Tuesday, June 30, 2009

We are home

We arrived at Neo Chian's home at 9 pm from Kuantan, Malaysia. That marked the end of our 64 days driving adventure to Indochina. I want to take this opportunity to thank Neo Chian for inviting me to this fantastic trip, a journey of fun all the way. We are home safely. I would like to thank our wives for joining us from Phuket and traveled with us from Phuket to Singapore. We do have some interesting story to tell. But for now, thank you for following our blogs and the supports and the feedbacks you had given us during our trip.

Neo Chian is already thinking of Asean On Wheel Part II later this year. If you are interested to have the life time experience of driving in Indonesia, East Malaysia and the Philippines, feel free to contact Neo Chian or me. The challenge of the coming trip is greater because the cars have to cross the sea by ferry.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Phuket, Hat Yai and Sadao

Chong Fah Resort Hotel has a total of 30 rooms and villas for you to choose. You have the option to select from 16 spacious deluxe rooms and 8 beachfront bungalows. The deluxe rooms have large private balcony for outdoor relaxation. It has 6 more bungalows with indoor and outdoor bathroom and Jacuzzi tub. The rooms offer spectacular view of the beach. Now it is low season, not many foreigners and local tourists come to Khao Lak. When we checked in, we occupied the third room. That was merely 10% occupancy at that time.

The sea was rough due to Southwest monsoon, not a good time to swim in the Adaman sea. The wave was about 0.5 meter high. During the Tsunami 2004, this wave was 5 meter high. This boutique beachfront villas were destroyed completely. It was re-built into one of the top-rated beachfront hotels in Khao Lak-lam Ru.
Usually, they serve buffet breakfast at the restaurant. However, with only 3 rooms were taken, they offered us breakfast in the room. I thought that was smart move on their part for not setting up the spread of western and eastern breakfast which would be wasteful and costly. This has the impact of personalised room service, a feel good factor.

After breakfast, Neo Chian took a dip in the infinity pool and I decided to have fun fishing. Standing in the water up to waist high, I can feel the wave smashing into me and pushing me back two to three steps each time. I didn't expect any fish but caught two palm size fishes. Since they were not big enough for dinner table, I released them back into the sea after unhooking them. After we each had our fun, we packed and left Khao Lak about 1 pm for Phuket which is about 1 hours from here.


Naithonburi Resort, Nai Thon Beach

Li Hoon and Gemma would arrive 1.30pm the next day. Our plan was to stay near to the airport and a golf course so that we can have a early morning golf game before picking them up in the afternoon. We arrived Phuket slightly past 2 pm. With plenty of time in hand, we went hotel hopping from Nai Yang beach to Nai Thon beach and White beach resorts. Andaman White Beach Rosort was a very nice beachfront hotel but ruled it out due to cost and no wifi in the room. We didn't like any of the hotel at Nai Yang beach. We ended up in Naithonburi Resort because of the friendly front desk manager, Mrs Nong. She was very friendly, helpful and gave us a good rate. Naithonburi resort has 200+ rooms and only 20+% occupancy rate. The hotel is tastefully done and it has a large swimming pool and serves good food in their restaurant.

At dinner, we realised that we had to make space for the wives at the backseat of the car where we had our boxes now. Although we had a trail run putting two boxes on the roof at Ayuthaya, we thought it would be too rush if we left things to the last minutes. We decided to forgo our golf and use the time to pack, re-arrange our stuff and put those stuff which are unlikely to use for the rest of our trip on the roof. We packed two boxes and secured them on the roof. We were glad we didn't play golf. Otherwise, we would be late for the airport.

Their flight touched down on time. Our two VIPs came out and greeted us with big smile. We were very happy to see them too after 60 days on our journey. It also signified that the two-man venture came to an end and changed to a foursome. Our wives would follow us in the Pajero all the way back to Singapore.

Mangosteen Resort

For the past 60 days, we didn't book any accommodation ahead of time. However, we thought it might be better to have assured accommodation when the wives are with us. We pre-booked the Mangosteen Resort which is a five star boutique hotel at Chalong Bay, 30+ km south of the airport. The hotel is not at beachfront, 5 minutes walk. The resort was quiet and we just relaxed in the pool, sipping coconut juice and beers. Wifi was only available at the hotel lobby. It was rather inconvenience for us to get connected. We opted to stay just one day and moved back to Naithonburi Resort for another night.

There was not much activities at Mangosteen Resort at night. In fact, it was really quiet. We drove to Patong Beach which was vibrant and full of tourists. There were pretty good crowd there. We can imagine how crowded Patong beach ca be during peak season. We sat down at the open air seafood restaurant along the main road. The owner happened to be a migrant from Malaysia and spoke Malay. That helps. With our broken Malayu, we managed to order a decent meal, complete with half a dozen of fresh oysters. Thai boxers promoting Thai boxing on top of a truck stopped right in front of us, urging us see them the same evening at Patong Boxing Stadium.

Hat Yai
After we spent two nights in Phuket, we departed for Hat Yai which is about 300 km from Phuket. Hat Yai was just a night stop for us to continue to Sungai Kolok border. However, we were told that they were some instabilities along the way to the border, we switched plan to cross at Sadao which is only 60 km away from Hat Yai.
On the way to Hat Yai, along Route 4, there were stores selling cane, rattan products. We stopped for a look see. Gemma and Neo Chian was discussing how can they use this back home. Finally, Neo Chian bought a bird cage. He intended to convert it to a lamp for his dinning area. As there was no space inside the car, so the bird cage went up the roof.

We arrived Hat Yai in the evening and followed the recommendation from Lonely Planet, The Regency Hotel which is right in the heart of the city. We had noddle soup, fried oyster with egg grilled cuttlefish and Cheng Tng for dinner at roadside stall outside our hotel. Everything was 30 to 50 THB, cheap and good.
Next morning, we went for Bak Kut Teh breakfast and followed by a massage. Then each has a bowl of bird nest at 100 THB each. It was sugar water with some jelly like stuff, not sure that was bird nest as we don't know how bird nest tasted like. An interesting point to note is that in Hat Yai most of the shop keepers and hawkers speak very good Teochew. Some even speak Malay or Mandarine. It clearly show Hat Yai is targeting the Malaysian Chinese from Northern Malaysia.
On our way to Sadao border, we saw Car Wash at the gas station and decided to give Mr. Pajero a nice wash before entering
Malaysia. The car washes in Indochina consistently exceed my expectation including this one. This one even hoist the car way up to wash the under carriage. At the drying station, they even opened the bonnet and cleaned the engine compartment. What a service for 180THB!
We arrived Sadao Immigration around 1.30 pm. It wasn't busy. We parked the car and cleared immigration first. While the wives
were waiting at the car, we went to custom clearing the car. Thailand custom was so efficient and knew exactly what to do with the carnet. Chopped and signed and off we went. The whole process of passenger and car clearing took about than 30 minutes. After we crossed the immigration, immediately we lost one hour- the time difference between Thailand and Malaysia. We left the border at 3 pm Malaysia time.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Ayuthaya to Khao Lak

From Mae Sot, we traveled on route 105 towards Tak, provincial Capitol of Tak. We stopped at a tribal market where tour buses for the local tourists picking up fresh vegetable and fruits. The police road block at the market place was checking all vehicles. One truck was ordered for full search. Many people watched the police carrying out their duties. We could not establish why the police was searching the truck.

We turned right to Highway 1 before reaching Tak. The road condition of Highway 1, dual carriage way, is very good. It took us all the way to Ayuthaya about 3 pm. We checked two hotels within the city but they were fully booked. We moved out of city and found The Old Palace Resort, a small boutique resort with 8 bungalows. We could park our car right in front of our bungalow.

Ayuthaya city, Ancient capital of Thailand

Ayutthaya city is the capital of the Ayuthaya province. The city was founded in 1350 by King U-Thong and became capital of his kingdom, often referred as Ayuthaya kingdom or Siam. In 1767 the city was destroyed by the Burmese army, the ruins of the old city now form the Ayuthaya historical park. The city was surrounded by the Chao Phraya, Lopburi and the Pasak river. The city became Thailand's capitol in the mid-14th century and remained the capitol until the late 18th century.

The unique round headed Tuk Tuk of Ayuthaya. We had seen enough Wat in this trip. We decided that we should only visit one or two wats and/or museum as Ayuthaya has long history and too many wats.

Wat Na Phra Men

Wat Na Phra Men is next to The Old Palace Resort. It is one of the very few temples to have escaped destruction by the Burmese. It is not known when the temple was built but restored by King Boromakot and again during the Early Bangkok period. This is a good example of Ayuthaya-style temple.

The temple next door houses a stone Buddha seated in European stle, one of the best preserved statues from the Dvaravati era, 6th to 10th century.

Wat Phra Si San Phet
The three bell-shaped chedis of Wat Phra Si Sanphet have practically become a symbol of Ayutthaya. Wat Phra Si Sanphet was built by King Boromatrailokanat in 1448. It was reportedly one of the grandest temples in the ancient capital, and it is still one of the best preserved on the island. The temple took its name from the large standing Buddha image erected there in 1503. The image stood 16 meters (53 feet) tall and was covered with more than 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of gold. The Buddha was smashed to pieces when the Burmese sacked the city. The gold was gone.
The three large chedis were built to contain the ashes of King Boromatrailokanat and his two sons, King Ramathibodhi and King Boromatrailokanat II. They are considered typical of the Ayutthaya style.

Chantharakasem National Museum
The palace was destroyed by the Burmese army in 1767 A.D. and abandoned until the reign of King Rama IV rebuilt the palace in 1936 and presented it as a national museum. Unfortunately, no camera is allowed inside the buildings.
The first building, known as the Chaturamuk Pavilion, contains a memorial to King Rama IV and a collection of his personal items such as beds, tables and chairs.

In the Phimanrathaya Pavilion you will find a large display of Buddha images and an interesting collection of photographs of the temples.

The Deputy Government Building features period displays ranging from weaponry to costumes.

Ayuthaya city viewed from the top of Pisaisallak Tower next to Phimanrathaya Pavilion.

Japanese Village - Memorial Site of the Old Japanese Settlement Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya was friendly towards foreign traders, including the Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians, Japanese and Persians, and later the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and French, permitting them to set up villages outside the city walls. In the sixteenth century, it was described by foreign traders as one of the biggest and wealthiest cities in the East.

All foreign settlements, except for some Chinese ones, were situated outside the city walls to the south. The Japanese and Dutch communities were located not far from each other. Opposite the Japanese area stood the Portuguese settlement. In the north were the Chinese, Makassarese, French and Vietnamese settlements, while the Laotian community was situated in the northeast and the Muslim settlement near the Takhian canal.

Annex Building of the Ayutthaya Historical Study Center at Japanese Village not only accounted for the Japanese settlement during Ayuthaya Kingdom but also good information of other settlements.

Inside the Annex Building, you would find

1. an AV presentation of the history of Japanese migrants to Ayuthaya by Japanese researchers.
2. Products traded during Ayuthaya Kingdom
3. The description of various communities, e.g. Japanese, French etc
4. History time line of Ayuthaya and Japan during the same period
5. Life, culture of the Japanese in their settlement

The museum was informative not only about Japanese in Ayuthaya but also other communities. Unfortunately, we arrived just half hour before closing. We could only glance through the exhibits quickly. To enjoy this museum, one should spend at least an hour ror two.

Ruean Rojjana Thai Restaurant
Ruean Rojjana Thai Restaurant is on Maharach Road, opposite Ratchaburana Temple. Ratchaburana Temple retains one of the best preserved prang on the island. The prang was lited at night. We had a good view of the prang from the restaurant. The food was so so but the waitresses were friendly and accommodating. We went to the restaurant around 8.15 pm. By 9 pm, their closing time, we were not done yet. They still maintained their smile and waited patiently for us to complete our meal. They sure knew how to keep customers happy! I wish we could see more of this kind of service level in Singapore.

Hua Hin
From Ayuthaya to Hua Hin, it would be an easy drive of 3 to 4 hours. We planned to have a game of golf at Rose Garden near Bangkok before heading for Hua Hin. We chose Rose Garden because both of us had played there at least 20 years ago. It was Friday and we arrived around lunch time. The 72-hole golf course was closed for private competition. What a shame.

Plan B was shoting for Royal Hua Hin Golf Course. We arrived Hua Hin around 2 pm and went straight to the Royal Hua Hin Golf Course. We teed off at 2.30 pm and finished our round at 6 pm. We managed to complete the round still have some sunlight to spare. This time I won 2 up.

After we freshen up, we drove to Hua Hin town looking for accommodation. The town was extremely quite. Two months ago, when we arrived Hua Hin on our outbound journey, the place was packed. Most of the hotels were full. We had to move on to stay in Cha-An. This time around, we had no problem finding Fresh Inn hotel which was opposite Hilton. The room charge was 7000 vs 900 THB. Fresh Inn Hotel met our needs of Internet, secured car parking and good ambient. Business looked really on a Friday night, no enough Foreign and Local tourists alike.

Next morning, we took a stroll on the beach. Horseback riding on the beach was a popular activity. There were many horses on the beach for hire. You can see two ladies was negotiating for horseback riding with the owner. The white sand beach in front of Hiton Hotel is beautiful but rocks are everywhere in the water, not ideal for swiming.
An old lady was digging small oysters on the beach. The size of the oyster was like the kind we used in our fried oyster with egg in Singapore. She has good eye sight and skillful hand coordination. She used a sharp metal object to crack the oyster and digged into the oyster. It would take a good half day to fill up her container.

From Hua Hin to Phuket would need a break in between. We didn’t want to backtrack through Khao Lak National park. We decided to take Highway 4 all the way to Phuket and make a stop somewhere in Ranong or Khao Lak.

Ranong is a border town on the eastern side of the Chan River. The opposite side is the southernmost tip of Myanmar, Kawthoung. Many tourists comes to Ranong and take a day trip to Kawthoung for visa renewal. We arrived Ranong in late afternoon and took a break at Ranong port. There was no good reason to stay here for a night. We thought better pressed on to Khao Lak and stayed in one of the resort there.

We underestimated the distance and the road condition. We arrived Khao Lak after 8 pm. We found a boutique resort, Chongfah Resort and stayed for a night. Unfortunitely, wifi was intermittance. But we were too tired to search for another hotel. We checked in and ate at the hotel.