Indochina driving trip

15th July to 9th September 2022 (Part 1, 15th to 23rd July)

This is my maiden driving trip from Kuala Lumpur to Indochina, covering Thailand, Laos, and backpack to Vietnam with my son, leaving my 4 x 4 at Laos, Ban Huak Border Checkpoint for 2 weeks, visit Dien Bein Phu, Sapa, Halong Bay and back to Ban Huak to continue my driving to Laos capital, Vientiane and then to crossing over to Siem Reap, Cambodia and then cross back to Thailand and return Malaysia. A road trip that travels more than 9,000km in almost 2 months (58 days to be exact) over 4 countries with stops in many cities, meeting many people from all walks of life and various living conditions.

The journey begins from KL to Terengganu, a distance of 450 km in 6 hours, first-day camp is near the beach with many food trucks beside Terengganu Draw Bridge.(Malay: Jambatan Angkat Kuala Terengganu) followed the London Tower Bridge in London. It is the first drawbridge built in Malaysia and Southeast Asia, costing RM248 million ($55 mil). The construction of the bridge started in August 2014 and was completed in mid-2019.

The next morning we went to Chinatown for breakfast and move on to visit a Turtle Sand Craft competition by the beach. Spend another night before we head to Kuala Besut, about 110km away where the boat jetty to Perhentian Island, our next destination for 2 days

The speedboat to Perhentian Island takes about 40 minutes. We rented a chalet on the small island. There are Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil, big and small island. The islands were sparsely inhabited by fishers for centuries, although tourism now accounts for most of the economic activity.

Nature tourism provides the economic base for the islands. Both the islands have white coral sand beaches and a clear sea with activities like scuba diving, snorkeling and swimming. The islands are home to numerous different species of monitor lizards, venomous spiders, and geckos. In the water and on the coral reefs, sea turtles, clownfish, cuttlefish, blue spotted rays, and black-tipped sharks swim freely among many others.

The Perhentian islands have a tropical climate with temperatures steadily around 30 °C (86 degrees F). During peak season, the waters are calm, making conditions favorable for diving. There are dozens of dive sites around both main islands, as well as several off-shore sites.

There are five more islands in the Perhentian archipelago other than Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Kecil. These five islands are uninhabited, but are sometimes used as snorkeling and scuba diving sites. Three of the islands, Rawa, Serengeh and Tokong Burung, are accessible by boat.

The Perhentian Islands do not have any paved roads or airstrips. Transportation to, from and between the islands is primarily on speed boats from the jetty at Kuala Besut on the mainland. Jungle trails connect the individual beaches on both islands.

The Perhentian islands experience a heavy monsoon season between November and February, and most of the islands are essentially closed off to tourists. Resorts and ferry services are stopped during this time due to the weather but there is still a boat service daily to serve the fishermen’s village at Pulau Perhentian Kecil.

The Perhentian Islands are home to a significant green and hawksbill sea turtle nesting population. The Department of Fisheries runs a turtle hatchery on the islands because of the declining turtle populations. Egg poaching from the beaches is also a continuing problem.

After back from Perhentian island by speedboat to the mainland, Kuala Besut, we took our car and continue to Bukit Keluang, a 141 meter high hill with a superb view over the South China Sea. Once you are at the hilltop, you can see far away. It was a strenuous and sweaty climb but I reached an opening near the top from where there were great views looking out to sea, which was a beautiful turquoise colour that day. Bukit Keluang has some of the best coastal scenery in Malaysia with lovely beaches, a wooden walkway along the cliff edge, sea cave.

After the Bukit Keluang hike, we drove further northwest to Golok boundary checkpoint for entering Thailand which is open 7am – 5pm daily. We need to buy insurance at this checkpoint before our car was allowed in, the cost for 30 days is Rm30. Our first meal on entering the border is no other than Som Tam, a spicy sweet and sour Thai papaya salad which is a specialty delicacy here.

From the border, we head to Songkhla which is 4 hours away 260km and we arrived late after dark where I cook dinner, prawns and squids that I bought earlier along the way. Songkhla, is a city with so much to explore the Golden Mermaid (I took Photos above) is located near Samila Beach, the length of the east coast shoreline is an endless golden sand beach with plenty of shady pine trees. It is a magnet for locals as well as tourists, especially on the weekends and holidays.

Phathammarong Museum is located at the corner of Chana and Saiburi Road, just to the west of the Songkhla Clock Tower.  *Phathammarong Museum, Corner of Chana and Saiburi Road, Entry: Free, Open: Daily 08:00-17:00.

Another museum, the Songkhla National Museum is an in-depth look at the history of the province and well worth a visit. Opened as a museum in 1982, displaying everything from archaeological findings, historic documents and the Japanese Invasion during World War 2. Be prepared to spend at least two hours there.  *Songkhla National Museum, 13 Wichianchom Road, Entry: 150 baht (free for monks, priests & students in uniform), Open: Wed through Sun 09:00-16:00

The next morning, we head to Hat Yai which is just 40 minutes drive (30km) to the west of Songkhla. Hat Yai is a sprawling commercial hub and shopping destination, which is also the fourth largest in Thailand. It is often used as the resting stop to and from Malaysia At the Khlong Hae Floating Market, vendors sell local foods and handicrafts from traditional boats docked in a canal. The Wat Hat Yai Nai temple is known for its 35m-long reclining Buddha. There are also shooting ranges where you can try your hands on guns, rifles etc.

A good experience to get a Traffic parking summon for parking on Odd Days, look at the road traffic sign, they have Even and Odd Days rules where you can park on the Left/Right side of the road. Scroll pictures below

Our journey continued the next day heading north to an attraction at Tham Nam Yen cave, can only be visited by boat with a local guide because has an underground river. where they paddle us in a boat entering a cave that is low on some parts where you need to lie down to watch it. They are a substantial amount of bats inside, quite scary as this is not a movie, you experience live shows, and snakes too. Inside you will also see interesting rock formations and stalactites some glitter.

The boat trip costs THB 300 per boat (maximum 4 people) and lasts about half an hour. Open from 9 am to 4.30 pm.

Below is a video of our tour by boat entering Tham Nam Yen cave that I recorded and uploaded to Youtube

Next, we headed to Trang for a visit to Wang Thep Taro, a Dragon Sculpture park where they use Theptaro tree branches and roots of a large tree, and nailed them together to form a dragon shape. It is an auspicious tree of which several parts are used. Its leaves, bark and roots that smell like camphor are used in cooking and making medicine, whereas its trunk can be made into furniture. Krabi is our next destination, just 2 hours drive away from Trang.

At Krabi, you can visit Wat Thum Sua (Tiger Temple) which is just 40 minutes drive away. The temple is located at a hilltop where you can challenge your physical fitness with 1,272 steps staircase to the top, where you would be rewarded with a stunning 360 view all around, also see the “footprint of the Buddha”. and can see the surrounding countryside and the Andaman Sea..

Besides being a worship place, it is also a place of archaeological and historical interest. Stone tools, pottery remains, and the mold for making Buddha footprints have been found in excavations.

Another temple you should miss is Wat Kaew Ko Wararam as it is located right in the heart of the city, don’t need any Tuk2, just within walking distance. Located on a hill above the city’s downtown, it is accessed by an entrance plaza off one of the city’s main streets and a grand staircase lined by nāga sculptures. It is one of the largest temples in Krabi, but is not as famous as Wat Tham Suea.

Below is the journey from Trang to Krabi, Wat Thum Sua (Tiger Temple) where you need to hike up 1272 steps to reach this hilltop temple with spectacular 360 degrees view

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