HORSES PRANC­ING IN THAI­LAND

Two red Fer­rari 488s and a blue one stretch their legs and clear their throats in gor­geous Chi­ang Rai.

Torque (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

EV­ERY Fer­rari driver has heard this one be­fore: “Car so fast, where can drive?”. Chi­ang Rai is the an­swer in this case. I’m in the pic­turesque north­ern Thai state for a one-day, South­east Asian ver­sion of grand tour­ing.

The air­port trans­fer through Doi Luang Na­tional Park’s ser­pen­tine roads al­ready whets my ap­petite. Here are roads of the type that Pranc­ing Horses were born to gal­lop on.

Tak­ing pride of place on Le Meri­dien Chi­ang Rai Re­sort’s front drive­way are two 488 Spi­der con­vert­ibles and a 488 GTB coupe. I make a bee­line for the Rosso Red drop-top and awaken its tur­bocharged 3.9-litre V8.

In­stantly I re­alise this is not Ger­man. From the sen­sual lack of right an­gles to the sat-nav’s in­sis­tence on call­ing “Un­named” what Google Maps clin­i­cally iden­ti­fies as “Route 1130”, the sense of theatre is pal­pa­ble. Merely pulling out of the carpark onto the main road is a vi­va­cious ex­pe­ri­ence.

I hereby have to re­sist fill­ing this page with a hun­dred words of clichés. Ital­ian. Soul­ful. Pas­sion­ate. Red. All very, very true. Be­lieve the hype – there are cars sim­i­larly fast, but noth­ing tit­il­lates like a Fer­rari. Down­town Chi­ang Rai is a hive of earnest ac­tiv­ity. Abun­dant land means a smor­gas­bord of busi­nesses – me­chan­ics, car­pen­ters, elec­tri­cal shops and the odd cafe – are laid out along the trunk road in build­ings never be­yond three sto­ries, con­nected by a throng­ing as­sort­ment of Hiluxes and mo­tor­bikes.

Ve­hi­cles are in­ge­niously mod­i­fied for a blend of util­ity and per­son­al­i­sa­tion. Put­ter­ing ahead is a scooter laden to the width of a small car, rider mer­rily bask­ing un­der the shade of what looks like a pool­side um­brella af­fixed to his fuel tank. He pays us no heed as we rum­ble past in the three Fer­raris. We are al­lowed through, amidst morn­ing rush hour traf­fic, largely un­mo­lested. Cour­tesy and gen­er­ous com­mon sense are preva­lent

THE PEACE­FUL COUN­TRY­SIDE REVERBERATES WITH THE SHRIEKS OF WAR­RIOR SOULS ERUPT­ING 8000 TIMES PER MINUTE, MULTIPLIED BY 8 GLO­RI­OUS CYLIN­DERS.

here. Honks are rarely heard, and horns are sounded merely to gen­tly re­mind an­other of one’s pres­ence. Traf­fic has a nat­u­ral ebb and flow, and we ob­serve many an over­bur­dened pickup merge lanes with LED-dec­o­rated, Lam­borgh­ini­badged vans with no drama at all.

Cer­tainly, we en­counter no­body con­sumed with a re­newed life pur­pose to show up the man in his red Fer­rari, and de­spite be­ing a con­voy this os­ten­ta­tious, we never feel like we’re one mis­placed wheel away from be­ing vil­i­fied on the In­ter­net.

Of course, the lee­way we’re given may have some­thing to do with the fourth car in our con­voy: a sil­ver Toy­ota po­lice es­cort. Which is great in the busy city, but it does mean we do the moun­tain sec­tions at Camry speed.

This is no or­di­nary sa­loon, mind you – it’s a Camry with lights and sirens, piloted by an of­fi­cer pos­sessed by the spirit of Al­berto As­cari him­self. Still, he must have felt like the pace car driver in an F1 race, his mir­rors reg­u­larly fill­ing up with bright red Fer­rari weav­ing im­pa­tiently. Amongst the dense forestry giv­ing way to plan­ta­tions blan­keted with en­chant­ing dew, I put the Manet­tino to “Race”, trans­mis­sion to man­ual and be­gin ha­rass­ing the lead 488 in earnest.

Ar­row­ing into a corkscrew turn,

DE­SPITE BE­ING A CON­VOY THIS OS­TEN­TA­TIOUS, WE NEVER FEEL LIKE WE’RE ONE MIS­PLACED WHEEL AWAY FROM BE­ING VIL­I­FIED ON THE IN­TER­NET.

one of many on this stun­ning road, the rear wheels scrab­ble play­fully. Try that in Sin­ga­pore, I most def­i­nitely won’t. Much gnash­ing of teeth has oc­curred over even Fer­rari, the bas­tion of at­mo­spheric revs and stir­ring wails, go­ing the in­dus­try route of tur­bos. Econ­omy? These are su­per­cars, for heaven’s sake.

But the ben­e­fits ex­tend be­yond sav­ing fuel. The in­stan­ta­neous boost, de­lib­er­ately cal­i­brated to crescendo like a nat­u­rally as­pi­rated en­gine on steroids, is noth­ing short of breath­tak­ing. That it should oc­cur by tele­pathic link to my right foot is re­mark­able.

As red shift lights dart across the steer­ing wheel, the oth­er­wise peace­ful coun­try­side reverberates with the bale­ful shrieks of trapped war­rior souls erupt­ing 8000 times per minute. Multiplied by 8 glo­ri­ous cylin­ders. You think Fer­raris sound good in Bis­han? Try gun­ning them here.

Lunch is at a Chi­nese restau­rant in Mae Sa­long Nok, a small vil­lage of the Mae Fah Luang District. Speak­ing to the pro­pri­etor in Man­darin while she in­ter­mit­tently at­tends to cus­tomers at the till in flu­ent Thai, it be­comes clear why the Mapo Tofu tastes so au­then­tic.

This district is in­hab­ited by an eclec­tic mix of hill tribe and Chi­nese, de­scen­dants of flee­ing Kuom­intang sol­diers mov­ing south via Myan­mar. Now in their third gen­er­a­tion, they have made tran­quil homes of the ver­dant north­ern Thai moun­tains.

Sul­try as they look and elec­tri­fy­ing ca­pa­ble as they are, the Fer­rari 488s are thinly dis­guised rac­ing ma­chines. They de­mand a healthy re­spect, and the morn­ing has passed with me ut­terly ab­sorbed. Fi­nally, with both my stom­ach and need for speed sated, the Manet­tino goes back to “Sport” (the most neutered set­ting aside from “Wet”) and I take the time to look around at the land­scape. A few short decades ago, the rolling farm­lands of tea, rice, nut, fruit and cof­fee had a rather more sin­gu­lar and ne­far­i­ous crop: opium. Mas­sive in­fras­truc­tural ef­forts by HRH Princess Sri­na­garindra, the cur­rent King’s grand­mother, have trans­formed the lo­cal econ­omy.

To­day, es­tab­lish­ments such as Choui Fong Tea Plan­ta­tion, which houses a bustling and thor­oughly mod­ern tea­house serv­ing lo­cal pro­duce, cater to the tourist dol­lar. The grat­i­tude of the lo­cal pop­u­lace is not hard to de­tect, with bill­boards bear­ing trib­ute to their beloved monar­chy a com­mon sight.

At this point, our Thai hosts of­fer the op­tion to leave the

su­per­cars and take a minibus into the city cen­tre. Traf­fic might be a prob­lem, they warn.

No chance. Never pa­tro­n­ise a Sin­ga­porean’s tol­er­ance for queue­ing – in ve­hi­cle or oth­er­wise. We snatch the keys and roar off to­wards Wat Rong Khun.

Or­di­nar­ily, I would con­sider it slightly rude to rock up at a place of wor­ship in three snort­ing su­per­cars. But this is no or­di­nary tem­ple. And the throngs of tourists seem to agree, many turn­ing their cam­eras away from the main at­trac­tion to shower our cars in snaps. Oth­er­wise known as the White Tem­ple, the cu­ri­ous struc­ture by rene­gade artist Chalerm­chai Kosit­pi­pat is part Haw Par Villa, part child’s imag­i­na­tion, part ac­tual tem­ple. A gang­way flanked by pits of tor­tured souls drowned by masses of dis­em­bod­ied hands lead into the main hall. There, walls are adorned with mu­rals de­pict­ing scenes of strife which in­volve horned deities and mod­ern fic­tional char­ac­ters like Su­per­man and Bum­ble­bee. Yes, the Trans­former.

Still, gen­uine wor­ship­pers kneel pi­ously be­fore a Bud­dha like­ness, as tourists shuf­fle re­spect­fully round the sides. The day ends at Singha Park, where the In­ter­na­tional Bal­loon Fi­esta is be­ing held for the sec­ond year. The event is ex­actly as cute as it sounds. The sight of nu­mer­ous, hi­lar­i­ously bul­bous car­toon char­ac­ters float­ing above a sprawl­ing field at a bril­liant dusk, cheered on by crowds of peo­ple at the bois­ter­ous car­ni­val, is enough to put a huge grin on any­body’s face.

It is time for me to say good­bye to the Fer­rari 488s in Chi­ang Rai. I won­der if I could fly back to Sin­ga­pore in my favourite hot-air bal­loon shaped like Floun­der from The Lit­tle Mer­maid. One can only dream.

JULY 2017

JULY 2017

JULY 2017

Po­lice es­cort in front makes bot­tle­necks less both­er­some for the 1980 Ital­ian horses gal­lop­ing in con­voy.

There are Fer­rari su­per­cars parked right out­side this restau­rant in Mae Sa­long Nok and in­side, too.

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