Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Driving a campervan

People visiting Australia and NZ are presented with the opportunity to take advantage of the the availability of rental campervan there. Indeed it is a great to see the country there while having your own mobile accommodation. However for most Malaysia or Singaporeans who have never had any driving experience with  vehicle like campervan, there are certain risks. If your are planning for self drive holiday with a campervan, it is important to know how to do it properly with the lowest possible risk. Some people asked me, "how is it like to drive a campervan ?".

The short answer is, "it is just like driving a family car, just bigger and heavier".

As for the long answer, it can broken down in the following points:
  1. A campervan is heavier. As you can imagine, a campervan is practically a small house on wheels. Before you even load it with your luggage and passengers, it is already weighed down with the body structure designed to provide all the amenities for living. The water tank, sanitary system, fridge, site aircon, cooking equipment and generator adds a lot of mass to the chassis. As such, the braking distance will be longer, the steering response will be more sluggish. Basically, your can't accelerate in a hurry, your can't stop in a hurry and you can't turn in a hurry. Many first time campervan drivers come to grief because they found themselves caught out by the unfamiliar mass and weight of their rental vehicle. Mentally, you will have to plan ahead for all the emergency maneuvers, anticipating bad drivings and mistakes from other road users is a must as well.
  2. Take some time to understand the weight distribution of the campervan. Take note of where the water tanks is located. Water is heavy, a full tank or an empty tank may affect the handling of the vehicle. If possible, test drive it with a full water tank and again with an empty tank. If the camper is equipped with waste water tanks, transfer the water from clean water tank to waste tank to get yourself familiar with the effect of the weight shift.
  3. Effect of cross wind. Campervans are usually taller and longer compared to family cars and they are more susceptible to the effect of cross wind. You may find yourself having to steer to counter the effect of cross wind even when you are on a straight road. When a heavy vehicle like a bus or lorry is overtaking from behind, your will feel the advanced air wave from them pushing your camper to the side even before passing you. Stay vigilant and stay alert, leave the sight seeing to your passengers, you must be totally switched on at all time.
  4. Be aware of the height of the vehicle at all time! Places where you can get into with a family car may not apply to a campervan! Always ask yourself, "is there enough height clearance for me?"
  5. We like to pick the best spot to park the campervan at the campsite. The ground surface may be soft or slippery, campervans are heavy and their tyres are designed for load carrying, not traction on soft ground. I have seen first time campervan drivers getting themselves stuck in sand or soft ground which would otherwise give no trouble to a 4WD of even a family car. Check the surface before driving on it, if you are uncertain about it, choose other spot.
  6. Check the condition of the tyres, ensure that they are correctly inflated. Rental campervans in Australia and NZ are usually in excellent condition, but it won't hurt if you pay some extra attention. 
That is probably all that you need to observe for a safe campervan trip!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Easy campervan conversion with shoestring budget

Campervan is uncommon in Malaysia, importing one can also be prohibitively expensive and it is usually restricted to corporate sector for special purposes or the very rich who has taste for this sort of life style. For the rest of us, conversion from a standard van is probably the most realistic option, the trick is doing it on a budget and without having to get JPJ approval.

I found a few example in a van enthusiasts web site where the members did just that. Using common house furniture and very little carpentry/metal works, they managed to create very impressive results with a down to earth budget.

Using a camping bed and some small shelves, this van owner  transform his standard van into a homely camper

Another example of minimal carpentry works with impressive result
Another view of the same van above

Using a standard Ikea sofa bed, and shelves this van provide a comfortable seating for day configuration and a full size double bed for night!

Below is a more elaborate conversion example, it is still a simple conversion with no structural or seating changes. The end result is a very versatile camper where all the camping components can be removed to free up space for daily use. When it is time of road trip, the washing sink and stove cabinet be easily installed. What impressed me is the use of platform system to create a flat sleeping surface. 
The washing sink and stove cabinet and folded sleeping platforms.

With the seats folded flat, the platform can deployed to create a flat and comfortable sleeping surface

The sleeping platform fully deployed

The stove cabinet is a self contained unit, with a portable stove, clean water tank and waste water tank to complete the closed circuit plumbing

The camper conversion example below adopts a modules concept. The stove, the washing sink, other storage compartments are made of identical size modular boxes. This may not be a fully fledged camper but it will useful for day trips and picnic outing.
The collapsible water is usually stored in one of the modular box, so is the sink
Like the sink, the stove is a simple camping stove with aluminium heat shield propped up for use. When on the move, they are stored in their modular box.
Storage for other stuff

The bed don't look like it can support an adult, probably for small children only. I believe this concept is borrowed from VW Westfalia's child bunk design, which also make use of the space at the driver's cab

A small television for entertainment, but I think a sun shade DVD player is probably a better alternative

When on the move, everything is neatly stowed away

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Cameron Highland revisited

It is school break, so I took my family to our favourite holiday destination for a 2 nights campervan outing. Our last visit to Cameron Highland with the campervan was a overnight stopover during our road trip, so this time I decided to stay 2 nights there to just enjoy the cool air there without any hurry, after all there's no booking, no check in or check out time to worry about.

We took the Simpang Pulai entry to reach Cameron Highland
Coming from KL, it is a longer way to reach the highland instead of the Tapah entry point. However the reward is great vista such as this.

The road is wider and less winding compared to the old Tapah entry
We reached our camping site at the Tanah Rata forest park just in time to catch the last sun ray of the day. In real live, the scene was simply amazing, my simple camera and rudimentary photography skill does not do justice to the actual view.
The forest park is tucked away between Tanah Rata town and Kampung Sedia and few tourist know about this place, so we actually had the whole park to ourselves. The building is the entrance to what was planned to be a bird park, however the project ran out of money and the almost completed building was left idle.

I am glad that I brought along a garden canopy to provide some extra shelter because it rained continuously for the next 48 hours not long after this picture was taken!

The blue sky looks clear, but in a few minutes rain clouds swooped in and it rained incessantly.

Among the derelict Landrovers,  I found an ex-police Iveco 4wd vehicle and I have never seen any of these in their operational state. If it can be converted into a camper it would be a great overlander!

It has long wheel base and high roof, for a while I have vision of driving it across the vast grass land of central Asia or through the narrow passes at Himalayan ranges.Being a special police vehicle, the mileage is very low and the mechanical parts are hardly used, however the body is in a terrible state with rust every where. For now, it sits there, waiting for someone to rescue it.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Campervan in Thailand

Given that local campervan builders are practically non-existent in Malaysia ( except for a few conversion done on ad-hoc basis ) it is surprising that our Asean neighbour Thailand actually has a company that builds campervan from new chassis and sell them as series production models. A company called Siam Motor Home Co.,Ltd. with employs around 80 people has two campervan models in their line up, Vega and Terra. Vega is the larger model based on the Isuzu truck chassis, Terra is the smaller model based on Toyata Hilux pickup truck. The company said that their campers are built using New Zealand design, components, manufacturing technique, and both has the all important appliance for tropical climate, aircon.Under the AFTA agreement I woner how much it will cost to import them into Malaysia.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bus campers in Malaysia

Bus based RV have the advantage of a space and stand up headroom, it also has the advantage of sturdiness as the chassis is designed for heavy load. There lots of examples bus conversion in other countries, but here in Malaysia such conversion is rare. However I noticed that recently there is a proliferation of bus campers on sale in Mudah.my, this has to be good news for people looking for such RV in Malaysia!

Bus RV 1
Nice cosy looking interior
This RV is based on a long body mini bus

Bus RV 2
Not much is known about this bus RV, but it seems like an imported unit from Japan. From the looks of the doors and windows it looks like purposed built camper rather than a conversion.

Bus RV 3
Not really a RV. This bus used to be a mobile library, it now converted into a mobile studio for on location movie shooting.
The retractable awning and strip curtain is useful for keeping the sun out and aircon interior cool!
The interior is not built for living in, but , it should be relatively easy to add in sleeping berths or even a shower/toilet with some minor alteration

Bus RV 4
Another mini bus based RV. From the presence of the roo bars, this looks like an Australian conversion
This is a very nicely done interior with permanent sleeping berths. This mean there are places to sit down even when someone is sleeping!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ford Devon Discovery motorhome

Recently spotted on Mudah.my is this Ford Devon Discovery motorhome. From the photo it looks like it is in a very bad shape, probably not in a road worthy condition. However it is always interesting to see motorhome in Malaysia with local registration plate. From what I observed, east Malaysia seems to have it fair share of campervan or motorhome advertised for sale. How does a Kuching plate vehicle ended up in the peninsular?

Tyres are flat and the front bumper is off
The license plate indicate that the camper is not that old, age wise.

The Ford Devon Discovery is based on a short wheel base Ford Transit van. It is designed to seat 4 adults but accommodate only 2 sleeping berth in night configuration. It has a shower/toilet and cook top and washing basin which are accessible even when the sleeping berth are fully deployed. I have not have a chance to see the camper's interior so I just found other Ford Devon Discovery pictures which are obviously in a happier state.

Perhaps someone which the time and skill may be even want to convert one in Malaysia. There are no shortage of Ford Transit in Malaysia but they are mostly of the medium height roof variety, save for a few ex-ambulances, however it should be easy to get fiberglass fabricators who make custom body kits to build the high top ( there is one in Subang USJ ). Like many European originated RVs, this is not built for tropical climate and there is no air conditioner for site use (eg. Dometic type ), it may be a nice to have item in temperate climate but in tropical country like Malaysia it is a must have. I have known RV or campervan owners who have imported their campers privately at great cost, only to find out that they can't sleep comfortably in it.

The toilet/bathroom. From the look it must have a built in black water tank.
The two front seats fold down flat to form the sleeping berths.
The back half is taken up by the kitchen and bathroom. It seems to have a power invertor / convertor management unit.
Two back seats