We would like to thank Thomas Pfister for his work and this spectacular report that we publish below
Back in 1996, when the Rally Paris Dakar was likely the only international premium rally event back in Europe, it was drawing in participants from all over the world. For Asians however it was too far to consider sending crew and cars, trucks or motorcycles around the world.
In those days the Asia Cross Country Rally was intended to be a real cross country rally, which tested both, the participants rally skills like reading road books etc. and the potential off road driving skills with considerable higher speed. Not to forget stamina, lots of energy and physical strength.
Since then the Asia Cross Country Rally has been hosted in its entirety or partially by various South East Asian countries. Thailand however has been always the starting point, except back in 1996, and countries like Myanmar, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, China or even Singapore have been hosts over the years.
This year, the 28th edition of the Asia Cross Country Rally, the starting point was again Pattaya, yes, the Pattaya almost two hours southeast of Bangkok, known for its beaches and for its notorious nightlife. Literary from the “Walking Street” of Pattaya with its bars and discos to laid back Pakse in the South of Laos, a journey of more than 2.000 kilometers.
Participants from Thailand, Australia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan and Indonesia made their way to Pattaya on the 11th of August 2023. They went through the various briefings, scrutinizing sessions and last minute preparations of the vehicles. Packed, unpacked and finally prepared again differently to suit the purpose.
And even though most of the participants come and join every year, the preparation procedure is always different, cars are different and so is the terrain. So the question always remain, what to bring onboard beside the obligatory and what to keep with the support crew.
On Sunday evening the 13th of August 2023 a ceremonial start of all participants, their vehicles and their entire teams of mechanics, officials and media teams turned the “Walking Street” upside down. Brand new rubber tires instead of high heeled boots, the music outside louder than inside the many discos and a crowd far beyond the usual walking street streamers.
So beside rally prepared cars, also a large number of rally pick-ups and motorbikes lined up with their crews, some supported by the manufacturers and principles from Japan, some on their own as single fighters for the entire week to come.
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines
Monday the 14th of August 2023 – Pattaya to Prachinburi
A total of 384 kilometers including a special stage (SS1) for all the participants of 207 kilometers through Thailand’s countryside, along rice paddies and plantations, as this is mostly flat farmland. A warm up stage for people to adjust to their teams, if any, their bikes and the environment. Actually a straight forward stage, it didn’t rain nor was their any major river crossing or anything remarkable of a problem to navigate. Whoever was not familiar to read the given road book yet, this was obviously an opportunity to learn something new with tracks not that far off the beaten track.
Now things became serious!
Tuesday the 15th of August 2023 – Prachinburi to Surin
A distance of approximately 463 kilometers, including a special stage (SS2) with 207 kilometers. For participants that meant 207 kilometers off-road along rice paddies and plantations again and another 256 kilometers on the road. This is double stress, tiring and challenging at the same time, especially for the motorcycle riders, who have to control their bike and the traffic when on and off the road, read the road book and pay attention to everything around them. The blazing heat of 35 °C dried out all the remaining water on the tracks, made them dusty and unforgiving, but also difficult to navigate as one was not able to see the tire marks on the tracks of the vehicle in front.
Bye-Bye Thailand. Be safe!
Wednesday the 16th of August 2023 – Surin to Ubon Ratchathani
The last stage of the Asia Cross Country Rally 2023 in Thailand this year and the final stage before moving into Laos the next day. The landscape slightly changes over time, kilometer by kilometer. It is recognizable more rural in form of tracks and track conditions, especially with a 179 kilometers special off-road stage this day. The 312 Kilometers one has to ride on the road on top of it not included. So in total almost 500 kilometers on two wheels with only one service point half way to drench your thirst and allow for minor repairs if necessary, anything else is and has to be done without any roadside assistance. The drivers cum navigator cum mechanic kind of play and it is fair to say, that stamina prevails. No energy, no concentration, failures of any kind are pre-programmed.
Hello Laos. Here we are.
Thursday the 17th of August 2023 – Ubon Ratchathani to Pakse
With a very easy, straight forward and well prepared border crossing by the organizer team, lengthy queues were able to be by-passed and eventually it was likely the easiest border crossing with various kind of vehicles from different countries, support vans and trucks, all the teams and a carnet process to follow. But still, border crossings with foreign registered vehicles are always exhausting, as chassis and engine numbers have to be identified, verified with the carnet and eventually for all vehicles of the rally-convoy. The reward was a staggering 168 kilometers of Laos finest off-road terrain literary just across the border, stage 4. As soon as one crosses the border the world changes, more off-road country roads than paved roads, a heaven for people who want to experience something different and beyond motocross.
Water, mud and bamboo bridges.
Friday the 18th of August 2023 – Pakse to Pakse
167 kilometers of finest off-road terrain around Pakse, this loop was long anticipated, not much transit time, but instead straight into action few hundred meters from the hotel. It all started with a river crossing, not much of a big deal when motorcycle drivers take the small self-made bamboo bridge, but one didn’t and one couldn’t. The URAL with its sidecar was forced to test its floating capability, and one motorcycle driver, for whatever reason, took the wrong turn. For no particular reason, not even the height of the bamboo bridge, the driver tested the waters and failed miserably. Laos is fun, the people are extremely welcoming and hospitable, the tracks are literary dirt tracks with lots of water filled potholes and Laotian culture in the South is a good mix, that makes such rally adventures very enjoyable. Unless you are not so much into really spicy food along the roadside or anything else beyond beef, chicken and pork, Laos is a motorcycle destination to explore more.
Is it over?
Saturday the 19th of August 2023 – Pakse to Pakse
By now all the participants and especially the motorcycle drivers, have eaten plenty of red dust, the back, arms and legs hurt, all the vehicles are beginning to fail more and more. The last day should test the participants the last time with a short 55 kilometers special stage, ending at the Vat Phou Khmer Hindu temple in Champasak. This is where all Asia Cross Country Rally participants met again. Here is where people started to reflect on the previous six days of hard and long driving, the experienced adventures and the challenges they faced. Here is also where international friendships were established and contact details were exchanged.
Takuma Aoki, Ittipon Simaraks and Songwut Danphiphattrankoon of team Toyota Gazoo Racing Indonesia (11:46:22h) and Tubagus Moerinsyahdi and his co-driver Jatuporn Burakitpachal of the team Toyota Gazoo Racing Indonesia (11:50:50h) finished first and second. A very strong performance of the two Toyota teams with only three minutes apart over the six stages.
Third was the Mitsubishi Triton of Team Mitsubishi Ralliart (12:00:40h), driven by Chayapon Yotha and Peerapong Sombutwong from Thailand. Fourth was a bit of a surprise for all, the Pointer Team with a car driven by Raz Yehoshua Heymann and co-driver Hillel Segal, who brought their car all the way from Israel. This team participates internationally, they joined the Dakar Rally and the Silk Way Rally before with the same car.
So basically there were only a few minutes difference between the first, the second and the third, so all are actually winners somehow, and all are amateurs who do this for fun and not for glory, well a bit, or any international championship points.
Last but not least, all participating vehicles reached the finish line, some faster than others, some by their own car, some by their support car. But most important all in good health, beside a few bruises and sprains. More than 2.000 kilometers on and off the road are obviously taking its toll to men and machines.
The spirit for next years Asia Cross Country Rally is high, even though nobody knows yet, where it will be held. Myanmar is currently impossible, Laos was host this year, Cambodia was host the year before. Vietnam or Malaysia come to mind, but let’s see.
No matter where, it would be even more fun to get more participants from other countries interested to join, test your limits, test your stamina, enjoy rally riding in Southeast Asia, join AXCR 2024!