Wednesday, December 29, 2010

To Satun & La-Ngu, 15/9/10

We left Penang in the afternoon and got to Kangar around 3 pm. In hindsight, we should have left earlier coz after border crossing and all, we got to Pak Bara pier in La-Ngu around 7 pm and that's a bit late for a first timer to an unknown town to drive around and looking for a good value guest house. But we thrive in such conditions :) Aided to much extent by the generally friendly & helpful Thais.

I think only one travel agent was still open when we got there and she can't speak much English. Though she was really helpful and at least we got to know that the guest house rate is around RM100 for a/c room. You have to note that Pak Bara, though a jump off to Ko Lipe, is not as touristy as Phuket or Ko Samui. So there aren't that many people who can speak English. So we drove around again and went to this place called Best Guesthouse. We got a room for RM80 but that's the last room they got. So we had to part ways with our travel geng Che Rose & family; whom went to get a better room at Bara Resort for RM120.

Our room at Best Guesthouse

Cikli in front of Bara Resort
The town is by the sea and the main road is about 1 km long and you would see shops & restaurants lining the main road.

We were tired and only thought of dinner and found one with that famous Islamic crescent & star symbol.

So for breakfast the next day, we drove around once again (now like experts) though we were the only two cars with Malaysian registration plate there. By chance we stop at this restaurant. Lucky for us, the owner can speak Bahasa; so we had good breakfast here.
Good roti canai, Thai style

After breakfast ... what now? We knew there aren't many things to do here and our initial target was Ko Lipe. So we ask around and got to know that the ferry ticket to Ko Lipe is around RM120 (return) per person and knowing that we won't spend so many days there, it seems like an overkill on our budget. So cross Ko Lipe for now.

Lucky that we are not tight lipped travelers. Before leaving for breakfast, I chatted with the reception at Best guesthouse and she gave us a map of Satun province and its attractions. From that map, we saw two attractions considered close to Pak Bara and may not be our usual stuff found in Malaysia. One was a kayaking place that goes under a cave where you supposedly see a big jade ... I think. Heck, what do I know. Cubic zirconia or diamond look the same to me. This place is called Jed Kod Cave. Another attaraction is called Phu Pha Pet Cave. I'll let the photos tell this story.
You can't see the entrance :) but I actually got in
Here's the entrance

They say the cave is 335 steps up
at the base
It probably took us around an hour to get up there to the cave. I think they had 3 stops along the way which helped me a lot :).

We initially drove from town base on the given map and later on Nokia Maps in my wife's E71. After about half an hour or so, the road was not on Nokia Maps anymore and we had to rely on Thai road sign. And the road was like this:
It was like really deep inside south Thailand and to first timer and no local guide with us then, I felt even the Japanese during WW2 would not have gone here.

Once we felt lost and had to stop and ask the locals ... I only showed my hands and said 'Phu Pha Pet Cave' to the best of Thai tongue that I could. By now you would have realized that no matter how much Tom Yam you had in life ... it's not gonna help your Thai phonetics at all. But the place must be famous coz they all gave us correct directions.

I had to google for the entrance photo with a monk earlier and I got it from here There's also a nice write up about this place. Apparently it's the third largest in the world; so says the link.

Wow ... what a nice find from an unplanned trip eh :)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Crossing Wang Kelian Border, 14/09/10

Seems I'm having a writer's block and not knowing where to start this one. I guess I'll have multiple introductions then :)

It was in 2008 that while having breakfast in Hatyai (en route to KL from Krabi), we met a nice couple returning from Bangkok on their BMW super bike.
There are a few groups of people that even if you don't know them, they are guaranteed to be nice folks and could start a conversation any time. In my book, they are bikers and fishing maniacs.

So we told them about Krabi and they about Bangkok. And the guy suggested that next time, we should cross the border from Wang Kelian. So that was my inception moment :)

We always spend the first few days of Eid alternately between Kelantan & Penang. And this year it was Kelantan's turn first. We would always have things to do in Kelantan but in Penang, it was less people to visit and less things. So few months before, I fancied about another beach holiday and narrowed it down to Ko Lipe. It was for no particular reason other than that we have done Krabi, Phi Phi, & Lanta so that we might as well going southward.

So we read that to go there, you need to take a ferry at Pak Bara pier; which seems closest if we go from Wang Kelian instead of Hat Yai.
Border Crossing
We never went to Wang Kelian before and it seems that not much info is available on the internet. Unlike Bukit Kayu Hitam where you would have Sadao town right across the border and Hat Yai about an hour drive away, there's not much after the crossing here except for some makeshift stalls like these. These kind of economic activities would not warrant so much info on the net eh :) ... unlike those say ... anyway I digress :)

My concerns were two things: where to change for Thai currency and where to buy the insurance to drive into Thailand.

I asked around my MRSM Beseri yahoo group and some people say you could buy Thai Bahts in Kaki Bukit town. That alleviate some concerns but on google map, Kaki Bukit doesn't look so much like a town; it's more like a deserted housing area!

But thanks to GPS, we are not afraid to drive around this area and by luck stop at a shop lots that we think could give us some directions. So I went into this grocery shop and pretending to buy some soft drinks and asked the owner where to change for Thai Bahts. Lo and behold, she does that and she even said she gives better rate than in Wang Klian. I was skeptical but know that poor traveler like us would not change much and the difference in rate would not make us an overnight George Soros!

I could not remember the exact location of this shop but it's right in front of Klinik Kesihatan Kaki Bukit. And oh, she did give better rate than those traders in Wang Kelian.

So with one problem solved we merrily drove to Wang Kelian. Boy, the road was really up hill and the curves were really sharp. But road surface was nice and so was the view. Coz of the view, I would rather have this drive compare to the old Tapah to Cameron road. And this Wang Kelian road is just a few kilometers; so it was alright.

After a while, we got to the Malaysian side of the border crossing and received my second adrenalin shot that I invariably got during my travels. My best rush was during my first ever trip to Krabi here.

Wang Kelian is famous for its Sunday market where Thais & Malaysians could travel freely without passports to the make shift stalls on both side of the border. So we stop at the Malaysian side and asked a few people where to buy insurance. None of them knew and some don't even understand Bahasa ... or English. This is where I got my rush. We were close the the check point and I don't have insurance yet. So we slowly drove to the Malaysian Immigration above and as a last resort, asked the last shop there where to buy insurance. And she said you can get it at a restaurant after Malaysian immigration ... it was like Mozart to my ears even though she spoke in broken Malay dialect!

There's a block of commercial area right after Malaysian Immigration and you could buy Thai insurance at the last shop there.

After getting the insurance and filling up the entry card (embarkation card?), we drove to the next step which was Thai Immigration (for passport) & Customs for importing the car into Thailand (that's what they call it).

Some photos click here.

I just remember one of my other concern was what is the best way to get to Kangar from Penang. And after having gone there via the old Alor Star-Kangar route and return back via the Changlun-Kuala Perlis Highway (see google maps), I must say that I would have preferred the Changlun highway coz it will be less traffic that way I think. There are so many towns/villages in the old road and hence so many local traffic ... you don't want to be stuck there I think. So that's my two cents on getting to Kangar.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Discovering Cherating, 13 June 2010, Day 3 & Epilogue

We didn't do much on Day 3 since it's time to check out. I think we hit the beach again and was surprised that even though it's school holidays, there are not that much crowd. Granted that Cherating beach is pretty long but I had thought it would be more crowded since on the first night, we checked out other lodgings and most of them were fully booked.

I must single out this one website for giving us much info on Cherating and Pahang in general. The info has helped us to plan a good and productive mini holidays. The site is:

So to En Yamin Nuruddin of Pahang Delights, thanks a lot sir.

If it weren't for the site, we would not have explored other smaller beaches within our driving routes such as Pantai Chendor or Pantai Batu Hitam.
Here's Fateh at Pantai Batu Hitam where we stop and had lunch here. There's quite a few warungs by the beach.

I thought I would give my few cents or suggestions about Cherating, starting with lodging.

I guess depending on your travelling style, by that I mean proper hotel type or guest house type, then I would suggest the following. If you like to spend the night in a good hotel room with cool & quiet air condition and wake up to fluffy white towels, then go for Holiday Villa or the like there. Not that I've been to Holiday Villa but from goggling a bit, they are certainly a few levels above Ranting Beach where we stayed.

Ranting Beach is not that bad for its price. Sorry but for the life of me, I can't remember how much we paid for it. But we got a family room with queen & single beds, not overly spacious but good enough. Air cond and water pressure not like Hilton but you get what you paid for. And on the plus side, our room is right by the beach.

There are many establishments around the beach area so much that I think, you could just drive there and take your pick. Of course, doing that during school holidays is a bit like gambling but we survived alright :) And if you want a bit more assurance in life, you could reserve one night at a particular place and explore your options once you get there. There's a bit of story for us on how we adopt this tip/trick.

We learned this tip while travelling to Padang/Bukit Tinggi in Sumatera Barat in August 2006. Airasia made travel affordable for me and somehow, I never tried and doesn't have the interest to join group travel. I think reading this book by physicist Richard Fenyman in college somehow made a mark on me. I like to do things my way. So we got cheap tickets to Padang and met this lovely couple (Pak Aziz & wife) at the airport and end up sharing the same MPV to Bukit Tinggi and decided to rent the van together for the next few days.

The difference was that I had read up on the internet a bit about Bukit Tinggi and look in forums & websites for a cheap guesthouse type to stay and got to this old single storey bungalow converted into guesthouses. Being our 2nd travel oversea (first was Balikpapan!), we book the whole place via internet for the whole week there. Little did we know that Bukit Tinggi is cold and their water heater didn't work! Ouch .... tak fikir nak mandi wajib beb!

So nowadays, when we travel, we go with the flow :)

Here's some contacts we managed to jot down:
Ranting Beach Resort: 013 931 2371, 09 581 9068
Cherating Bay: 013 909 7542, 09 581 9988/9749
Tanjung Inn: 09 581 9081
Cherating Tone Resort: 019 957 2709, 09 581 9378

Granted I didn't spend much time on the net searching for info on Cherating, I do think that the tourism stakeholders in Malaysia have much to learn from our Thai neighbors. You could use Google Earth and go over Krabi and see how many guest houses/hotels are placemark there and compare it to our Cherating. And I also think that our neighbors do have better internet presence to promote their places and its attractions. The few guest houses that I went, I didn't see that much brochures on things to do in Cherating. Would leave you in the dark if you don't know how to explore.

Customer Service
At the place I stayed, I witness how the reception treat potential customers with little enthusiasm. The guy wasn't rude or anything but I do think he should have been more helpful and informative.

I guess this is our problem in general. I read somewhere before that even though we try to promote tourism as income earner, we don't have much in terms of training our workers in this industry. I'm no expert in this area and I'm not bitching, far too old for that, just sharing my thoughts.

That's all ... god blessed and if you are looking for a quick getaway, Cherating is not bad :).

Monday, August 30, 2010

Discovering Cherating, 11~12 June 2010, Day 1 & 2

Wow ... I've not written here in a long time eh! Just goes to show how much strayed I've been :)

This reminded me of a friend from childhood who recently said, and you should take this in proper context, he said that sometimes our teacher allow us to make mistake so that we could realize it, learn from it, and come back to the path. Much like flying a kite, sometimes you let it fly away a bit before you reel it back.

But I digress :)

Anyway, so the recent school holidays we got to talking. Not much money to go to Krabi or Ko Lipe, so we thought Cherating would be alright. Not better than Tioman but certainly closer. So googled and facebook a bit and some friends suggested Ranting Beach Resort coz it's close to the beach. Well, putting the word 'resort' to its name is stretching too much for me but its location by the beach is great.

We planned to go on Saturday and called the place, he said Saturday might be full so we went there Friday instead. Took us an hour to get to Gombak from Puchong and another 3 hours to get there.

We got there around 4 pm and after checking in & relaxing a bit, we decided to check out Kemaman town. This is a good thing about GPS, with it you feel like locals driving in nooks & crannies of the town; and we end up at a place called Benteng Kastam Lama (I think that's what the guy told me) which has a bit of benches by the river, people fishing, and a few warungs.

So it was good to have your hot soup and see the
sunset over the muara.

We went back to the chalet and ask the guy where to have a good seafood. He suggested a few and one is this place called Awang Ikan Bakar.

I thought it was good value; the bill came close to RM60 for 3 of us but we had few crabs, sotong, shrimps & fish.

We hit the beach early in the morning the next day and one thing good about this Ranting is that its right by the beach and our family room face the sea.

You could read a book on the porch while enjoying the ocean view and breezy wind on your face … and while smoking weed or gudang garam for some people, not that I’m into any of those.

Beach wise, Cherating is not Redang but she made up for lack of crystal clear water & powdery sands with great location, places to discover in Kemaman and all those satar & keropok lekor warungs.

For lunch, we went to Kemaman town and thanks to Garmin in my wife’s E71, we tried that famous Hai Peng kopitiam. But we were late there and they don’t have anything much; after all, it’s school holidays.

On the way back, we stop by the Turtle Sanctuary to see turtles and ask around where we could see one laying eggs at night. There’s a travel shop near our guesthouse that quotes RM25 per head with our own transport; that’s way too expensive for the 3 of us. The reception said we could try to be there around 9 or 10 pm and if there’s a turtle nearby, they would inform us. What’s nicer is that entry is by donation only. We couldn’t take pictures of the turtle coz … it’s not nice isn’t it. But here some photos at the sanctuary. There's a signboard for you to exit into this place and it's nearby Club Med.

After getting back to our room, we hit the beach again and later went out for dinner; can’t remember the place but somewhere on the road to Chukai/Kemaman. We didn't choose Awang Ikan Bakar coz we wanted to try different places but in hindsight, I thought Awang was a good place.

Ahh ... it has been good, productive, and enjoyable two days so far.