Sunday, April 20, 2014

ToST III - Part 1

Touring in Southern Thailand...

We did our first Tour of Southern Thailand from Hat Yai to Patthalung back in August 2013 and continued with the second tour sometime in October the same year.
It took me a few months to plan the third tour, this time, covering a reverse route from Patthalung to Hat Yai.
There was a request to check out the Thale Noi waterfowl sanctuary and we did just that by having a slightly longer stay in this birding paradise.
Then, it dawned on us that the timing fell on the Songkran (Thai New Year) festival.
Roger Teoh, who co-organized the ride had allayed his fear that there will be a possible shutdown on all food and beverage outlets during the festival which is celebrated over a course of a few days all throughout Thailand.

Contingency plans

I suggested to the ToST team members to bring their meal kits.
In addition, I will pack my backpacker's stove and some cooking pots to prepare meals.
The plan was to purchase some supplies in Hat Yai and we kept ourselves updated through our emails.
Initially, there were supposed to be nine people in the group.
Two declined and another had dropped out citing health reasons.
There were suggestions on adding replacements, but I was adamant that the group is already large enough and that we don't need to drag on inexperienced cyclists for this trip.
My colleague Eddie played a key role by securing the KTM Ekspres Langkawi tickets from KL - Hat Yai.
During Songkran, we don't leave anything to chances. So, the tickets were procured way in advance before the trip.
I handed them out to the respective people and gave them the landmark to meet up at the day of departure.

Saying good bye to our pooch

We'll be on the road for a week..
The list

We had Roger Teoh who had toured with us for the third time, Patric Yee, a first-timer, Sin Tai Lim (Happy Happy Cyclist & Blogger) who joined us on his second tour and Andrew Ng who rode with us at the first tour.
At least three of them are experienced and we got along very well.
Roger left a day earlier to scout for accommodation in Thale Noi while Pat took the bus and met up with us in Hat Yai.
We boarded the KTM train which was packed to the brim and headed off Hat Yai. Roger will meet us in Pak Khlong in Patthalung. He managed to book five rooms at the Thale Noi resort where we stayed for two days.

Michelle and our usual seat in coach L7 of the Express Langkawi
The slow and tiring ride to Hat Yai

It takes at least 14 hours to get to Southern Thailand's largest city from Kuala Lumpur. 

We stopped at major train stations along the way.
While waiting to board, I saw an old friend, Tuan Jamal, a national trainer with the Scouting movement. 
We chat a bit and I found out that he was traveling to Nibong Tebal.
He actually took the bunk next to our team members during this trip.
Late in to the night, Jamal melted away and we were prepared to disembark in Padang Besar to get our travel documents stamped by the Thai immigration..

Tuan Jamal at his bunck onboard the coach L8
At Padang Besar, Perlis

Arrival in Hat Yai on the eve of the Songkran festival
Rendezvous with the rest of the team...

We kept in touch via Facebook messenger.
I carried two phones, a primary (HTC One X+) that I use for my official stuff and a secondary (Motorola Moto G) for travel.
We arrived in Hat Yai without a hitch and made arrangements to meet up with Pat who came in on a bus.
After moving the bikes and panniers to a secure spot, I collected 100 baht each from the guys to purchase food rations in case if the shops and eateries are closed.
The guys also requested for a Thai data SIM Card which is sold at the 7-Eleven outlets at 299 baht and upon activation, we get 7 days of data coverage up to 1.5GB.
By the time we got down to the downtown area, the Songkran party was already in full swing. A section of the road was closed for the water festival.

New Year revelers having a go with their water guns during the Songkran fest in Hat Yai
Way I see it, it was more a Malaysian tourist affair in Hat Yai rather than the locals themselves who were really having fun.
The Thai business community took advantage of this to sell waterguns.
After securing the foodstuff and the Thai SIM Cards, we moved back to the station and our guys were already having a small party by themselves there..

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