continued on the way the Regularity at Kbai Chrum. This competitive section was an 8km gravel piste with many clanking metal bridges to negotiate, small settlements to look at and cane cutters and lumberjacks riding atop heavily laden lorries grinding and groaning their way to the main road.
A picnic lunch had been organised in the Oramis Restaurant on the shady banks of a small river where a few cold drinks washed any lingering dust from parched throats. As usual the temperature was in the mid 30°s but at an altitude of 700m the lunch halt was cooled by a slight breeze.
Once the last of the sandwiches had been polished off all that was left was to make our way to the night halt in Banlung and dozens of roadside fires added a little extra interest to a superb piece of traffic free tarmac which rose and fell, turned and straightened, through singed trees, long dry grass and bamboo thickets .
Christian and Beatrice Collenberg’s Range Rover Series One was in a spot of trouble, running on only four out of its eight cylinders and was losing a little oil. The latter could be dealt with by regular topping up but the swiss crew decided to sit in the shade and wait for the sweep crews to pass by.
When we arrived in Banlung the old Solihull mudplugger and the first Range Rover ever to grace an ERA start list, went straight under the spanner. With little else to do other than eat, drink and relax, four sweeps along with Marco Halter and Matt Bryson set to under the bonnet. By the time the rest of us had enjoyed our desert though nothing had been resolved. It’s going to be a long, tense night ……….
It’s another border day tomorrow and it’ll be another early start.
Day 23 – Ban Lung to Quy Nhon – Good Morning Vietnam
In the 5.00am pre-dawn blackness most of us thought back to the Sofitel of only 24 hours ago with its magnificent breakfast buffet of croissants, eggs, pancakes or cereals. Today, tucking into our plates of rice and steamed vegetables along with fruit and coffee with condensed milk. What a difference a day makes.
From the hotel it was an easy 69km drive to the border with Vietnam where the paper trail ran very smoothly and allowed the crews to press on the Main Time Control for the day at Huy Phuong Ca Phe. This small cafe was soon taken over by the rally and served up an excellent coffee, for which Vietnam is famous.
Sadly, Christian and Beatrice Collenberg’s Range Rover only made it as far as the border post. Despite the best efforts of the sweeps and their helpers last night, an issue with the distributor means that it’s not firing on all cylinders and will now be trucked directly to Saigon. The crew are making alternative arrangements to get themselves to the finish.
Once the rest of the Rally had checked out from the Time Control it then set a course through dozens of towns, small and large, along roads lined with countless red flags and filled with the usual throng of two wheelers.
A Time Control in Kon Tum, set in a cafe with sweet biscuits and strong drip coffee, preceded the day’s Regularity at Vi Ko Long which saw us turn away from the busy highways and straight onto the pages of National Geographic, with empty roads and terraced paddy fields at an altitude of almost 1100 m.
Lush coffee plantations added to the picture perfect scene and once the rally reached the next Time Control in the now famous Bistro 315 in K’Bang, the general agreement was that this had been a very good section indeed.
By now thoughts had turned to getting to the seaside and the night halt in Quy Nhon and the Avani Resort and Spa which extended an excellent welcome to us. We’ll be here for two nights as tomorrow is our final rest day and, from what we see, it’s going to be a good one.
Day 24 – Quy Nhon – Rest Day
The last rest day of the Rally dawned to the sound of crashing surf and warm wind rattling the parasols on the beach. The crews variously dragged themselves to breakfast and then began to think about the rest of the day. Cars, laundry, relaxation etc.
The sweeps were up and about at 8.00am sharp with their tool boxes opened and their contents primed, ready for action whatever that might have been.
Marco Halter’s, Holley carburettor was been given a once over by Jaimie Turner. There’s a leaky gasket on the accelerator side and they think that the jets need cleaning. Marco also blew out the air filters and took time to tell us that he’s feeling confident and happy but says that he knows it’s not over yet and adds that “we might have to fight all the way”.
He’s never led an ERA rally for this length of time never mind been in with such a chance of winning, so the pressure is on him and the second placed crew of Crown and Bryson know this and will also know how to apply just a little more.
Claudia Englehardt, the Falcon’s ace navigator usually gives the car a good clean on a rest day and today was no different, although she took time out to bring up a welcome tray of coffee to Marco and the Sweeps.
Steve Lambert was dealing with what he thought was “another broken stabiliser bar connector”. Lying under the BMW in the full sun was hot work so he was keen to get this all over and done with as quickly as possible and get back into the pool.
Russell Jordan was peering into the bonnet of his Healey which we learned had snapped its steering column, again. He’s had it welded up twice now but feels that there’s a tight spot somewhere through the range of movement and was looking at a way of freeing it up.
By lunch time the overalls were off the swimming trunks were on and the odd bottle of chilled white wine had appeared. And, with nothing but the sound of the waves, one or two of the Road to Saigon Rally were seen to drift away.
Day 25 – Quy Nhon to Nha Trang – The Last Lap
There was a late start today at 9.00am better to allow the crews to adjust to normal life after such a relaxing rest day, wash the sand from between their toes and pack away their beach gear.
Almost right from the off we were plunged headlong into rural Vietnam with the First Passage Control on an unmade road at Xuan Son Bac after only 45km. The rice paddies and terraced fields through which we drove were dotted with wooden houses and a couple of belching tapioca and sugar cane processing facilities. Cheerful workers sporting the traditional conical Nón Lá toiled knee deep in the wet green plots but found time to look up and wave as we rolled on by.
There was time for another industrial strength drip coffee (cà phê đá) with sweetened condensed milk at the Time Control at Tamarind Junction before the Regularity started at Cung San soon after. Six kilometres of narrow, steep and broken concrete led past the Da Rang River dam and through even more dense and airless cane fields.
Anyone who’d worked up an appetite over the morning found a few snacks at the Time Control at M Drak and a welcome regular style coffee or tea from the boiler at Bistro 315, although Alan Beardshaw had other things on his mind, as his exhaust mountings had broken off over the course of the morning. A couple of sweaty sweeps lay under the Tiger as a crowd of curious locals looked on.
The next section, to the Passage Control at Mon, was punctuated by the need to dodge around a succession of massive lumbering lorries loaded to the hilt with all manner of agricultural produce.
A main road soon appeared though and whisked us into the beating heart of downtown Nha Trang alongside fishing villages and harbours filled with gaily coloured boats.
Our night halt is at the excellent Intercontinental Hotel where the bar served a commendable pre dinner beef satay, superb french fries and ice cold Tiger beer to those who arrived early. The evening’s dinner meanwhile rewarded those who’d resisted these easy pickings and saved their appetite with the first tiramisu of the rally.
As far as the results go, Graham and Marina Goodwin still hold onto top spot in the Vintageant category with Andrew Webster and Ian Robertson in second, following David and Karen Ayre’s retirement.
The Classics category remains totally unchanged. Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt are still leading from Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson in second, David Gainer and Kerry Finn are third.
Day 26 – Nha Trang to Mui Ne – Coastal Command
Nah Trang is a busy Asian city and, like the rest of them, it was full of scooters, buses and bicycles this morning as we left the sanctuary of the Intercontinental Hotel to continue on our Road to Saigon. Demanding as this sort of driving is though, it is invariably good natured and for every close pass or badly indicated lane change there’s a smile, a nod and a cheery acknowledgment.
We had a few kilometres of urban sprawl to get through this morning before we could enjoy the first Regularity at Cam Thin Tai but, in the event it was well worth it. This 11km section went pretty much up the side of a hill on a concrete and tarmac surface with plenty of tight bends, steep corners and lots of reassuring armco. Over the top though it was a different story and the long shallow downhill, set at a modest 30kph, turned out to be the most challenging Regularity of the rally. The metalled road quickly turned into a dirt track, rutted and rain damaged, which saw one or two crews bouncing out of their seats and failing entirely to keep the car pointing in the right sort of direction. Much to the amusement of the handful of villagers who’d turned out to watch the cars pass by.
Once the entire rally had cleared this section it was a time to head to the other highlight of the day, lunch on a floating restaurant at Bich Teo. One or two of our number were unavoidably delayed on the way though. Held up at a level crossing by the Doi Moi Express train which came trundling along, bang on time, between Nha Trang and Saigon.
Once they’d reached the seaside, the entire rally was ferried from the beach to the restaurant by a fleet of motor launches and proceeded to tuck into plates of fresh seafood and, when we say fresh, we mean very fresh. Divers with masks and snorkels jumped into huge netted enclosures behind the kitchen to pluck the hapless creatures from the clear warm water and deliver them to their fate.
Having eaten their fill of crab, lobster and shellfish the crews then boarded the waiting launches and stormed back onto the beaches and jumped into their cars to continue the spectacular coastal drive past vineyards and salt pans with workers in the latter, raking, shoveling and carrying the precious white mineral.
This afternoon’s drive was a spectacular one on good tarmac and remarkably empty roads and for most crews it was fairly straightforward. Charles Stuart-Menteth and John Carter though almost lost wheel from the rear of their MG. Chris Elkins and Gavin Bull, fresh from their morning control, stopped to assist and the little white roadster made it into the night halt safe and sound.
The final Passage Control of the day was at Com Nieu Nui Tau, following which the rally set off through some impressive roadside sand dunes before pulling into the luxurious beachside night Halt in Mui Ne.
With one day to go Graham and Marina Goodwin still hold onto top spot in the Vintageant category with Andrew Webster and Ian Robertson in second. The Classics category also remains unchanged, Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt are still leading from Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson. David Gainer and Kerry Finn are still third.
Tomorrow, the last day, sees us drive into Saigon, triumphant.
Day 27 – Mui Ne to Saigon – Victory parade
In a day bookended by more Asian scooter borne madness it was fitting that the Road to Saigon was escorted into the finish at the Liberation Palace – or Dinh Thống Nhất – by a phalanx of Harley Davidson mounted outriders.
Leaving the warm and welcoming Mui Ne coastline was difficult but as this was the last day there was a sense of needing to press on and so we did. The two leaders, Graham and Marina Goodwin and Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt must have felt a certain sort of nervous excitement as they fired up their engines and handed in their time cards for the last time.
There were two Regularities in quick succession today at Dong Giang and Dong Kho but in the event they did nothing to upset the apple cart of results and we duly arrived in Saigon with two maiden ERA winners.
Once the Rally reached Saigon, the cars were marshalled into some semblance of order at the zoo and then led through the streets, boulevards and squares of Ho Chi Minh City by the aforementioned Harley Davidson mounted Saigon Chapter.
This escort led us to the splendid Liberation Palace where local TV were on hand to let the good folk of Ho Ch Minh City know what was happening. A minister from the tourist department arrived to hand out some of the awards and the BBC film crew who’ve been shadowing us for the last three weeks set up all manner of tripods, booms and gibs. There was more than a buzz in the air.
As each car reached the finish line, one of eight elegant and traditionally dressed ‘grid girls’ stepped forward to welcome them and handed them a finishers award, a bunch of flowers, a garland and a welcome cold drink.
Once they’d left the finish area and dropped the cars with the customs warehouse, the fun and games really began at the Gala Prizegiving dinner at the Park Hyatt Hotel.
An Asian buffet par excellence was served up to the Rally and the awards were handed out. It seemed to be the case that almost everyone called up to receive an award had something say. Gerry Crown – an ERA legend and second overall in the Classics category with Matt Bryson, was magnanimous in defeat and generously welcomed the first time competitors to ‘the rally family’.
Marco Halter meanwhile, the winner of the Classics category, acknowledged the importance of this, his first win and declared that he has two hero’s in classic rallying. The first being the very same Gerry Crown and stated that “I wish I can drive as fast as, you when I’m as old as you. You’re a fast driver and a fast drinker”. Gerry was then handed a commemorative T shirt bearing the legend, There’s no such thing as strong beer only weak men.
Marco’s other heroes were Karen and David Ayre who he thanked for bringing their beautiful Itala to the event.
Graham and Marina Goodwin were also visibly delighted with their first place and remarked that it had indeed “been a great event”. They and their Bentley are becoming part of the ERA nomenclature and it’s great that their hard work and dedication has paid off for them.
There were some discretionary awards presented as well. The Spirit of the Rally went to Russel Jordan and Bill McCrossan for their efforts in the Healey whilst the Against all Odds was taken by Adrian Hodgson and Eric Sia in the Peugeot for battling back to the Rally in Thailand, from Kuala Lumpur.
Following the dinner, it was obvious that the bars and clubs in the central district of Ho Chi Minh City were looking to do some good business tonight.