Celebration Bound

Traversing the Malay Peninsula from Singapore to Thailand for Porsche’s seventieth birthday bash.

    


Flag-off point: Changi Airport, Singapore—Asia’s gateway to the world. Destination: Bangkok, Thailand. But today we are not boarding one of a dozen flights for the Thai capital. No, that would be too easy and, surely, not as fun.

Three countries. Two borders.
Two thousand kilometres. Three days.
Two nights. A piece of cake.

Our motley crew of journalists from Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines will be going by land. I pick the Racing Yellow Porsche 911 Carrera T, knowing that I have ample opportunity to later relish the other two cars—another 911 Carrera T and a Panamera Sport Turismo, both in brilliant white paintwork.

I lower myself into the Alcantara bucket seat, punch “Mandarin Oriental Bangkok” into the satnav, and point the car towards Malaysia. The engine rumbles to life, filling the cabin with its signature flat-six soundtrack. I am already loving this.

The first stretch to the capital is well-paved, multi-lane dual carriageway. The convoy makes roaring progress. Across our first border, the landscape morphs from soaring skyscrapers to endless swathes of palm plantations.

Four hours in, the urban streetscape reappears and we are already in Kuala Lumpur. At lunch, we pick up two Malaysian writers and another Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo, this one in anthracite and spec’ed to the brim with luxury accoutrements. Soon, we reach Penang, our stop for the night just 146 km south of the Thai border.

Seven hundred kilometres down.
Two more days to go.

The next morning, we continue on the AH2, a 13,107-km-long road on the Great Asian Highway network that wends its way from Denpasar to Merak, Indonesia, before it continues, with a brief interruption by the sea, from Singapore to Khosravi, Iran.

The stretch up to the Thai border is bereft of traffic, providing a chance for the Porsches to open their lungs and stretch their legs. With 370 hp and a top speed of 291 km/h in the 911T, it is tempting to beat the 130 km/h limit. But be disciplined we must. Before we know it, we arrive at the crossing, past a military guard post that keeps the restive region in check.

From this point, the highway is neither grade separated nor restricted access. At various places, it even becomes a single carriageway. The drivers now need to focus, watching out for other vehicles joining or crossing the road at right angles. Motorcycles, piled three-deep with riders, often travel against traffic. Coffee breaks, well-deserved, grow more frequent. Over a big glass of Americano, I share stories and laughter with my fellow voyagers.

As dusk falls, I take the back seat of the grey Panamera. I turn on the ventilated function—perfect for Thailand’s oppressive heat—as the massage feature lulls me into a deep sleep. As I stir, we are in Chumphon, a has-been resort town that boasts little else other than a deserted beach. But no matter—it has a comfortable Novotel where we will enjoy our slumber for tonight.

The last stretch:
six hours to Bangkok

The area around Chumphon produces all kinds of fruit. The trucks, belching smoke, join us towards Bangkok, carrying their colourful loads of durian, jackfruit, mango and banana where the wares will be consolidated by wholesalers and sent across the country or, indeed, throughout the world.

The overnight rain has rendered the roads slippery but the immense traction of the Porsche refuses to wave the white flag. We push on, knowing that as the expressway gains more lanes, we are closer to our destination.

Traffic grinds to a halt as we meet the infamous Friday rush-hour Bangkok traffic. But spirits remain high. After all, the adaptive cruise control on the Panamera takes care of the start-stop congestion: all I have to do is sit back and relax.

The trickiest part of the drive is not quite over yet. That honour must be reserved for the last two kilometres as we leave the elevated highway and take the surface roads to our hotel. Specifically, how to turn right from a side lane into a busy two way street with an endless flow of cars, bicycles and tuk-tuks. As they say, when in Rome… So I take a deep breath, make a leap of faith and edge my way out.

And that was it: thirty hours of driving over the most epic roads. As we pull into the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, our muddy cars bear testimony of the arduous distances that we have covered.

Happy Birthday Porsche

The afternoon is muggy and the thunderclouds are threatening to put the kibosh on the proceedings. But spirits are high on this piece of asphalt, two football fields big and filled to the brim with three hundred Porsche cars, including five vintage air-cooled models driven up from Singapore. This is Das Treffen, the region’s largest gathering of Porsche cars and enthusiasts, where curious passers-by mingle with Porsche Club members as they go from car to car to admire their beauty and form.

In the distance, high-powered beats emerge from the main stage of Sportscar Together Day, a carnival thrown for the seventieth birthday of the fabled marque. Flanking the star performers belting out the hits are the legendary 959 Paris-Dakar that completed the famous 13,800 km desert course with a one-two victory in 1986 and the 919 Hybrid that won multiple victories at the World Endurance Championship.

The latter has a special connection with Bangkok, having been filmed on the streets here in a film under the cover of the night, as a tribute to its retirement after a four-year victory streak. Another surprise guest: the Porsche 918 Spyder, a powerful mid-engine plug-in hybrid sports car that smashed the Nürburgring record of seven minutes.


In parallel to the event at Show DC Oasis Arena, 100 km away at the seaside town of Bangsaen, droves of spectators turn up to watch 911 GT3 Cup cars careen their way around the challenging street circuit for the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia.

Why Thailand? It is a huge market for the carmaker, boasting three Porsche facilities, with a new Porsche Studio at Icon Siam opening at the end of the year. In other words, a truly special place for the regional celebration of a historical brand.