500 miles to Betong - Part 1
To many people, the thought of driving to up to Thailand borders on insanity and one Tom Yum Soup too many. But after reading some blogs about people venturing there, I figured that it wasn't too hard. Betong is well travelled by the biker community in Singapore. In fact, Thailand is alot nearer than many would think. Thailand by itself is a humongous place, a few factor the size of West Malaysia. But to reach Thailand technically, the nearest place was to head for the southernmost town, Betong in the district of Yala. It is found near the Thai-Malaysian border at the town of Pengkalan Hulu. Once you can wriggle through the old-fashioned custom and the necessary paper work, the town was in fact just a mere 10km away. From my calculations, it was around 800km, which is equivalent to 500 miles. After you have done it, the song "500 miles away from home" would indeed take on a whole new meaning.
I was hoping that some more adventurous friends of mine would come join me. For those who know me, I am as good a road trip guide you would be able to find. TK and ST was initially keen at first, but alas it was cancelled due to work commitments at the last minute. But friends or no friends, Thailand here I come.
The day before, we had a X'mas Steamboat. By the time I hit the bed, I had only 4 hours of sleep before the alarm went off. Rousing from my comfy bed, we all got ready and was driving out to the woodlands custom at around 5.45am. We were fortunate that we were a tad early as we could see the traffic building up. Last year, when I did my drive to Cameron on Xmas day, the traffic was very smooth at this time. But this morning, it was rather different. Looked like quite a lot of Singaporeans were venturing out to Malaysia to celebrate Xmas too.
Woodlands Checkpoint Jam on X'mas morning
It was a foggy day
Kinda like drinking kopi in Genting, isn't it?
Don't bother eating at the food court. The food there is B.A.D
From the custom, the first stop was to hit Machap rest point for breakfast. Perhaps to set the mood, it was very foggy along the NSH that morning. Along the way, I was attacked by the Z monster and found myself nodding off from the lack of sleep. I got A to drive a bit till I get some good mental rest.
Nothing like the bear in the sweater to provide 3 days load of sugar in your bloodstream
The way up from Machap till the next rest stop at Jejantas (which means the bridge) at Ayer Keroh. A managed to handle the car quite well and it was good training for her. At Jejantas A&W, I downed a big mug of the famous American root beer providing me with enough sugar to keep my mind awake. From there, the next stop was Ipoh Excelsior Hotel.
Limestone mountains. We were definitely in Ipoh
Ho Ho..a convoy of Singapore registered cars. Mostly Hondas
The "safety" car
His car looking at me angrily for spoiling their formation
One of the things that I was looking out for this trip was to find the proper route to the Ipoh stretch of the NSH, without having to go via Sg Besi and cutting through mad traffic KL. Somehow, my GPS was in the habit of routing me that way. I took an advice from a search on the internet, and headed towards KLIA. But I couldn't find the way to KLIA/Ipoh, which was what I needed. We got lost coming out from Nilai and after some roundabout driving, we joined back to the NSH towards Ipoh on the E1. From KL to lpoh was another 200 or so kilometres.
At the Ipoh E1 stretch, the 2 lane traffic was rather heavy and the road was lined with cars. Interestingly, we encountered a large convoy of more than 10 singapore cars heading the same way as us. They were rather organised and there were big banner stickers placed across a few cars that were designated as the convoy lead leader and safety car. But I was rather annoyed by their agressive driving stance while they cut in and out at will, probably trying to keep the group together. By some sheer coincidence, they were too heading out at Simpang Pulai, towards Ipoh. My guess was that they were going to Cameron, on a road trip.
I.P.O.H, in case you don't know how to spell it
Excelsior Hotel (3*)
Hungry as a bear. Time to tuck in
Hotel Ipoh City
Hotel Ipoh City lobby
A storm was brewing. (View from the hotel room)
We arrived at Excelsior Hotel and found to our horrors, that there was no room. Actually, it was kind of expected being Xmas day and all. Nevertheless, the first thing on our minds was to have lunch. The Hotel has a Xmas buffet going on and there were some Asian spread of food for RM16 per adult and RM13 for child. We eat to our fill and then decided to go Ipoh hotel hunting. At that point, I wasn't sure if I should proceed further up to Gerik for the night stay instead. The second hotel we tried was Grand View Hotel. It looked a bit cheesy and there was nothing grand about the view. It was to some relief that the recept girl said "we are full".
Third hotel, Ipoh City Hotel, we found was nice bright and sunny and obviously new. To my surprise, the indian recept said "yes, we have rooms". And what's more, it was cheap at RM93. What puzzled me was that at that moment, someone called to enquire and he said "full house'. I asked if we had taken the last room, he replied that for walk-ins, there were 10 rooms reserved for the purpose. Perhaps taking in reservations was more risky if the party didn't turn up. With that, the plan was fixed for us to stay over in Ipoh for the night. We carried up our things and took a quick shower. By this time, it was about 4pm.
Ipoh Parade. Shopping time
A X'mas party was going on
Impressive clown made of balloons
Balloon were released. There were vouchers inside the balloon
Rest & Go!
Aahh! Relief for my weary bones
Jay Chou is my friend
From there, The plan was to hit the malls for some R&R and shopping. "The Store" was quite nearby, but we drove around and found Ipoh Parade more to our liking. Ipoh Parade was huge with 2 cluster of shops over 3 floors. Furthermore, there was a cinema. D spotted her show "treasure hunter". Since she had been clamoring to see the show, "treasure hunter" it was for the night movie in Ipoh. But we were early as the show would start at 10pm. We went back to the hotel, took a quick nap, and then went back around 9pm in time to catch the show. The Movie was pretty bad, but D said her favourite Pop idol was so handsome. *sic*
Leaving the hotel in the early morning (7am)
My trip meter so far (From Hotel Ipoh City)
Our target, exit the NSH at Kuala Kangsar
We are in Gerik now. Thailand is not far from here
GPS says just round the corner
Before that, breakfast first
D observing how roti chennai is cooked
Looks delicious, does it not?
Gerik wet market
My trip meter so far (at Gerik)
Very near now
Ok, last town before going into Thailand terrority
My trip meter at this point
The next morning, I woke everyone up by 6am and we were on the road by 7am. I wanted to start early and spend more time in Thailand, which was the main objective this trip. Next stop was Gerik and we reached there rather quickly. The drive was scenic as expected but not as beautiful as the Gerik to Jeli way. We had breakfast at a simple Roti Prata (the locals call it Roti Chennai) Shop in the town of Gerik. From there it was next to Pengkalan hulu and then to the Malaysia Custom to Thailand. The distance was not far and we reached the Malaysian-Thai custom at about 10am.
Reaching the Malaysian custom
I wanna to go Patong
Get your Thai custom papers from these men at the corner. RM1 per pax
Passport Clearing at Pengkalan Hulu Custom
Being our first time, we were unsure as to the procedures. I parked my car to a side and asked around and there was a helpful bunch of Malaysian Bikers who were too on their way into thailand. We were told that we would have to use the custom papers that we had used at Johor. We reversed our parked car and joined the queue of 4-5 vehicles. After the Malaysian custom, we could get the Thai custom documents at the sentry post in front. What we found at the lone building in front was a group of Thais. Figuring that we had to pay for their services, I asked them how we were to go about it. We gave them our passport and one of them took out the forms and filled up our particulars. We were told to sign it. At first I heard it wrongly and I thought they asked for RM30 as payment. But I was wrong at the fee was just RM3 for the 3 of us. I gave them RM5 instead, for them to "minum kopi".
Park your car and queue at the passport control
Document to certify your car is your own
Our Thai custom document chopped
Straight road to Betong
Leaving the Betong custom
Passport Clearing at Betong Custom
At the Thai custom, a stern looking officer said that we were to park our cars, and queue up at the line for the custom to check passports. After checking the passports (which took a while as the people worked slowly), we were to proceed to another room whereby my car documents were checked and a form was issued to me to certify that my car belongs to me. Another fee of RM3 was to be paid. With all the necessary papers in place, we were finally cleared to enter the land of thousand smiles.
From the custom, the road ahead was straight forward. At this point, my GPS routing couldn't work as my map wasn't routable for the Thailand map. All I had to guide me was a series of roads and very sparse POIs. But it was fairly easy to get to Betong. Driving straight ahead, we arrived there in like 10 minutes.
500 miles to Betong - Part 2