The Road to Saigon - Route Outline
Day 1 - Singapore to Malacca
We roar off from The Lion City and journey through the excellent network of highways and bridges that take us past towering skyscrapers, over the Straits of Johor and into Malaysia. Fortunately, the border is quick and efficient and with passports duly stamped, we’re ready for the real fun to begin…
The red earth tracks which snake through miles of jungle and palm plantations make excellent test venues so prepare to get the watches synchronised and put the power down in a bid to get an early place on the leader board. Make sure you keep enough in the bag for later though, as we’re off to the Melaka International Circuit for a short, sharp blast of excitement before heading into the city and our overnight halt; the Casa del Rio hotel. This luxurious hotel is situated on the river bank overlooking the colonial Portuguese old town which is a UNESCO Heritage Site.
Day 2 - Malacca to Kuantan
We start the day with a proper wake-up call as we return to the race circuit for some more high-octane fun before we leave the modern world behind us and strike out into the heart of South East Asia. The route takes us across the Malaysian Peninsula and from the southern end of the Straits of Malacca, we head to Kuantan which sits at the mouth of the Kuantan River on the Gulf of Thailand. The route is lined with temples, mosques and other fascinating photographic opportunities – make sure you bring your selfie stick for maximum social media points!
After lunch - where you should definitely sample some of Kuantan’s famous fish crackers - we tackle an 8km plantation test which proved extremely popular on the Road to Mandalay event.
We then head off for a well-earned rest at our overnight halt… and relax …
Day 3 - Kuantan to Cameron Highlands
Today, we’ll breakfast at sea level before climbing through botanic jungle on quiet roads which will be interspersed with the odd regularity section and a plantation test, prior to making a sinuous ascent to well over 1,100 metres and the final control, situated at the Cameron Highlands Tea Shoppe. Here we’ll stop for a refreshing cuppa and then start a relaxed run to the hotel at the summit – happily the air up here is fresh, fragrant and provides a chance for us all to cool down.
Day 4 - Cameron Highlands to George Town
Having squeezed in a final cup of Cameron Highlands’ finest blend at breakfast, we head off through the impressive countryside towards the Island of Penang on the northern end of the Malacca Strait. Today’s route incorporates the Dato Sagor circuit test, then north the old favourite ‘Tour de France’ 10km tarmac hill-climb test and then drops down to cross the 24km Penang Second Bridge – the longest bridge in South East Asia.
A testing day, for sure, so the welcoming portico of the Eastern and Orient Hotel – The Pearl of Penang – will be a welcome sight and provide us with some much-needed rest.
Day 5 - George Town – Rest Day
The last full day in Malaysia offers us a chance to take in the best of George Town which is a vibrant city; large parts of it are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Thus, a stroll to explore the old town is highly recommended and refreshments are widely available from the countless bars, restaurants and cafes dotted around and about. Once you’ve had enough, a pedal rickshaw ride back to the E&O is also recommended. Back at the hotel, you might want to take advantage of the fully equipped spa and leisure complex to ease you into the evening.
Day 6 - George Town to Trang
Relaxed and refreshed, we head off today for the Thai border and en route, we’ll take in a paddy field test and a mixed surface test based on the Unimap Circuit. Local agents will be on hand to help guide us seamlessly through the border crossing and onto the Buddhist Kingdom where the warmth of the local people will be unforgettable. Statues of Buddha abound as do the monks and nuns who walk the roads beside us.
Trang is a popular town for backpackers in transit to the islands so a colourful and vibrant tourist scene awaits us at our overnight halt.
Day 7 - Trang to Krabi
Today, we head inland and the route winds and climbs through ‘backwoods’ jungle which offer a mix of gravel and surfaced tracks. We continue on a road run to our lunch halt at a lakeside restaurant before heading west and south to Krabi. Along the way, more tricky backwoods present a navigation challenge before we get a chance to blow the cobwebs away at the Krabi Kart circuit. Afterwards, we take in a short run to our overnight halt at the beautiful beachfront Sofitel Phokeethra which has, allegedly, the largest swimming pool in Thailand. No diving, petting or ducking allowed, we are told!
Day 8 - Krabi to Chumphon
Yet another fantastic driving day is guaranteed today as we cross west to east along the peninsula from the Andaman Sea to the Gulf of Thailand. We’ll pass through the beautiful Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park and the Laem Son National Park before taking in a coastal drive, mountain scenery and dense rainforest.
Day 9 - Chumphon to Kanchanaburi
A highway run takes us up the isthmus … not an undiscovered ‘Carry On’ film but the 11km wide strip sandwiched between the Myanmar border and the South China Sea. This takes us to the Majestic Creek Golf Club for an early lunch halt before we embark upon an exhilarating perimeter roads test. Afterwards, we head to the Kaeng Krachan circuit - the longest race track in Thailand – where the tarmac specialists will have a ball! From here, we let our pulses return to normal and get set for a rural run to the infamous River Kwai and our impressive hotel for tonight, which is sited on its bank.
Day 10 - Kanchanaburi – Rest Day
Today offers us a chance to cool our heels somewhat and take in the sights of this provincial town. February is a great time to visit with far lower temperatures than later in the year when it becomes way too hot to handle! While its WWII history is well known and there are many famous places to visit and reflect such as The Bridge over the River Kwai, the Hellfire Pass Railway Museum and the Allied Warm Cemetery , Kanchanaburi also offers much in the way of other diversions such as bamboo rafting, the Khmer temple ruins and the local gemstone market.
Day 11 - Kanchanaburi to Nakhon Sawan
We head north today into the Chaloem National Park and some exhilarating driving along the shores of the Srinagaram lake. Coffee in a delightful lakeside setting is followed by some interesting climbs and descents over the mountains, before dropping to the central plains. A slight diversion takes us to a quirky wat for a short break and, finally, an ‘agricultural’ test prior to a run into the ‘Heavenly City’ of Nakhon Sawan.
Day 12 - Nakhon Sawn to Mae Sot
Rural roads and some demanding navigation sections take us, via a short test, to the ancient Thai capital, Sukhothai – the ‘Rising of Happiness’ - and a lunch halt among the ancient monuments. After lunch, we follow some unusual gravel sections through farmland and then onto the roller-coaster highway to the city of Mae Sot where there is a busy and important jade and gemstone industry, bustling markets and a general feeling of fun and enthusiasm.
Day 13 - Mae Sot to Mae Hong Son
Today we blast north, shadowing the Myanmar border through hill-tribe country. The roads are real ‘drivers’ roads’; sinuous and undulating with little or no traffic to hinder progress onwards to the remote, mountainous province of Mae Hong Son – known to the locals as ‘Misty Town’. Of interest are the refugee camps along the road; not plastic cities but picturesque leaf-thatched wooden huts.
A riverside lunch at Mae Sariang precedes the ‘Thai Breaker’ test through rural tracks, parallel to the route and then the run home to our hotel which sits on a private patch of teak woodland.
Day 14 - Mae Hong Son to Chiang Mai
More challenging and rewarding roads are on the cards today including the ‘road of 2000 bends’ which gives the Alps a run for their money!
A pause at Pai to enjoy a coffee at ‘Coffee in Love’ precedes a very technical test and then a lovely run through the mountains on a new, almost completed, road to a late picnic lunch at the Khun Khan National Park. We then take on an interesting test on the way to Chiang Mai – Tiger Woods! – but no need to pack your golf clubs, it’s a fast-flowing jungle track.
Our hotel while in Chiang Mai is the Shangri-La which is situated in a beautiful garden setting and is renowned for its Asian hospitality.
Day 15 - Chiang Mai – Rest Day
Today’s rest day affords us a chance to recover from yesterday’s efforts in this interesting city – the largest in northern Thailand - which is surrounded by some truly spectacular countryside. You can choose to kick back and relax in our fantastic hotel or take a trip out and visit the Old City which has architectural remains from its history as a cultural and religious centre as well as many Buddhist temples. There are also multiple other tourist activities including zip wires that skim the jungle canopy and offer the opportunity to spot a gibbon or two as you pass through and the Elephant Nature Park which has been saving and providing sanctuary for elephants since the 1990s. Visitors here can feed, bathe and hang out with these magnificent and intelligent animals safe in the knowledge that they are utterly content and free from harm.
Sorry, did we say rest day?
Day 16 - Chiang Mai to Uttaradit
To the hills! Waving goodbye to Chiang Mai will be a wrench but we’ve got a schedule to keep to… We’re back into the hills and then a run through a mining area which keeps us occupied until we stop for lunch. Afterwards, the Lampang Motor Club has devised a test for us before the run down to Uttaradit – the Port of the North - where we are promised a very warm welcome.
Day 17 - Uttaradit to Khao Kho
Today, we head north towards the Laos border taking in another rural test before turning south for rebel country; the infamous hairpin climb to Rong Kla; previously the strategic and tactical home of communist rebels until being declared a national park in 1984. The park has hundreds of bird species, lots of wildlife and is home to beautiful waterfalls and lush forests so we thought it rude not to take the route through it, really!
From here, we motor on to the overnight halt at a beautiful hill resort. Our hotel is a Swiss-style retreat set in 200 acres, high up the mountainside.
Day 18 - Khao Kho to Nakhon Ratchasima
Today, we head north and briefly touch the hills of the King’s Summer Palace before skirting Phetchabun and onto the ‘Chicken Run’ test which was previously described as ‘Thai Clipstone Forest’. From here, we turn east and the ruins of the Khmer temples come into view as we motor onwards to the busy city of Nakhon Ratchasima which is also known as ‘Khorat’.
Our hotel for the night has a swimming pool and a spa for those in need of a bit of winding down and a fitness studio for those who … don’t!
Day 19 - Nakhon Ratchisima to Siem Reap
A highway run eastwards brings us to the city of Buriram – home of the brand new Chang International Circuit. We’ll stop for a break before taking to the tarmac for a circuit test and then head off to the border and O Smach – the gateway to Cambodia – and a switch to driving on the right hand side of the road.
The final kilometres of the day lead us to the ancient and spectacular Angkor Wat temple, the largest religious monument in the world, in the bustling and charming city of Siem Reap.
Day 20 - Siem Reap – Rest Day
There’s plenty to do in Siem Reap which is the gateway to an ancient world. The Ruins of Angkor is a fascinating and vast complex of approximately 70 ruined temples of the Khmer Empire including the main temple of Angkor Wat, which is pictured on Cambodia’s national flag. Temples aside, Siem Reap offers other, more modern, diversions including shopping, restaurant, bars and the Cambodia Cultural Village Theme Park.
Modern or ancient – the choice is yours!
Day 21 - Siem Reap to Phnom Penh
After the delights of Angkor, we head to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s busy capital city. The drive today is relatively undemanding but the experience will be unforgettable and an assault on the senses!
Phnom Penh sits at the crossing of three main rivers; the mighty Mekong, Tonle Bassac and the Tonle Sap and was a hub for both the Khmer Empire and the French. It is the cultural, commercial and political centre of Cambodia and is awash with history as well as modern life. Tourist attractions include the art deco Central Market, the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the National Museum.
Day 22 - Phnom Penh to Banlung
Today we cross the Mekong river and head north towards the Vietnamese border which takes us through lotus fields and on into pepper country where peppercorns have been grown since the 13th Century.
Lunch is taken at Sen Monorom – a developing resort which has been built up around what was a wartime US airstrip. After lunch, we embark upon an interesting run to our over overnight halt at Banlung, affectionately known as ‘Red Earth’.
Our beds for the night are provided by a local hotel which offers a spa and a sky bar giving a fantastic birds-eye view of the city.
Day 23 - Banlung to Quy Nhon
An early start takes us to Le Thanh, the Vietnamese frontier, where there’s a distinct change in atmosphere and you’re advised to watch out for small motorcycles and riders whizzing about with questionable road etiquette. Coffee plants grow and dry along the roadside which are initially somewhat mundane but then improve dramatically as we head into the lowly populated central region where there are some very good driving roads accompanied by spectacular scenery. We drop down to the coast of the Eastern Sea and our beachside hotel – The Avani, just south of Quy Nhon.
Day 24 - Quy Nhon – Rest Day
At this point in the proceedings, a relaxing day by the beach could be just the thing and if so, Quy Nhon is the place to be. Stunning beaches are in abundance and with fishing being the main industry, this is also a paradise for seafood lovers.
If lounging around on the beach doesn’t take your fancy you can take a trip into the town where there are various bases, airstrips and battles which shaped the conflict of the Vietnam War. Other attractions include the small Binh Dinh Museum which focuses on regional history, the Thap Doi Cham Towers and Quy Nhon’s main pagoda, Long Khanh, which features a 17-metre tall Buddha.
Day 25 - Quy Nhon to Nha Trang
Today, we head inland on a route that snakes through the countryside and is definitely well off the beaten tourist track before returning to the well-developed coastal resort of Nha Trang. The interior of Vietnam is distinctly rural with no tourist development and a lack of available facilities… however, this actually adds to its charm. This mature resort has a 4km long main strip of beaches and a lovely seafront offering park-like walks interspersed with bars and restaurants.
Our hotel for tonight is situated in the heart of Nha Trang, overlooking its beautiful bay.
Day 26 - Nha Trang to Mui Ne
We set off along the spectacular coastline for most of the drive today and ‘Costa Smeralda’ comes to mind as we twist, climb and descend the coast road which offers stunning views over the sea, beaches and small fishing harbours. Then, the sparkling white sands morph into increasingly sizeable dunes which creep inland and allude to a desert landscape frequented by jeeps and thrill-seekers.
The beach resort of Mui Ne provides our overnight halt before we head off tomorrow on our last driving day – to Saigon.
Day 27 - Mui Ne to Saigon
Today we wave Goodbye to the beach and say Hello to the countryside for a final fling in the hills before dropping down on to the Expressway which will lead us into Ho Chi Minh City – more commonly known as Saigon.
We make our way to the breath-taking Park Hyatt Hotel which plays host to our overnight halt and traditional ERA Prize-giving Gala Dinner.