Sunday, June 28, 2009

TO SADAO, AND MALAYSIA

1. After Ayuthaya, we were into the last leg of the Asean on Wheels (Indochina countries) journey. Departing Ayuthaya on 19 June, Day 54, we had to be in Phuket 21 June, Day 56 in order to pick up our wives at Phuket airport the following day. After a 2 days break in Phuket, we planned to stay a night in Krabi or Hatyai and at Kota Bahru and then travel south along the east coast of peninsula Malaysia. In all my years, I had not travelled beyond Dungun in Trengganu. The last time I was in Dungun was some 20 years ago when my family of 5 stayed at Tg Jara resort to watch turtles lay eggs. We hoped to stay 2 nights in Kuantan before heading home. We should be on target to reach home before end June (ie 30 June, Day 65).

2. On the way south, we planned to play golf at Rose Garden Golf Club before heading further south. Sunny played there some years ago and like the course. I last played there about 20 years ago when, as a brigade commander, I was in Thailand to supervise a battalion exercise in Kanchanaburi and on the way out stayed a night near the course before boarding the plane home. I liked the many different coloured roses at the course and the flawless condition of the course. At that time, it was graded one of the best courses in Asia. We reached it late morning, but the 72 holes course was closed for a tournament. With 72 holes, we never expected there would be problem playing.

3. We decided to head south and shoot for Hua Hin. With about 100 km to go, we reckoned that we could reach there in time for a golf game in the afternoon. And we did, reaching there at about 2 pm. After paying the green fees and rushing to the ATM at nearby market to get some cash for the caddy fees we were quickly at the tee box ready for the game. With buggy, we were confident we could finish by 6 pm, before dark. Royal Hua Hin is the first golf course in Thailand. I last played there in 94 when I attended the small arms shooting competition hosted by Thailand in Hua Hin. Interestingly, one has to cross a railway track to get to the club house. Next to it there is a beautiful railway station. I played pretty badly, losing to Sunny by 2 holes.

4. After washing up at the club house and some scouting we checked into Fresh Inn Hotel, opposite Hilton, at 900 bahts a night. The last time we were in Hua Hin it was packed, really because it was a Labour Day long weekend. We avoided it and stayed at Cha-am instead. This time round, it was not so bad. There were some tourists but the crowd was thin. Walking the lanes after dinner, we saw that many restaurants were pitifully quiet. After breakfast the following morning, we took a stroll along the beach. It was about 10 and locals started to arrive at the beach, but the deck chairs were mostly empty. Saw a woman harvesting oysters. It was hard work. What she took many minutes to gather, we finished the oyster omelette in a few mouthfuls.

5. After leaving Hua Hin, we travelled south along Highway 4. At Chumporn, we decided to continue along 4 and head for Ranong, a route we did not take earlier when we were on the way up. After Chumporn, Highway 4 narrows to one lane either way, still very good road, winding initially as the road goes up and down the mountains. For a 30-40 km stretch, the road hugs a river that separates Thailand and Myanmar. Outside Ranong, we decided to take a break and head for the coast. We spent a few minutes at a seafood restaurant along the coast looking to the hills of Myanmar. We could see 4 temples on the hill slopes. The view reminded me of Raffles Marina on the western end of Singapore, looking to the Straits of Johore and the hills of Johore. There is a border crossing at Ranong, probably for locals only. We also saw a port. Passing through Ranong at about 5, we decided to move on as the hotels there did not appeal to us. We reckoned we could get a good hotel at good rate at Khao Lak. After some hard driving by Sunny, we got to Khao Lak at about 8 pm and checked into Chong Fa Resort for 1600 bahts. Its a beautiful boutique hotel, about 40 rooms, next the beach. Other than us, 2 other rooms were occupied. After breakfast the next day, Sunny went fishing while I took a dip at the pool. As internet service was poor, we decided to check out before lunch and move to Phuket.

6. At about 100 km away, we arrived at Phuket in early afternoon and dropped into Blue Lagoon Golf Club to check up the rate for a golf game there. At more than 3000 bahts a head for green fee, club rentals etc, even for weekdays, we decided to give golf there a miss. As we have to pick up the wives at the airport the next day, we decided to scout for hotels in Nai Yang beach. Its a buzzy beach, but we could not find a hotel that fit our requirements. They were either not appealing or too costly. We next proceeded to Nai Thon beach. After checking out a couple of hotels there, we were very happy to settle for Naithonburi Resort for 1500 bahts. Its a 222 room resort with a good size pool. We enjoyed having a water massage standing under the water sprouted out by the 5 elephants around the pool. Including breakfast, it was really good value for money. More importantly, we found the staff there very friendly, very service oriented. Whatever problems we had, they were attended to very promptly. In particular, we were grateful to Mrs Nong, the front desk manager, who helped make our stay there an unforgetable experience. Here, you see Sunny relaxing over a Whisky at the bar in the hotel.

7. We spent a good part of next morning, 22 June (Day 57), sorting out our luggage boxes and putting 3 up on the roof rack of the car in order to make space for the 2 wives on the back seat. Its packed, but we were happy with the outcome. At 12, we left the hotel but thats after Sunny told Mrs Nong that we might be back the day after with our wives. After doing a "tour" of Laguna and giving up trying to get into the golf course there, we had a quick lunch nearby and then went to the airport to pick up our wives, Gemma and Li Hoon. We got there at 2.15, about just in time to greet them as they came out of the arrival hall.

8. Leaving the airport, we headed south for Mangosteen Resort which is located at the southern end of Phuket island. Our wives had booked a 2 night stay there. Its a small boutique hotel, quite tastefully designed, resort style, with a small nice pool to relax, and rooms spread out over a small hill. However, it is quite a distance from the beach. Unfortunately, no internet in the room, contrary to our expectation. That night, we drove to Patong Beach for dinner. Patong beach was more developed than ever, more hotels and more shops, huge tourism capacity. As internet was important to us, we decided to check out of Mangosteen and returned to Naithonburi Resort, as we needed to catch up on our blogs. On the way there, by strong demand, we stopped at Premium Outlets for some retail therapy.

9. At Phuket, it was more eating, esp durians, more massage, more blogging and generally more relaxing. We had a good open air massage at Nai Yang beach for 200 bahts each by experienced elderly ladies. We bought a couple of durians at Nai Yang beach open market and ate them in the car park of the hotel that was good enough to last beyond normal dinner time. Sunny is an expert in buying durians. The next day, 24 June (Day 59), we took a few pictures at Nai Thon beach before leaving for Hatyai. As it was SW monsoon period, the waves were strong, making it unsuitable for swimming in the sea.

10. After lunch at Krabi, we arrived at Hatyai (on the way, we saw an elephant taking a ride in a truck) at about 5+ pm and after checking up a couple of hotels, checked into Regency Hotel for 920 bahts for a deluxe room. At 26 storeys, it is one of the highest in Hatyai. That night, we had dinner at the street stalls outside the hotel. Cheng Tng was especially good, 50 bahts a bowl. We wished we had bought a couple of packets, put them in the fridge for consumption the following day. The street outside the hotel was already alive when we went out for breakfast the next day. Roadside stalls were already selling their goods. We had pork ribs soup while a moustached cowboy tried to sell us bird toys. video

11. After another massage and a bowl of bird nest soup we left for Sadao. Its 25 June, Day 60. On the way, we gave the car a good wash up. It was sparkling clean when we reached Sadao. After lunch at Sadao, we proceeded to clear immigration and customs. Very very smooth. On the car customs form, I signed off and the completed form taken away. Our Carnet was stamped and endorsed, and counterfoil kept by Thai Customs. We were all clear to leave Thailand. Immigration on the Malaysian was a breeze. Soon, we were on the road along the East-West Highway to Kota Bahru.

12. Originally, we were hoping to cross into Malaysia at Sg Kolok, as it was a more direct way to Kota Bahru. But, given the renewed unrest in the Patani/Yala area, we decided to change our plan to go by Sadao instead.

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