Singapore to Thailand Road Trip
Updated: Sep 3, 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.
(Above) Arrived at a rural Thai-Burma border military post and lookout point on Route 1149.
(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.