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Big and oh so beautiful - classic cars at Big C
Looking back to Burma - a Shan state journey
Big and oh so beautiful - classic cars at Big C
The classic car winners accept their trophies.
Nostalgia ruled recently at Big C’s Super-highway centre, with the
second annual Classic Car Rally pulling in over 40 of the big, beautiful
beasts, and a large number of fascinated (and possibly jealous) spectators.
From 3 p.m. onwards, the spruced-up and immaculate cars and their proud
owners began arriving, their mostly massive machines sleek as beauty queens
at a pageant, and photographed at least as often!
grill of the competition winning Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire - just look at
Many of us would consider that the era of the gas-guzzling monsters
represented the high point of auto design in the 20th century, coinciding
with, or possibly being inspired by, the beginning of the post-war boom in
the USA, the advent of rock and roll (Elvis, of course, being another high
point!), and the momentous changes in the structure of Western society. The
cars themselves seemed to represent a new surge of hope and confidence, as
America took its place as the world’s most powerful and successful nation.
In those far-off days, global warming and carbon emissions weren’t even a
shadow on the horizon!
The most spectacular cars, both in design and colour, were undoubtedly the
Chevrolets, each one, as it rolled in, seeming larger than the last! Models
ranged from a 1953 Bel Aire, 6 cylinder in sunshine yellow, smaller and
perfectly formed, which sat at the side of the main group in splendid
isolation, to a stunning Camero Convertible dating from 1974, the bodywork
glowing with orange flames - owned and driven by a Thai lady, who, on a
daily basis, drives … a mini-Toyota!
The oldest car, and the winner of third place in the concours competition,
was a very cute 1939 Fiat, with second place being taken by a metallic blue
Citroen Pallas DS 21 from 1966. The winner in the group was a superb and
stunningly restored Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire, made in 1954/55, and
regularly used as the wedding car at its owners’ Yong Come Hotel. Lucky
This writer’s personal favourite, however, was a completely restored Opel
Caravan, dating from 1957, with matching red and white bodywork and leather
seats, with all the trimmings!
The exception to the ‘car’ rule was a very rare sight, a 1992 Russian copy
of a BMW 600cc motorcycle, made originally for military use during the
Second World War, complete with sidecar. In its original condition when
purchased in Thailand by its present owner, this rarity attracted a lot of
attention. Also on view was a working hydrogen fuel cell, being developed by
some enterprising local guys as a great way to save money and protect the
Nostalgia ruled, indeed, and will do so again next year, with hopefully even
more marvellous machines to revive our memories of when the world was very
A real rarity – a 1992 Russian copy of a BMW
and sidecar used during WW2.
The 2nd placed prize winner, a 1966 Citroen VS21
Pallas owned by Phen,
with behind, the 1939 Fiat, winner of the 3rd prize.
The stunning 1974 Chevrolet Camero Convertible
a V8 engine sitting under that very glamorous bonnet.
From top left (clockwise): a 1983 Cadillac
Eldorado; a red 1966 Chevy Camero; a 1996 Oldsmobile ‘98’; the winning
entrant, a 1954/55 Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire; a 1957 Opel Caravan; a 1960
Chevy Stepside pick-up; a 1961 Oldsmobile F85; and a 1953, 3-speed, 6-shift,
6-cylinder Chevy BelAire.
Looking back to Burma
- a Shan state journey
Friday December 1: We leave Chiang Mai by air-con VIP bus to Mai
Sai - about 4 hours, arriving at 7.30 p.m. at Mai Sai bus station, right
on the Burmese border. We catch a waiting songthaew to the immigration
post area. All the hotels are rubbish, but we take the Top North at 600
Later on, when walking round the town, we find the brand new Piyaporn
Hotel, 4-star with buffet breakfast for 1000 baht! This is where we will
stay if we come back this way. The Top North is bad but the pink
stencilling on the walls, including the surface wiring, almost make it
Saturday December 2: Woken at 6 am by din from nearby temple, so early
start to Burma. Just a 150 metre walk to the border. You go to the
bridge and get your passport stamped by Thai immigration then walk to
the other end of the bridge to Burmese immigration. We have valid ‘all
Burma’ visas issued in Bangkok, so we are unconcerned. However, we start
to get a bit alarmed at the signs saying all foreigners (farangs) must
buy an entry permit for $10. At the immigration office we are told our
visas are not valid since this is not an international entry point.
Not only are our visas not valid - but they refuse to let us keep our
passports. We have to leave them here and take the entry permit. This
means the original plan of getting into Shan state and then crossing
overland to Mandalay is no longer possible.
Two hours of discussion later, mostly with an incredibly charming
Burmese lady immigration officer who feeds us oranges to keep us quiet,
and the position is exactly the same. No way, Josež! We now need 3
photos each for the entry permits and are directed across the bridge
into Burma to get them done.
We walk across into Burma. No passport, no papers, nothing. It’s very
tempting to just make off down the road and plead insanity if they catch
us. But we decide against it and get the photos done, then walk back
into Thailand. We are challenged by a soldier on the bridge but we show
him the photos and he waves us on.
So we are now in the Burmese border town of Tachilek and are determined
to find a good hotel. Once we get away from the border scruffiness,
Burma starts to look okay. Not many vehicles, lots of people on bikes,
lots of people walking and everyone incredibly friendly. It’s also hot
and it’s dusty - the dust due to most of the roads being unpaved.
We find a few guest houses - but they are expensive relative to quality.
At last, we arrive at the Mekong River Hotel. It’s Thai-run, as a lot of
the successful businesses in this town turn out to be, and the rooms are
very good, but they want 1,200 baht a night and won’t give a reduction.
Most of the stuff in this town is priced in Thai baht and most of the
people speak some Thai. The Shan language also seems to be like central
Thai. Anyway, we tell them at the hotel that it’s too expensive and
start to walk out. When we look back to reception, we see three very
crestfallen Shan girls.
The hotel across the road is 600 baht and a dump - the hotel up a side
street is even worse, so we decide to walk back to the Mekong River
Hotel. As we walk in the door, the three Shan girls’ faces light up.
We’ve obviously made their day - they are going to have 2 farangs stay
in their hotel! Just a matter of filling in 6 forms with 14 (yes, 14)
We hand in our entry permits; they tell us they will be sent to
immigration with a written report. Next step is to change some money.
The hotel doesn’t have any kyat (Burmese currency) but offer to drive us
to see somebody who does. We end up in the back of a small factory and
after an incredibly confusing conversation about Thai baht, dollars and
Chinese yuan, we eventually hand over $50 US and receive a wad of 60,000
kyat about an inch thick. We think this is about right, and later find
out that we did, in fact, get a good rate.
Tachilek turns out to be quite a pleasant little town, so we decide to
stay two nights. It’s very easy to get around and our pidgin Thai is
good enough to be understood by most people, although a few speak some
English. We don’t speak one word of Burmese. Later we have dinner at our
hotel - terrific Thai food in huge portions. The bill comes to 210 baht
for the two of us; I make that less than one pound fifty each - not bad!
Sunday Dec 3: We take a walk by the river and meet up with this slightly
mad Burmese chap who says he has been to America. He also tells us about
his revolutionary engine inventions that the American government has
stolen from him. Apparently, Hilary Clinton is mainly to blame for this.
Daniel, that’s his name, turns out to be very entertaining, very
informative and more than a little crazy. He takes us out of town to the
army checkpoint, where there is a river crossing to Thailand, and tells
a young soldier that we would like to cross the river. The poor chap
looks as if he’s going to have a heart attack. Anyway, we say ‘only
joking’, and eventually he relaxes.
Most of the people here are Shan with some Akha and Hmong. In Thailand,
we used to teach in a Hmong school and the Hmong here are turning out to
be just like the Hmong in Thailand, friendly as pups.
We take Daniel for tea. This is our first of many stops at Burmese tea
shops. They are everywhere and always a very welcome sight. Up comes
strong Indian tea with condensed milk and a chaser of Chinese tea to
cleanse the palette. They also always bring a tray of snacks like
samosas, dim sum or cherry cake. You just pay for what you eat.
Monday 4 Dec: We order the Jourt for breakfast - rice soup with pork,
pickled cabbage, salted eggs, raw garlic and chillies. The
air-conditioned luxury bus is due to leave from the bus station at 9
a.m. It turns out to be not quite as advertised - never mind, we are
full of Jourt and have a bag of local bananas and oranges.
The fare is 350 baht, probably many times the local price. We are
stopped at 5 checkpoints in the next four and a half hours and at each
one our arrival date and time is noted on a special form which is
stamped and certified. The road winds on, up and up, through Shan state.
Army trucks pass us all the time but there are very few other vehicles.
We both have slight headaches.
About halfway along we stop for some lunch, and down a bowl of pork
noodles with deep fried banana chips to follow. Our driver is very
careful, which is probably a good job since half the road has fallen
into the river in a lot of places.
Our headaches are now really quite bad. We are on the last stretch
before our destination, Kengtung - the old capital of Shan state. The
driver stops to hose down the brakes - they do seem very hot. From now
on we stay in 2nd gear and go down hills at walking pace.
Eventually, we arrive in dusty Kengtung. My headache is now of the
suicidal type and I find it very difficult to see. Karin’s is not so bad
but she never, ever normally gets a headache. But at least we’re here!
To be continued next week…
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