1. Leaving Changlon checkpoint (25 June, Day 60), we travelled south along North-South Highway, E1 towards Georgetown and then turned east along Route 76 on East-West Highway towards Kota Bahru. The E-W highway was built in the 70s to link Kota Bahru to the west. It was also a move to flush out the communists by cutting their area of ops into 2 halves and enabling security operations to be effectively carried out along the highway. Winding up and down the forest-covered mountains, it was not possible to achieve high travel speed even though the road was very good except for some stretches which were under repair.
2. Very soon, we realised that we could only reach Kota Bahru after dark, possibly after 10. At dusk, the road brought us to Tasik Temenggor (a big artificial lake formed by damming of the rivers for a hydropower project) and the long bridge spanning over to Pulau Banding and we were expecting to see some beautiful scenery. The scenery was captivating. We were even more delighted to see Belum Rainforest Resort after crossing the bridge. On the near bank, there was a resort under construction and an army camp. We decided to detour to see the resort. Neatly tucked into the forest and tastefully designed with the use of natural materials, we loved it and we unanimously agreed that we should spend the night here and continue the journey to Kota Bahru the next day. We checked in at 180 Ringgits a night. The resort marketed itself as an eco-tourism destination, a gateway to nature. Activities here could include trekking, boat tour to see Orang Asli village, fishing, bamboo rafting, canoeing etc. Opened in July 08, some sections were still work in progress. With 80 rooms, it has the ability to host small and medium sized groups. Took an early morning walk along the bridge the next morning (26 June, Day 61). Across the calm water, the mountains were still covered with mist. After breakfast, we decided to try bamboo rafting. As we were expected to get wet, we did not bring our cameras. Essentially, they were rafts made of 5-6 10 metre long bamboos tied together, and splitting ourselves into 2 rafts, we rowed with oars that were really bamboos sliced into halves. I supposed this was about survival skills, making use of natural materials that were readily available in the jungles to perform a particular function. Slowly and steadily we rowed to the far bank and back; 2 hrs of good exercise and fun. And of course, we jumped into the water and had a dip.
3. We were on the road again at 12 pm. Had a late lunch along the way, we pressed ahead to Kota Bahru. Reached there at about 4 pm but were surprised to find the town unusually quiet. We then realised that it was Friday, and its a weekend here in Kelantan. We decided to press on and find a beach resort along the beach of Trengganu to spend the night. We were in for a shock. The better hotels that we checked were fully booked out. In our 60 days of travel, this was the first time that we were faced with this tight hotel situation. Our method of travel was clearly not suited for such a situation. We kept moving in the direction of Kuantan and tried our luck with the hotels. We checked out Tg Jara, a resort I stayed 20 years ago, and was quoted US$350 a night. They must have upgraded and now charged rates that we could hardly afford. We moved on. By 10, we were getting very anxious. At about 11, we found Holiday Villas at Cherating, which looked fairly good at night. It was also fully booked less one apartment with 2 rooms. We took it at 500 Ringgits (i.e. 250 Ringgits per room) but was disappointed with the state of maintenance. We had to use our body weight to close or open the door to the apartment. It was hard to sleep with the aircons making clicking noise the whole night. Toilet bowls were dirty when we arrived. At breakfast the next day, I could see groups of people in police uniforms and on the beach groups of people wearing University of Malaya T-shirt. It looked like Tourism Malaysia's cuti-cuti (domestic tourism) programme was yielding fruits.
4. After breakfast (27 June, Day 62), we checked out to try our luck at Kuantan Hyatt Regency which Sunny and his family stayed 20 years ago. It was also packed and only Club Rooms were available. We checked in for about 580 Ringgits a night. We extended the stay by another day with a seaview, which was not an issue as many had checked out on Sunday. In the carpark, we saw many Singapore cars. A mere 4-5 hours from Singapore, it remains a popular destination with Singaporeans. When our kids were young, we used to take them to Kuantan too, mostly during their June school holidays, for a number of years. We loved the beach and the pools at the hotel. Sunny said that Hyatt had added a new wing and another pool.
5. Woke up at about 6 am (28 June, Day 63) to see sunrise. Sun started to appear at the horizon at 7.10, though there was already light at the beach from 6+. We were not alone as there were many others who also rose early to see sunrise, quite a few of them with cameras in hand ready to take pictures. Beside Hyatt Regency, we could see the former Merlin Hotel been abandoned. On one side were a 2-3 blocks of half-completed buildings which clearly had been there for quite a while. We stayed in Merlin more than 20 years ago. Strolling outside the hotel later in the day, we could see more restaurants and shops and the area was crowded with locals, possibly because it was a weekend. At the end of the bay, there is now a boardwalk erected above the rocks linking the beach in the other bay. I could see that more locals were turning up at Tg Chempedak to enjoy themselves at one end of the bay, without affecting the privacy of the beach at Hyatt.
6. The 2 days at Hyatt Regency Kuantan was really just lazing around - went into town for some local food, had 2 sessions of massage at a spa near the hotel, getting wet in the pool and in the sea, some sun-tanning, and catching up with blogs. We had to pay for internet connection but we were happy to pay as quality was good.
7. Monday morning, 29 June (Day 64), we checked out at about 11 am and taking the coastal road, we headed for Singapore. Along the way, we stopped for durian break. Durians were excellent. They now called them 101, for the very good durians. I still thought D24 was the best but was told that I was out of date. After Pekan, we saw some beautiful beaches not far from the road, as the road hugs the coastline travelling south. There were groups of people at the beaches, next to their cars. We were tempted to make a stop. Vacillating over where to stop for a late lunch, we decided to stop at a beach north of Kuala Rompin and cooked ourselves maggie mee for lunch at the beach instead. All agreed that it would be fun. We took turns to cook. Must say that maggie mee never tasted so good. The ladies picked sea shells while I took a dip in the sea. After packing up, we were on the road again at about 3.30, after spending 2 hrs at the beach.
8. Travelling south, we passed Endau, Mersing and Kota Tinggi as we got nearer to Johore Bahru (JB). It was raining and it disrupted our plan to stop for a break and to buy durians. Traffic was heavy in Ulu Tiram, as we approached JB. In our GPS, we were glad to see the map of Singapore appearing for the first time in the last 60 days or so, with the chequered flag set for my house in Springleaf Garden. We decided to have dinner at Taman Sentosa in JB before heading home. We arrived at the JB immigration at about 8.30 and we were done at the Singapore immigration/customs before 8.45. Taking Seletar Expressway, we were home by 9 pm.
9. Home sweet home.