First time I ... went on a cross-country road trip
Recently, I went on a cross-country road trip to Hatyai, Thailand for the first time.
My initial thoughts were of horror. “What?! I have to spend seven hours in a car?”
But after I calmed down, and logic took over, I rationalised that it would not be very much different from spending seven hours in an airplane, right?
While on a flight, the journey is mostly smooth. You can sleep, read, listen to music, watch a movie, have your meals served to you, visit the toilet when you need to or even walk around. In an automobile, the road conditions might make some of that impossible. Plus, the only time you get to relieve yourself is when the vehicle makes a pitstop.
Unexpectedly though, I enjoyed the road-trip experience very much.
We started our journey from KL in the morning. By noon, we had reached Ipoh and decided to stop for lunch. We went to a coffeeshop and ordered lots of food: Satay, kuay teow, Ipoh-style chee cheong fun, the famous Ipoh caramel egg custard, and white coffee.
OK, this was getting better, I thought. With a road journey, there is more flexibility to take a break and see the sights, or savour some out-of-town food along the way.
Satisfied, we continued our journey.
Despite the rather bumpy ride, I fell asleep for a while. When I awoke, there were endless padi fields on both sides of the road. We had already arrived at Sungai Petani, Kedah.
Soon, we passed by Changlun and came to Bukit Kayu Hitam.
At a duty free outlet, we decided to buy a bottle of whisky each since it was so affordable. We had to pay for our purchases at the outlet first, and then collect the items at the border checkpoint.
When we got to the checkpoint, we had to get out of the car to get our passports stamped. If you are driving a Malaysian-registered car, you will need to sign the necessary documents to “import” or bring your car into Thailand, and the documents need to be stamped. The original car registration is also required and you need to buy Thai insurance for your car. There is also another form to fill out with details of your passengers’ particulars.
Despite there being a long queue, everything went surprisingly smooth and fast.
We proceeded to make our way to the town of Sadao (Danok) in Songkhla, which has been likened to a “cowboy” town. By the time we arrived at Hatyai, it was early evening.
That night, we hung out at the area near Lee Garden Plaza. There were many food stalls and little shops in the vicinity.
Hungry, we tried the Thai version of oh chien (oyster omelette), wanton noodles, kuay teow soup and lin chee kang. The stall operators surprised me by speaking fluent Chinese and Bahasa Malaysia.
We then walked around the pasar malam-like area where there were many stalls selling all kinds of stuff like clothing, accessories, bags, rugs, shoes and handicrafts.
The next two days were spent exploring the famous tourist spots. There are two floating markets worth checking out here: Klong Hae Floating Market and Ban Pru Floating Market.
There is also the Kim Yong Market where you can get foodstuff as well as clothing, bags, and accessories. It is considered a day market but it actually opens until night time.
The Greenway Night Market is where you can find a giant food court and also many stalls selling clothing, accessories, and other interesting stuff.
We loaded up on “supplies” like packet noodles, snacks and drinks at the Big C, Thailand’s famous hypermarket. We also walked around Central Festival Hatyai, said to be the largest shopping mall in Hatyai.
What is nice about a road trip is that you don’t really have a luggage weight constraint. You can just buy what you want and load it all into the car. There are certain limitations though. For example, if you’re buying produce like rice to bring back to Malaysia – it’s limited to 1kg per person.
You also don’t have to spend time waiting for a tuk tuk (auto rickshaw), taxi, or other public transport because you can just drive yourself to wherever you want to go.
We drove to Samila Beach where the iconic Mermaid Statue of Songkhla is located. It was a hot day and the beach was clean and uncrowded. There were a few stalls selling food, drinks, and souvenirs.
This is where we tried the famous coconut ice cream, served in a coconut shell with the coconut flesh, and toppings like dried fruit and nuts.
On Monday, we drove back. This time, we paused at the border town of Sadao and discovered that the things here were slightly cheaper than in Hatyai town itself. OK, last chance to shop!
We stopped at Tapah, Perak, for lunch and continued all the way back to KL. The return journey seemed to go by faster.