Sunday, July 23, 2017

Abang Adek Adventure to Songkhla, Thailand - Day 1

In the Malay language, Abang Adek is more than 2 mere words that describe an elder brother and a younger brother. It can be used also to depict a strong blood bond of 2 siblings which is thicker than water. And this aptly describes our latest ride between 2 Bike Fridays - KC's Llama and my Tikit, both very accomplished bicycles with great reputations as one of the world's best touring folding bike and the world's fastest folding bike (folding speed of 5 secs) respectively from Green Gear Company, Eugene, Oregon.

The brothers were tasked to do 2 very noble missions. One was to travel in the belly of a bus for a 14 hour ride from Singapore to Hatyai, some 1000km away, and take their riders 30km to the coastal trading town of Songkhla to recce for a possible future LTF trip. Secondly, to return to Hatyai and pick up 6 orders of the Ergotec Space Touring handlebars from Tyro Bike.

KC and I met at our usual Kranji MRT point at 230pm and crossed the Causeway into JB to catch our 7pm bus at Larkin Sentral. We left early because we wanted to avoid the jam but still got stuck for an hour despite our early start at the Singapore side. Waiting in line with noisy smoky motorcycles was something our "Aristocratic" foldies were not accustomed to but eating humble pie, they say, is good for one's soul. Fortunately, we had nice sea breezes and that made the long wait bearable.

Clearing the Malaysian side was easy enough but at 33c with a blazing sun, we had had to find air-conditioned refuge. Big Bite Cafe was chosen for its ice cold surroundings and the staff kindly allowed us to park inside. We rewarded ourselves with a nice afternoon tea and with free powerful internet, we stayed for longer than we should. At 5pm, we forced ourselves to ride to Larkin Sentra to catch our bus, some 8km away but not without buying the famous Banana Cake from the famous Hiap Joo Bakery which still bakes using wood fire.

The evening ride to Larkin was surprisingly easy as it was a long gradual climb to get there. Perhaps we were on our very accomplished Bike Fridays, which made it a joy to cover the miles. We arrived at 530pm, and cooled off at KFC. While KC watched over our bikes, I went to find the Konsortium Bus counter to get our tickets. At about S$30 for the 1000km ride, it was quite good value actually and cheaper than going from Singapore, which would cost 50% more plus suffer through the evening causeway jam! One challenge was loading our bicycles into the bus and we had so much problems on our last return trip from Malacca. This time however, we were blessed and each Friday had a dedicated huge space in the bus luggage - so big that it was not necessary to fold!

We settled quickly into our comfortable seats and began the long journey north. Having done this more than a few times, I came prepared with neck pillow, warm clothing, socks (the aircon is always set at freezing somehow!) and some snacks. There were 3 stopovers if I remembered correctly and they were all very welcomed - to stretch our legs, have toilet breaks, get some hot drinks etc.  I'm very blessed to be able to sleep through the bus and when dawn finally came, we were near Bukit Kayu Hitam, the border crossing.

Thank God it was a smooth crossing, no need to take out luggage for customs inspection on both sides. Just a simple chop on the passport, no questions asked and off we went. We were privileged to witness the flag raising ceremony on the Thai side with all the immigration officers standing smartly! But what surprised me was when a Thai man came up to thank me for standing at attention and giving their flag my respect.

Just a few minutes into Thai territory, we were stopped at a Police Checkpoint. Our poor driver from Taiping, was pulled over for failing to wear a seat belt. The irony was that he had to go through a gate of a Catholic cemetery with a big white cross. The cross is a symbol of God's love, forgiveness, grace and sacrifice for us, but in this instance, it became a place to pay "fines" and our poor driver was out of his pocket for 500B. I gave him a tip later to help him out as it was the right thing to do.

It was another 60+km to Hat Yai and when we finally rolled into the 3rd biggest city in Thailand, it became a slow crawl. When we finally disembarked, Abang and Adek were glad to awake from their long slumber. We wanted to go to Tyro Bike but they closed on Tuesday. So we went to a 711 to get our mobile internet sorted out. Poor KC had some issues with his phone and had to seek help so I had a lovely foot massage while waiting for him,by none other than Batman.

We headed to Songkhla via the Highway 407 in the blazing sun. KC was wise to have brought his Da Brim and the ride was easy enough, flattish with a wide shoulder. It was already past 1pm and we were getting famish. Finding a place to eat in Thailand is never a problem and true enough, we saw an eatery with roast meats hanging on the window. I enjoyed a most delicious plate of roast pork and rice while KC had roast duck. We received wonderful Thai hospitality as usual where the nice lady gave us fruits - a mango, a rambutan and a banana for dessert. Such kindness makes me love the Thai people so much! She was also so proud of her daughter who  was in Uni and knew some English and took out a photo to show us.

The afternoon sun was really doing my head in and I really needed to cool off. Fortunately by then, we had arrived at the outskirts of Songkhla City and Abang Adek took a "we made it" photo together. It was easy to find the Club Tree Hotel which was located in the heart of Songkhla. Designed almost like a European hotel, we found the CTH more than adequate for our needs. At 900B with breakfast for 2, it is unbelievable value. Clean, spacious rooms, well appointed, centrally located, good service and with some imagination, you can almost believe that this is Vienna!

We did the usual laundry and washing up as soon as we checked in and had a short siesta. With the cold aircon, we were out like a light for a much needed rest. This didn't lasted long as there was much to explore and we decided to walk. First thing first and a must do is to explore the Old Town, particularly Nang Ngam Road, where there are many Sino-Portuguese buildings built some 200 years when Songkhla was a great trading port. The revered City Pillar made in 1842 sits in a magnificent Chinese Temple.

Some what like Penang, there are many art murals depicting the ordinary life of people and they make for great photos. A great write up here.

We came across a curios shop too which caught our attention because it was just fascinating and it had an old bicycle in it. KC had to say hi as well to a familiar friend.

One must do is to see the sunset at Blue Smile Cafe, rated the #1 place for a meal by TA. This Canadian owned place is full of character and colour and if you like art, this is a place to hang out. We were fortunate that being a Tuesday, it was quiet and we had our drinks right at the roof top! It was magical and our drinks at 70B, were beautifully made. It was special to see the sun go down behind the islands and the hills, with calm breezes and a darkening sky.

Dinner was taken at one of the oldest Chinese restaurant in Songkhla, and perhaps even Thailand. Tae Hiang Lew  turned out to be one of the best meals I've enjoyed this year. It is old school and feels like being teleported back to the 1940s or earlier. They serve simple Chinese Thai dishes and we ordered fried Mackeral with Thai basil, kailan with salted fish and a special omelette with mince pork that to our surprise, was seasoned with Worcester Sauce. I supposed this reflected the European influence in this region many years ago... This amazing meal with rice costs us only 300B or US$9!

It was good to stroll back to our hotel but not before exploring the explosion of night market stalls just outside Club Tree. Having dinner there is not a bad idea given the huge choice of food but we settled for desserts and found our favourite mango sticky rice as well as soy bean curd in ginger syrup.

All in, it has been worth every km for the overnight bus and bicycle ride to Songkhla! This town off the beaten track is not in the tourist radar yet and certainly worth more exploring, which we look forward to doing with Abang and Adek the next day!


Amoi on pedals said...

Feels like I am already there. Enjoyed the whole account. By the way, was the tip big enough to cover the bus driver's fine???

Haans said...

I hope to bring my roadie one fine day. Anyone interested to tag along? Can form a small group.