Day 77 Narathiwat to Kota Bharu, Malaysia

70km/5hrs. A short day by km and a bit sad leaving Thailand. Usual flat road in Thailand with cycle and motorbike lane but less of latter in Malaysia.

Woke to have breakfast on balcony watching the fishing boats return. sorry to leave. A few days more would be good.

Stopped a few km before the immigration at Tak Bai (much quieter and more civilized exit point than Su Ngai Kolok)  for my last papaya salad, grilled chicken and sticky rice. Lot of military presence. Armored trucks, helicopter, military passing in trucks and check points. Gave me usual thumbs up and grins.

Immigration office in Tak Bai is small wooden building where the ferry stops. Seem to have a bigger new office nearly finished opposite. Officials were confused about my new passport and although it clearly had transfer of visa stamp kept looking for the old stamp in my new passport. Eventually got this sorted and then they found I was two days over my visa. I started giving them the sad story of food poisoning but they just said, ‘Pay!’ and I did. 1,000B/$30. Then a young officer who had seen me eating lunch and spoke English came and things became friendly. I had to undergo the usual whispered silly sexual jokes and tell him the population of Wales. This seemed very important to him. Then waited for the ferry. Luckily there was an ice cream seller. Bread chunks, sticky rice, jelly, ice cream and condensed milk with choc sauce. Ferry costs 10B and takes 6 min. Malaysian immigration were very relaxed and friendly and there were signs to Kota Bharu.

There are a few places to stay in Tak Bai (Thai side) and a couple on Malaysian side a few km from the border. TTs GH advertised at RM58. 3 ringgit to $ approximately.

Kota Bharu was not impressive even in good weather. Seems tatty and generally badly maintained. Probably because it is. I felt like going straight back to Thailand. Looked at about 8 guesthouses, hotels and backpacker places and chose the best value. Rose Garden Inn (signed off Jl Kebun Sultan) where rooms start at RM50. I paid for family room with balcony for RM70 as others full tonight. Still fairly small rooms and not such good value as Thailand but far better than others I saw for same price which were scruffy shoe boxes with dirty walls and scrapped furniture they seem to have gathered from a dump. I tried most from wikitravel and all were depressing. Also the owner is friendly in a vague scatty way. ‘Star movies are not working’. ‘Oh that’s a problem’ and wandered off.

Some Chinese restaurants in Jl Kebun Sultan with good cheap food (RM3-6) and the cheapest beer one is likely to find which is not cheap (RM13+). Royal Stoat is 8% so one gets almost twice the alcohol for ones money. A couple of these and Kota Bharu looks a lot better. I had one of those surreal conversations with a half wit old waiter. This is nothing against the old. I am sure he used to be a young half wit also.

‘Can I have the menu please?’

‘No menu in English’

‘No problem I speak Malay’ (said in Malay)

‘In KL they speak English but here we speak our national language, Malay’

‘I know that’s why I am speaking to you in Malay. This is Malay I am speaking’.

‘People here speak Malay’

I left.

There is a bar in town but during happy hours half a pint still costs RM14 (nearly £5).

Tip: bring alcohol from Thailand as much more expensive in Malaysia

locked and fenced wat in Narathiwat

locked and fenced wat in Narathiwat

nice coffee and cake cafe in Narathiwat

nice coffee and cake cafe in Narathiwat

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morning view from hotel room in Narathiwat

morning view from hotel room in Narathiwat

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protection for banks in Narathiwat

protection for banks in Narathiwat

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fishermen returning, Narathiwat

ice cream seller next to immigration

ice cream seller next to immigration

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waiting for the ferry to Malaysia

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immigration office Thailand near Tak Bai

immigration office Thailand near Tak Bai

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looking back to Thailand

on ferry leaving Thailand

on ferry leaving Thailand

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Buddha a few km inside Malaysia looking towards Malaysia

Buddha a few km inside Malaysia looking towards Malaysia

best place i could find at the price in Kota Bharu.

best place i could find at the price in Kota Bharu.

Rose Garden Inn, Kota Bharu.

Rose Garden Inn, Kota Bharu.

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typical city buildings in Kota Bharu

typical city buildings in Kota Bharu

a pub in Kota Bharu but you can't afford a drink

a pub in Kota Bharu but you can’t afford a drink

pub. Irish of course

pub. Irish of course

Day 58 Wat Sing to sing Buri

Day 58 Wat Sing to sing Buri
79km/6.5hrs (lot of time lost due to rain and punctures)
3183 road all the way. Flat, not too busy, hard shoulder and not too interesting. The centre of Thailand is the rice basket of the country. Paddy fields and now the rain has started water pumps along the canals and rivers irrigating fields.
Woke to another puncture. A veranda overlooking a lotus pond and sink with a plug was not a bad place to repair it though.
Saw a resort at 18 and another at 20km that both looked ok.
No rain for two days so was expecting a storm and not disappointed. The temperature dropped and the wind started. I ducked into a nursery (plants not children) with a cafe as the rain started. A SUV drew up and a monk with a helper and a driver came into the cafe. The helper handed the monk a piece of saffron cloth to sit on and served him while the driver sat at a different table. Buddhism is about giving up material things and being humble and serving. After 40 min of only light rain i decided to move on knowing what would happen. Within 300 metres it opened up and poured in bucket loads. I found a bus shelter and sat there for an hour until the storm had passed and it was only English rain. First time on the trip I used my old gortex jacket bought for $5 second hand in Malaysia in 2008. It socked up the water.
The rain stopped and with only 3 km to go I looked forward to a shower food and a cold beer. Then I had another puncture. This was the third in two days while previously I had one in two months. The guest house owner in Kampeng Phet gave me a lucky charm which may have been a clever revenge for me barganing down the price of the room. It will have to go. While pumping up the tire hoping it would get me to Sing Buri a local came over. My pumping the tire furiously and cursing was probably more interesting than sitting and staring into space all day. He told me the tire was flat, poked it and generally got in the way. However, he did point me in the direction of a puncture repair place. I walked a few hundred metres down a small lane and just as I was going to give up I found a wooden house with a tire on the gate post. A nice old man in Thai fishermen trousers looked a bit apprehensive but we were soon laughing and joking offering to swap his bike for mine. A great job for 20B and a pleasant experience from an unpleasant one. He looked ok in his Thai fisherman trousers which backpackers also favour in the effort to go native. They just look silly especially as the trousers are usually brightly coloured and of material such as satin.
I left the old puncture repair man in better spirits were further lifted when cycling around Sing Buri to get orientated I found a cafe selling papaya salad grilled chicken and sticky rice. The sun started to shine.
Sing Buri is a nothing special but I liked it. There are a number of hotels around the centre which is convenient. I chose the worst but still had bed, AC and shower that all sort of worked. I also spotted a tap and hose at the back of the hotel so washed the bike. The hotel guard/helper suggested I might want a women come to my room for a massage, saw my look and left smiling weakly.
Sung Sing Bar had live music and friendly staff. Don’t think they get many falangs. The singer welcomed me in English.

woke up to a flat tire but nice place to fix it

woke up to a flat tire but nice place to fix it

second puncture fixed by a very nice profesional

second puncture fixed by a very nice profesional

puncture fixer's wife

puncture fixer’s wife

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the lucky charm that brought storms and punctures

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my hotel in Sing Buri. not the best

 

Day 45 – 47 Chiang Mai

Been making plans. Though of staying in CM and taking a language course but decided to cycle through Thailand to Malaysia. Bought a bike computer for 450B. If I had known how cheap they are I would have got one two months ago especially as it has a clock.
Found a nice bar called Sudsanan with bad service but fine until the band started playing ‘Country Road’ when I had to leave. Perhaps it was a technique near closing time.
Met some interesting people such as Sombat who was brought up in Switzerland, Farid, a Kuwaiti American computer programmer who now travels and buys and sells things like furniture. I tried to sell Indonesian wooden puppets in the UK which was not a great success. People wanted to know it it was a man why was he wearing a dress. I asked a young backpacker what to do in Chiang Mai. They reeled off a list of tours they had been on such as Tiger Kingdom where one can touch a tiger, visit to primitive tribe and another tour to see the long necked women. Apparently the latter was not so good as the women were not displayed very well. I mentioned that the tigers are drugged and that women were brought up with rings of metal around their necks as it brought in tourist money. She was unconcerned. Voyeurism without empathy. Another problem a backpacker identified is that some people don’t speak English. ‘ I say, ‘Av you got warer’ but they understand nofing’. After she repeated it a few times for emphasis I released that she had been asking for water. A man from Yorkshire found even less people understood English or that is what I think he said. Kevin was a nice change. He is a journalist working on Myanmar.
Saturday market has good food and lots of craft work. A bamboo toilet roll holder was particularly hard to resist but I had already given all my money to the poor dogs home.
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Before they started singing ‘Country Road’

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Think it’s a Buddhist thing

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Missionaries trying to convert someone

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Zoe in Yellow. Group of bars open late and popular with backpackers. Interesting to watch

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Street I am staying in

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Traffic around the moat is a nightmare

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A cause close to my heart

Day 7 Khong Chiam

Day 7

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Rest day. Good idea as heavy rain in the morning.

Met Frenchman again, only foreigner met since Bangkok, and heard about what high prices people were asking and how Malaysia was cheaper as you could stay in a dorm. He said he had not worked for two years and was on his way to get his teeth whitened in Ubon as it is much cheaper there than in France. I jokingly said, ‘did you get a lot of money from your parents?’ ‘Yes he replied they are all dead’. We then discussed shopping in Bangkok and how much he liked the MBK centre. ‘Good for cheap clothes he said pulling on a sweat drenched dish cloth he was wearing. I was not convinced.

Sat by the De Moon deserted floating restaurant and watched the Mekong go by as the head enveloped me into a semi stupor. A boy paddled his wooden canoe slowly across from Lao and along the Mekong with a tap tap as his paddle hit the side of the boat with every stroke. Who wonders that some countries develop faster than others. I decided to have a hair cut but all the barbers were sleeping. By 19.30 the town was closed.