Sixty-six people from 12 nations are powering their way from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta to Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, in a race against time, mechanical breakdown and climactic extremes — using Asia’s ubiquitous auto rickshaws.
The rickshaw rally, organised by the secretariat of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and a UK-based global adventure company, aims to raise money for charity and show that the region’s diverse nations are connected.
The three-wheeled vehicles, each with a half-horsepower engine, set off from Jakarta on Sunday, headed first for Sumatra island. After crossing the Straits of Malacca to Malaysia’s Penang, they will travel to Satun in Thailandand then to the goal in Bangkok — a distance of some 3,000 km (1,864 miles).
The race is scheduled to end on Oct 30.
Some participants were already concerned about the dependability of their unorthodox vehicles, an inexpensive transport mainstay in many Asian nations sometimes known as “tuk-tuks” — but one not particularly famous for travelling long distances.
“At first I thought yeah, yeah, no problem, but after sort of taking it for a drive yesterday…I think two of the other teams are already breaking down with the test drive and I’m thinking okay, that’s lowering the chances a lot,” Mark Poot from Australia told Reuters Television ahead of the race.
But ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan reassured the participants that they could make it to the finish line.
“We have been guaranteed by the manufacturers in Solo (Indonesia) that they would make it to Bangkok,” he said at a ceremony ahead of the start.
“The purpose of the rickshaw run or rally is to demonstrate to the ASEAN people and the people of the world that ASEAN is indeed connected.”
Pitsuwan was also sure that the racing teams will have no trouble reaching Bangkok despite heavy flooding around the city, and the participants themselves were determined.
“We will make it, even if we push it we will get there,” Poot said.
ASEAN is trying to improve transport connections in the vast region, as well as cultural and economic links, ahead of a planned single trading market that would encompass some 500 million people.
The group comprises Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei and the Philippines. (Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)