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.