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Overland Adventure: To China and Back

28 April 2016

To say it was eventful would be an understatement. After fifteen days on the road, driving overland from Singapore to China via Thailand and Laos, the AROC Singapore & Malaysia team certainly had their fair share of stories to tell. From technical complications due to high day temperatures, to a secret destination, we spoke to expedition leader Rashid Karyeo, who is also President of the local AROC, to find out more.

Q: Good to have you back, Rashid. Let’s start with the highlights of the trip.

A: Well, first of all, I’m very happy that we managed to cover a greater distance this year. We extended the tour to the North-West of Yunnan, with Lijiang being the target destination, and achieved that within the tour duration limit of 15 days. On the previous tour, we only managed 7,500 km in 14 days.

With this extension, we were able to visit Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, which served as the breath-taking backdrop for the Impressions of Lijiang performance, which is a magnificent outdoor singing and dancing show that demonstrates the traditions and lifestyles of the local ethnic people.

The team also paid a visit to the Lufeng Dinosaur Valley and the museum there. This was really exciting for us, being able to see actual fossils from the Jurassic period.

Finally, we had a surprise for everyone – a visit to Tiger Leaping Gorge via the Shangri La route. We kept this destination a secret from all the participants, and even though it added another 200km to the tour, the reveal was very much worth it. What a scenic experience it was!

Q: Sounds really fun! Were there any problems the team faced on the road?

A: It would be a miracle if there weren’t! The first setback happened in Sadao on the way to Patthalung, our Day 1 destination. The 159 car had a brush with the Thai trailer, which caused a tear on the rear right fender, dislodged the bumper, and scraped the right rear rim. We had to pull everyone back so that we could review the car and make sure that it could continue with the tour. We also had to ensure that morale wasn’t affected before proceeding to Patthalung. Once we checked in, we regrouped and made the necessary rectifications. Thankfully, we confirmed that there was no major issue, and we could continue as planned.

On the second day, the 159 car again had a problem. This time, the driver reported a loss of coolant levels, which was worrying because this was only the second day, and temperatures were expected to be high. We couldn’t risk the engine overheating, so we ensured that everyone re-verified their cars, and for the 159, a mandatory inspection at each re-fueling or pit-stop. Eventually, we managed to get some araldite glue to conduct a field repair that lasted throughout the tour.

A third incident – again the 159 car – occurred on the return leg. The driver reported vibrations when accelerating enroute to Chiang Mai from China. We pulled over and confirmed that the drive shaft bellow had torn, and that grease was oozing out. We offered some tips to the driver on how to manage this difficulty, and managed to reach Chiang Mai, safely but at a slower pace. The drive shaft finally gave way just before Surat Thani, about 470km to the Thailand-Malaysia border. We towed the car with the lead car, the 164, and made the Stilo the new lead car, with myself as the convoy Sweeper. Two other cars were sent forward to secure hotel rooms in Sadao rather than our planned destination in Hatyai. At 5am the following morning, the towing convoy arrived safely. Our crossover into Malaysia was delayed till 11.30am to ensure that everyone got enough sleep. Once across, a tow truck brought the 159 to a nearby workshop for the required repairs.

Q: Never a dull moment, it seems. How did this trip compare to the ones you been on before?

A: Planning for this tour started some 12 months prior. We restricted participation to tourers who had previous long haul touring experience. Othman and myself carefully assessed applicants to ensure compatible temperaments, and a strong commitment to the team. You don’t want any emotional stresses to be placed on the driver/co-driver dynamic. In addition, we planned for regular multi-variety Halal meals enroute to minimize the reliance on instant noodles (which was what happened on the previous China tour). Also, because we had more time to plan, we were able to clearly define the routes to take, with side tours that made this a family vacation on wheels. We were able to enjoy more food and places to visit within the same day.

Q: When is the next trip planned?

A: The next tour is planned for end-March to end-April 2018. We will cover Kunming, Chongging, Xian, Lanzhou, Hohhot, Beijing, Ulan Bator, Jinan, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Jiangxi, Guangzhou, and Kunming for the China and Mongolia sector. We estimate a total duration of 26 days and a projected distance of about 17,000km. We’ll require all cars to be oil-changed in Beijing as we would have reached the mileage limit for the cars. Oh, and we promise to visit our Chinese Alfisti in Guangzhou as one of the highlights!

Q: “The driver and the car are ONE.” How has this trip reinforced your personal beliefs?

A: Such a long-distance road trip is physically demanding. The tour will be successful if the driver treats his car well, performs detailed pre-trip service and life-cycle, and treats himself in the same manner too. Both driver and car must be in top condition. Apart from that one car that did not follow this regime, the rest of us had a great time with no issues at all. The parts we brought along with us were not needed at all. And now that we’re back, it’s time for post-trip repairs and rectifications. We must! So that the cars can return to their pre-trip conditions.

Q: Great advice, Rashid. Finally, any last thoughts on the trip?

A: It’s important that the tour was planned with like-minded Alfisti. We shared a love for adventure and touring on wheels, and kept each other’s morale up despite the challenges. I’m thankful that we were able to end each day at the dinner table without animosity. It was a bond built over days, and it made all of us stronger as people. I’m happy to say that the current 6 drivers have already signed up for the Beijing tour. I really look forward to it!