GETTING THE NECESSARY APPROVALS
1. The paper work necessary to drive one's car from one country to another in our region is somewhat less developed, resulting in inconsistent practices and onerous regulatory compliance in some instances; not always customer friendly. This is really because driving holidays is still an immature sector of the tourism industry in the region. Few people take their car and drive from one country to another, touring the region. If any, people would mostly just drive to the immediate neighbouring country, eg. Singaporeans driving to Malaysia, or Thais driving to Cambodia. It reflects the level of affluence of the region, eg. as compared to Europe or Australia; but as the region develops, this form of holidays will become more prevalent, as it provides a different experience for the travellers.
2. I started meeting with officials of some ASEAN Embassies here from early March to find out what are the necessary steps to take to allow me to tour their countries in my car. Overall, they were supportive and helpful, and enthusiastic about my plan. Cambodian Embassy said that they had handled organised car rallies but never had such a request of 1-2 cars before and they would clarify with its government. They said that the officials at the border crossing points are likely to be unfamiliar with the procedures and it is better to have a letter from its government or Embassy to facilitate my entry to Cambodia. Lao Embassy expressed similar sentiment.
3. It is interesting to note that, Liliana and Emil Schmid, the Swiss couple who have been travelling round the world for some 24 years in their Toyota Land Cruiser, had a trouble-free experience at the border crossing into Lao. They said in the website, "Contrary to all predictions, our passports and Carnet de Passages are stamped with any signs of corruption straight forward".
4. To date, thanks to the assistance of Lao and Cambodian officials in Singapore, I had received facilitation letters from the Lao and Cambodia Embassies.
5. Procedure and compliance requirements for Vietnam, Mynamar and China are onerous. According to Eviva Tour Vietnam, the travel agent handling our application for our car to travel in Vietnam, our application is currently on the desk of the Premier office for his approval. For the application, other than the necessary details of the car, the government also requires a detailed day by day itinerary for the journey in Vietnam (given the nature of our trip, we rather want to keep our itinerary flexible). We also need to specify the points of entry and exit; once approved they cannot be changed.
6. In addition, we will be required to have a tour guide following us throughout our stay in Vietnam. To save costs, we plan to have the guide seats in our car. Squeezy, but tolerable. Overall cost for getting the car permit for a 3 weeks travel in Vietnam would amount to more than US$2500; US$2000 for getting the car permit, slightly more than US$30 daily rate charge for the tour guide and US$25 for the necessary car insurance. Cost, of course, on a per car basis will be lower if there are more cars. With the assistance of the Vietnamese official in Singapore, we had received the facilitation letter from the Vietnam Embassy here, but we are still waiting for news from Eviva Tours for the formal approval letter of our application.
7. According to CTS Club Beijing, which is helping us with our planned driving holiday in Southern China, "self drive travel can only be handled by special licensed travel agent. There are a lot of work involved with a lot of man-hour attached, hence it is highly labour-intensive, and the workload and procedures are not as easy as what the ordinary people expected. Various documentations are required to be sent to multiple levels of government department/agency (especially the cities/province intended to be visited by the group) for approval".
8. Time needed for the application is normally 3 months, travel agent will charge an estimated cost of RMB 35,000 to 40,000 (US$5-6000) to do the pre-trip documentations and process the application. Although PRC is a Carnet country, we understand that there is still a need for a compulsory vehicle deposit paid to the customs. This is to ensure that the owner would not “smuggle” the car into China and dispose it off along the journey. At the estimated commercial value of the car, this deposit will be reimbursed upon disembarkation; about S$60,000 in my case.
9. In addition, an appointed vehicle and travel guide are required to follow the group (even if it is only one car like me) on the road and all the expenses including food and lodging are to be borne by the travellers.
10. Given the high cost and the long application time, we decided to leave the trip to China to a later time.
11. Requirements for Myanmar are no less onerous and have taken long time. We were told that an application for a self drive holiday will need Cabinet's approval. We expect that approval will not come so soon; quite undestandably given their deep concern over security.
12. Procedure for crossing into Thailand is more straight forward. What we need is the Carnet, insurance coverage (which can be bought at the Gurun service station (travelling along the N-S highway in Pennisular Malaysia) just before the border crossing or at the many outlets at the border crossing, and the completed manifest. Insurance coverage for Singapore cars would generally only cover up to 50 km into the Thailand/Malaysia border. Separate insurance would have to be bought for travels beyond. In a recent car rally to Hatyai, I paid 14 Ringgits for a 2 day coverage. Separate insurance would have to be considered for the other countries, as with the case in Vietnam, including whether its for third parties coverage or for own car as well.
13. A few words on The Carnet de Passages. This is a customs document that identifies a driver's motor vehicle. There are more than 160 countries which are parties to the Carnet agreement. These countries will facilitate travel in and out of the country without imposing customs duty if the car carries a Carnet document. This is really an anti-smuggling measure. In Singapore, AA is the authority issuing Carnet. Cost is $107, document is valid for one year, after giving a cheque for 80% of the commercial value of the car. A banker guarantee is also acceptable. Given the current low interest environment I gave a cheque of S$60 000 to AA. I will get this back when I return with my car. Process is efficient, and I got my Carnet in days.
14. Less Vietnam's approval, documentation wise, we are all set to go. Eviva Tour Vietnam assured us that we will get our approval in due course. Our plan is to proceed with the ASEAN on Wheels journey on 27 Apr as planned, and we can always collect the documents in Vientiane or Phnom Penh at our Singapore Embassies there.
15. Considerable amount of work had gone in over the last 2 months, working with the embassies and the travel agents, to get the necessary approvals. We are grateful for the support rendered by the various ASEAN Embassies here. We are also indebted to Quek Bee Lan, who in her own personal capacity, had rendered many hours of her our own time to help with the facilitation and applications.
16. Overall, there is scope to significantly simplify and harmonise the procedures for self drive holidays in the region. They are good examples around the world that we can study and adopt. Such efforts will facilitate travel in the region, help integration and encourage people to people exchanges and grow tourism.
17. Also, I found little information in the web that facilitates self drive holidays in the region.