Traversing Southeast Asia With A Crew Of Subaru Imprezas, Pt. 1
Story and photography provided by Herbert Chow/Classicsracer
Dream vacations too often consist of lounging around somewhere so hot as to keep you immobile, or, “recharging.” For a car enthusiast though, there’s one cliche that will never lose its appeal: the road trip. That might be an unfair classification for the journey that the Hong Kong-based group Classicsracer recently embarked on though. Their trip was more akin to country-tripping. This is the story of 5 Subaru Imprezas, 11 car enthusiasts, 23 days, and an adventure across Southeast Asia spanning from China to Thailand.
This trip is all about the act of exploration, seeing things that we’ve never encountered before, and also meeting new friends around the world. We believe that “car” is a universal language, and using our group of Subarus to get us to all these new places, we were proved correct in that assumption with every interaction we had along the way.
Beyond meeting new people, the general purpose was to challenge ourselves—we are all proponents of the belief that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. This journey would certainly test that theory!
The origins of all this began in 2016, when we were invited to a retro car show in Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur. We accepted the invitation and met a lot of great people at that event, and also felt their passion for vintage metal that we know so well in ourselves. For instance, there was a Nissan Skyline C10 from Chiang Mai, a northern city in Thailand, that had driven almost 2,200km (~1,400mi) all the way to the show in Kuala Lumpur. It took them five days to cover that distance in their classic Skyline, both ways. Serious dedication.
Inspired by people like them, we decided to create our own massive road trip on our way to the event next year. We knew that we didn’t want to make it easy on ourselves with brand new cars, so for our drive from Hong Kong to Malaysia for the 2017 show, we chose to travel in a pack of 1990s Subarus. Indeed, the Imprezas of this generation were capable cars for whatever we’d find along the way.
We spent about five months planning lodging, looking for routes, and settling all the travel documents that such a trip entails. We finally put rubber to road in the middle of March, with the event taking place on April 1st.
This 6100km adventure, took us from from Hong Kong, to China, then Laos, Thailand, and finally, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We passed countless cities and landscape vistas on our travels, but here are some of the highlights from the countries we visited along the route. Given the large number of photos, this will focus on China and Laos, with the remainder of the journey coming very soon.
The first country we visit, China, provides the most stunning scenery of the entire trip. The vast country has all sorts of contrast in its modernity and untouched nature, but the geologic karst landscape around the city of Detian. The highway we take through the region lies between the surrounding mountains, and during the drive up we reached an attitude of 1900 meters at one point. At that height the oxygen level is reduced of course, and we could feel the power from the turbocharged cars waning as we climbed.
Our planned route through the country did not have too many sightseeing spots in China, as mostly we were rushing along on highways, trying to keep our schedule. The views from the throughways were remarkable all the same though, and when there weren’t too many other cars to worry about, we had a bit of “fun” on the empty expanses of highway.
After leaving our China section of the route behind, we came to the next country on our itinerary, Laos. Entering was easy, and for our entire group it took us only about an hour to cross the border. We needed to provide some documents to prove our tourist status, and of course, traveling with our cars full of people, we also needed to provide the registration documents and various visas. It was a painless process though, and before we knew it we were set to get on the road again. Once inside, it took seven hours to drive from the boarder with China to Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang was an ancient capital city of Laos’ northern province, and has been inhabited for thousands of years. It lies in a valley between the Mekong River and Nam Khan river, and is exceptionally pretty, especially given the surrounding geography. Indeed, this town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Protected by UNESCO’s regulations, the city has been preserved well over time, the historic sites around the city safe from development.
Of course, the rest of Laos was gorgeous as well. There are many Buddhist temples in the country, and finding them along the way was always a nice surprise. The country is strongly tied to the religion to this day. In Luang Prabang for instance, every morning hundreds of monks from the various monasteries would walk through the streets collecting food and money for the poor. We were glad to have seen this traditional culture and history before we left on our nine-hour drive to Vientiane, the country’s capital and largest city.
The conditions of the roads on this vector were some of the worst we came across, the often-dirt road strewn with potholes, divots, bumps, and everything else despised by a car’s suspension. That being said, driving a rally-style car on these surfaces is sort of like the “pig in sh*t” scenario—needless to say, our AWD Subarus provided endless fun. Finally getting out of the cars, we spent a night in a hotel before preparing to cross the border into Thailand in the morning. In total, we had spent three days in Laos, and were ready to continue with our plan.
After saying goodbye to the rough (but fun) terrain of Laos, we set off with our maps heading us toward the next half of our trek, beginning with our arrival in Thailand.