A Ridiculous Road Trip To Thailand
1,212KMs. 3 days 2 nights. Kuala Lumpur to Thailand. A really crazy road trip….
What an adventure it was! I can assuredly say now that it was the mother of all road trips for me. At first it sounded like an unbelievably crazy idea. Crazy and silly at the same time because as far as I know only super-bikers do such road travel. The miles were crazy, the timing was crazy, everything seemed crazy BUT we made it. We set our mind and went ahead with the absurd plan. Reason? I really wanted to get away again. Wanderlust in me was itching big time and I just had to travel somewhere. So, when I heard the plan, I jumped at it even though I kept hearing a distant NOOOOO. It was too late to book any ticket or room any where nearby. No thanks to the Chinese New Year break, everything and everywhere seemed pricey and full. And so, just like that, on Thursday night I packed my bag and on Friday morning we were on the road! Out on an amazingly mad road trip.
The actual route planned was even crazier and longer but what we actually managed was this:
Pengkalan Hulu, Perak-Thailand Border Town
Sadao – Dannok, Thailand
Padang Besar, Perlis-Thailand Border town
Back to Kuala Lumpur
We spent about RM2k for the 3 days driving, food and accommodation. The hours on the road, well that… I couldn’t even keep track. Once back in Malaysia, the traffic was just massive (we knew it would be, yes, crazy plan as I said earlier!).
So we were supposed to start at 5am and of course that never happened. We eventually started the journey around 7 in the morning. Driving up to the Perak-Thailand Border, Pengkalan Hulu was no issues at all. No traffic at all as we were fearing and anticipating before the journey. So everything was roses on day 1. Just remember to get your vehicle’s grant photocopy verified at a police station before entering Thailand. I did for mine at the Pengkalan Hulu Police Station which is about 30 minutes away from the border Immigration check point. Once there, make sure you park your car outside the immigration complex, on the Malaysian side of the road, as you need to get down to get your passport stamped at the Thailand immigration counters. They do not have the drive through lanes available. You will have to fill up the usual Arrival Card, a conveyance form declaring details of the vehicle and its owner and pay RM2 per person. You also need to pay RM5 as insurance fee.
I was quite determined to drive straight to some hotels to sort out our accommodation for the first night. Yes, I know, even crazier than the miles is the fact that we took the risk of not securing a place to stay for the night! So, quite understandably I was adamant on getting that sorted out and to our relief we managed to get a room at the fairly decent Grand Mandarin Betong Hotel. After checking-in and refreshing ourselves, we headed for a drive around the town and ended up entering the Mongkolit Tunnel to a nearby park. We then drove around and wanted to see if we could make it in time to reach the Piyamit Tunnel. We managed to get there just in time as the ticket counter was about to close. We were among the last to get in. The entrance fee is RM7.50, oh btw, Ringgit is still acceptable at Betong. I would say a trip to Piyamit Tunnel is a must if you are in Betong. I mean generally there are not that many activities in this small town, so this cool attraction is a not-to-be-missed. You can have a feel of the ‘tunnel life’ by walking into the series of tunnel modified for tourists. The other main attraction is the amazing Millennium tree. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any tree that tall and thin, almost resembling a lanky man standing with his legs wide apart. It will take you about 10-15 minutes to get to the tunnel but it’s a worthwhile hike up. I almost forgot! Do not miss trying out the sweet pineapple sold outside the entrance. It was the best pineapple I’ve ever tried in my entire life.
It was getting dark so after a quick walk around the park near the tunnel entrance, we started our drive back to the hotel. We were quite happy and content to have made it to the tunnel the same day we drove in Betong as we can move on to our other plans for the day. Otherwise, we would have to fit it in the next day’s plan and that would have disturbed everything else. We then got back to our hotel. After a short rest we headed for dinner. We went straight to this seafood place that was highly recommended called the Seafood Bank. It did turn out to be a place with good food. I especially enjoyed the sugarcane juice and the omelette. By the time we were back home, we were exhausted but how can I go to sleep without having done the biggest MUSTdo in my travels, especially in the land where I love it the most! So I went down again to find a good massage parlor and enjoyed a great massage. Pure bliss!
So day 2 was eagerly welcomed since we planned to drive further in Thailand and get to the other border town, Sadao-Dannok which is nearby to two Malaysian borders, Padang Besar (Perlis) and Bukit Kayu Hitam (Kedah). We wanted to try out the much-hyped Yu Cha Kui in the old Chinese coffee shop in Betong before we left Betong. Unfortunately, we reached just a little too late as the lady who makes the Cha Kui had just finished selling it all for the day. So we ended up eating the Char Kway Teow and half boiled eggs. We also had the Mango sticky rice bought at a stall just outside our hotel road. I had a quick shopping break and got a nice comfy rubber slipper for myself. We then started driving and headed to the popular (amongst Malaysians, especially Indians guys) Jantarat temple along the ‘Betong heading to Yala road’. Here you can pray to Buddha and other Gods including Lord Shiva and Ganesha. You can also buy firecrackers and lit-it up at the open space in front of the temple to chase away bad luck. The other famous thing to do here is what locals call ‘mandi bunga’ to bring good luck. After spending about an hour here we left to Yala town. Along the way we were mind-blown with the gorgeous scenery waiting for us. The sight of the stretch of waters of the Bang Lam Dam accompanied us in the most energizing way. We stopped twice to get some nice shots of the dam and to buy some coconut shake drinks. We reached Yala shortly after but we didn’t stop for lunch there. We decided to drive ahead as all we saw were crowded place and stalls selling clothes and the other usual stuff. Then we reached a stage where there was a hiccup in our trip! We had to pour petrol somewhere along the road towards Sadao-Dannok. We did not change our Malaysian money to Thai Bhat thinking it would still be acceptable! They do accept RM at the border towns, Betong and Sadao-Dannok itself but we overlooked the fact that we will be passing quite a massive length in between these two border towns. They didn’t want to accept our RM in the petrol station (which was located somewhere in between this two border towns & which I understand was somewhere about 1 hour away from our next destination, the next border town, Sadao-Dannok). After nearly half-an-hour of trying to look for a money changer at the nearby Tesco and another shopping mall, a kind-hearted lady working at the 7-Eleven at the petrol station finally helped us. She offered to call her boss who could help us to change the money for us. After waiting for about another half-an-hour, we finally got the money changed and filled up my car. Well, it was a good lesson learnt! This is how you truly learn and remember. It’s also what makes a good exciting story when you re-tell your experiences! It took us about an hour or so to finally reach the town. As usual, the first thing to sort our was our accommodation for the night. Sadao-Dannok is a much happening and booming town compared to Betong. There were plenty of hotels around and some fairly new ones opened too. We decided to stay at the Vista Hotel. A rather new hotel which offered reasonable rates for large rooms and fine facilities. It’s really near to the stretch of shopping area and the restaurants as well as Tesco and the popular new attraction Asian Cultural Village. Our next stop after checking in is to get some delectable food for dinner. We decided to try out the authentic Muslim-Thai food and got a good meal deal at a restaurant opposite our hotel. The food was really delicious and cheap. We then made our way to the Asian Cultural Village. This is a great place where you can find something for everyone in the family. Dinosaur parks for the kids, colorful temples, happening night-life stretch with plenty of night clubs and pubs. There was also a huge surprise waiting for us. One of the road led to this amazing Buddhist temple/hall which had a big Ganesha on its top level. What an incredible sight it was. I mean, the largest Ganesha I’ve ever seen and that too not in my own country or in India were Hinduism was born, but in Thailand. Thailand is really a magical land. It never fails to amaze me. Really! Of course we had to go in and slowly take in the majestic sight that we just witnessed. We spent about 20-30 minutes here. By the time we were done the temple was also closing as it was quite late in the night. As they say, time flies when you are having fun. We headed back to the hotel and another pleasant surprise was waiting for me. The hotel staff who took care of us when we checked-in earlier told me he’s arranging for a room massage and that just made my day a whole lot better. Happier. Joy with contentment after the massage. My masseuse who’s been doing this for the past 20 years turned out to be the best masseuse ever. She was just too good. She knew exactly which nerves and troubles I had. If I’m rich, without a doubt I’ll hire her as my personal masseuse and bring her back with me to my place. lol… really, she was that good.
So, I knew at the back of my head that the most insane tiring day is awaiting us as we have to do the dreaded driving back to KL amidst the epic traffic. I still had one more place to go to before that though so we set our mighty Waze again to guide us to the Waterview Restaurant. It was about 15 minutes drive from the town where we stayed. An adventurous drive through little lanes heading towards what seemed like a jungle. I was a little worried at first thinking Waze was at it again and was leading us to the wrong direction. A little over a minute later I saw the entrance to the restaurant and the lake water itself to my relief. What a gorgeous hidden gem this place is. We didn’t eat here as it was still very much early for lunch but we made sure to sit at the carefully built floating huts and looked at the menu and take some good shots of the place. The variety of the authentic Thailand dishes they had itself made me dizzy and it all looked so yummy. I saw a group at the next hut getting their food by boat delivery from the chef and that was indeed an awesome sight. It does make the whole eating experience that much more memorable and interesting. We left quickly as we had a long day ahead. We decided to exit Thailand using the Padang Besar Thailand-Malaysia Immigration though it was further away from where we were as the Bukit Kayu Hitam had the usual long lorry queue. Though we didn’t have to use the same route as the lorry lane, we knew there will definitely be more cars at this border control than in Padang Besar.
Oh btw, I forgot to mention this important encounter throughout our driving in Thailand. You will come across Army check-posts very frequently along the way. I suppose maybe every 5-10kms one! It seemed that frequent. You don’t have to stop at all the check-posts. Most of it you will just have to slow down. Just follow their instructions and you will be fine. The reason why the Army is present so strongly at these southern parts of Thailand is as precautionary and control measure to monitor the Pattani Separatism Movement, I believe. There’s nothing to worry and it’s perfectly safe to drive on these roads. Just be aware of any riots going on, if at all any is happening, before you decide to drive in. It’s always good to be aware and alert.
It didn’t take long to exit Thailand as there’s a drive-through lane for cars in Padang Besar. You would only need to get down at the Thailand side of the border to get your passport stamped and it didn’t take that much time at all. Back in Malaysia, we made a stop at a popular ‘nasi kandar’ restaurant in Kedah for our lunch. That was the last so-called pleasant thing in our road trip for the day because thereafter, the traffic was so bad that I can say easily that it was the worst traffic that I was caught in my entire life! We left after lunch around 2pm or so and by the time we reached back home in KL, it was, wait for it, 4.30 in the MORNING! Of course we had to stop at the rest areas many times for toilet breaks and to gain some meaningful rest. I think around 3 in the morning I got ‘knocked-off’ as I just couldn’t keep awake anymore.
I remember being super exhausted when I reached back home but I was incredibly happy at the same time. A sense of achieving something unbelievably silly and ridiculous really more than anything. I can also say now I’ve reached southern most Thailand by road and that too on an extremely short packed trip. The satisfaction from achieving something out of your routine life, discovering new roads and embracing strange ideas and plans is indeed an exhilarating happening in one’s life. Especially so in a wanderluster’s restless souls. It’s what keeps wanderlusters keep wandering. Now there’s more travel stories for me to tell!
Until I see you guys with more of my wanderlust tale,
keep wanderlustering & stay safe please.