Driving

TURKMENISTAN
 
Roads
The road from North to South – Uzbekistan to Iran – that we took through the country is a very good highway. It’s properly sealed and fairly maintained all the way and dual carriage way for a large chunk. There were even speed limit signs at appropriate junctures.
In Ashgabat, and to a lesser extent Dashoguz, the roads were beyond perfect, with brand new wide boulevards and sweeping round-abouts, in keeping of course with the sparkling gold and white facade of the entire city. Ashgabat was definitely a city to drive in with little to no traffic, wide roads, lots of parking and as far as we can tell, no public transport. (Day 184 – A City of White and Gold: The Dictator’s Dream.)
Between the couple of major country highways and the shiny cities though, there really aren’t any roads whatsoever. Leaving the main road to look for The Gates of Hell, we had only very faint tracks through sand dunes and no sing posting at all. (Day 182 - The Burning Gates of Hell.)
 
Traffic
Traffic wasn’t an issue in Turkmenistan in the slightest. The most important thing to watch out for is cars parked at the side of the road – especially on the outskirts of Ashgabat – while the owners clean them. In most of Central Asia having a dirty or damaged car is prohibited, but Turkmenistan is the first country where it was so extreme. We even had our car washed in preparation, and joined the masses wiping off the desert dust on the way into the city.
 
Vehicles
In the country there were barely any cars – as there are barely any people – but the ones that are there are excruciatingly beaten up ancient Soviet models.
In Ashgabat though, there is an array of luxury 4x4’s, almost exclusively black and sporting the usual dark windows, every single one spotless.
On top of a larger number of diplomatic plates than usual, there were a huge amount of government licence plates in Ashgabat. The vehicles with these plates ranged from luxury 4x4’s and sedans to regular hatch-backs to utility vehicles. We assume that this is because basically every organisation is run by the government and therefore, almost every company owned vehicle will be government issued.
 
Petrol and gas
Arriving in Turkmenistan was a great relief after the challenge that filling up with petrol was in Uzbekistan. We were required to pay a US$41 fuel levy on arrival, but even so this was the cheapest country for petrol so far. (See Trip Costs for more details.) Every petrol station is owned by the government of course, and the price of petrol is therefore identical across the board. There are plenty of petrol stations in inhabited areas, but throughout the desert they’re a bit sparser and we had to fill up at each opportunity.
LPG was not available.
 
 
UZBEKISTAN
 
Roads
The main highways between cities in Uzbekistan are all pretty easy to drive on. They’re not amazing, but they’re sufficient for getting from A to B. There isn’t a lot of road signage, but there’s enough that with a bit of brain and even a shoddy (as they all are) map, you should be able to get to any reasonable destination.
We weren’t looking forward to embarking on the 500km stretch from Bukhara to Khiva as we’d heard a lot of horrible comments about how it was the worst road people had ever been on and such like. Well this is ridiculous. The first 350km of this road from Bukhara, heading North West, is the best road we’ve been on in Central Asia, and puts a lot of roads in Europe and Australia to shame. They’ve decided to go with concrete for this section, which although has its pitfalls, I am hugely in favour of in this part of the world. If there’s going to be no maintenance done for 50 years, then I would say it’s a worthy investment, and more countries should be going down this track. The problem with the last 150km of this section of road is that the concrete road is in the process of being built, but the old road which runs alongside it has not had any maintenance done for probably 50 years. This makes for a very frustrating drive, bumping along at 20km/h right next to this perfect, brand new concrete slab.
 
Traffic
Uzbek drivers were a pretty non-descript mixture of reasonably sensible and somewhat crazy. The many police checks all over the country, especially in the sensitive areas near the Kyrgyz, Tajik and Afghan borders, were what slowed us down the most. We’ve become very used to oncoming cars flashing their lights at us to say “move out the way, I’m overtaking,” or “get off my side of the road”. In Uzbekistan though, we realised that drivers flash oncoming vehicles to warn of upcoming police checks, or most importantly, the speed traps that are inevitably every few kilometres. Despite everything else, we did enjoy this sense of camaraderie that we haven’t experienced for a long time.
 
Vehicles
Based on my observations and not on any actual research there are two vehicles that comprise 90% of the vehicle market in Uzbekistan. One is a tiny little Daewoo box called the Matiz, and one is the smallest van of all time, called the Daewoo Damas.
As far as we’ve discovered it is illegal/discouraged to have a damaged or dirty vehicle. We seem to have gotten away with our slanted bumper (Blog Day 34 – Car Accident #1), and six months of dust, but every other car on the road is spotless. Uzbekistan is the first country I’ve ever visited that has more carwash facilities than petrol stations.
 
Petrol and gas
Availability of fuel in Uzbekistan is a big issue. We had expected that there would be struggles in plenty of countries we’re going through, but this is actually the first one.
There is an abundance of natural gas - well perhaps an “abundance” is a stretch of the imagination, but it exists. Of course we don’t have the necessary adaptor so yet again that’s not much good for us. Interestingly, it’s not any cheaper than unleaded petrol, it’s just more available and therefore a lot of Uzbeks choose to run on gas instead of petrol.
If you are travelling in a vehicle that runs on unleaded petrol, as we are, you absolutely have to fill up at any opportunity. There are plenty of times when we have driven into a city that we are bypassing, simply for the purpose of filling up. At the time it seems ridiculous to drive around in circles for half an hour, using up even more petrol, but when we then do another 400km before passing another working petrol bowser, we’re glad we did it.
Despite so much of what we read and heard in our preparation indicating that diesel’s the best fuel choice for long distance overlanding, not having diesel is the best decision we made. We have met a handful of people who have driven through Uzbekistan on diesel, and it has been a horrible struggle for them. A German couple in Tashkent hoped to get some tips off us, assuming that our 4WD was on diesel. All we could tell them was that we hadn’t been specifically on the look out, but we’re pretty sure there isn’t really any diesel around. Having done their preparation they had four 20L jerry cans, which on top of their full tank they were expecting to get 1,600km out of. Their plan was to find a truck driver with some spare, or some sort of black market dealer, but they weren’t hopeful.
(Day 173 – Worst oil producing nation ever.)
 
Parking
Parking has been pretty straight forward. The only thing remotely not worthy is the fact that most housing is done in a closed complex style, with a huge wall right at the edge of the street, and large solid doors usually leading into some sort of courtyard. This tends to lend itself well to driving in what is essentially they’re front doors and parking in the courtyard, but on the other hand can sometimes mean that there is no option but to street park. There is no middle ground like a driveway or open garage.
 
 
 
KYRGYZSTAN
 
Roads
Apparently there’s a properly made main highway between Bishkek in the North and Osh in the South, but because we chose not to take the direct route we didn’t have the pleasure of experiencing this piece of modern infrastructure. Instead we spent our time in Kyrgyzstan on roads worse than what we experienced in Laos; very unmade, narrow, unnecessarily windy, often doubling up as a river and usually being shared with a herd of cows or sheep. The areas we drove through were incredible, so the fact that it took five hours to do 100km in some instances wasn’t too much of a bother.
 
The main issue we had with the roads was the complete lack of signage. We have two maps of Central Asia plus ones of specific areas we’ve picked up along the way and each one has everything marked slightly differently. This wouldn’t be too much of an issue usually – you’d just use your brain to decipher the road signs and the difference between the roads. But it’s very difficult to tell the difference between a main road, a side street and somebody’s driveway. The method we came up with which seemed to work pretty well was to pull over and ask someone after every intersection.
 
 
Traffic
The country roads that we spent most of our time on don’t see much traffic. Mostly we came across herds of cows or sheep, sometimes goats, some horses and a few people on donkeys. Other than that there was the occasional Lada or Lexus, or an ex-Soviet truck stacked to three times its size with hay.
 
In Bishkek the drivers were relatively sane (other than taxi drivers obviously), but we had to be careful of police randomly pulling people over to ask for bribes. We managed to dodge this bullet.
 
The traffic in Jalalabad and Osh was a little more hectic, mostly to do with the fact that many of the streets aren’t really roads but more markets and bizarres, not to mention all the one way streets.
 
After the shock of arriving in Kazakhstan and being re-introduced to the world of stopping at pedestrian crossings, we realised that Kazakhstan had been the exception and we were back in the land of ignoring all road markings.
 
 
Petrol and gas
 
We heard from a reputable source (our Belgian friend from Kazakhstan’s sister who lives in Bishkek) that Gazprom is the company to use. Apparently all the other companies, even the ones that look reasonable, sell dodgy petrol. Seeing there was a queue at almost every one we saw, and never at any other, this seemed feasible and we decided to jump on the Gazprom band wagon. Kazerman was the only place where we had to fill up at a really iffy looking petrol station, because there just wasn’t a Gazprom for well over 700km. It was the first time any of us had used an old fashioned manual petrol pump. Very retro, but not ideal.
 
It was hard to tell whether a lot of the petrol stations we passed were still functioning or not. We’d see a reasonably new looking building with prices up, then get there and realise it’s not in use, yet on the other hand we’d spot one that had surely been abandoned 20 years ago, and then we’d realise it was still open.
 
We really couldn’t understand why there are so many petrol stations left to ruin – surely it’s cheaper, quicker and easier to refurbish an old one than start from scratch on building a new one.
 
 
 
Parking
 
In Bishkek we stayed at a guesthouse that had very secure off-street parking. In the rest of the city it was fairly easy to find a free park, but we wouldn’t have felt entirely comfortable leaving the car outside over night.
 
While we were in Jalalabad we parked where the hotel recommended to us - in the fire station, right next door to the hotel. This was a privilege we had to pay for (200 Com – approx $4 per night), but the streets of Jalalabad have seen quite a lot of crime in recent times, so we decided it was a privilege worth paying for.
 
The hotel we stayed at in Osh was between two convenience stores/cafes, so we literally parked in the middle of them. It wasn’t behind a fence or anything, but it was off the street and right next a bank. Sandwiched between the tables and chairs on the footpath, it was quite an amusing parking spot. To come and go we had to interrupt people’s meals to move the furniture out of our way. Like Bishkek, we could easily park on the street, but would prefer to avoid it overnight if possible.
 
 
 
 
KAZAKHSTAN
 
Roads
 
The roads in Kazakhstan were a mixed bag. Our first drive, when we entered from China and headed to Almaty, was on a road that was neither good nor bad. It was paved, but not brilliantly; two cars could pass each other without slowing down, but it wasn’t always comfortable. We cruised along at about 80-90km/h, and although it was a pretty bumpy ride, other vehicles hurtled past us doing well over 100km/h. The most important feature of the road was that it got us from A to B. Plenty of country roads fitted this description.
 
In the cities the roads were very good, but driving through the desert we experienced some shocking “roads”, and sometimes they were barely existent. For a few days we averaged less than 20km/h. These areas were extremely remote though.
 
The main thing to watch out for is the constant police checks. In the cities there are police pulling people over at every single intersection. In the countryside there are permanent police checkpoints set up periodically. The speed limit will reduce from 90 to 70, then 50, then 20, then there will be a white building line and a stop sign. Sometimes they’ll wave you on, ignore you, or have another vehicle already stopped. Sometimes though they’ll want to see some documents and some money, but we always managed to act dumb enough on this one that they’d leave us alone. They’d speak to us in Russian, we’d respond with “Sorry, niet Ruski”(which we’ve since found out is incorrect anyway!), they’d continue to speak in Russian and we’d look on blankly, shrugging our shoulders and shaking our heads. Then they’d say something like “dokumenti” and we’d say “sorry, niet Ruski, we don’t know what you mean”. After a bit of back and forth they’d realise they’re wasting precious bribe collecting time and let us go.
 
 
Traffic
 
To put a general blanket on it, the drivers in Kazakhstan are more European than anything else. They’re certainly not as polite as Australians, not as suicidal as South East Asians, and not as incompetent as the Chinese. For the first time since Australia, pedestrians get right of way on pedestrian crossings and traffic lights are adhered to. But they do still like a bit of cutting off, honking horns and undertaking. It is quite like driving in most parts of Northern of Western Europe.
We were a bit baffled by the amount of hitch hikers everywhere; in the cities and countryside alike. On the outskirts of Almaty and Astana, there would often be 20 or 30 all standing in a bunch. Someone would pull over and speak to the first one, if that wasn’t satisfactory for whatever reason, the next hitch hiker would approach, until a deal was struck. Inside the city, there would be at least one or two on every block. We have heard that the hitch hiker has a responsibility to pay their share of petrol. There are also supposedly a lot of unlicensed, unmarked taxis, so wondering if there’s a fine line between hitch hiking and catching an unlicensed taxi.
 
Vehicles
 
The vast majority of vehicles in the Kazakh countryside are ex-Soviet bombs; very cool, retro if you like, and amusingly stereo-typical, but invariably and unquestionably a sign of poverty. The Lada 4x4 is one that continues to intrigue us, along with the myriad of Soviet style vans, buses and trucks. We have watched many people roll starting their cars – up hills, out of parking spots and even in traffic.
 
In the cities however there is the usual Western variety of vehicles, although of course a few more Russian cars thrown into the mix.
 
The very interesting thing that we have noticed is that the majority of Japanese cars on the roads are still right-hand drive, which is of course back to front in this part of the world. We estimated around 30% of cars in Almaty were right-hand drive.
 
Petrol and gas
 
Again we were unable to find LPG – we’ve basically given up on this one until Europe now. Petrol is so cheap around here that it doesn’t matter anyway. Prices between petrol stations varied extremely little in Kazakhstan. 99% of petrol stations that we passed were selling 92 for 106.0 TT/L (70c/L). The biggest variation we saw was 104.0, and 107.0.
 
There’s an abundance of petrol stations on the outskirts of the cities, and on the main highway between Almaty and Astana (which goes through Karaganda – the third biggest city) there are enough that you don’t need to worry. But once we got out into the desert we began to realise the merits of carrying a jerry can. When we would eventually get to a petrol station, we’d slow down to pull in and realise that it was either half-demolished or still under construction. Still though, with the jerry can, we came close but we never got stuck petrol-less.
 
Parking
 
Although the traffic in Almaty was fairly heavy at most times, we were always astounded at the availability of parking. Despite the fact that it felt like everything was very busy and hectic, we never had to do circuits of the block or wait for people to leave to get a parking spot.
 
Astana was a bit quieter and parking was pretty straight forward.
 
The thing that frustrated us the most about parking was the men wearing yellow vests that are employed to “help” park people and charge them for the privilege. The problem is though that none of them seem to have any concept of how to drive, let alone park, so they just stand around in the middle of the road waving at people and attempting, to no avail, to direct traffic. There are regularly traffic jams, especially on side streets, caused by these guys directing someone out of a spot, completely stopping traffic flow, then directing a very sloppy three, five or seven point turn. So when parking, we were just careful not to get involved with this system.
 
In both Almaty and Astana we stayed in an apartment in a very European style complex with a central square type thing, some car parking and a bit of grass. Naturally we used this space to leave our car when we first arrived in Almaty, until our third night when the back window was broken into. After that we took to parking in the “secure” part, located literally on the other side of the fence we had been parked next to. The “secure”parking was a bit of the central square of this complex, fenced on two sides by temporary corrugated iron, a half-demolished apartment block on one side, and a shipping container that the guy who took our 200 TT per night ($1.30) spent his time sleeping in on the other side. Although it didn’t feel very professional our car didn’t get broken into again, and it was a small price to pay for peace of mind.
 
 
 
CHINA
The main thing about driving a foreign vehicle in China that is particularly unique, is the fact that you must have a tour booked through an approved agency. The agency should organise permits for each area, customs and registration documents for the car etc, and most importantly a tour guide who will travel with you in the car at all times. Supposedly our guide should have been able to help us with everything such as parking and road choice, but unfortunately he was less than useless and in fact made it harder for us to figure it all out ourselves.
 
 
 
Roads
The Chinese road network is right up on there on a worldwide scale, with very high quality roads for the most part. The National roads are mainly free to drive on, although there are some very minimal tolls enforced in some places. It’s usually only about 2 - 8 Yuan ($0.60 - $2.30) for sometimes up to 100km. The National roads vary quite a lot throughout the country, from narrow and windy and a little bit rundown in some mountain areas, to four lanes wide and tunnelling through mountains in others.
 
The expressways are toll roads, varying in expense from province to province, but calculated on distance. The only place that we found it to just be unreasonably expensive was during our first couple of days in Yunnan, and everywhere else we realised that the extra cost was made up for not only in time, but sometimes in petrol as well.
Basically we chose which roads to use based on the condition of the National roads at that section. If we hadn’t been concerned with time I think it would have been easy to stay away from the expressways altogether, but unfortunately through no choice of our own, our itinerary in China was very tight. Usually it was worthwhile catching the expressway in mountain areas as it cut out a lot of winding back and forth by tunnelling through the mountains and bridging over the valleys. Plus we could do 120 km/h (legally – we actually choose not to push Trevor over about 100 km/h if we can help it) instead of sometimes 40 – 50 km/h. Sometimes the road would be flat and straight so we’d opt for the National road, only to get there and find that it was actually really narrow, a bit rough and packed full of trucks. In that case we’d have a team vote and usually end up jumping on the toll road at the next entrance.
 
Through the Gobi Desert there actually wasn’t a choice for most of it. Rather than having the two roads separate it’s basically one road serving as both. It’s essentially the quality of the expressway, although for a lot of the way it is only one lane wide in each direction with no central barriers. But it’s pretty much the payment system of National roads. It’s a bit more expensive than the other ones we saw, but I’m talking 10 Yuan for a section that would usually be 5 Yuan on the National road or 70 Yuan on the expressway.
It’s unfortunate that for foreigners to drive in China, it is so complicated and regulated, as we have experienced some of the best actual driving that any of us have ever seen, or can imagine. Driving through Yunnan was our introduction to China and we were continuously flabbergasted by the amazing views as we snaked our way over and around rolling hills and valleys. The roads are that perfect balance between windy and treacherous enough to be fun, yet well made and not so windy that you can still drive at a decent speed and watch your surroundings as they go by. Approaching the Tibetan Plateau brings similar joy as the Yunnan roads, and crossing the Tibetan Plateau by car really is enough to take one’s breath away (figuratively as well as literally – it is 4,000m high after all). The most amazing drive that we’ve seen though would have to be along the cliff face overlooking Tiger Leaping Gorge. This road would surely be one of the best driving roads in the world, cut into the side of a 2,000m high mountain, the drop sheer on all sides with nothing to separate you from the tumbling gorge below. The road is scattered with fallen rocks and in places waterfalls spill over the edge. This is the only place I have actually witnessed rocks falling onto the road, and it is quite a daunting experience.
 
Touring spectacular roads – Tiger Leaping Gorge, Tibetan Plateau, Yunnan
 
 
Traffic
 
Traffic inside the cities was pretty heavy, but they have built a lot of flyovers and bypass roads and such like in the last few years to try and accommodate the ridiculous increase in the number of cars on the roads. One method that we know they employ to reduce congestion in Chengdu is by putting restrictions on the cars that can drive on any given day. For example on Monday vehicles with licence plates ending in 5 or 0 won’t be allowed to drive, on Tuesday 1 and 6 can’t, and so forth. We did see a couple of cars breaking this rule, so who knows whether it is effective or not.
 
The Chinese aren’t brilliant drivers. They’re not purposefully reckless like the Thais, or obviously lazy and careless like the Laotians. They just don’t have much in the way of spacial awareness skills. Sometimes we’ll pull out onto a road, only to be beeped and swerved around by the oncoming vehicle. The issue being that they were still several hundred metres away and having no reason to swerve around us, have just sent somebody else off the road. Alternatively we will be flying along at 100 km/h and some guy will rock up to an intersection in front of us, stop, look left and right and make a calculated decision that he can move out right in front of us.
 
 
Vehicles
 
Most vehicles on the road are actually just cars with the usual smattering of buses, trucks, bicycles and scooters. The main interesting thing about the vehicles is the Chinese brands and models that we’ve never seen before. Amongst them though there’s also the usual band of suzukis and hyundis; volkswagons and BMW’s.
 
 
Petrol and Gas
 
Much to our own disdain, we failed on the LPG front again. We knew they use natural gas in China as Australia sells it to them, but it was in the form of CNG again – the same as in Malaysia. It’s possible that they have LPG somewhere, but not in any of the places we went through.
Petrol prices generally dropped the further away from civilisation we were. This is including on toll roads which we were surprised to see.
 
In Xinjiang Province (North West, Gobi Desert) petrol was considerably cheaper than anywhere else we went through. Considering this is the province where the oil is produced, we assume that is the reason. However we haven’t actually seen any refineries and we don’t know whether this is the case or not.
 


CAMBODIA
 
 
Roads
 
Our first experience of driving in Cambodia was between Poipet on the Western border, and Siem Reap in the centre. We were really impressed with this road, thinking that maybe the roads in Asia just aren’t as bad as everyone makes out. Then we drove South and we discovered that yes they can be that bad - largely unsealed, usually more potholes than road and rarely wider than one car. However, when we got a bit North of Phnom Penh again, the road was once again fine. We ended up averaging about 80 km/h on Roads 6 and 7 (North of Phnom Penh), whereas on Roads 2, 3 and 4 (South of Phnom Penh) we were happy with 30 km/h.
 
 
Tolls
 
The Northern part of Road 3 (between Phnom Penh and Takeo) is a toll road which we avoided. The road we took instead left a lot to be desired, so we don’t know whether the amount we would have saved on the toll was made up for in extra time and petrol by avoiding it.
Having had no warning of it though, we did have to pay 2,800 Riel (70c) to use the road approaching Sihanoukville. From Sihanoukville back to Phnom Penh on Road 4, we then had to pay this toll again three more times. Each time we went through a proper toll booth and were given a ticket with the amount printed on it.
 
 
 
Traffic
Unlike in Malaysia and Thailand, where we spotted totalled trucks and overturned utes around almost every corner, we witnessed the aftermath of almost no accidents in Cambodia. My theory on this is that there’s almost no traffic. Well, there’s almost no traffic on the roads where you can get upto above 40 km/h. Having said that, the roads in and around Phnom Penh did get fairly hectic – in fact it made Bangkok look like an Eastern suburb of Melbourne. But the “if there’s a gap, and you can fit in it, go in it”mentality is really built in to the locals, so they seem to get by without crashing into each other quite easily. Really we’re the only hazards on the road in terms of that.
 
 
 
Vehicles
In Phnom Penh there was the expected huge amount of scooters. Sometimes we’d spot them parked four or five deep at the side of the road, stretching for hundreds of metres. At every traffic light they swarm in front of the cars and fill every gap between all the other vehicles. They are just everywhere. What we couldn’t get past though was the outrageous number of luxury 4x4’s – especially Lexuses and Land Cruisers, usually with the “Lexus”or “Land Cruiser” sticker left on the side of the car. And they were all kept in pristine condition, probably cleaned after every drive outside of the city.
 
Everywhere other than Phnom Penh, there were many more bicycles and tractors and cows on the road. The 4x4’s were still around and about, but a lot of the time we were the biggest and fastest vehicle around.
 
Petrol and gas
 
We were always careful to fill up before leaving a major town, unsure how availability would be in the more remote areas. As it turns out though, we never drove far without passing petrol stations, although they were a bit more sparse in the less inhabited North. We noticed that prices followed the European method which is the opposite of what we’re used to, going up a bit the closer we were to the bigger cities such as Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and becoming much cheaper in the countryside. There were a few places that sold LPG, but the connection was the same as Thailand’s which we didn’t have an adaptor for. Frustration on the LPG front yet again. A special feature that caused us much excitement and satisfaction though was the freebies they hand out with petrol sales. Sometimes it was just a couple of bottles of water, but our best was when we were given seven cans of pepsi.
 
Parking
 
We had no issues at all with parking in Cambodia. Street parking was readily available everywhere we went – even in Phnom Penh. Most places we stayed were also able to offer some sort of off road parking; sometimes a proper secure park, but usually just a small spot in front of the accommodation. We were advised by a local that although bicycle and motorbike theft/vandalism is abundant, cars are usually fine and we didn’t feel insecure leaving the car anywhere we went.





THAILAND

Roads

After the very good state of Malaysian roads, we assumed that when we crossed the border to Thailand we'd have to start dealing with much more deteriorated surfaces and hectic traffic. This really wasn't the case though. All the main roads we drove on were proper sealed roads, often divided with more than two lanes and a hard edge. Even some of the narrower mountain roads we came across were still well sealed and surprisingly well sign posted.

The only toll roads we came across were in Bangkok, but they were very easily avoided and we didn't feel the need to use them at all. I imagine they'd be useful if you were driving more in the city, but all we did was drive to the centre, park, and drive out of the centre. It was also school holidays while we were there so perhaps the traffic wasn't as congested as usual.

Traffic

Thai drivers were on the whole really quite polite and civilised, regularly driving right on the hard edge to allow faster vehicles to overtake. Unfortunately they're just not very good at driving. We saw an absolutely ridiculous number of cars - usually unloaded 4x4 utes (pick-ups for our American friends) actually - in the ditches next to the road. Our theory is that they're so used to driving around with these huge, high loads that when they're unloaded they feel unbalanced and forget how to steer properly. The vast majority of the accidents we saw were just cars that had driven off the side of the road, usually not going particularly fast and rarely involving more than one vehicle.

Vehicles

We had expected that in Thailand we would be seeing a lot more makeshift type vehicles, run down and fixed by hand, and probably a lot of old cars, motorbikes and bicycles. We were shocked though to find that the majority of vehicles were almost brand new Toyota Hiluxes, Isuzu Hi-landers and other similar 4x4s with a tray. We've been told that this is because of the statis that is associated with having a good car, and a lot of the owners will actually be in vast amounts of debt. A lot of these vehicles have a cage attached to the tray that then allows extra packing space, and often the rear suspension is modified to cope with the weight of the load. Some of these vehicles were then stacked up to double the height of the car, sometimes higher. We saw very few sedans (saloons), station wagons (estates) or bicycles on the roads, but there was the expected overcrowding of scooters, the drivers of which don't seem to mind too much about following basic road rules such as drive on the left and stop at intersections.

Petrol and gas
 
We were delighted to find that LPG was readily available all over Thailand, despite only coming into use about three years ago. Unfortunately though, neither of the adaptors we have fitted their connections, so yet again we had to run only on petrol. It is incredibly frustrating seeing LPG for sale all over the place for a fraction of the price of what we were paying for petrol. They actually have a disproportionally large amount of petrol stations that only sell LPG, which kept catching us out.

Parking

Most of the places we stayed at in Thailand were able to offer us a secure, or at least off street car park. During our four days on Koh Phi Phi (an island) we paid 100Bhat (approx. $3) per night for the privilege of leaving Trevor at the Thai Hotel car park in Krabi (the mainland launching pad for most of the islands). While we were staying in Krabi we just parked on the street outside our hostel, but we wanted something a bit more secure if we were leaving for several days. The other option that we considered was parking at the police station in Krabi which is actually free. Unfortunately they were completely full so couldn't accommodate us, but we were also advised that it's not overly secure anyway.

We were very fortunate in Bangkok that we had friends who were able to offer us a free, secure car parking spot where they live. If this hadn't been the case Bangkok would have been a huge challenge and undoubtedly a lot more stressful for us. Street parking where we stayed in Khao San certainly would have been impossible, so we would have either had to stay a bit further out in the suburbs where we could have parked, or paid a probably obscene amount for secure parking.



MALAYSIA

Roads

We expected that the roads in Malaysia would be pretty good, but they really were as good as anything in Australia. The main highways between cities are all tollways, but they're very good roads; all divided with at least two lanes on each side, exceptionally well maintained and with regular roadside stops and petrol stations. There are also free roads that although being slightly less direct, with the usual obstacles such as traffic lights and towns, were actually also very good roads. We ended up using both types of road, depending on factors such as how much extra petrol we might use by taking the longer route and how much longer the free road would take.

Traffic

The thing that we were struck by though was the number of serious accidents we saw. We didn't actually witness any, but within about 100km of Kuala Lumpur on the first day we had our car, we drove past the sites of two very serious accidents. In both cases the cars and trucks were completely mangled and in one we could actually see that there was still at least one person inside the wreckage. And despite the very good roads, we did witness driving that doesn't make these type of accidents seem unlikely. Most of the other vehicles on the road were overtaking us doing well over 100km/h, in most cases probably at least 130km/h. This in itself probably doesn't cause many accidents - I'm guessing it's the fact that they undertake and merge and use the hard edge as if they were driving around at 40km/h. In a nutshell, I would describe it as first world roads and cars and therefore first world speeds, but with the driving techniques of a developing country.

Vehicles

Driving along on Malaysian roads looking at the cars, we could have easily been in Australia. There was a variety of ages of cars, mostly within about 15 years old, and mainly pretty standard sedans, hatchbacks, station wagons, and 4x4's.

Petrol and gas

95 petrol throughout Malaysia is heavily subsidised by the government, and as a result foreign vehicles are only supposed to fill up with the more expensive types. We just explained time after time that for various reasons such as the age of the car, or the fact that it's from Australia, it can only take 95. The petrol attendants were usually confused enough by the fact that we were there that we didn't have too many problems.

We realised that all the taxis had gas tanks and then we noticed a few cars with NGV stickers, but we hadn't seen any type of gas sold at any petrol station. While we were on Penang though Ben bumped into a couple who had the NGV sticker and they pointed us to where we could purchase it. We found the petrol station easily enough, but we were a bit disappointed when we found out that NGV and LPG are actually completely different substances. As it turns out they don't have LPG at all in Malaysia.

Parking

We had no problems with parking at all, although we never actually drove into Kuala Lumpur where I think we would have had to pay for some sort of off road parking. Everywhere we went though we were able to find accommodation somewhere that had a somewhat secure parking area.
 

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