Rather than just reading reports or official notifications about the status of the Singkhon Border Crossing, we were presented with the perfect opportunity to check out the current reality with a test drive of the latest Ford EcoSport to the border.
The opening of this Singkhon Border Crossing as a major point of transit between Thailand and Myanmar is eagerly awaited as an important development in the process of connecting Myanmar with the rest of the ASEAN world. It’s apparent from the number of speculative media reports that that many are eagerly keeping their eye on any progress. The feeling in the air at the small, dusty market scene at the border is one of anticipation. Improvements and expansion of the market buildings and infrastructure seems cautious. It’s happening, but hesitant and really awaiting an official inter-government announcement of the green light to be absolutely sure.
Naïve questions to border officials were greeted with bemusement, they have been asked a thousand times before and until someone on high lets them know, no comment or speculations about the future way they will do business are worth them considering. The bottom line is that only Thai or Myanmar citizens can now legally make a short term crossing. Local and Provincial governments can only lobby for an early positive inter-government announcement. We were feeling self-conscious driving the all new ‘Mars Red’ (more like a ‘burnt orange’) EcoSport with a ‘Test Car’ banner across the windscreen.
Rather exotic amongst the less salubrious commercial vehicles checking out the market wares and the occasional busload of shoppers. The looks on the painted faces of the Burmese stall holders was one of “where do you think you are going?” Maybe asking the silly question about whether we could drive across the border (No!) was not such a good idea, we weren’t really thinking of taking the test vehicle out of the country! However when the time comes, the Ford EcoSport will be the ideal vehicle for a trip into Myanmar and the prospects of exploring the Andaman islands and western coast of the peninsular.
The market itself was a little underwhelming. Stalls were dominated by those selling a variety of ‘gemstones’, low grade jewelry, wooden furniture and dubious cosmetics. The plant nurseries seemed more promising with orchids and other board-mounted epiphytic plants being prominent.
Is it worth the drive for market shopping? We would say not yet! The road through Pranburi and beyond is not good with a Pranburi by-pass already an urgent requirement. Multiple intersections with traffic lights through the city centre lead to lengthy delays with nose to tail traffic regardless of the day or time. Once the traffic becomes ‘strangled’ as the two main north-south routes become one, the road surface deteriorates and the need to negotiate heavily laden trucks lumbering down the highway becomes painful.
There are some serious infrastructure questions to be addressed before the border crossing becomes a reality and traffic volume becomes overwhelming. The good news was the EcoSport manages the current conditions in its stride. A solid continental, European feel thanks to the high-strength boron steel body and mechanicals translates to a ride without the jolts and jars being experienced by others and more protection for the car’s occupants.
Time spent in a calm, spacious and comfortable interior passes quickly and the 100 kilometre journey from Hua Hin to Singkhon was a breeze. A smooth six-speed PowerShift automatic transmission suffers no loss of power between changes. Quick downshifting when overtaking 10-wheel trucks or managing hilly terrain, sweet steering and the slightly stiff suspension made this a fun car to drive. My only problem was remembering the indicator stalk was on the left of the steering column, it’s a bit embarrassing when the windscreen wipers are mistakenly used to signal a lane change!