18th December 2008

Well, here we go again!

Today I delivered my trusty Landcruiser to the shipping company in Suffolk. A ninety mile drive from south London on a bright and sunny morning brought me to Cars UK Ltd. They would load my car, and all the other cars coming from the UK, into containers for the three week journey from Felixstowe to Singapore.

Below are a couple of photos of my well-travelled Landcruiser parked up at the shipping company, awaiting loading into the container.

I had completed all the final checks on the car and, apart from a few spare parts being brought up from London by my friend Chris Cooper, the car was fully loaded.

I always get a sense of excitement and anticipation when the car is finally ready for shipping. We are less than two months away from the start of the tour and I can't wait for the event to begin. Let's hope it is as good as all the other drives we have done. If it is, I will be very happy indeed!

A very happy New Year

A very happy New Year to everyone who follows our travels around the world. May it be a healthy, peaceful and (dare I say it in these turbulent economic times?) a prosperous year.

Apologies to those who might have noticed my 'deliberate' mistake in the heading to the blog. Of course it should have been 'Singapore to Macau by 4x4 - February/March 2009' and NOT 2008! I've corrected the error.

Hyundai Singapore sailed from the UK on Jan 1st

On January 1st at 15.05 the container ship, Hyundai Singapore, sailed from London Thamesport for Singapore. According to the manifest, container No.MOFU0535743 containing my Landcruiser, is on the ship. Let's hope so!

A recent photo of the Hyundai Singapore, fully laden with containers. For a larger image just click on the photo.

The journey will take 20 days, with the ship scheduled to arrive in Singapore at 20.00 hrs on January 20th. This will allow plenty of time for unloading, customs clearance and delivery to the storage area where we will collect the cars on February 5th.

January 20th - Arrival in Singapore?

Well, according to the shipping line's schedules, the Hyundai Singapore should have docked in Singapore today, at 22.00 hrs. With just over two weeks before the start of the tour, there should be plenty of time for customs clearance.

I've just received my new Rino Garmin handheld combined GPS/walkie-talkie, as well as a road map data card for Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. We don't normally use sat-nav devices on these drives, as the 'tulip' road books that HERO provides, give us all detailed navigation information we need. Still, it's good to have the Garmin, as it gives lots of useful information, such as restaurants, petrol stations and general points of interest.

Finally, thank goodness we paid for the event when the sterling/dollar rate was $2.00/£. The collapse in sterling to $1.40/£, over the past six months, only means that the running costs on the event will be 30% more expensive and not the shipping and hotels. Still, it's not good news, when we all need something to cheer about at the moment!

January 21st - Arrived.

The MOL Shipping line website has now confirmed that the Hyundai Singapore container ship has arrived in Singapore.

The container port with the Singapore skyline as a backdrop.

January 23rd

I've just been reliably informed by our organisers that the cars on the Hyundai Singapore have now been 'unstuffed' from their containers.

We have all received collection timings for our cars. I'll be picking the Landcruiser up at 2pm on Thursday 5th February and driving it to the underground garage of Raffles Hotel.

January 29th - T Minus 5 and counting

Only five days to go before we head for Singapore on the 21.15 BA flight from Heathrow. I've just discovered that at least four other participants are on the same flight as us, so we will be able to start the partying early!

In today's Telegraph there is a front page report of bad weather, including heavy snowfalls, hitting the south and east of the UK next Monday and Tuesday. We have got to hope that Heathrow is kept clear and the flight goes on time.

If the snow does come, I'll post some photos of a snowy London, which will make quite a contrast to Singapore, where it is currently 33 degrees!

I've now heard that the cars have all cleared Singapore customs and that our 'slot' for collecting the Landcruiser is a week today at 2pm. That will give us nearly two days to make our final arrangements before the tour starts at 9am on Saturday 7th from Raffles Hotel.

Finally, thanks to Tony from Brisbane for his comments which I have published on my posting of January 23rd. It's good to see that the blog is being read by people from far and wide. If you want to read any comments click on the comment link at the bottom of each posting

February 1st - Heavy snow in London

The forecasters were right when they said heavy snow would hit London and the South-East this evening. More is forecast for tomorrow and Tuesday. We will have to hope that the airports remain open and that the flights are not disrupted.

The main road outside our house in south London covered in snow. Shortly after this photo was taken the road was completely blocked by buses, trucks and cars that couldn't move because of the ice on the road. It wasn't until a gritting lorry went through that the road was cleared. As I write this heavy snow is still falling and another 2 inches is covering the road.

February 2nd - The morning after!!

As the photos show below, this morning London is blanketed by up to 6 inches of snow, and there is more on the way.

The latest news from British Airways is not good, with all long haul and short haul flights cancelled from Heathrow, until 5pm this evening. The big question is, will our flight tomorrow night be affected by the disruption happening today?

The thought of the tropical weather we are hoping to experience, seems a very long way away at this moment!

February 3rd - 5th - Singapore

An early pick up by our driver from house in south London, to make sure that if there were any delays on the way to the airport, we would be there in plenty of time. In the event the roads were clear and we arrived at Heathrow three hours before our flight was due to depart.

As we walked through to the departure lounge we met Mike Johnson, the tour paramedic and car repairer extraordinaire! Shortly after, we met up with Bob & Thelma Howells and then Richard Smith. Unfortunately we had a two hour delay, due the late arrival of the inbound flight, and didn’t leave until 11.15pm. So, our arrival into Singapore was not until 7.30pm. Singapore is 8 hours in front of UK time. The temperature was quite a change from the 0 degrees in London, a very pleasant 29 degrees.

A 30 minute drive from the airport brought us, with Bob & Thelma, to Raffles Hotel. The last time we were here was on our round the world trip. We immediately met up with several of our friends from previous tours as well as all the HERO team: John and Joanna Brown, James, Kurt, Jingers, Greg, Arne, Ingbritt and Howard the second doctor.

It was then off to the bar for our first Singapore Sling in Raffles’ Long Bar. This was followed by a light meal in a local Italian restaurant, where we bumped into our American/Iranian friends, Ahmad, his son Darvish and his brother Raza. It is really is good to see so many faces from previous events.

Raffles is a wonderful hotel and hopefully the photos below give some idea how special this hotel is.

This morning we went at 8.30am by coach to collect the car. It took about 30 minute drive from the hotel to the warehouse where the cars were stored. A small amount of paperwork and the cars were released. Mike Johnson then scrutinised each car to make sure, lights, tyres, batteries etc. were all working OK

It was then a short drive to the measured kilometre to calibrate our Brantz trip meter. It is essential that each car’s Brantz is set up to measure distance exactly the same as the route survey car. This is because the distances used in the road books that we follow, are all based on the route car’s measurements. It was good to see that our Brantz did not need recalibrating.

We arrived back at Raffles around 10.30am. An hour or so was spent fitting various items into the car such as the Garmin satnav. This was done in the hotel’s underground car park which was unbearably hot. We then headed for the hotel swimming, which is located on the roof. A wonderful place to chill out!

Signing-on took place after lunch. Road books (two volumes), car stickers, car numbers, third party insurance certificates and a host of other documents needed to travel through Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

We then took one of the open top double decker buses on an hour’s tour of the heritage sites in Singapore. It was great fun and well worth doing. Below are some photos from the tour.

Beautiful colours on buildings in Little India

The old and the new. Hindu temple with cranes in the background building another skyscraper.

Back at the hotel I had one final task to do and that was to fit the car stickers and number plates. I’ll post a photo of the car tomorrow all set up and raring to go!

The day finished with an event organised meal at Raffles. Nearly everyone is now here, with the last few crews arriving late this evening. We have a free day tomorrow before the event starts at 9am on Saturday.

February 6th - Singapore

I failed to mention in yesterday’s post, that for the first time on an event, the car arrived without flat batteries. The battery cut outs that Cars UK supplied me with just before the car was shipped from the UK, worked! I don’t want to think how easy it would have been to have avoided the trouble I have had over the past eight years, starting in Rio and again in Beijing, Cape Town, Los Angeles and, worst of all, Mumbai!

Today has been an enjoyable rest day. A late breakfast and then a river boat cruise on the Singapore River. It only lasted 35 minutes but it was a good way to see the city. Over the past two days we have begun to realise that there is a lot more to Singapore then modern high rise financial towers.

So, at 10.30am we took a taxi to the boat dock on the Singapore River.

The cruise down, and then back up the river, was well worth it. You see Singapore from another angle, and even though skyscrapers dominate the skyline you see many of the old colonial buildings. The magnificent Fullerton Hotel, which used to be the General Post Office Building.

On the left hand side is the Esplanade Theatre complex, which looks very much like a giant armadillo!

We went close to the Singapore equivalent of the London Eye, the Singapore Flyer.

In the river basin is the giant statue Merlion, the symbol of Singapore, which has a giant fountain pouring water from its gaping mouth.

An amazing building is the Supreme Court, which has an observation tower perched on top of it that looks like a giant flying saucer!

Nearing the end of the cruise we went past a statute of the founder of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles.

We are beginning to realise how much the fall in the value of the pound is going to mean to us over the coming month. Thirty per cent depreciation has a tremendous effect on everything you buy. I can see a significant drop in overseas trips being taken by people from the UK. It has simply become too expensive.

The afternoon was left free to start packing up our belongings ready for the start tomorrow. Whilst sorting out the paperwork for the entry into Malaysia, I suddenly realised that I did not have the original of the Landcruiser registration document!! This is essential for gaining entry into foreign countries, especially those in the third world. Fortunately the organisers cleared us to get into Malaysia, but not into Thailand. So, with the assistance of Jeremy Stream, who's partner, Felicity was leaving London tomorrow to join us in Kuala Lumpur, I called home and our son-in-law, David, collected the original from my house and delivered it to Felicity's office. I should have the document tomorrow evening. I bet DHL/Fedex couldn't beat that!!

At 5pm we had the pre-start briefing by John Brown with support from the medics who talked about emergency procedures and the precautions against malaria. Tonight we start taking our Malarone anti-malarial drug.

In the evening we went to a Chinese restaurant on the banks of the river. A fitting way to say goodbye to Singapore.

February 7th - Day 1 - Singapore to Malacca, Malaysia

So, this is it. After more than a year since we first heard that HERO were thinking of doing a SE Asia tour, we are finally starting the event.

It was up at 6.30am for an early breakfast, final packing and then down to the car park for our allotted time of 8.40am. We are car number 5, and the first five cars drove from the car park to the official start in front of Raffles Hotel. What a great place to start from!

A few photos of the start, including the Landcruiser waiting in line for the off.

Dancing dragons, our car and Dr.Greg Williams in the foreground.

John Brown waving the start flag for Car No.2, which is from Oman.

There were two dancing dragons and drummers making a hell of a racket. Each car was waved off at one minute intervals, so at 9.05am we were away.

The drive through Singapore to the border took only about 40 minutes. I nearly made a complete mess of the paperwork by forgetting to get the International Carnet stamped. My navigator was attempting to tell me what to do, but I knew better!! I had to go back through the Singapore customs to get the Carnet stamped. I won't make that mistake again.

You leave Singapore by going over a bridge into Malaysia.

There followed a pretty chaotic period with Malaysian customs who it appeared had never seen a carnet before. With help from several of us we got them to stamp the correct parts of the carnet and we were free to drive north, to Malacca.

The drive, up a modern motorway, took only a couple of hours. A total distance of about 250 kms from Raffles. One of the shorter days of the event.

Malacca is a mixture of Portuguese, Dutch, British and Malay. Our hotel is in the centre of the old town, with a view of another giant Ferris wheel near the sea.

Just below us is a curving river which has tourist boats sailing along it. Unfortunately when I took this photo, there were none!

We have a free afternoon and later we are meeting a local businessman who Jim Carr knows, for an evening meal. In fact we met up with Tony, who supplies car parts to Jim Carr, early in the afternoon. Just before we left the hotel we met up with Jane & Paul Wignall riding in one these amazing bicycles.

Tony then led us into the centre of the old town of Malacca, with its beautiful buildings, narrow streets and lots and lots of very colourful bicycle taxis.

In the main square there is an old Dutch church, painted bright red and built in 1753.

We stood as a group in front of the original gateway into the fort of Malacca, built in the 16th century. From left to right, me, Jeremy Stream, Jim Carr,Helen Peacock,Thelma Howells, Wendy and Bob Howells.

A walk round the old town included the evening market where all sorts of goods and food was available. A typical bustling market. In the middle of the market street was Tony's warehouse, which he showed us. Wendy took this picture of Tony in his office.

We headed back to the hotel and then in the evening, very generously Tony hosted a wonderful Chinese meal at a local hotel. Once again a day ends on a perfect note. Tomorrow we have a short drive up to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.

February 8th - Day 2 - Malacca to Kuala Lumpur

I haven’t really mentioned the weather, apart from the temperature when we arrived. The two days in Singapore were both in the low thirties and partly cloudy with a shower on the evening before the start. Yesterday was again partly cloudy with the temperature reaching 33 degrees. Today was mainly sunny and this afternoon in Kuala Lumpur it reached 37 degrees!

I’m getting ahead of myself. Being a short run up mainly dual carriageway roads it was a late check-out of between 9am and 10am. I decided to take advantage of the hotel spa and have a massage to help overcome a bad back ache I’ve had for the past coupe of weeks. It was very relaxing, but only partly successful in helping my back. Still, it’s no worse!

We set off from Malacca at about 10.30am and drove the 146kms in a couple of hours. We stopped to fill up with diesel. In went 117.5 litres, which cost 200 Ringgits. At an exchange rate of 5.2Rnm/£, that works out at 32.7p/litre! The last time I filled up with diesel in London, I paid £1.00/litre.

As I have mentioned, the drive took about two hours and a few kilometres out of Kuala Lumpur we had our first sight of the Petronas twin towers.

These are 88 stories high, and at over 1,450 feet tall, were until recently the tallest building in the world. Kuala Lumpur is an amazing sight of towering skyscrapers. Our hotel, the Mandarin Oriental is next door to the Petronas Towers, and to stand under them and look up to the bridge between the towers at about 400 feet, and then on up to the masts at the very top of each tower, is truly impressive. Two photos of the towers looking up to the bridge.

The Towers, with The Mandarin Hotel on the right of the photo.

Inside the complex there is the largest shopping mall I have ever seen. Huge atria are surrounded by 6 levels of shops. It is an awesome sight.

With Bob & Thelma, Lynn & Eric Woolley, and three members of the Pritz family, we took an open top bus on a two hour drive around the city. Whilst waiting for the bus I took this photo of Jingers, Kurt and Greg talking with Bob and Thelma.

Our bus ride took us past the Royal Palace with guards on horses at the entrance gates.

Sultan Abdul Samad Building built by the British in the 19th Century as Government buildings.

The National Museum.

A couple of photos of the KL skyline with the Petronas Towers taken whilst on the bus tour. The second shows the KL Tower on the extreme right.

As soon as we got back to the hotel, I went for swim in the hotel pool. A welcome relief from the heat.
This evening we went for an organised meal in the KL Tower, which is about the same height as the Petronas Towers. There is a revolving restaurant at the top which gives the most wonderful view across the city. As the sun went down the city lights came on and thousands of lights lit up the Petronas Towers.

Tomorrow we drive north from Kuala Lumpur to the Cameron Highlands, where the British established tea plantations in the 1920’s.

February 9th - Day 3 - Kuala Lumpur to Cameron Highlands

This event is starting in a very leisurely way with another short drive of only 215 kms from Kuala Lumpur to the Cameron Highlands
We left the hotel at 10am. The route John Brown had devised was meant to take us on a short tour of the city centre, before heading north on the motorway. That wasn’t how it turned out fore us, as within a few hundred yards of leaving the hotel, we took the wrong turning and missed the first part of the route altogether!. Still, with the aid of the road book and the satnav, we managed to find our way back to the route. Following us were Jeremy and Felicity. So we led them astray as well.

Once back on the route we drove to the National War Memorial for the dead from the two World Wars as well as those from the 1948-60 war. Once we left the city it was 100 km drive long a fast three lane motorway before we headed into the hills towards Cameron Highlands. A very winding, narrow mountain road led us to our first stop at the Lata Iskandar Falls.

Whilst we were there many of the group stopped as well. Our event director, John Brown and several of the cars parked up at the falls.

Being a national holiday, there were lots of locals there, with some swimming in the pools at the base of the falls. I noticed one man teaching his children to swim! We spent an enjoyable half an hour which included a bit of shopping as well as eating the most delicious fried bananas.

The remainder of the drive continued on the same winding road going through lush vegetation, and then ending up with open hills and large tea plantations. We arrived at Cameron Highlands Resort at abut 2pm and shortly after, the rain came down. We were lucky to miss it, especially through the mountains.

A shot of our car, second from the right, with many others parked outside the Cameron Highlands Resort Hotel.

A close up of all the event stickers on the car - India, China, Africa, Pan Americana and SE Asia

A beautiful amaryllis growing at the base of a tree outside our hotel room.

A lazy afternoon for us all and then tomorrow we continue our drive north, but back to the coast at the holiday village, Ferringhi, on the shore of the Andaman Sea.