Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thailand to Singapore, via East Coast of Malaysia, Ride: Day 2

Remember, anything worth doing is worth doing well, and nothing gives satisfaction unless there is an element of technique and difficulty.
         (Hugh Dean)

Journal entry

'Nodded off (finally!) after Tanah Merah. I was the only passenger left on the train; the station master woke me up. I was lucky Tumpat is the last stop or else I would have missed it. Dang! It is cold in the train carriages at night. 'Was actually wearing my long johns and beanie to keep warm.

'Spent more than 1/2 an hour fitting the panniers, handlebar bag, and improvised clothes drying bag / trunk bag to Michelle. Fortunately, Tumpat is a sleepy village, and the train station, quiet. My only spectator was a curious kid. It would have been a spectacle at Kota Bharu station.

Odometer reads 0.0 km. I purchased the Cateye Velo 5 just for this trip :-P

Red tracks denote my route for the day.

After being lost for a while (I forgot where I packed my compass) I got on the right track northwest towards Kampung Pengkalan Kubur, the crossing point to Thailand on the east coast of West Malaysia. When a couple of immigration officials directed me toward a boat not unlike the bumboats to Pulau Ubin or Pengerang, my heart sank. I wasn't too keen on removing all 6 bags (7 if you count the ground sheet bag) from my bike, and keeping track of them while loading and unloading off a boat, all between border towns.

As I slowly wheeled my bike away, considering my options, an older immigration officer walked by. Taking a chance, I explained to him my predicament. He not only led me to a roll-on, roll-off vehicle ferry at a neighboring complex, but taught me how to navigate the customs clearing procedure as well. Michelle is going to Thailand!

As I wheeled the laden bike down the slippery, notched wooden ramp, a man in uniform ran after me, yelling that I must pay the ferry fare. Sure, dude.

Ferry fare? RM0.60

Michelle's next to the bridge, between 2 large pull-carts. Spot her?

Malaysia's Pengkalan Kubur immigration checkpoint in the background.

On the Thai immigration side, I kept getting sent back to the end of the line until I employed the services of their form fillers. Since I am illiterate in Thai, I supposed I had to pay up. But the friendly gentleman behind the counter would accept no payment. Instead, he inquired, "Can you write? In English?"
"A little," I lied. "Good," he continued, "You just write what I tell you in the correct boxes." Fair enough.

Cats and bird cages. Took this for Viki and Louis.

Tak Bai is a sleepy border town, a bazaar town; lots of sundry shops, fresh produce, and roadside stalls. However, I had no Thai baht on me.

On October 25, 2004, a massacre occurred in this town...

I rode around, and eventually came to a junction to the road leading to Narathiwat. Against advice, I foolhardily decided to give the 40 km northbound road a try. I quickly discovered that not a few of the people encountered along the way were at best, unfriendly, at worst, hostile; returning smiles and greetings with impassive faces, snarls, or spitting on the ground. Did I err?

Update 6 November 2009:  It has been over a year, and the violence in southern Thailand still hasn't quelled. In fact, according to some reports, it has gotten worse:

Thailand seems about as far from the Taliban as you can get, yet just a short distance from its golden tourist beaches and paradise islands, an insurgency has been raging for five years.

Someone is killed on average every day in the provinces on the country's southern border with Malaysia, where a shadowy group of Islamist extremists are stirring up a deepening sectarian divide.

In just five years 3,800 people have been killed and more than 6,000 injured.

[ . . . ]

The victims are often civilians, especially teachers, who in the most dangerous areas travel to school on motorbikes in groups with armed soldiers as outriders to protect them.
         (Leithead, Alastair.  "Thailand's shadowy southern insurgency."  BBC News.  6 Nov 2009.  Accessed 6 Nov 2009.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8344334.stm )

I realized that I was attracting too much attention — of the wrong kind. After a handful of seedy chaps came by checking out my bike, I decided that it would not be a wise decision to continue on this fool's quest, or spend the night in Tak Bai. So, back towards the ferry I went.

Some shots captured along the way.

An engine mounted on the boatman's end of a shaft, with the propeller at the other. Technically, where's the rudder? And is this an outboard or onboard engine? Pedants, wrack your brains.

In action. I look at them and dream of giant, ice-cold, milkshakes.

In terms of engine access, on one end of the spectrum you have mid-engine cars, and on the other...

Tak Bai's waterfront.

For those who dive.

Streets of Tak Bai.

Upon entering Tak Bai again, I ducked into a shop's vinyl canopy, and on the pretext of browsing their wares, turned on the GPS unit. Part of Tak Bai, the ferry ride, and respective immigration checkpoints of both countries were thus recorded. Tumpat railway station and the (trial and error) journey towards Kampung Pengkalan Kubur were not marked as I wasn't sure if I would be able to find my way to Thailand this morning.

Leaving Tak Bai, Thailand.

Crossing southeast to Malaysia.

Automobiles and trucks get priority disembarking.

On the Malaysian side, I took a wrong turn and found myself in a maze of dead ends. Seeking help from a local lady, she pointed me in the right direction and revealed to me that I wandered into a duty-free town that's cordoned off from the rest of the country with walls and fences.

Generous, albeit sandy, road shoulder.

Wat Photivihan contains a Thai temple containing the largest reclining Buddha in Malaysia, but I was too tired to make the 28 km roundtrip detour.

An abandoned and dilapidated gas station.
No fuel, have legs, will travel.

A Buddhist temple along the way. Opposite this is a tiny hut that sold me a packet of salted biscuits that helped fend off hunger pangs for the rest of the trip.

Red tracks denote my passage on the city map.

Highway D134 was a long ride in the heat, along a hairy crossing over Sungai Kelantan; there was a lane for motorcyclists, and I had to ride it in a straight line, battling wind gusts, while motorbikes whizzed by on my right with inches to spare.

Tired from a lack of sleep; experiencing hunger pangs from a dinner of raisin buns; practically having had neither breakfast nor lunch; I limped into Kota Bharu. In no mood to haggle or price-shop, I made a bee-line for the nearest accommodation. But Destiny Inn was full. A little disappointed (fighting city traffic, hunting for accommodation, with a blood sugar crash is no fun.), I asked if they knew of the nearest hotel with vacancies. Crystal Lodge, 200 meters down the road, came the answer.

Their brochure left me in stitches.


At Crystal Lodge, they did have vacancies but there was a catch: no bikes in the room. And they had neither security guard nor locked room somewhere for me to store Michelle for the night either. All I had was the basement parking lot stairwell.

I did a little scouting and discovered a metal structure under the stairs. Thus, I could not only lock the bike but hide her out of sight as well. No one on unofficial business would bother to squeeze into the rear of the dank stairwell. Security by obscurity!

A good shower and it's time for grub. When I left the building, it was time for the Muslims to break fast. Whoop! As all I had for dinner last night on the train were 4 diminutive raisin buns, with the remaining 2 for breakfast and lunch, I was ravenous. Dinner = curry chicken with fried garlic rice.

After a short walk round a couple of city blocks, came dinner #2: 2 roti canai with eggs. It came with 3 sauces. The owner, a friendly gentlemen, explained the contents to me: sambal chili, curry, and dal. Mmm. I have nasi briyani in my room too now, possibly for supper. It's from a roadside store though, so I'm a little leery; but, his dishes sold out (and it's not that cheap). So... I might just take that chance if I get hungry again.

'Came back to my room, washed some clothes, hung them across the room to dry (twine is so useful) and prepared to settle in for the night.

I hope it is the combination of a lack of sleep, dehydration, the stress leading to the departure, and lack of food, that contributed to today's dismal performance. Of course, lugging twice the load I am accustomed to carry around on the bike is definitely a factor too. I hope tomorrow and the rest of the journey will be better and I pray to the LORD for strength.

Time to get some shut eye now.
- 10:05 PM


Cateye AT-100
Elevation climbed  50 feet (15 m)
1 hour 56 minutes 23 seconds
Average speed  11.2 mph (17.92 km/h)
Maximum speed  17.8 mph (28.48 km/h)
Distance  21.8 miles [AT-100 was disconnected by a bump at some point.]
Temperature  90° F (32.2° C)

Cateye Velo 5
Distance  37.66 km (23.54 miles)
Maximum speed  28.6 km/h
Cumulative distance  37.66 km (23.54 miles)

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