Posts from the ‘Road Trips’ category

Text: Gerald Yuen / Photo credits: Google Street View

Driving in Bangkok can be a rather daunting task, especially for Singaporeans used to a certain style of city driving. Although Bangkok is also a city with its fair share of start stop traffic, there is more than meets the eye when we roam the challenging tarmac of this bustling metropolis  – we cannot underestimate the sheer scale of Bangkok-registered vehicles – almost 10 million and counting!

Left turns at junctions are possible when the lights are red, unless…

Have you encountered occasions where a constant stream of cars turn left at a busy junction even when the lights are still red? That’s because there is a sign which states (in Thai) that vehicles are allowed to make a left (or not). But do watch out for oncoming traffic, as delivery bikes might take advantage of this by cutting in from the fastest right lane to make a sudden left to beat traffic.

Blue sign: vehicles can turn left when the lights are red, but watch out for pedestrians (and oncoming motorbikes!)
White sign: drivers need to wait for lights to turn green to turn left. Sounds like common sense, but…

You can drive straight on the left most lane when the lights are red, unless…

Another scenario that’s similar to the above, but this time vehicles are allowed to drive straight on the left most lane at T junctions, even when the lights are red. It’s tempting if you’re stuck in the middle lane to swerve left to go straight, but it’s dangerous as locals familiar with the neighborhood can drive at speeds in excess of 50km/h on the left most lane, knowing that this lane will never be confronted by delays. If unsure, just stop, let someone behind give you a honk, and off you go. It’s better than scooting off without due diligence!

Makes you feel invincible, but please be careful!

It’s a number’s game in the parking spot

We pulled up at a local supper spot and were wondering why a lane usually packed with parallel-parked cars was totally empty. Something must be fishy and yes, there was a sign that stated “no parking on odd-numbered days” (in Thai). Which means you are able to park on the other side of the road, most likely reserved for parking on even-numbered days. Making a trip to Bangkok on Singapore’s National Day on the 9th of August? Remember to slot in at parallel lots meant for odd-numbered days! Or if you have a hard time finding the sign, monkey-see-monkey-do, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is!

No parking on odd-numbered days, which explains the empty lane.
“No parking on even-numbered days” – is this fella in trouble?

Tollway gantries are common sense, until…

Tollways are crucial when driving in Bangkok – it could save drivers hours during peak hour traffic, but there will also be instances where both tollways and regular roads are so jam packed that we might as well save the fees and crawl on Sukhumvit Road, soaking in the sights and sounds. If you happen to encounter a tollway, keep left as the right few gantries are often reserved for the automated “Easy Pass” (or Touch ‘n Go in Malaysian speak). When you enter one that requires cash payment, do not be tempted to drive pass the gantry if they are up. Some gantries are open but still require payment. And some gantries blend in so well with the background (some have poles so short, measuring one-third the width of your car) that we might find it tough to figure if they are in operation.

Green arrow, no gantry, but we’ll still need to stop and pay!
Gantry is up, lights are still red – will the truck make a dash?

Shoulder lanes are grey areas

Like in most countries, shoulder lanes on expressways are reserved only for emergencies – breakdowns and for ambulances to carve through peak hour traffic. It’s slightly tricky in Bangkok though. There is a rule that states vehicles are not allowed on shoulder lanes, but do not be surprised if the traffic police encourage you to take the shoulder lane to form an additional “left most” lane. Your blind spot becomes very important here as vehicles will attempt to squeeze through the left and take advantage of the shoulder lane.

Altis shouldering the responsibility – good luck to the driver!

Are you ready to tackle Bangkok tarmac?

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A weekend trip during the Vesak Day long weekend led us to a garden that we had been wanting to visit – Nong Nooch Tropical Garden. We’ve seen the pictures and videos. But to have the opportunity to experience it ourselves? It’s out of this world, with the owner’s motto somewhere along the lines of “go big or go home”. 

Slow drive from Bangkok to Pattaya, happy with the FC

Yes, fuelling his passion for anything under the sun requires a pocket deeper than Mariana Trench, but for him to open up the park to the public makes us feel that he wants to share his happiness with the world. I mean, the funds at his disposal could be directed to less meaningful usage…

Nope this is not the automotive museum, yet. Sign of a very special collection to come…

We arrived at the first of two car museums – and were greeted with air conditioning that were god-sent given how hot the weather was. It took us a good ten minutes to cool down, catch our breath and get into the groove to absorb the scale of his collection. From tractors, amphibious vehicles, supercars, hot hatches to rally-bred machines, 3-wheelers and military-grade trucks, I have not seen an accumulation of vehicles as diverse as this.

Visit if you want to feel small, with a park that stretches as far as our eyes can see

The owner of this park, Mr. Kampon Tansacha, also owns Scala Theatre in Bangkok, which was torn down a couple of years ago due to financial reasons (no thanks to the internet age, and Netflix). It was an icon right in the heart of town just next to Siam BTS and a real pity to have it demolished, but to know that he has other hobbies makes us wonder how one can possibly have so many hobbies. But we were proved very wrong…

First steps in – open wheelers, and a …?

Nong Nooch Tropical Garden was named after Khun Kampon’s mum, who opened the park in 1980 and attracted 2,000 visitors in its heyday. It was understandable how Khun Kampon wanted to keep the legacy in tact, but it was not easy during the pandemic having to pay wages for thousands of staff without inflow from Chinese tourists. It was encouraging however during our visit that it was packed with local travellers last Saturday – partially due to a 1 for 1 promotion, and a Yokohama Thailand event at the dining hall. Tickets usually cost THB300 per pax.

Museum number 2 – worth the 300m walk from museum 1 in the sweltering heat

For now we’ll let more pictures from K Kampon’s car museums do the talking. It’s worth a visit for petrolheads whenever you’re in Pattaya!

Solution to a problem, or problem to a solution?
At least 40 cars have similar 4-digit numbers in K Kampon’s garage. Take nothing away from how angry this KTM looks…
Background: Miss Universe 2018 farm visit. Foreground: Harry Metcalfe farm approved
Believe it or not, the plate could be worth more than this Lotus…
Owner is a committee member of Lotus Club Thailand. That explains the Exige… or does it?
A personal favourite!
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Having spent three days in Bangkok during Songkran, we felt that it was time to venture a little further out for a quick “breakfast run”. Tollways linking from other provinces towards (and out of) Bangkok were free of charge from the first day of Songkran (Wednesday 13 April), at least till Monday the 18th of April – a nice touch given that these fees can be pretty hefty. *A drive from Bangkok to Pattaya costs around THB150 for toll fees alone, but you’ll benefit from roads that are of much better condition than those that run parallel to tollways.

Leaning tree almost gave me a concussion, phew…

This time round, instead of heading southeast (read about our trip to Rayong a week ago), we drove eastwards to Chachoengsao province, shooting past Suvarnabhumi Airport and went for a quick 2 hour drive (both ways) to grab some pastries. The journey was a mix of straight stretches from the elevated tollway, tapering off to narrow streets flanked by padi fields.

Headed Eastwards this time – a quick L-shaped route to stock up on pandan cakes

We reached our first destination – Pu Ka A Bakery. Apparently this place is famous for its triangular-shaped pandan cakes stuffed with generous coconut slices. The carpark was already half filled at 9 am, by those we reckon who want to return to Bangkok before the post-Songkran jam piles up.

Old-school satisfaction

Now that we’ve settled our tea breaks for the week, we made a quick dash back home. This time, Google Maps alerted us to a “megafactoy” just opposite the bakery. Toyota Motor Thailand’s Assembly Plant (Ban Pho) I believe is one of three factories in Thailand. This specialises in assembly, and after some Googling, my car could very well have rolled out from this factory three years ago!

Likely the birthplace of most Toyotas in Thailand – more investigation required

And I wouldn’t be surprised if Toyota cars bound for the local market have vehicles tested within this factory’s vicinity. At least from my experience with the Yaris, the suspension soaks up potholes the size of craters well. There’s still much to be desired when tollways make way for twisty roads though – the car does not tempt you to embark on corner carving activities. I had to take it slow, and signal to allow raging Ford Ranger / Isuzu D Max drivers overtake me on B roads.

Averaged 95km/h on the tollway, pretty glad with the result. On par with the VW Polo 1.2 TSI tested 8 years ago…

It was a short 2-hour drive in total, 120km clocked, but a fulfilling process nevertheless. I will be back for sure to grab more pandan cakes, while also telling myself that I will be driving the Yaris homewards, to where it all started…

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It must have been a shock for me when my wife and I decided to take the plunge and buy a Toyota Yaris Ativ in Bangkok back in Jan 2020, just before the world turned upside down. A back to basics Yaris (aka Vios in most other markets) in the #LenspeedOwned fleet – what’s going on?

Day 1 – red plates belonging to the dealership indicating that it has not been registered, but we can still drive it within the registered province (Bangkok, in this case). Official white plates would normally arrive 1-2 months later.

The 25-year old me would have laughed at my 33-year old self. One that was exposed to the Airtrek Turbo with the bulletproof 4G63 motor in his early driving years, and then moved on to the MkV GTI, FD2R and MkV R32 (gosh, even our Citroen DS3 was fun when you’re in the mood for spirited driving). What is a CVT-equipped sub-100bhp Toyota doing in our garage?

First few kilometres, sweating in the Bangkok jam

I told myself to look at this ownership experience from another perspective. Why are there so many Toyotas in Thailand? What’s the pull factor? I didn’t have the answers just by observing the millions of Toyotas plying Thai roads – aided by the inauguration of Toyota Motor Thailand in 1962 capable of manufacturing 760,000 cars annually.

Pic taken on day 1, looks exactly the same 2 years later. 91bhp, 109Nm – hilarious figures

These figures are so difficult to comprehend, especially for a Singaporean exposed to the “unique” system of car ownership, with numbers that pale in comparison. Imagine: 10,000 Toyotas were sold in Singapore the entire 2021. 5,000 Toyotas were sold at Bangkok International Motor Show 2022 – an event that lasted only 12 days.

Heading towards Pattaya from Bangkok

You might be wondering why I didn’t focus on how it drives. That’s because it is nothing special, really. Yes, it can achieve 23km/l with 90% highway driving at 90km/l, and a ridiculous 27km/l with uninterrupted traffic at a constant 70km/h (holding steady at 1,400rpm).

Home advantage

Here comes the important bit – this car served as a catalyst for me to understand more about the car industry in Thailand. Without this car, I might not have dug so deep into fact-finding, driving past countless dealerships and always asking how in the world this brand can manage 150 dealerships and 400+ showrooms around the country. It’s a scale so massive that I still cannot fathom. An absolute eye opener for me, humbling even..

Not a flattering view – droopy tail pipe and non-existent stance. But a no nonsense soi-hunter

Do I feel that I need something more fun to accompany this in the garage? Absolutely. Do I have regrets purchasing this car? Absolutely not. There is certainly inertia to buy an imported car, given that taxes are tagged at 300%. Of course, prices still pale in comparison to those in Singapore. But I feel that the prices between a locally-made car and a full import here in Thailand is so drastic to a point that it makes imports less appealing, at least for those that want a reliable, sensible daily drive.

This field was totally submerged a week later due to the rainy season. Pasak Chonsalit dam – highly recommended

If there is one attribute that I find most fascinating, it is that the car was made from scratch 100 kilometres from where I stay. And in between the factory facility there are countless dealerships I can fall back on if something goes wrong – at least I can try my luck with my broken Thai to replace a faulty alternator. And we need not camp on USPS to track shipment timelines. Parts for a Thai-made Toyota might even be transported in a Thai-made Altis taxi! Toyota in Thailand has an ecosystem so deeply rooted in the country that I am still trying my best to unravel – I am only scratching the surface of it all.

15 inch, 185 section rubbers telling me to be very, very careful

I now have a newfound appreciation for Toyotas in Thailand. Unpretentious in its nature, delivering uninterrupted journeys in a manner that even made me forget that I am even driving. I will turn up the volume to mask the CVT drone, and just enjoy it for what it is, a point A to B companion – not good from an enthusiast-led point of view. But we need cars like these to allow us to dream. An Evo V project car in the works next? Perhaps. I just know that I have a Thai-made Toyota to fall back on, to fetch me from the Samut Prakan-based workshop that has worked on that cranky project car’s build for months!

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