DATE: 7-9 JULY 2017
We left our hometown around 7.30 am heading north along the North-South Highway. It was raining heavily until we reached Sungai Petani. An hour later we reached Changlun. Here, we stopped to purchase insurance for our car. Nik paid RM 16, and the insurance is valid for a week. Then the drive continued to Chuping. There was little traffic on the road, which at some stretches was a bit bumpy. The landscape of scattered limestone hills and uncultivated land with few houses stretched for a while.
From Chuping we drove to Padang Besar, a border town, and then made a left turn to Wang Kelian. There are three border towns in the north that give access for entry into our neighbouring Thailand. The most popular one is Bukit Kayu Hitam, located at the northern end of the North-South (NS) Highway. Padang Besar is another one, located west of Bukit Kayu Hitam. It is no longer as popular as it used to be since we had the NS highway. We, on the other hand were going to Satun, Thailand via a third entry point at Wang Kelian in the state of Perlis. It was a long weekend for our state.
Crossing the border
About five minutes to 10 am, we arrived at the immigration check point. Having had our passports stamped, Hanif parked the car and went to the counter to get clearance for our vehicle. He was taking a long time. May be 15 minutes had passed when he came to the car and told me to get out. It will take sometime while he and his father sort out some matter. During his first (foundation) year at university, Hanif had taken a government loan (PTPTN) to pay for his tuition fees. Once a student has completed his studies, he has to start paying for the loan. Failing which, he would be barred from leaving the country. Hanif had left university two months ago and has started working barely 3 weeks. He had checked his status last night and did not expect to face any problem. But, now he is not allowed to go to Thailand until a payment of RM 1500 is made.
We passed through Satun town heading to Tanyong Po. Driving in Thailand is relatively hassle-free. The roads are in good condition and the signages adequate. Though we could not download google map offline, we used it as a guide to get to our destination. In about 20 minutes we reached Paktam Man’s Restaurant by the sea.
We ordered our seafood lunch and then chose one of the bamboo huts by the sea for our table. All the dishes-shrimp, crab, squid and mango salad were good. Nik ordered five crabs, but we were served only three. Anyway, there was sufficient food for all. I would have like to return for a second meal, but unfortunately we did not get the opportunity. This restaurant is open only during the day.
Back in Satun town, we checked in at One Boutique Hotel. I welcomed the chance to stretch out and rest my back on a bed with clean, white sheets. Later in the afternoon we went out for a drive around the town. Other than the signages written in Thai, Satun town looks like any typical Malaysian town. It has a largely Muslim Malay population while the remaining are mainly Buddhists. About half the Malays we came across spoke Malay with the Kedah dialect instead of the Pattani dialect, which is commonly spoken in Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala.
It was early evening when we located the night market. The stalls occupy both sides of the street. Foods like fried chicken and grilled gizzards, local desserts and fruits are sold here. Nik and Hanif, as usual are more adventurous. Both father and son sampled the grilled chicken and some skewered snacks. I had a bite, but found it a bit too salty. Nik also bought some desserts-pumpkin and tapioca in syrup. For dinner, we went to the restaurant near the mosque. Fast food outlets like McDonald, Pizza Hut or KFC are nowhere to be seen in Satun town.
Day trip to Koh Lipe
The next morning Hanif drove us to Pak Bara pier. Grey clouds were hanging low in the sky, and it drizzled at some point along the way. It took about 45 minutes to reach the pier. There was no choice but to take the boat to Koh Lipe, a small island in the Andaman Sea since the Tarutao National (Marine) Park was closed. The marine park reopens in October during high season. Nik bargained for a discount on the boat fare. Later we found out that a larger group (of 12 people) only paid 900 Bahts for a return trip. The quoted return fare is 1300 Bahts.
The speed boat was packed and the ride was a bit bumpy, but no one got seasick, fortunately. Initially the sea was dotted with limestone hills rising above the water-a scenery similar to Halong Bay in Hanoi. When we were further out in the open sea, the 90-minute journey got pretty boring. We got off the speed boat onto a large pontoon. It was about 11 am and the weather had changed for the better. The water here was crystal clear, however, we did not see many fish. To get to the island we had to buy tickets (50 Bahts each) for the longtail boat. The staff at Pak Bara pier did not inform us of this fact. It was only a few minutes’ ride, but depending on the tide, you might have to jump off the boat and wade the last few metres to Sunrise beach.
The three of us explored on foot and came to a village with wooden houses. The footpath was muddy from the morning rain, so we turned back towards the jetty. We then hired a “taxi”, which is actually a motorcycle modified with seats to accommodate 4 persons. Koh Lipe is similar to Gili Trawangan in Lombok, albeit much smaller in size. No cars are allowed on the island. So, one either walks, cycles or take the taxi. It was low season and some shops were closed. At the recommendation of the driver, we had a simple lunch at Bung Roon Halal Restaurant. The food served was great.
After lunch we were back on the taxi. The concrete footpath was fairly deserted and our driver zoomed on the flat surface, but the engine strained when we had to climb a gradient. We were taken to scenic spots on the island like Pattaya beach and Sunset beach. From Pattaya beach, we could see the legendary Malaysian island of Langkawi. It is about just as far as Pak Bara. Ferry services plying between Langkawi to Koh Lipe operates from October to May.
The village we came upon earlier belongs to the island’s fishermen, the original inhabitants. About 10 years ago, hotels started to sprout on the tiny island. Just like Gili Trawangan, here you’ll find many types of accommodation to suit your budget from backpackers’ rooms to 5-star hotels. As you might have guessed, Koh Lipe is a touristic island. We also visited the small, new mosque.The boat to Pak Bara leaves at 4 pm and we were told to be on the pontoon by 3.30 pm. To kill the time, all of us went for a foot massage at a place suggested by the driver. At the end of the session, the driver sent us to the jetty. The boat ride to Pak Bara was smooth, no bumps at all and it was shorter by 10 minutes.
Saturday Night Market
It was early evening by the time we reached Satun town. We had little problem locating the Saturday Night Market which was behind the Mambang Mosque (or Satun Central Mosque). The clothes here are very cheap, but I cannot really tell if they are new or otherwise. One thing about being in southern Thailand, we blended in well with the locals. Even when we speak, both Nik and myself could adapt to the local dialects.
What attracts us to the night markets is the foods rather than the cheap clothes or goods. And here, most of the foods are halal. We sampled some meat balls, local cakes and sweets.
Apart from the night markets and grocery stores, other shops in Satun town are closed at night. There are many Seven Eleven stores, however, I am not sure if they operate round the clock as in our country. Satun town is thus pretty quiet after nightfall.