Singaporean engineer drives Nissan GT-R to Mt Everest base camp and back

At the Everest Base Camp (top), which has a view of Mount Everest; and driving along a flooded road (above). Mr Hoong Kah Chuan at Lhasa's Potala Palace (above), and the 108 bends (left) he drove through to get to the base camp.
At the Everest Base Camp, which has a view of Mount Everest; and driving along a flooded road.PHOTOS: HOONG KAH CHUAN, LHAKPA TENZING
At the Everest Base Camp (top), which has a view of Mount Everest; and driving along a flooded road (above). Mr Hoong Kah Chuan at Lhasa's Potala Palace (above), and the 108 bends (left) he drove through to get to the base camp.
Mr Hoong Kah Chuan at Lhasa's Potala Palace, and the 108 bends he drove through to get to the base camp.
At the Everest Base Camp (top), which has a view of Mount Everest; and driving along a flooded road (above). Mr Hoong Kah Chuan at Lhasa's Potala Palace (above), and the 108 bends (left) he drove through to get to the base camp.
Mr Hoong Kah Chuan at Lhasa's Potala Palace,and the 108 bends he drove through to get to the base camp.

Engineer and businessman Hoong Kah Chuan drove his Nissan GT-R to Everest Base Camp and back

The Nissan GT-R is a hardcore tarmac warrior honed for speed and serious track work.

But 59-year-old engineer Hoong Kah Chuan has seen it fit to drive it off-road - all the way to the Everest Base Camp in Tibet and back.

The 7,000km odyssey, which culminated at more than 5,000m above sea level, literally took Godzilla - a nickname coined for the Japanese monster car known for defeating more rarefied cars - to new heights.

Mr Hoong, who owns a hydraulics engineering services business, says: "Nissan claims the GT-R is a supercar that can be driven by anyone, any time, anywhere. I thought I would put the last attribute to the test by driving it to the roof of the world. It's more challenging than driving an SUV or a hardcore 4x4 off-road vehicle."

During the overland adventure, the 2008 GT-R acted up only once. It was in Tibet and temperatures had plunged to minus 11 deg C and the radiator clogged, which led to the engine overheating.

Mr Hoong had used an anti- freeze bought in Singapore, which was rated for temperatures as low as minus 5 deg C.


At the Everest Base Camp, which has a view of Mount Everest; and driving along a flooded road.

He stopped the car to check the undercarriage to make sure no hose had given way. Determining that it was a frozen thermostat, he decided to truck the car to the nearest town, but while waiting, the thermostat thawed out and he was able to carry on. In town, he replaced the coolant with a local version that could withstand minus 35 deg C.

"Working under the car to remove the floor pan at minus 11 deg C was no fun when your fingers get wet," Mr Hoong recalls. "Even the PVC floor mat I brought along to lie on was hard as rock."

To ensure the high-performance Nissan could run on lower-octane fuels, he installed a gadget which altered the engine mapping, so that it could accept 93RON petrol. 97RON petrol, which the GT-R prefers, is not available in remote parts.

He also changed to bigger high- profile tyres and removed the front spoiler lip to improve ground clearance for unpaved stretches of the journey.

At the same time, he installed metal plates and steel bars to protect the undercarriage. As it turned out, the supercar negotiated gravel trails, rutted roads with big potholes and flooded areas without a hitch. It even went off-road at one point.

This was when Mr Hoong - married with two children in their 30s - found himself stuck in a massive jam on a Tibetan single-lane dual carriageway, which was blocked because of an accident.

With hundreds of trucks in front of him and night approaching, he decided to do some queue-jumping by going off-road.

The road was raised, with slippery embankments on either side. Getting stranded on the unpaved portion was a real possibility.

Nevertheless, the all-wheel-drive GT-R managed to mimic a Land Rover Defender and got close to the start of the crawling convoy.

"Some trucks tried to do the same and were stuck," Mr Hoong says.

His Mad Max-style journey started on Oct 2, when he joined an Automobile Association of Singapore driving holiday to China.

They parted ways in Shangri-la, Yunnan, and Mr Hoong drove to Everest Base Camp (North). Accompanied by a Tibetan guide, he arrived on Oct 24.

"The bad roads are always memorable," he says. "I'll never forget the moment when I came to a steel bridge on the way to Basu (in Tibet Autonomous Region).

The approach was so steep that my heart skipped several beats.

"I told my Tibetan guide 'I think it's game over.'"

Miraculously, he managed to clear it with a "very slow" oblique approach.

Then, there was the time he came across a completely flooded road.

"It's like a pond of muddy water, so you don't know what lurks below," he recalls. "I had to pull aside and observe several trucks, SUVs and pick-ups go through first before choosing the best route for my car."

With several more encounters with challenging terrain, he gained confidence and could drive the low-slung GT-R "like a (Toyota) Land Cruiser".

The scenery was amazing. "The first sighting of Mount Everest was very exciting," he says. But "the best moment" was reaching the base camp and seeing "the mother of all mountains at the closest distance possible".

Many people he met along the way were astounded by the sight of Godzilla in the wilderness.

"A group of monks jumped out from their cars on a remote mountain road to take pictures with my car," he says with a laugh.

The grandfather of one even managed to do some social work. "It was memorable to distribute some rice, biscuits and cooking oil to remote villages and a nunnery in Tibet and Laos," he says.

He arrived back in Singapore on Nov 13, having clocked 16,000km and used up some 2,600 litres of fuel.

Washed, stripped of stickers and reverted to its original state, the GT-R looked no worse for wear in the carpark.

"This car is actually quite bullet- proof," says Mr Hoong, who owned a Mitsubishi Evo previously.

He reveals that he is not new to long drives, having circumnavigated the United States and parts of Canada in his student days. And in Australia, with wife and young children in tow, he went from Geelong to Brisbane - a distance of more than 1,700km - at one go.

"All you need is passion and a sense of adventure," he says.


Conquering Everest in a Nissan GT-R

Mr Hoong Kah Chuan was not the first Singaporean to scale the roof of the world on wheels.

Two years ago, 10 people on nine motorcycles, including a woman pillion rider, rode all the way from Singapore to Kathmandu in Nepal. 

Along the way, they met a group of Singaporean drivers who had just driven to a lookout point 50km from Everest Base Camp (the camp itself was closed then because of a recent accident).

Read about the riders' adventure on their blog (bit.ly/2gm466r)

Mr Hoong says it was their trip which inspired him.

While he was not the first to do it, he is likely the first to do it in a Nissan GT-R.

Correction note: The story has been edited for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2016, with the headline 'Wet, rocky road to Tibet'. Print Edition | Subscribe