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Singapore to Thailand Road Trip

Updated: Sep 3, 2019

#Roadtrip #MINI #Clubman #Thailand #Hatyai #Huahin #Bangkok #Chiangmai #NikonD5100


Driving has always been one of my favourite ways to explore a country as it offers so much more fun, insights and excitement. The freedom to stop anywhere you want, the experience of traversing from town to town to interact with the locals, and the opportunity to detour on uncharted roads to discover new things, all make road trips most exciting and rewarding.


My first road trip was in the U.S., driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco, stopping at Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Santa Cruz. I have also done other road trips in Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan. While there are many beautiful places like the Swiss Alps and Great Ocean Road with windy roads seemingly drawn by God with road trips in mind, South East Asia has in fact plenty to offer for road trip lovers as well. And the potential of driving from home to explore this region has impelled me to take my little car up north beyond the Boleh land.


Having a good friend who is a Thailand guru and has driven on countless occasions from Singapore into Thailand, Cambodia and China, following him was perhaps the best way to start. Planning was easy with our sense of adventure and flexibility. Soon, we were meeting at Gelang Patah for early breakfast before embarking on an exciting 11-day journey into the Kingdom of Thailand, each behind our own wheels.


Map of our 11-day road trip, including 3 days in Bangkok:

Day 1 - Singapore to Hatyai

Day 2 - Hatyai to Hua Hin

Day 3 - Hua Hin to Chiang Mai

Day 4 - Chiang Mai to Pai

Day 5 - Pai to Doi Angkhang to Tha Ton

Day 6 - Tha Ton to Mae Salong to Mae Sai to Phrae

Day 7 - Phrae to Bangkok

Day 8 & 9 - Bangkok

Day 10 - Bangkok to Hatyai

Day 11 - Hatyai to Singapore


The first 800-plus kilometres crossing Peninsula Malaysia was pretty much a humdrum and uneventful journey. Our minds were all set on the Land of Smiles while we floored the pedal and tore up the North-South highway. The only worthy stop was Ipoh - a perfect lunch stop to feast on some steamy Hong Kong tim sum. By sunset, we had crossed Sadao, the immigration point of Thailand, and were approaching Hatyai, eagerly looking forward to our dinner and a good foot massage.


Immigration checkpoint at Bukit Kayu Hitam (Malaysia), entering Sadao immigration in Thailand. We skipped Malaysia altogether and aimed for Hatyai on the first night. Led by my friend's BMW X3 - my constant vanishing point for 11 days.

Day 2 - Hatyai. Parked and looking for breakfast.

Breakfast found. Tasty noodles and aromatic Thai tea.

Getting ready to set off day 2, which is the glorious day of my maiden journey into the heart of Thailand.

The trip had literally covered from the south to the northern most edge of Thailand, but had concentrated mainly on the northern districts of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Pai. The breathtaking mountains offered mesmerizing views as we steered along the cliff-edge roads that meandered from town to town. The quaint and bohemian town of Pai tucked in the mountains, surrounded by paddy fields and a river, is a perfect retreat for city dwellers. The Akha hill tribe village in Mae Salong offered a place to rest our feet while enjoying a cup of hot and fragrant local oolong tea amidst the cool weather. Of course, no trip to Thailand would be complete without a stop in Bangkok, where we spent 3 days for a doze of civilization, Thai massage and street food indulgence.


An informal rest stop along the highway near Bang Saphan Noi district. The rest stops along North-South Highway seem luxurious in comparison.

After a heavy rain while traversing Chumphon.

While we had enjoyed every bit of the stops we had made, the most fulfilling part for me was none other than the journey itself and the fact that I have made my way there and back, all in my little car. However, it was not a drive in the park or a road trip for the faint-hearted. It was definitely not for typical Singaporeans who pamper their beloved cars to spas more than their wives do.


If you think that the roads in Malaysia are bad, try Thailand. Despite the awesome scenery along the way, especially in the north, some roads were seemingly showered by meteorites once upon a time. I guess the roads were made worse by the epic flood that had just receded. The amount of steering I had to do to avoid potholes that littered for hundreds of kilometres was phenomenal. On several occasions, heavy downpours with a one car-length visibility in the night had made driving nerve-racking. They had all required an enormous amount of driving concentration and effort, probably the most I have experienced so far. It was of such intensity especially when compared to the one-hand cruising we are used to doing in Singapore at times.


Aftermath of the 2011 severe flood. Badly damaged roads with 13 million people affected. 65 of 77 provinces across the country were declared flood disaster zones. Flood water stain still visible on the walls. Unlikely that the government would consider it as water ponding.

Fortunately, we had both bought, brought and drove the right cars along. The agility and robustness of my MINI was put to the test in this harsh and real-life environment. Its nimble steering, rigid chassis and a healthy boost of torque from the turbocharger had zipped us across towns and scaled mountains, avoiding potholes and animals, all with confidence. While much physical hard work was needed behind the wheel in the MINI, the leading BMW X3 was in a totally different world. Its high profile tires and vehicle clearance had a huge advantage over challenging road surfaces. Its SAV chassis offers the best of both worlds from highway speed to off-road capability. And with its intelligent all-wheel drive system, the xDrive, every hairpin was a piece of cake, rain or shine.


For 11 days, my perspective through the windscreen was mostly terminated by the distinguishable Singapore registered BMW, except when it had simply bashed through the pothole littered roads while I was swerving like in a Hollywood car chase scene. I had to work so hard in my MINI and could only hear the clatter of metal, rattle of gravel, all symphonized with the distinctive tune from the hardworking engine compartment. In contrast, I wondered what mesmeric Thai music my friend was enjoying in his acoustically cocooned Bimmer as he saw the Singapore registered MINI had disappeared in his rear view mirror for a few hours. The popular Thai song Sabai Sabai was probably in his iPod – relax, all is well.


Hua Hin on our second night. Our dinner coffee shop serving mouth-watering local food.

A stroll through Hua Hin night market after dinner.

Day 3 - Getting ready after breakfast. A long and ambitious journey to Chiang Mai, covering close to 900 km in a single day.

Morning traffic building up in Hua Hin.

Lunch stop at Nakhon Sawan.

Everyone needs a ride sometimes.

Thai Gasohol - cocktail of ethanol and gasoline for the car.

Arrived at Chiang Mai after a 12-hr journey. Our dinner reward was a big bowl of Kao Soy - Thai curry noodles with egg.

T-shirts galore at Chiang Mai night market.

Chiang Mai tim sum breakfast.

Public transport in Chiang Mai. Don't complain that our buses in Singapore are crowded.

Geared up and ready for Route 1095, the only road which connects Chiang Mai to the charming mountain town of Pai.

The famous 762 curves of Pai - the number of hairpin turns over the rolling mountains one needs to drive through from Chiang Mai to Pai. The journey took around 2 hours to cover the approximately 100 km Route, which translates to an average of one bend every 9.5 seconds. We just loved the drive!

Stopping for a break on Route 1095 en route Pai.

Arrived in Pai through rain and shine. Traces of the 2,700 km covered so far.

How often do you see chickens roaming around where you have parked? At the Chinese Yunnan Cultural Village in Pai.

Sunset at Montis Resort, Pai.

How many persons can you carry on a motorcycle?

Pai night market.

VW Kombi turned retail stall on the streets of Pai - a small bohemian town with a laid-back charm.

Akha hill tribe merchants are a common sight in the night market.

Where would you like to be plucked?

A loyal friend.

Keeping food and child warm, both at the same time, at the night market in Pai.

Day 5 - Overlooking River Pai in the morning. Nestled in a quiet valley surrounded by rice paddy fields and northern Thailand’s jungle drenched mountains, this laid-back town has a way of making visitors wish they would never have to leave.

Chiang Dao Hill Resort, 70 km north of Chiang Mai.

Cherry blossom lined road (Route 1249) in Doi Angkhang, some 150 km north of Chiang Mai and fringing the boundary between Thailand and Burma.

Cherry blossom lined road (Route 1249) in Doi Angkhang.

Cherry blossom in Doi Angkhang.

Arrived in Thaton at the end of Day 5. Bridge over River Kok in Thaton, a small village a stone's throw away from the Thai-Burma border.

Day 6 - Setting off early from Thaton.

Foggy mountain roads en route Mae Salong.

A little girl from the Akha hill tribe selling crafts at Mae Salong, a mountain village in Chiang Rai Province.

Akha hill tribe vendor selling craft works and jewellery at Mae Salong.

Heart-warming buns filled our stomach in the cold mountains of Mae Salong.

Taking a break and enjoying a cup of locally grown and harvested oolong tea at Mae Salong.

More hill tribe vendors at the car park in Mae Salong.

Route 1338 to Mae Fa Luang, hairpin turns all the way.

(Above) Arrived at a rural Thai-Burma border military post and lookout point on Route 1149.


Mae Sai, the northern most city of Thailand, a gateway into Burma. The cross-border immigration building in the background (blue roof) and a Myanmar registered motorcycle in the foreground.

Arrived in the town of Phrae in northern Thailand. Perfect for moo kata, a Thai BBQ buffet dinner in this relatively cold town. Temperatures drop to a cool 15 degree celsius at night.

Day 7 - Early morning in Phrae, getting ready to head south back to Bangkok.

Phrae is the former centre of Thailand's teak industry. It contains one of the largest reserves of teak forests in the country.

Lunch stop at Nakhon Sawan.

Arrived in Bangkok. Visiting Thai "friends" at the MINI showroom.

It happens so often and serious that this is necessary.

(Above) 3 days of Bangkok street food indulgence - Gluay Ping grilled banana, krapo pla fish maw soup, and Khao niao mamuang glutinous rice with mango, just to name a few.


Beautifully made Thai tea. Rest stop at Prachuap Khiri Khan.

Roadside banana stalls outside the Phota Hin Chang Shrine in Chumphon.

Roadside banana stalls outside the Phota Hin Chang Shrine in Chumphon.

Spot the passenger.

Last petrol top up in Baht before returning to Malaysia.