The largest amount of time on the rally has been spent in Thailand, but it is coming to an end as we rapidly approach the Cambodian border.
The Car and the Rally:
One more Speed Stage before we leave Thailand....and it was the best stage of the rally. Called the Chicken Run, it was not for chickens. It was a 6 km track on dirt through high grass where you couldn't see around corners. The track had rocks like marbles, mud and lots of ruts. It was slippery and the hairpin turns in high grass made them very difficult. Several cars broke down on the stage and we had to negotiate pass them at speed. In the end, we had a good time; maintained our 9th place standing and gained a bit on the 8th place car.
Thailand is making great efforts to improve the environment. Three years ago in Chiang Mai, the streets were full of Tutus (a motorcycle with a structure mounted at the back to transport passengers) belching black smoke everywhere. On this trip we could hardly find a Tutu. We did see a number of them parked in gardens, painted bright colors, and they were being used to hold potted plants. The result, of course, is cleaner air.
There is also a big emphasis on organic foods...organic coffee, organically grown fruits, and many television ads talking about the superior qualities of organic products. Don't get me wrong -- Thailand's environment has not been cleaned up overnight, but there is a big effort going on in the right direction.
Big Discovery: We have passed several brand new shiny MG car dealerships. These showrooms are A+. Personally, I thought that the MG car badge (while iconic to many gear heads, like myself) was dead. So why MG dealerships in Thailand selling new cars? A little detective work, and I discovered that the Chinese have bought the rights to the name and are producing cars for China and exporting the product, initially, to the neighboring countries of Southeast Asia. I am told that the cars are mediocre, but give the Chinese 10 years and these cars will challenge Kia, Nissan and eventually Lexus....and they will start exporting them worldwide.
Some of which got me thinking of geopolitics. This is a subject that I have tried to avoid in my Rally Reports (even though almost every one of the competitors has asked me: "What's up with Trump?"). The Trump Administration's withdrawal from the TPP Treaty is stupid. Yes, it may contain some problems for a few American workers, but our withdrawal leaves all of Southeast Asia open to China and Chinese goods. They, like their MG cars, will go into this area with reduced tariffs compared to comparable goods from the USA. In the long term, this will hurt more American jobs than anything in TPP. We shot ourselves in the foot in order to placate a few workers/voters in a couple of swing states. China has embarked on an economic expansion plan worldwide (named "One Road One Belt") and are replacing the US as the economic engine for the globe....and instead of competing, we're withdrawing. Plain Stupid!!
Day 19 Transit day into Cambodia
There were no competitive stages today as we spent most of the day getting our cars out of Thailand (extremely difficult) and into Cambodia (much easier). Doing a motor crossing is much more difficult that leaving or entering a country at an airport. Even more relevant, as I get older I have less patience. Waiting hours (literally) to get immigration and custom papers approved and stamped (and do they have a lot of stamps) is not my favorite activity.
After crossing the border, we had a 170 km drive into Siem Reap, the ancient capital of Cambodia. The countryside was dry, hot and living conditions are noticeably poorer than Thailand. This is a country that lost 2M of its citizens in the 70-80's (at the hands of the junta run by Pol Pot) and it has not yet recovered. This was the biggest human tragedy since the Holocaust of WW II.
More on Cambodia, its history, temples and its future tomorrow as we are going to spend our Rest Day here exploring Angkor Wat, the Jungle Temple and the culture of Cambodia.