Day 11: Visions of Lady Gaga in a Thai Farmers’ Market

Having finished the longest day of the race to date (558 km) and completing couple of very fast sessions, Avi and I were headed back to the hotel a little past 4pm. Typical to our “Road Runner” mode (nick name given to Team Saxena by the other contestants), we were zipping by other cars when Dionysus smiled on us.


IMG_2365As we made a turn towards Kanchanaburi (of The Bridge Over River Kwai fame), we were mesmerized by the glorious smell of BBQ wafting through the air.. (BBQ smell much like a smile or a wave is a universal expression).  It also helps to have lived for 20 years in Texas where BBQ is a religion and Texans think God created fire to help us BBQ.

Realizing we had at least an hour before we need to check in the Master Time Control, we did a quick U-turn and entered into a world of culinary experience unparalleled for my eyes and palette.

Here’s a quick tour visiting and sampling food with the local vendors including drinking coke right out of a plastic bag!! We also had to resort to aggressive miming to identify/verify what we wanted to sample as we didn’t want to get our meats confused… after all dogs, cats and pigs all have four feet.


IMG_2409IMG_2378After tasting a variety of local dishes, we topped if off with what appeared to be something that Lady Gaga’s hairdresser sold off to the Thai.  It looked like hair from a tonsured head and was rather colorful green-pink-blonde that I could only picture on top of the great poet Lady Gaga’s head.


Curious brothers that we are, we shelled out 20 Bhats (about 60 cents) and I tore into the plastic bag while fighting visions of licking Lady Gaga’s bald pate.  It is safe to say that is is the best damn cotton candy aka Buddi ke Baal I have had in my life.  Highly recommend it.. got same back for my room and plan to enjoy it as I soak once again in Epsom salt laced bath water.

A note on hygiene:
To play it safe, we applied Purell Hand Sanitizer on our hands.  However Avi pointed out that it was AFTER we ate all that stuff so we promptly squirted a few shots of Purell down our gullets for safe measure. Three hours later I am glad to report all’s good.


The journey continues as we get ready to race around The Bridge over River Kwai tomorrow, the mid point of our 24 day endurance race.IMG_2407

And all the kings horses.. disasters & breakdowns during The Road to Mandalay

Select pictures of cars in trouble and various state of repairs on the Road to Mandalay Race..



IMG_1602 IMG_2327 IMG_2333 IMG_2335

Day 8 and Day 9: Phucket we said

Trang to Khao Lak. 463 kms


It was one of the more busy days as the route headed for Khao Lak on the island of Phucket. Our first stop was coffee at the cleverly named “Cabbages & Condoms” cafe, where the story goes the owner of the café used to back in the day go about handing condoms to the Thai population to control the AIDS epidemic. He would also hand out cabbage to men as it is apparently suppresses libido (end of cabbage soup for me now..)

IMG_2092We drove a long day and took part in two Regularity tests – for rookies like us, tackling an average-speed test with a secret finishing point was a new experience.  The other test was a closed-road Test-section which was another hillclimb which corkscrewed up the side of a mountain with thick green vegetation of banana trees on each side. All this shook up the leaderboard. Avi and I did extremely well on both the tests especially given we had never ever done a regularity. We would have ended up very high on the leaderboard with a flat 3:00 on the speed section but for coming in too hot at the finish line which resulted in a 1:00 penalty.

Ovearall, we are gradually climbing our way back on the leader board to make up for the large time penalty we got on Day 2 for getting into the ditch. Avi and I analyzed our daily results for the past 9 days and have realized that we can easily be a top five contender in our class out of the 70 cars.. provide we kept out of rookie penalties and also have a car prepped better so that can take some of the beating.. Some of these guys have spent north of $300,000 building up their cars compared to the 1/3rd or less we spent on our little orange contender.

After the regularity section, we crossed the Sarasin Bridge onto Phuket. A double run over a “gradiently challenging” road was a great thrill, before we stopped for a short coffee halt to reset the adrenaline sensor and then wrapped the testing route through the forest to Khao Lak appropriately called “Phucket Up and Over”.

The next day was another rest day.  However, we spent a good part of it taking care of the car at a local mechanic shop.


Got multiple issues fixed such as steering wobble/alignment, broken door handle, fluids check, and had them look at the rumble in the transmission. Despite various attempts they were unable to fix it and we are now stuck with a car that drives well but has the ominous rumble from the gear box-transmission shaft area.. While attempting to diagnose the problem, we met this rather interesting chap who had a T-shirt with the picture of Colonel Sanders and the words “Original Bastard” emblazoned across it..


it gave us some much needed laughter on a rather tense day as we were babying the car back to full health. Going to get the ERA mechanics look at it tomorrow.. getting a bit worried and have started praying to the car Gods..


We also took the time later in the day to take in the beauty of the place and also enjoy yet another amazing authentic Thai dinner in a dive of a place.. these Thais sure know how to cook and their sauces are just from another world.. enjoy some of our culinary experiences in form of these pictures..



IMG_2251 IMG_2248

Day 7 Race Report: Rattle and Hum and Racing through Fields of Rice

Georgetown to Trang. 385kms

We left Georgetown early in the morning via the old bridge and drove up country to the final time trial in Malaysia.

A highly technical test, the “Fields of Athenrice” time trial was courtesy of the local community and it demanded intense focus and attention with no room for errors or short cuts. On the surface the field looked great with wide visibility and beautiful green cover of rice in its early stages of growth.


Day8 race

However, a closer look you realize the dangers all around… deep canals on one or both sides of the road barely wide enough for single car, deep ditches, and highly slippery surface on turns. And above all spectators standing at key turns waving us on.. It demanded great skill, courage and focus and we made it through quite well with a time once again in top 10 overall and second best for our class of cars.


We then said goodbye to Malaysia and headed towards the Thailand border via the crossing at Wang Kelian, a delightful backwater frontier complete with Duty Free, but no commercial traffic. We met a group of Malay bikers who were on a ride from Malaysia to Thailand… looked like a happy bunch buIMG_1970t they buggered up our customs routine by piling on in front of us.


While all of this was going on, I decided to look around the many food vendors that were lining Thai-Malay border. Bought a few of the delicious and colorful snacks including something that looked like an Asian Banana and Idaho Potato had an illicit kid who was growing up all colorful in Thailand.








We then headed to Trang and on the way had one of the most memorable stops of the trip. Avi and I had not had breakfast and were famished getting into Thailand. We were determined to save the appetite for Thai roadside food aka Dhaba and the Culinary Gods smiled down on us as we stumbled upon this hole in the wall of hole in the walls places run by a woman who looked to be of Bhutanese/Nepales descent.



Something told us she was the real deal and boy where we right.. Except for the loo next to the kitchen (what’s with that in this part of the world??), the place was quite clean. She made two soups for us and a fried rice.. I almost cried when I ate those dishes..



We then drove into a charming Thai welcome at the beautiful Rua Rasada Resort, at Trang. It was followed by yet another amIMG_2045azing dinner and live music on the front deck of the hotel as we mingled, talked and grazed our eyes over the cars parked in front of us. Some of the cars however are beginning to show physical signs of wear and tear as well as developing significant internal issues such as hole in the piston, broken valves falling into the engine, damaged cylinder-head, broken transmission shafts, and lost tooth from differential gear box to name a few. We have ourselves started hearing an occasional growling sound in our transmission, which after many hours of inspection at the local garage has yet to be diagnosed.



Day 6 Report: And on the sixth day we rested (and went looking for mani and pedi)

Georgetown, Malaysia. Rest Day.

On Day 5 we zoomed into the island of Penang after crossing the longest bridge in Asia.. a 20km long gargantuan span where we put the Datsun to a speed test and went over 170.. in the process we overtook pretty much the entire field many of whom I am sure were shaking their fists at this pair of newbies.

E and OWe then rolled into Eastern and Oriental Hotel, an 1875 colonial heritage hotel that is an oasis of opulence, calm and above all was air-conditioned and dust free!

The term ‘rest day’ is a bit misleading as much of the day is spent fixing up the car and if you are lucky, fixing yourself up. To quote one of the participants, the entire garage looked like a refugee camp of well to do folks down on their hands and knees coddling and in some cases, beating up their machines.

360x240_cropGiven we were one of the first ones to arrive, we had the hotel manager arrange for a local garage to meet us and haul away the car for a series of repairs/patch ups. These included: dismantling and cleaning the brakes, fixing the front right brake squeal (courtesy of the mud from the rolling into the ditch incident), repairing faulty emergency flashers, replacing seat cushions, adding an extra radiator fan to help with cooling, fixing broken door handle, topping off fluids, replacing blown front headlight, fixing oil leaks at the differential and under the distributor.

Standard stuff to expect after you beat up a 44 year old machine extensively for 5 days straight. Some of the other contestants had more serious issues and one of them had a gearbox and a mechanic flown in from Belgium for his VW Karmann Ghia.. talk about dedication.. makes our rat episode look small although we used brute force and determination to bhoteleat that rodent. In fact, in memory of the rat conquest, we have been considering naming our car Datsun Donatello.. views?

After handing over the car to the garage, we made it back to the hotel in the evening and I promptly dove into a tub bath using some of the hotel provided Epsom salt. Proven cure for sore everything. After the bath, we decided to recee the city for our mission the next day.

Endjayaed up getting a great low cost Indian-Malay fusion meal at hotel Jaya and then had our first massage which deserves a separate entry… time permitting I shall post that tonight.


I woke up early on rest day determined to get a classic straight razor shave and top it up with a mani and a pedi (never had one in my life). Was driven by how I Iooked the night before.. could have easily be confused for a newly released POW after the Tet offensive.

I promptly called up our butler (yes we have a dedicated one in this fru fru hotel by the sea) and asked for an English speaking guide and car which arrived as scheduled. Avi and I then set out looking for shave, pedi and mani.. Avi had this distinct amused look on his face which mimed “mani, pedi? really?” but I decided to ignore it.

We drove up to one of those Asian barbershops with the red and white barber pole spinning in front. (A quick history lesson for the uninitiated: The look and colors of the barber pole are linked to bloodletting, with red representing blood and white representing the bandages used to stem the bleeding. The pole itself is said to symbolize the stick that a patient squeezed to make the veins in his arm stand out more prominently for the procedure. It is a legacy of a (thankfully) long-gone era when people went to barbers not just for a haircut or shave but also for bloodletting and other medical procedures)

As I made my way into the seat with this bloody history in mind, I was greeted by a recently transplanted Nepali kid who looked no more than 15. With visions of a bloody face and Nike child labor articles in mind, I did a quick shift into Hindi to verify two things: asked him if he was older than 18 (he seemed offended but confirmed he was), then asked him if he has done any straight razor shaves before.

shave1Now he was positively offended and went about demonstrating how and why the government of Malaysia gave him a “barber visa” (I am guessing that). He was masterful to say the least and threw in a spectacular head and neck massage at the end. During the 20 minute nirvana I managed to find out a lot about him.. that he arrived three months ago form rural Nepal, makes MR900 (<$300) a month including room and board, and that he misses home.

shaveThe results were spectacular. My face felt like a baby’s butt.. soft, smooth and eminently touchable. I decided to give into some self-indulgence and kept feeling my face and thinking of babies while trying to keep my mind from drifting into different types of smooth surfaces.. had to check and chide myself a few times. As I was working away these asinine thoughts from my evil twin with bad inner voices, disaster struck. My cheeks that were the epitome of a baby’s butt suddenly started morphing… they still felt like a baby’s butt but one with a severe case of diaper rash!!

A quick replay and I realized the blotchy redness had to do with this lotion my Nepali barber applied at the end… it smelled like something from Scheherazade’s kit in 1,000 Arabian nights and stung like a mother. I realized he went crazy with the lotion after I handed him RM 20 for the shave and then threw in a tip for RM100 to ease his homesickness. As a measure of appreciation, the poor young man decided to splash on an entire bottle of Scheherazade’s version of Old Spice on my face leading to the rapid reddening. Taking quick evasive action, I ordered a few wet towels to wipe my face down and it quickly averted a facial farce.

Having conquered Shaving, Avi and I then went in search for Mani and Pedi and asked the driver to take us to the best Chinese nail spa in town.

nailsHe promptly drove us to this place that looked pretty legit. I popped open the door and asked if they would do mani and pedi for two guys. The look from the spa owner and the patrons (all chinese women) quickly gave me an indication that I should bolt and avoid one of the scenes from a Hong Kong production featuring Jackie Chan with a mob chasing him down the streets.


Having survived that experience, I decided to skip the streets of Georgetown and ask for a mani and pedi in the safe confines of our five star hotel. Figured they were bound of have these services for both sexes. Once again, the look from the Spa manager and her polite explanation of “we don’t yet offer those services” told me that should abandon the mani and pedi search at least here in Malaysia. So, with a heavy and unfulfilled heart, I am leaving Malaysia and looking ahead longingly to Thailand for some action.

We leave Malaysia tomorrow (Day 7) for the Thailand frontier. In addition to the 130 drivers and navigators, there are 18 crews on this event who got some well deserved rest. They have been working tirelessly setting up race circuits, manning passage and time controls and in some cases, fixing up people. On that front, we got the news from the couple who were in a rather bad crash and are being treated in Singapore. Rabia, the lady has had an operation to have her broken arm pinngarage2ed, and Daniel has had a thorough check over after breaking a couple of ribs. Both are expected to make full recovery.

Looking forward to the drive and race into Thailand tomorrow and into what is supposed to be a charming Thai welcome at the Rua Rasada Resort, at Trang.  Feels good to complete 2,000km or a quarter of the race. Feels even better that the car held up and we are holding on to a respectable top third position overall.  It is still a long race with many more interesting moments and ranking changes to come.

Day 5 Race Report: Racing up the side of a jungle-covered mountain with police’s help (450km)

Day 5: Kota Bharu to Georgetown 450km

Picture this:
A closed-road, full police attendance, smooth tarmac and endless curves that would put Italian sirens of yesteryears to shame. Add to it a casual conversation and budding friendship with the Sultan of a country, throw in a near perfect race in the timed section, and cap it off with a nice tub bath in a 125 year old colonial hotel by seaside…  This day had it all.

Elephant crossing

We started the day after a good breakfast for the drive out of Kota Bharu and found ourselves driving through rubber plantations. Saw workers carving away at the bark to drain the latex sap into little pots, a technique that hasn’t changed since the invention of rubber.

Our Test-section, called The Tour de France as it is used datsun racingregularly by cycle racers was something to behold. We had a near perfect run during 80% of the 10km long track up the side of a mountain except when I punched too hard at the accelerator at the start leading to flooding and sputtering of the carbs for the first km. After picking up speed we had to slow down considerably to pass four other cars that had left before us in the past five minutes. This led to considerable shaving off of my top speed and combined, easily cost us 30 Policeseconds. Despite this, we finished a very respectable ninth position overall and would have been in the top five but for the issues above.. well, well.. at times like these we have to remind ourselves to be grateful and that we are blessed to be even participating in an event such as this.

Earlier in the day, HRH the Sultan of Malaysia sauntered over and struck a conversation about cars and racing and the nuances of endurance vs rally racing. Very knowledgeable and affable gentleman who complimented me on my racing skills and spoke about his affection for things Indian and American. We then decided to pose together for a picture.


We followed that conversation up at dinner where he spoke about this two Paris to Peking rallies and how his first trip in 1997 was through Tibet-India-Pakistan-Iran on the way to Paris. Unthinkable these days and so very sad how much our world has changed in last 20 years.

Later in the day we drove into Georgetown in the Penang Peninsula and drove into the amazing Eastern & Oriental Hotel by the seaside.

E and OFinally, Avi and I took a walk on the famous Penang Street to sample some local delicacies and get a much needed massage.. more on this soon in a separate blog.. and believe me it deserves a separate blog.


Day 4 Race Report: The monsoon floods wash away our racetrack and the ferry slipway (440km)

Cameron Highlands to Kota Bharu. 440 kms

A rather bland day racing wise.. The recent devastating monsoon floods in Malaysia swept away our racetrack, the ferry slipways that we were to ship our cars across, and parts of the countryside. Made for an insipid day for racing but allowed time to take in the stunning scenery as we made it to Kota Bharu in 7 hours.   The first picture of the notice from the organizer says it all..

After a very misty start we had to skip the short hill climb test through the tea plantations of the Camerons due to the said floods. Was the right call by the organizers as the 3.5km track had steep drop and parts of the hillside were washed away. We then began the descent to the Kelantan River valley for morning coffee plus a couple of interesting new additions as we made it to Kota Bharu.

Checked into the Grand River view hotel.. they win the award for “truth in advertising” for the river was the size of a frickin Asian Amazon.. about a kilometer wide at least (check out the view from my room).

Avi and I had time to take in some local delicacies and reveled in the particularly tasty Roti Canai.. sublime stuff! Finally we stopped over in a local mall where they did not have any clothes that fit a 6’ 3” Indian built like a line backer..


IMG_1692 IMG_1666 IMG_1679gerard Brown-2 IMG_1674


IMG_1697gerard BrownIMG_1688 IMG_1707 IMG_1708


IMG_1716IMG_1715 IMG_1717


Day 3 Race Report: A solid day all around with some misfires (430 km)

Kuantan to Cameron Highlands. 430 kms

Another gorgeous day to be out and about racing with a collection of uber cool Classics through the jungles of Malaysia leading then to a mountain range involving a 76km alpine climb. Ended at the hill station and tea plantation town of Cameron Highlands aka the Darjeeling of Malaysia.

IMG_1627Bharatpt D5 Car did great this morning.. while we promised ourselves to “preserve the car”, we (I) was still reeling from the 15 place drop from 10th overall to 25th and decided to see what the baby can do in the first segment of the day. Pushed hard and within 2 hours we were able to pass all but five of the 25 ahead of us. Decided then to “coast” for the rest of the day and after a reasonable plantation run we moved up four places and are now 20 overall.

The heavily rutted Plantation run also tested the heck out of our underside kick plate and reminded us why 4mm thick steel plate under the car needs to be replaced by at least a 10mm thick steel sheet if we want the car to stay in one piece.Will be posting video of Avi’s impressive run through the plantation.

Checked into the scenic hotel in Cameron Highlands and made some repairs to the car IMG_1634cameron_2to fix the misfiring (replaced spark plugs, tuned ignition coil) and to remove the sequel in the wheel (mud in the brake drum from the mishap). Great support from the ERA mechanics on the nuances of the car.

Going to bed now as it was yet another demaIMG_1628nding day of racing.. Another 440km day awaits us tomorrow through the Kelantan River valley. Can’t wait..

PS: Also learned that the couple in the Bentley that flipped over were in Singapore getting operated and will be ready to go home after 10 days post surgery.  Saw another classic car go off the road in a deep ditch.. occupants were ok.


Day 2 Race Report: It rained (hard) on our parade, and we drove into a ditch (402km)

Eventful day.., what was to be a very pleasant morning drive turned into somewhat of a driver’s ed course at Schlitterbahn water park. It rained until noon and gave a new challenge and dimension to our rally and endurance race sections. Unfortunately one of the Bentley’s could not get enough grip and went off the road.. Driver and co-driver broke wrist and ribs and were airlifted to Singapore.. they are doing fine considering all else.

IMG_1581 IMG_1583 IMG_1596 IMG_1597 IMG_1598 IMG_1599 IMG_1600 IMG_1601 IMG_1602 IMG_1609 imageLater in the day we had a planned Rally race through a plantation with low trees so plenty of good visibility racing. However, the morning rain had turned that 7.8km rally section into what can best be described as a dirt bike racing tracks. The front runners (we were still holding on to our good start) got on to the track and had a blast racing through the mud (see attached GoPro video).

Unfortunately about 3/4th of the way in, one of the vintage cars had slid off the road into a ditch. We were asked to slow down as we passed them and as soon as we did, we caught the ditch on the other side of the road and down we went sliding off the road. This was followed by three other cars behind us meeting the same fate which resulted in us getting a 25min penalty on the score-card which dropped us at the end of Day 2 to the top 40%  of the pack overall.. a good drop from the scorching Day 1 we put together from Singapore to Desaru. IMG_1611

Good news is we are still in the race and both Saxena Brothers and their car is holding up quite well..

Day 1 Race Report: A Reversal of Fortune (323km)

After two intense days of repairs we finally qualified and had a memorable send off from Raffles Hotel. image image image image image image image image image image image image image image

Placed overall 10th out of 70 cars in the plantation run rally and our timing was 2nd overall (Yes!!) on the entire 450 odd km day long endurance race to Desaru, Malaysia. We just went for broke and did not know what to expect. See attached time card and flag off pictures on Facebook and the gallery here.

Car condition: Ran very hot all day but never seized up. Most thermal issues seem to be loose connections and new use of the internal heater to full is helping although it bakes us both on the inside as we don’t have AC.

Electrical issues still bugging but that’s due to rattling. Got rally trip meter finally calibrated precisely. Let’s see what Day 2 brings on another 400 odd km run across Malaysia.