Traversing Southeast Asia With A Crew Of Subaru Imprezas, Pt. 2
Story and photography provided by Herbert Chow/Classicsracer
If this herd of country-crossing Imprezas slipped past you last week, you can revisit the first half of their Homeric voyage here. Here’s the gist: hailing from Hong Kong, the group of friends packed themselves into five cars and made their—eventual—way to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the Retro Havoc car show. Efficiency was traded for exploration on this route, and judging by the scenery and the smiling faces it paid off. They say there’s more value in the journey than its final destination, and when that route includes weaving through cities and leafy scenery alike with your friends and a couple of capable cars, it’s plainly evident as to why so many of us cherish the act of getting there.
When we last left Herbert Chow and the entourage of Subarus, the pack was headed towards Thailand, with Laos in the parts of the rearview not occupied by one of the four other cars in the convoy.
Entering Thailand, we are informed of the need for a Thai driver’s license. Interesting development. Apparently, it is a new law in Thailand that all incoming cars and drivers need to have a set of official documents from the Thai government. Anyway, it took us about five additional hours for all of the lessons and paperwork to be completed for each driver to be legally allowed to drive a car in the country.
After crossing the border with our new licenses, it took us nine more hours of driving to arrive in the capital, Bangkok. “Bangkok is the largest parking lot in the world,” or so I’d heard. Now, I believe it. Driving in the city is totally chaos during the daytime. Traffic jams were everywhere. It wasn’t so much that certain places were bottlenecked, it was simply everywhere. To give a sense for the pace on the road, we spent an hour and a half traveling to travel 8km. That’s roughly 5km/h. Slower than walking…
So with this as our option for daytime movement, we decide to wait until night to explore the city more in-depth. We visited some nice garages during our stay, and met up with some cool guys who are also crazy about JDM cars. They showed us their collections, highlights of which include a Nissan R34 GT-R Z-Tune, an NSX-R, as well as a pair of drag cars in the form of a Skyline R32 and a MK4 Toyota Supra, both packing around 1,000hp under the hood.
After meeting these new friends, we set off again, making our slow escape from the congested city center. It’s an odd scene outside of the city as well though, as there are not really any true highways in Thailand. For instance, you will suddenly see a traffic light on a country road, with a 90km/h speed limit sign beside it. Strange.
With everything all said and done, we had spent three days in Bangkok, three days in Phuket, and single day in both Plern Wan (Bangkok’s recreation of a retro shopping village) and in Hat Yai (a Thai city near the border with Malaysia, where we were headed next).
China may have had the most breathtaking views, but driving into Malaysia was the best part of our trip overall. The roads were smooth, the food was fantastic, and the weather (and terrain!) was sublime.
We met up with some local friends soon after our arrival, and they showed us around the cities we visited. The event organizer—recall that the car show here was the genesis for this road trip—spread the news of our pilgrimage beforehand, and so a lot of people in the Malaysian car scene knew about the group of Subarus making their way from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur. Within a few minutes of being in the country, someone had already spotted us and posted a photo of our convoy!
During the rest of our time there, we continued to receive photos and messages from people we’d passed on the way. It was great to share in the enthusiasm, and to see others in support of our long drive.
There is a funny story here actually: when we were traveling on a car ferry from Butterworth to Georgetown on Penang Island, our crew was doing a live broadcast on Facebook. Suddenly a guy walked toward us and showed us his phone—he was watching our live broadcast from the very ferry we were on!
After we arrived at the event that’d been our target all along, lots of people came up to us and asked for photos, and we had a great time inside the event meeting new people with the same passions. One will see a lot of interesting cars at Retro Havoc. Malaysian citizens don’t have the easiest time or the most resources for modifying cars, so they have to think differently. Therefore you will see things like a legendary Ford Escort MK1 with a Lexus V8 engine, a BMW E30 with a Nissan SR20 inline-four in place of its German heart, or a Volkswagen Beetle with a Subaru EJ20 engine stuffed inside its rear hatch. The organizer sums it up well: “Malaysia is a multi-cultural country, so our cars follow suit.”
After the event, we spent an extra four days in the city, and our friend in Malaysia brought us around the various tourist and “in-the-know” spots alike. Though it was fun to explore a new place with friends, we can’t help but say that the night drive was the best part of our stay; we packed up the cars and took to the legendary Genting Sempah Touge.
Touge of course just means “pass” in the simplest definition, but anyone who knows what it’s like to drive on winding mountain roads lined with cliff drops and cliff faces knows that it’s so much more. Overall, with this mix of city life and car indulgence at the show and on the road, Malaysia gave us a wonderful set of memories I won’t, indeed can’t, soon forget. We would love to go there again next year!