Racing the Ameo

Racing as an activity is as old as mankind itself. From the time man discovered and created vehicles they have always raced. Wooden chariots to modern day F1 cars all have one thing in common. They provide man with the chance to be the fastest in a race where the competition is amongst the best one finds in that year, country or era.

“Racing is meditation on speed”- Anonymous

But racing cars on a racetrack in India is not easily done. Primarily as there are only 3 racetracks in this country and the cost to hire them for a track day is not cheap and easily accessible to an individual. Combine that with modifying a car, buying special track tyres, having a support crew on hand and this becomes even more of a dream.

So then what does a youngster who wants to train to become a professional race car driver do in India? He/she applies for the Volkswagen Motorsport Programme. This programme started 9 years back. Every year from 2010 through the various cup competitions that they have organised and held VW Motorsport has unearthed the best talent that is to be found in this country. Starting with the Polo cup to the Ameo Cup the VW race drivers over a period of 3 odd months race with the same competitive spirit and ferocity one experiences in any touring car championship worldwide.

This has been helmed by Sirish Vissa who has been involved with the programme from its inception. He took over as head of the programme in 2014. In my interaction with him the one thing he always wanted to do right from the beginning is develop the race car start to finish at the Pune facility. That became a reality with the Ameo Cup Race car which is designed and developed totally in India.

Sirish says “This is a car that is designed in India, developed in India and tested in India.” An excellent example of Make in India as any!

Volkswagen India was kind enough to invite Rotormouth along with other media personnel to experience and participate in the media race weekend.

The prospective drivers go through a very detailed selection process which starts with them racing in go karts at various tracks across the country which culminates in the finale at the Indi cart Racing track in Pune. The people who get to the final are amongst the fastest in all the regions in India. Then starts the rigorous training schedule which involves all sorts of fitness routines, driving techniques, learning race rules and lots more. Sirish believes in using a holistic approach to the whole process. This leads to them learning the whole process towards becoming a professional race car driver. For this year’s season they have shortlisted 19 drivers.

Apart from learning and honing one’s skill the drivers are taught how to market themselves to sponsors for the season. This is crucial as in the cut throat world of motorsports having a sponsor behind you makes a huge difference to your career prospects. They learn what it is to work with a team who is always suggesting and expecting inputs from you to extract the maximum from the car for a top 3 finish every race. The drivers learn that camaraderie in the pits doesn’t buy you any favours on the racetrack. They learn how cruel and unforgiving the race track can be to the smallest of mistakes.

So, what did I learn from all of this? I learnt that I was nowhere as fast and skilled on the racetrack as the professionals. I learnt how sharp and decisive one must be to race on a track. How unforgiving this car is if you don’t treat her right.

Rayomand Banajee 8-time national karting and racing champion and founder of Rayo Racing and Indy Karting gave us our first briefing before free practice. Here we were taught the meaning and importance of the various flags the marshals would wave depending on what they wanted to communicate to us regarding what’s happening on the race track. It could be anything from an accident that has occurred, an oil spill, safety car on track. We were then instructed and shown the racing lines we should follow to extract the best time and performance in each lap. Post this we were given our racing gear.

Once in the pits we sat in our respective cars where the support crew did our final seat adjustment and explained the various buttons and the respective roles they play. This Cup car shares very little with the Ameo. Everything inside the cabin and under the hood is prototyped for racing.

 

Now we were ready to practice. The roar of the engine when I started the car was unlike anything I have heard before. It was loud and brutal. As we exited the pit lane and went out in track the first thing I felt was the kind of torque and power that a 205 HP engine brings to the table. Weaving into corners and on straights the first few laps I had a tough time figuring out the racing lines. Towards the end of the session just when I was coming to terms with the coming into the fast-right hander which leads to the start finish straight I went off track momentarily which was all it took to lose control. Next thing I knew I spun around and went into the tyre wall. I was unhurt which is testimony to the safety aspects and measures taken by VW Motorsport which adhere to the highest standards in motorsport today.

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On my walk back to the pits I realised the level of commitment, discipline and single-minded focus a racer needs to succeed at the highest level. Motorsports is the best example of teaching one the importance and value of having a great team. Next time you see your favourite driver win a race, please take a minute out and salute the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes.

Sirish Vissa and VW Motorsport are doing a phenomenal job with this programme. Our country needs more programmes such as these to support and unearth the racing talent lying dormant across the length and breadth of our vast nation.

See you at the track…

Beach Bumming in Phuket

In all my 15 years of traveling to South East Asia and of which 12 years to Thailand, I can only say that I have fallen head-over-heels with this Land of Smiles and especially its beaches. I simply cannot get over the sunsets over the Andaman when viewed from the western coast of Phuket and so much so, it has led me to buy my own home on the island. Though the following listing is in no order of preference, I do have my personal weaknesses for a few of them, and I am sure you will feel my leaning towards them in my blog below;

1. Nai Thon Beach

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Nai Thon, Pic Courtesy: Surajit Mitra

Starting from the north of the island, and just about 10 minutes from the airport is Nai Thon Beach which is closest to peaking on my list.  A narrow stretch of sand fringed with leaning coconut trees makes up this very pristine beach, usually frequented by the residents and guests of the few condos and resorts nearby. Definitely not featuring on the touristy listings handed out by hotels and agencies, this beach can spoil one’s senses just by the color of its water and its white sand. Freckled by few nice restaurants and massage shops across the parallel road, the area has only a handful of commercial joints to get bothered by. The best way to reach here from the main Phuket strip is through the lush jungle road connecting the beach to Laguna, another premier Phuket area.

2. BangTao Beach

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Bangtao, Pic Courtesy: Phuket.com

Driving into Laguna from Nai Thon, one should head to BangTao Beach & Layan Beach, which again are god’s gifts to beach lovers like me. BangTao in particular is a favourite amongst the expats living in and around Laguna and hosts world class beach clubs like Catch Beach Club etc. This beach is also one of the reasons why many expats choose to buy properties in the area and due to its non-commercialized nature, provide the much need peace and exclusivity, unlike the Patong Beach in the entertainment zone of Phuket. BangTao is also one of my favourite beaches for a sundowner and some fresh seafood but one has to accept the slightly higher prices of F&B which have been kept keeping in mind the clientele visiting.

3. Kamala Beach

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Kamala Beach, Pic Courtesy: Phuket.com

Although rom BangTao, further down south of the island, one would pass Surin Beach first,  and I choose to give it a pass. Not because it is not pretty, but due to the fact that it’s slightly more commercialized. Therefore, my next stop is Kamala Beach which is, by far, the most sought after address in Phuket today. Due to the beautiful waters, long stretch of sand and a lovely view into the bay, it has become the favourite of many high end resorts and condo developments. However, it is not surprising to note that even at almost a 100% premium on real estate prices here as compared to rest of Phuket, there are hardly any available inventory to buy. Very aptly, the Millionaires Mile which is a winding beach hugging drive peppered with the swankiest of resorts and residential properties, is a must pass-through for anyone driving through. Kamala also has many bars & restaurants on the main road, and the famous Phuket Fantasea show is right there as well.

 4. Freedom Beach

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Freedom Beach, Pic Courtesy: Surajit Mitra

A short drive from Kamala brings you to a very non-descriptive point on the road, where only the initiated will know of a rough path leading up a hill. Drive for around 10 mins on a bone-rattling path, to reach a gate where the local caretakers of the zone will ask for 200 baht (foreigners) as entry fee. If you see, none of the other beaches charge a fee but Freedom Beach demands it. The most hidden and private beach in all of Phuket is a golden strip of sand with calm lagoon-like waters with very very (I mean very few) visitors at all. It requires a walk down a steep gravel path to reach the beach and is also accessible through the sea from Patong as well. There are loungers available for 100 baht and a small restaurant serving beers and basic Thai food. One can spend a few leisurely hours here without any vendors bothering you with their wares and also the calm clear waters allows for a swimming pool experience and also is a great place to snorkel as well. Be prepared for a sweaty trek back to the parking lot where one gets rewarded with a free bottle of chilled water to replenish ones energies. Clearly one of the best I have seen so far in Phuket.

5. Karon Beach & Kata Noi

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Karon Beach, Pic Courtesy: Phuket.com

My next stop would be Karon Beach & Kata Noi. Passing the maddening stretch called Patong, one drives through some beautiful hilly roads to reach Karon Beach, an ideal wide beach for summer bummers and also for surfing. This beach is one of the few where one can surf with waves coming in as mountains. Lots of summer umbrellas and lots of parking spaces makes this an easy visit. The main road is stashed with eateries and shopping areas, and my favourite here is the fresh food market. There are few live music bars where a few beers with Pink Floyd playing to the retreating sun is an experience hard to forget. Stay back for dinner at Kata Noi area where there are amazing fresh food joints serving OMG sized lobsters and the likes. Kata Noi is also a relatively smaller beach, where one, during the day, can spend time lolling around in calm clear waters.

Kata Noi Beach, Pic Courtesy: Phuket.com

6. Nai Harn Beach

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Nai Harn, Pic Courtesy: Phuket.com

Further down south, one reaches the southernmost tip of the island and at Nai Harn Beach. This gem of a beach is inside a nook and thus doesn’t get any major waves or currents. I read somewhere that it features amongst the top 5 beaches in the world. Well, it doesn’t surprise me at all as the beach itself is like a painting, allowing you to take in the sights and sounds while sipping on a San Miguel in one of the few lovely cafes on it. Very few tourists and mostly sun-loungers as visitors, it makes for a very family friendly visit. There are also very few hotels or residential complexes around so much lesser crowds as compared to many others.

Apart from the above there are many more beautiful beaches like Mai Khao, Nai Yang, Paradise Beach etc in Phuket but I have always enjoyed by visits to the above listed few and will continue to visit them in the years to come. No wonder Phuket is called the Pearl of the Andamans and I will vouch for every letter in that description.

The Baadshah amongst Bikes

The Indian Chief Vintage…
a motorcycle designed like a vintage piece of art….

The last decade has seen the entry of all the top motorcycle brands in the India. The motorcycle enthusiast responded to this like a person who finds an oasis in the desert!
For people who grew up in the last century the thought of buying a premium motorcycle came fraught with a sense of lunacy and madness that you would associate with a B- Grade masala Hindi film! One had to deal with shady motorcycle dealers, mechanics and an errant government mechanism. And with no financing options available then, one had to be a rich man’s son or daughter to buy such a motorcycle. But the drama didn’t end there. Post purchasing the bike you had to always keep a lookout in the papers hoping that Mr. X who you bought it from wasn’t in jail for vehicular fraud!

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That is all history now! Name the bike and it yours for owning, courtesy financing and leasing options being available. Premium motorcycles from the range of 6 lakhs to a crore are available to such an enthusiast. I have been lucky that I have owned a few 400cc motorcycles in the past and have ridden multiple liter class motorcycles. But nothing has come close to a day I spent with the Indian Chief Vintage. Before we get to that let’s look at the history of this company that designs motorcycles like art on wheels.

Indian motorcycles were first produced in Springfield Massachusetts at the turn of the century from 1901 to 1953. In that period, they went to become the largest manufacturers of motorcycles in the world, took the first three places in the 1911 Isle of Man TT trophy, riders set world motorcycle speed records. Having manufactured and supplied motorcycles to the US Army during both the World wars of the 20th century it all ended in 1953.

Post that the company saw a chequered run in terms of people trying to make unsolicited claims to the brand, trying to set up a consortium to revive the brand, but it wasn’t anything permanent or long term. Finally, in April 2011 Polaris Industries Ltd the off-road and leisure vehicle maker and parent company of Victory Motorcycles announced its intent on acquiring Indian motorcycles. With this move the production facilities were moved to Spirit Lake, Iowa. Production commenced in August 2011. In March of 2013 they unveiled the new Thunder stroke engine and the motorcycles based on that went on sale in August 2013.

In 2014 Indian motorcycles entered the fast-growing premium motorcycle industry in India. And right away one could see that this is a motorcycle which is designed like a vintage piece of art. A motorcycle that harks back to a time gone by when riding a motorcycle was as much of leisure as a discovery of new places and adventures.

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Here’s my story with the Indian Vintage:

It’s not every day one wakes up and rides an almost 400 kg classical cruiser. Well I know lots of friends who do that regularly and that explains the joy they have plastered over their faces.

This happened to me one autumn morning. My first sight of the Indian Chief Vintage was one of awe. It’s such a majestic looking motorcycle which is as regal as they come. Old world charm and style is what this motorcycle signifies. The Indian Chief Vintage’s design is completely retro paying an ode to motorcycles from the 1940’s. Whitewall tyres, teardrop fuel tank, wide floorboards, leather saddlebags embellished with leather fringes add to the classic appeal. A large headlight along with two smaller aux lamps come with a chrome finish. An adjustable windshield also comes on this motorcycle which is extremely useful on long rides. Walk around the bike and you notice how the classic design showcases itself in the fenders, the fuel tank which has heritage font of the iconic “Indian” brand embossed on it.

The instrument panel has an analog speedometer and fuel gauge with a multi-function digital display. The ergonomics are spot on. The controls feel very good, the handlebar falls into position perfectly, the switchgear is top draw with the buttons positioned just right. The leather seat is extremely comfortable with the option of having a backrest to help those long hours in the saddle on cross country road trips. Another nice feature is this bike is keyless ignition. The key just needs to be in your pocket and bag for the bike to start. But the moment you more than 3 metres away this becomes disarmed.

Press the starter and the Thunder Stroke 111 engine comes to life. You get to hear a loud bass and throaty grunt of the 1811 cc V-twin engine that makes 138.9 NM of peak torque at 3000rpm. Now I am a good and experienced rider but that didn’t matter to the Indian. I managed to stall it twice before gathering my senses and getting it to move. The Indian weighs close to 400 kgs which becomes very apparent when you are stationary at signal lights.

The bike has plenty of grunt to accelerate cleanly from lower speeds at a higher gear. You can comfortably amble away at 70kmph in 6th gear on the highway and pass another vehicle without having to downshift. All it takes is a twist of the throttle and the enormous torque comes into play. The engine is very smooth and extremely refined at any speed. Even when you go past 100kmph there is a relaxed sense of comfort due to the stability this bike offers making you confident to push it further.

This is a motorcycle that needs to be ridden on long and empty stretches of highway. The one thing that happened very frequently on my trip to Pune and back is the kind of attention this motorcycle attracts. At rest stops, traffic signal, even while riding on the highway strangers would come up to pose for pictures and ask how much it costs.
Get ready for all this attention and more when you ride the Indian Chief Vintage!
This is by no means a reasonably priced cruiser. At 26.83 lakhs this is a full bodied premium heavyweight cruiser which could be termed as “old-school cool” but still comes with the latest and modern tech.

If riding on weekends in leisure and style is your calling, then the Indian Chief Vintage is the motorcycle for you. So, what you are waiting for. Go test ride it today!

A Drive with Lions

Self drive through the Kruger National Park

Sawubona… or hello in Zulu….

We picked up a brand new Hyundai ix-35 or the now popularly known Hyundai Tucson (recently launched in India) from Avis Rent-a-Car, ZA and could get a manual transmission – petrol version. I was initially a bit apprehensive of the 2.0 ltr engine as I was sure to be doing a lot of climbs around the Blyde Canyon region and wasn’t too sure of the capacity of the engine to manage steep turns. Unfortunately, I wasn’t entirely wrong. Even on the beautiful empty stretches of highway between Nelspruit and Hazyview (a town bordering Kruger), it was a task trying to get the ix-35 to stretch its legs. However, I soon got used to keep the engine revved to the medium range, where there was genuinely smooth cruising and lesser engine noise. I would think that the diesel options would give a far higher power throughput on intended higher speeds. Anyhow, I must compliment Hyundai 100% on the overall design, interiors and internal space in the ix-35. Loads of boot space, great back seat space to stretch out your legs and a very nice seating and console for both the driver and co-passenger. The AV console paired within seconds to my phone, and it was Alanis Morrissett all the way into the wild.

First timers on such self-drives, please try and book your car well before you actually land up in South Africa, because half the traveling world who land up here use self-drives, hence a perpetual scarcity of last minute hires. Also, if you are doing Kruger, you must know that Avis is the only brand having their counter at Skukuza Camp (the main camp in Kruger) as well as the Skukuza airport, right inside the national park. Not that booking through any other brand will lead to any problems, but why take the risk. Budget, recently taken over by Avis also serves the purpose but they have an office outside the main gates.

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Anyhows, getting back to the drive, we made our way to Blyde Canyon through the Panoramic Route, which they say, is one of the most beautiful drives in SA. Lots of interesting stops along the way and if you are even vaguely interested in photography, this drive could be your chance at producing some jaw-dropping landscape photos. God’s Window, the 3 Rondavels, several waterfalls and the beautiful valleys you would pass through, makes up for the tiring 2 hour drive from Nelspruit. We landed up at Blyde Canyon Lodge and were pleasantly surprised to see few zebras grazing just outside our cottage door. We were told that these and few deer and wild boars freely roam the estate and peacefully co-exist with the guests. By then I was really famished, and very wrongly enquired with the hostess, if the zebras were good to eat as well.. much to her alarmed reactions.

Next day, after exploring the region for the entire morning and afternoon, we made our way to the Paul Kruger Gate in Kruger National Park, where all visitors have to pay the daily conservation fee, which serves to upkeep the national park. If you are in Kruger for over a week and are a family of 3+, it makes sense to buy the annual family Wildcard which works out cheaper than daily pass rates. Do the research.. visit http://www.sanparks.org to check such details and also book your accommodation in the various campsites inside Kruger. It is advisable to book the accommodations at least 6-8 months in advance as all inside camps get occupied very fast. The private resorts outside the park are frightfully expensive and also need you to drive for longer periods of time to get to the interiors of the parks.

We had booked a 3 bedroom cottage with kitchen and private toilets. Accomodation with common facilities are more in number and are usually booked by larger groups. The cottages are self-contained and air-conditioned, and are generally maintained quite well, considering you are in the middle of the African bush. We had some baby bats in the room who didn’t disturb us at all but we had to make sure all food items were well covered or locked up. We did have few night visitors as well while having our dinner on the porch, so better keep lights on or keep a torch. I wish we had known how to Braai (barbeque) and as that’s so common in SA, I will surely learn it before my next trip in May this year.

There are 2 ways one can go on game drives in Kruger, one of course is a self-drive (6am to 6pm) and the other, in a camp vehicle for sunset drives or night safaris. My suggestion is to do both, as during the day one can drive around well laid out roads and earmarked tracks and on the camp drives, go into zones which normally are out of bounds to the day drivers. The Big 5 or simply put the main draws of the park are lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard and if you are lucky enough, spotting all of them on a single drive is quite possible, if you plan your routes well. The safaris, on the other hand, come with constant radio updates from other vehicles on lion spottings which are more or less kind of guaranteed viewing. Of all the animals, the elephant turned out to be the most dangerous of them all, and especially if you come face-to-face with a massive male tusker on heat, you better reverse your life out of there before he decides to turn you and your car into blubber. As far as the vehicle goes, I have realized that no matter what people say and what reviews suggest, it is always better to hire a higher vehicle like a SUV or a cross-over like ix-35 as due to the longish grasses across Kruger, it is always better to get a higher viewing point especially while on a self-drive. Also, there are speed limits of 50km/ph on tar and 40 km/ph on gravel roads which are very strictly monitored, so make sure you don’t mess with the laws. The ix-35 ambled along quite well at 50 km/ph on tar on the 4th gear keeping a constant speed at all times, but on gravel, it’s a 3rd gear all the way. Make sure your tires are in good shape as getting off the vehicle to change a flat could lead to a very satisfying lunch for a predator lurking nearby.

Our drives included many sightings of lions, and their various moods. One special, yet funny incident involved an amorous lioness trying to get the male to respond and since he was in no mood to comply, the entire episode was quite humorous with the lioness trying all sorts of antics for over an hour, till both decided to doze off. We got chased by a bull elephant on musth (heat) and had our heart-stopping moments trying to reverse for over a kilometer till he decided to let us go in peace. We had bush-babies (like small koala bears) peering into our porch and baby pythons crossing our paths (we didn’t wait for mama python to show up). All in all, every drive we took rewarded us with awesome sights, both in form of animals as well as nature. The blood red skies of the African sunsets are to be seen to be believed and the early morning skies are dramatic beyond description.

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Food in Kruger come in 2 forms.. one is from your kitchen in the cottage (supplies either from Hazyview before entering the park, or from the super markets in the main camps which stock just basic stuff), or the restaurants in the main camps which serve buffets and a-la-carte menus. The Mc Donalds of Kruger is the Impala deer and in order to keep their population under control, you would find it on almost every menu in any of their restaurants. A very poor joke by the waiters there is .. “Impala is Fast Food.. coz they run very fast” .. cheezy but understandable.

Kruger has fuel stations in the main camps like Skukuza and Satara in the mid-south region of the park. We have yet to cross Satara Camp as that itself is 2-3 hours away from Skukuza, and knowing that if one is not back before the camp gates close, its a stiff fine straightaway. You will do something like 50-60 km per day if you venture out twice on self-drives so a large tank vehicle always helps reduce trips to the fuel stations.

Our 5 nights in Kruger were spent between Skukuza and Lower Sabie camps, the latter being much nicer but more popular for bookings. The Avis deal included SDCW or Super Cover which included tires, windshield and theft. Tires can get heavily tried on the gravel roads so it makes sense to pay a bit higher on insurance and take the Super Cover. We left the car at the Skukuza airport as we flew back to Johannesburg from there, thus having to pay a one-way charge till Nelspruit, our pick up location. But that was worth it as we saved a lot of time and could get back to OR Tambo International Airport in Jo’berg on time for our return flight.
Before ending this article, I must point out one very important observation. South Africa has always been regarded as a very unsafe country to see on one’s own and news articles keep popping up stating highway robberies and car smash-and-run incidents. We drove around the Western Cape, Garden Route, Mpumalanga, Blyde Canyon and Kruger and never did once feel any threat to our lives or belongings. Needless to say, one needs to be careful by not displaying jewellery or expensive cameras/phones while traveling in remote locations, and if bad luck does lead to a situation, just walk away calmly without feeling the need to act the hero. I am looking forward to visiting this beautiful country again next month with a slightly more varied itinerary and I am happy to help anyone who needs any information on self-drive adventures in SA. Till we meet again on this page.. cheers and “Hamba Kahle” as our friends will wish in Zulu.

 

Living ‘n’ Loving Phuket

Taking a trip across the island of Phuket in Thailand was something I had wanted to do for a very long time. Having done some 20 odd trips across the years, I now fondly consider this jewel of the Andaman, my second hometown. These trips involve potential real estate investors rattling away financial jargon or friends discussing the upcoming bar-hopping night, but the ones where it was just me driving around were the most enjoyable so far.

Travel Tip: Books a Toyota Yaris or another cheaper alternative just one day before landing there. Since the system allots one to you, you will almost always get an upgrade at the counter as the cheapest cars will already be booked (only in a prepaid situation). Talk to agencies like ASAP or Thai Rent-a-Car kind of smaller players as they will go out on a limb to accommodate your requests, unlike the very large brands which don’t really bother if you need any last-minute adjustments.

So, it was the Altis with a 1800CC 1.8VL 16 valve intelligent engine which I was offered. I was driving up the hills of Kathu effortlessly, which on a Yaris felt like being ferried along with a wailing pregnant hog, especially on the climbs.

Though I do own my apartment in Bangtao, an upmarket & expat infested beach area in Phuket, I almost always choose to stay either in Patong or Kata beach areas just for the energy those places bring to you. The bars in expat zones are priced for expats which is exactly what we Indians yearn for. Add some live music to the scene and its akin to Jannat for our desi hearts.

Ok, so apart from my work schedules which usually got over by 3pm or so, I did manage to catch some very local happenings. like Loy Krathong in October last year and the Vegetarian Festival early this year. The Loy Krathong is a prayer offered to the Water Lord to be kind to the crops and keep the nation prosperous always. It’s a complete visual delight to watch beautifully crafted flower arrangements being adorned with colorful candles and being set off into the waters. Some areas like Chiang Mai, up north in Thailand, still allow the lit lanterns to be set off into the sky but the government has realized the safety hazards involved and have decided to ban it in Phuket and surrounding areas.

Now comes my favorite part. The food during the festival. Oh my god, if there was ever a food scarcity in Cambodia or Laos that time of the year, you know where it has all landed up. Fresh seafood, amazing fusion food, deals on drinks everywhere. My favorite has always been the Som Tam Goong, translating to Raw Papaya Salad with Seafood.

 

Depending on how you like your spices or your capacity to handle it, you can get a plate full of aromatic veggies with prawns and squid all over in a spicy sauce that will make you go running towards a Chang or a Tiger beer to wash it down. Romantics are advised to stay away from any PDA (public display of affection) or PLA (post lunch action), as your partner is sure to faint at the over-killing garlicky emotions you would be expressing post such a lunch.

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One of my favorite drives in Phuket is the one from the Airport to Bangtao via Nai Thon beach, avoiding all motorways and through Sirinath National Park, a dense & lush forest where one’s driving skills are tested on every corner. This route demands a stopover at Nai Thon Beach, where the white sands and crystal clear blue water make you feel like surrendering to nature. For those wanting to stay here, there’s upmarket Pullman Resort as well as a very few luxurious serviced apartments here.

Further down towards Bangtao, one would pass Phuket’s most expensive residential zone, namely Trisara Avenue (named after the villas there). The one enters Laguna, a beautifully manicured mega residential and resort zone home to luxurious resorts and smaller residential buildings like the one I own a flat in. Having tracked property prices here for over past 3 years, I have realized that, with upwards of 15% net gains per annum, if there is a place one should invest in the place is Phuket.

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An important tip to remember while driving In Thailand is that honking is severely frowned upon. Our Indian driving license works fine to rent a car as a tourist, but that doesn’t give us the right to blow the horn every two minutes. Lane discipline is quite well adhered to, despite many westerners feeling otherwise. They drive on the same side as us so that makes life simpler. I would highly recommend renting a self-drive car over hiring a tourist vehicle.

You will enjoy the sights more and the flexibility of doing your own thing. If the loud side of Soi Bangla in Patong or the serene beaches of Bangtao and Mai Khao have satiated you enough, take a 3-hour drive to Krabi. Stop by at PhangNga and take a cheap ferry to James Bond island, have some local coffee made by Malaysian immigrants. At 20 baht a cup, iced or hot, it’s the best you will have on the island. Have the ice cream made with fruits on an ice slab. The hot banana or peanut butter pancakes/crepes at a roadside stall. Get a foot massage (while at it, try not falling asleep and snoring). And most importantly take the off-the-beaten roads. Thailand on wheels is one the most beautiful journeys you will take in your life. Enjoy and Khaap Khun Khraap!