Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: | posted February 11, 2013 09:11
Driving the Chevrolet Optra Estate in Thailand
Perhaps it is this delectable, though abbreviated but no less exotic self-drive itinerary is enough to learn about Thailand's rich history, beyond sweet-spicy tamarind and tom yang gum. I was pondering this relaxing in Royal Silk, while picking my teeth with the best toothpicks in commercial aviation history, politely concealed, of course under a crisp white linen napkin. All these years, I've learned to expect this from Mr. Chartchai Suwanasevok, GM's chef d' equipe. The route covered a total of 300 kms. of dual carriageway and winding uphill roads thru the cool 2,165km² Khao Yai National Park in Thailand. The rest of the route, through the King's nature sanctuary, was on roads like Route 331, where one keeps a fast pace to get past lumbering trucks. We were able to get to pretty high top speeds as the verdant scenery of Kabin Buri buzzed by.
Thailand's roads, like Korea's and Japan's, are smooth with wide radius curves and ergo, not so challenging. This is all the more significant as the Thai's common personal transport are pick up trucks, though compacts are gaining the majority in urban areas. With such road quality and very smooth curves, a big 60s American sedan or even a 50s Mercedes, which are quite treasured over here, can still be a relaxing option.
Thailand's luxury golf resorts are a subtle reminder that being a Monarchy, the Kingdom has to look after its nobility [the Generals] during peace time. Instead of jousting, the typical ASEAN General has taken to golf. Hence, an excellent lunch was had at the Tawarawadee country club. Afterwards, we tackled the uphill section of our route, conducting passing maneuvers on the twisting 2-lane blacktop. At the Khao Phaeng Ma stop, we sipped milky Thai coffee against a scenic backdrop akin to Surrey in the tropics. Our destination on the final section of twisting road was the Zen meets Safari like Kirimaya Khao Yai where a soothing glass of ginger tea beckoned. From there, it was onward to two of the many things Thailand is famous for; the foot massage and spectacularly classy resort bedrooms.
Thailand's growing car market has given birth to excellent out of town destinations, and the pursuit of leisure as a break from cram-at-the-last minute everyday weekday. Judging by the traffic in the opposite lane of Expressway 3 coming from Pattaya, Thailand's large lifestyle pursuit class was just about coming back to Bangkok.
Over at a buffet dinner on a boat cruising the Chao Phraya River, our hosts regaled us with their seriousness in being big in the ASEAN market, which, though not as big as China, is a region with more distinctive peculiarities.
Next morning, I bade goodbye to the pleasantly solid remote control of the Bang & Olufsen TV and all the teak marquetry that lined my Sukhothai- Beaufort hotel room, where I spent precious little time sleeping and writing in. Filtering into the Bangkok morning rush hour traffic of Sathon Thai road, I flew through the deep storm drain channels that are normal to the flood prone streets and curbs of Bangkok. Taking position on the inner lane, to land in the U-turn queue, I gave the gas pedal a kick. Good bye motorcycles!
Merging right into Rama IV road, I could manage to keep traffic gaps constant to discourage pesky underbones from ruining our tight convoy's symmetry. Following the signs to Bang Na and taking the on ramp toll booth to the elevated motorway, I kept fending off Nissan's and Mercedes Benz's eager to cut into my traffic queue.
Bangkok is a huge river delta and as such, flood prone avenues, like the sections of Rama IV and Si Phraya road near the periphery of the Chao Phraya River are encased in extra smooth, probably super slippery, Siam cement. Other city roads are paved with smooth polished asphalt. The chosen surfaces say a lot about Thailand's youth in the automotive age; standards for road traction or coefficient of friction values are based on sticky modern tire compounds. Old Sukhumvit Road in Bang Poo, Samut Prakan, just outside Bangkok, was just like multi-lane J. Abad Santos in Manila; the big difference is the deep water channels that form the median and the borders between the road right of way and private property edging the main drag. Thai's have no need for coarse aggregate paving material for such aggravate car and inner city traffic noise levels.
The King's solution was to build a grid like network of elevated freeways, just like LA's. And just like the California original, the bridge joints induce a gentle nod to the car's nose. In between pockets of traffic, its has been smooth all the way.
The Ancient City of Muang Boran is a pastiche microcosm of Thailand. Built, with private money into 320 acres of private land the estate follows the outline of the country. Begun in 1963, it was the culmination of the dream of one loyal, eccentric and very rich subject of the King, Lek (Praphai) Viriyaphant [1914 -2000]. Here, accurate life sized facsimiles of royal palaces, shrines, assembly halls, market and fishing villages from all over the kingdom and from past dynasties are recreated using the preserved crafts indigenous to the region. Meandering narrow asphalt roads leads one to shaded parking areas and well planned photo vistas. Refreshments, like cold coffee with condensed coconut milk are available in the numerous clay tiled high pitched roofed kiosks, which, beside the cool air con of the Optra, were a good alternative refuge from the 39 degree heat. By the time the tom yum goong arrived for lunch in the Octagonal Sala on a cool lagoon, I had just enough time to rush back to be pampered again in Thai Airway's Royal Silk for my flight home.