The Road to Mandalay

February 1 to February 24, 2015

Day 17 - Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son

Every day we inch closer to the border with Burma. We are now one day away from Mae Sot, our Thailand crossing point. And what a day....

This has been a stunning mountaineering day, with what was billed as the Rally of the Two-Thousand Hairpin Bends.  This figure is perhaps rather cautious in the accounting, as a lot of the bends were not full hairpins but were open bends that flowed into another, and then on into another… and it’s been like this all day.  We have climbed up some steep gradients, some banks on the inside apex of tight corners felt like a one-in-four climb, those with power problems were forced to take a broader sweep.  Some crews had a really tough time – for David and Karen Ayre, up early to get the eight-litre Itala warmed up, today was probably the hardest, toughest, most gruelling day since leaving Raffles.  David casually went around his pre-start procedures at first-light this morning, filmed by a TV unit from national Burmese Television who interviewed David and the Rally Director just as the engine chuffed into life. Some of the mountains were so steep,  we hear that at one point the 1907 monster just couldn’t make a climb without some assistance – Rudi Friedrichs in the Alvis opted to stop and give the veteran a tow to a summit, a most sporting gesture as the timing was not exactly slack and the Alvis is holding fourth-overall.

Today was hard enough on its own without any timing element, but on top of this breathtaking route there were two Regularity tests and one closed-road timed Test section, with dozens of local policeman in attendance. The Test came up first, and Gerry Crown is at his best first thing in the morning, so set the best time of the day with 6:44, 12 seconds quicker than his rival, the Porsche 911 of Peter Lovett.  Grant Tromans in the third-placed Datsun posted 7:48, the course was particularly twisty, with a mix of concrete, broken tarmac and dusty dirt, running between thickly wooded forest banks of 30ft-tall bamboo and banana trees.  With the track just one-car width, 82-year-old Gerry did particularly well to guide the wide V8 Leyland through the corners to post the best time.

On the regularities, however, Gerry saw his early morning performance punctured by the 911, who stole back 10 seconds, as Gerry was 11 early on the first regularity, to the 911’s one-second…. the Datsun was able to equal the 911’s time.  On the second regularity of the day, Gerry dropped three, Peter dropped four, Tromans dropped five. Best on the regularities in the Classic Category was again Paul and Sandra Merryweather, who dropped just one second on both runs.

In the Vintageants, Bill Shields turned in a best time of 7:17 on the Test, and achieved a spot-on, zero penalties on the first regularity, and then dropped four seconds on the second run, Phil Garratt dropped four seconds, then 18, on the second regularity, having driven the test in 7:38. Daniel Day put up a time of 7:38 on the Test, then dropped just three seconds, and then eight seconds, on the two regularities. Fourth-placed Rudi Friedrichs got the Alvis through the twisty rain-forest track in 7:36, and Helga’s time keeping was doing good today losing just one second and then six on the two regularities.  Caroline Greenhalgh and Louise Cartledge did well on the first regularity, being the only Vintageant to score zero penalties, but then dropped 41 on the second trial.

It’s been a day of highs and lows all round with the mountains of northern Thailand providing a tough challenge. One more day of this brings us to our jumping off point for the Burma border. However, some are in real difficulty. We hear that Nicholas Pryor and Lesley Stockwell in their Volvo PV544 which has survived Peking Paris, South Africa, Trans-America and other corners of the globe, suffered a broken axle tonight – the axle snapped in two pieces, after dropping oil for some miles. This is not the first time this car has suffered axle problems. The highly-experienced crew were doing well today, dropping one second on the first regularity, 22 on the second, and were holding 10th overall in the Classics Division.  The Volvo about 50km from our hotel and is on a low-loader truck to the hotel in the hope that a local workshop can fix it, with our sweep mechanics on hand to perform conjuring tricks.

Jo and Heather Worth are with us, having driven the standard replacement engine found here in Thailand, their Volvo Amazon is in the car park tonight, so too is the Mercedes SL of Jan and Dana Hradecky from the Czech Republic, which was running with the roof down today after repairs to broken engine-mountings, and also here is the white VW Beetle of Garrick Staples with its now standard engine - bought locally but was being gunned hard on the Test this morning.

Syd Stelvio



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