I am a lucky man. There is no other way to put it. Today’s 450km trek from the lush Cameron Highlands, to Ipoh, to Alor Setar (they sometimes spell it ‘star’–wishful thinking I guess), to the border, and on to Hat Yai was nerve racking, exhausting, enjoyable–an all-around eye opener.
My near miss of the day came early, leaving Malaysia’s tea growing country on wet roads. As I descended tight & twistys from the Cameron Highlands, I looked away for a split second to waive to a construction worker with whom I had chatted briefly the day before on my way up. In doing so, I ended up in the other lane clipping road cones erratically to get back out of oncoming traffic. Not a good start to the day.
An hour later and I was burning tarmac back on the north/south expressway toward Thailand. In all fairness, I may as well have fallen asleep. Nothing terribly interesting happened until I rolled up to the Thai border.
First up was immigration. I stashed the KLR next to an administrative kiosk where two bureaucrats were discussing new bead fashions for 2013. Weird. I filled out my paperwork, got stamped, and shuffled over to the customs booth for importation of the bike. Immediately, the gentleman seated outside the booth redirected me next door. The lady next door immediately redirected me back to the man. Finally, they put their heads together and simply asked me how to fill out the carnet. Judging from what had transpired in Australia, Singapore, and Malaysia I faux-confidently told them to fill out an importation voucher and stamp me through. The lady attempted to charge me 360,000 baht (about $11,800usd) in customs bond, but I reminded her that that was why I had the Carnet in the first place. A few rounds later and I had my stamp.
The gentleman from the booth ran over as I was exiting the queue and handed me an ice cold bottle of mineral water for the next leg of the ride.
A good start to Thailand.
The people of here are incredibly kind.
The towns of Thailand, thus far, have been considerably dirtier than anything else I have seen in SE Asia. With the southern beaches ahead of me, it can only get better from here.
Not speaking or being able to read a lick of Thai forced me to sequester a group of young teenagers, replete with Islamic head dress, at the bus stop in Hat Yai to be my makeshift gps when my real one was having trouble finding my hotel. They carefully navigated a sea of scooters, two abreast, to the Tune Hotel–my stopping point for the night. I tried to give them some cash, but they simply smiled and rode away into the chaos. Without their help I would have spent the evening lost.
There have apparently been numerous terrorist bombings in this region in recent years. The Muslim faction here has been clammoring for it’s own independent state for quite some time, and have been willing to take up arms to get it. From what I was told, they have been known to stuff bombs under the seats of motorcycles outside of hotels in nearby Yala, detonating them when they pull up to tourist hot spots.
Not the most comforting notion, especially given my mode of transport.
The southern beaches over the coming days will not be taken for granted. Heaven on earth from what I have been told. Just have to get there first..