Location: 1° 18′ 48″ N, 103° 51′ 34″ E (Singapore)
Distance from Sydney: 6,323 kms
Thousands of Australians a year travel to Thailand. 9 or so hours by plane transports them to somewhere exotic and different north of the equator. The food is spicy and cheap, the weather humid and warm, the cities and culture different, the people warm, friendly and hospitable.
Apart from a change of plane at Bangkok airport I’d never been to Thailand before. But driving south from Laos, China, Mongolia and the countries that came before, I had the opposite sensation to most arriving here. For me Thailand wasn’t exotic – for the first time it started to seem familiar. Things were starting, just starting, to feel like home.
The biggest thing of course were the roads. Thailand, like most sensible countries on the planet, drives on the left. Like switching back into your native language, switching back to the left was a wonderful moment. Hello clockwise roundabouts, overtaking manuevers, for the first time since coming off the Dover ferry in France we were back where we should be. And it felt great.
But there were many other small things as well. The road signs had switched from the round European style to the square and diamond shapes used in Australia (so noticeable when you stare at these buggers every day); familiar Petrol stations appeared; chopsticks were replaced with cutlery; pulling out a credit card didn’t result in 4 minute performances on why they couldn’t possibly accept a card, the machine didn’t work, wasn’t connected, they didn’t know how, doesn’t work for foreigners blah blah blah blah. Small things, but I was sure not many westerners arrive in Thailand and think how much it feels like home.
As usual, like so many other times on this trip, Magda and I were on a deadline. She was to be shipped from Bangkok to Perth, Western Australia, and the shipping company wanted me in Bangkok a few days earlier than expected to make the loading cutoff. I had around 4 days to travel the ~1,000km from the north to Bangkok. I would stop off in Lampang, Sukothai, and then just north of Bangkok, to prepare the car for shipping.
The roads were good, easy and fast, and Magda ate them up with ease. I have to admit I’ve started talking to Magda, or more specifically her parking sensors. I suspect it’s like listening to C3PO and R2D2 in Star Wars, and it starts when sitting in traffic and the scooters set them off:
Magda: Beep beep beepbeepbeeep
Me: Yes I know, it’s a scooter
Magda: Beep beep beepbipbipbip
Me: Yes I know he’s close, I’m watching him
Magda: Beep Beep Beep beep
Me: I know you don’t like it – we’ll be home soon.
This is probably why you should never travel by yourself for too long…
Sukhothai, Thailand’s equivalent to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, was a beautiful set of temple ruins. I grabbed a hire bike and cruised through the ruins at sunset, when the tourists had gone. Very quiet and peaceful after the noise of the day.
Outside Bangkok I stayed at a quiet guesthouse, where I would clean and pack Magda ready for shipping. Run by a small family I was again bowled over by the friendliness and desire to help. Insisting I join them for dinner, they’d cooked a series of dishes to show me local food. They were very curious about the trip and my plans, and the shipping of the car from Bangkok. I had explained to them that I needed to clean the car very carefully, as Australian customs wouldn’t let it enter if it had any dirt or mud, and the next morning, when I got up, the manager’s elderly father was busily washing Magda down for me. Amazing.
I spent 8 hours cleaning Magda from top to bottom. All door seals, engine compartment, wheels off and the suspension and wheel arches; if you could see it, it had to be washed. I’ve heard some horror stories about customs insisting on cars being partially dismantled to get dirt out, and I didn’t want the first sight of Magda to be her current road-warrior state.
The shipping quote included $250 for cleaning if my job wasn’t up to scratch. However in confirming that the email came back from the agent: Confirmed. That is the price by hour for any cleaning they have to do. Oh. So I cleaned like a maniac.
The next day we rolled into Bangkok. Another capital full of crazy traffic, however I’ve driven many many cities since leaving London that nothing really surprises too much. Again, the overriding rule is ‘Might is right’, so don’t worry about the scooters just keep an eye on the buses…
A few days of paper work, a bit of a panic when it looked like customs clearance for Magda wouldn’t come before loading cutoff, some favour pulling by the agent, and 2 hours before cutoff I was given the green light to drive Magda into a container on Bangkok docks and close the doors. For Magda, the continental adventure was done – she’d made it, from London to Bangkok. Next destination was Perth, for the 4,000km run home across Australia to Sydney.
I had one more job to do however, and I jumped on the train for Singapore via Kuala Lumpur, some 2,000 kms to the south. I’d really only shipped Magda from Bangkok to avoid the cost of a Carnet de Passage – the import document required by Malaysia and Singapore. But for me, Singapore was the real end point – the farthest you could travel by land from London – so after 2 days on the train I arrived, and saw the sea for the first time since Ukraine.
Tomorrow I get on a plane and fly to Sulawesi, in eastern Indonesia, for 3 weeks of diving and r&r. And no driving. At all. And then to Perth to retrieve Magda for the final leg. While it’s not the end of the trip, the biggest part of the journey has come to an end. London, Europe, Russia, all feels a lifetime ago. It’s hard to connect the beginning and the end of the driving in my own head. As I sit here writing this, just north of the equator, warm tropical thunderstorms rolling past off the coast, it seems bizarre that only 5 weeks ago we were sleeping in thermals in the freezing wilds of Mongolia. That continents were crossed to get here.
But we were. And we did. And in a few weeks time, we’ll cross 1 more continent, just for the fun of it.