Crossing the border into Thailand was a breeze despite 3 bombings several days prior to my passage. It was calm in Pedang Besar; no cars queuing or motorbikes waiting to get their visa stamped. As a cyclist, I was ordered by the machine gun armed guard to go through the pedestrian way. I pulled out my Australian passport and the custom official lady smiled at me arriving on my push bike then stamped my passport in an instant. Smiling back and thanking her, I turned around and looked at the stamped. To my surprise, it allowed me only 15 days in the country whilst I was told by an agent back in Penang that I would get 30 days. I turned around and demanded explanations. According to the official crossing the border by land, 30 days allowance was only available for countries of the G7 group – 7 countries which Canada is part of. Since my Canadian passport expires at the end of January 2014, I couldn’t use it. I cursed myself (again!) for not having done that in Sydney before departure. I needed to work a plan to get more days in Thailand since I’ll never cycle to Cambodia in 15 days from the Malaysian border.
Being in Thailand was a good change. Malaysia has been a great discovery, but I simply love the Thai people energy and attitude. This makes the driving a bit crazier and I’ve noticed that no more than 15 minutes after crossing the border. To get to Hat Yai, I’ve elected to ride on rural roads before getting on the highway about 30kms south of one of the biggest cities in Thailand. The cars and pickup trucks were passing me at a relatively high speed for the width and curvy country side road, sometimes taking over from my opposite direction. The highway was even worst, but I could share the shoulder with motorcycles. The shoulder, luckily enough, was wide enough to let bicycle-touring nuts and motorcyclists coexist. Since drivers are used to motorcyclists here, they are giving a lot of space to them as well as cyclists, things that Aussie drivers are not willing to do so easily.
Earlier in Malaysia I came across 2 Englishmen going in the opposite direction and told me there was some fantastic road in Thailand. They couldn’t have been more correct. One of the best so far was the Krabi region. I was surrounded by huge limestone cliffs for 2 days. Once in a while, a man on a motorcycle accompanied by his worker monkey passed me. There are numerous rubber tree plantations as well as the occasional palm oil plantation along the road. Since this region is popular with tourists mostly for its beaches (Ao Nang and Railay the most popular), rural roads were a tad busier than what I’ve seen so far. But the section that took my breath away was crossing the mountain range hosting the popular Khao Sok National Park. There was some climbing in that section but what a spectacular view it was. Once again, massive limestone cliffs into rainforest were dominating the landscape. I was heading for Khlong Phanom National Park but when a guide I met on my way told me it was another 25kms passed Khao Sok (I didn’t see a road sign for that park since I entered the range), I decided to pull out at Khao Sok. It was an easy decision after an 85kms ride of which the last 5kms were uphill. Arriving at Khao Sok, I picked a bungalow by the river (300baht – about $10AUS) and decided to relax the next day. Photography, relaxing in a hammock reading a book and sleeping was the activities done that day. And Skype with my mum!
When finally the mountains range were behind me the next day, I rolled in quiet Surat Thani with only one thought; running to the Malaysian border and come back without any major dramas. I had already been in Thailand for 14 days; I had to get out and back in to get another 15 days allowance. I heard storied of officials trying to extract money out in these situations by questioning the traveller, asking them money in the process. I was even told that some are not allowed back in the same day. Since I was doing that visa run on the same day Bangkok was in closedown because of the upcoming elections in February, it made me a bit more worried. If things heats up during the demonstrations in Bangkok, would they close the borders? Were there any stupid terrorists wanting to blow things up at the borders again?
So I left my gear at a hotel in Surat Thani and boarded a minivan bound for Hat Yai where I’ll take another minivan heading for the border. The van for Hat Yai was supposed to leave at 8h30AM; the engine didn’t start until 9 and it was almost 9h30 when we left the bus terminal. Four hours later and several pickup stops along the way, I was back in Hat Yai. Surprisingly enough, the van departing for Dannok, the Thai border town where Malaysia is accessible, was just around the corner from where I got out. And it departed 5 minutes after my arrival. Steeping down in Dannok, I walked through the Thai immigration and got stamped out of Thailand without any fuzz, just as expected. Now in no man’s land, I walked the bridge leading into Malaysia where I received a 90 days allowance in the country. Once passed the immigration post, I literally crossed the road and got out of Malaysia, effectively staying about 2 minutes in the country. Back on the bridge again, this time towards Thailand, I stopped at the duty free shop and purchased a bottle of Australian red wine (Wyndham Merlot 2011 for $9 – How much is it in Australia?) and a pair of underwear (those I have starts to worn out) and went back to the Thai immigration. That’s where things can get complicated. I chose the cutest immigration female agent and handed my passport with a smile and jovial attitude. “How long you stay in Thailand?” she asked me without saying hello or even look at me. I told her that I planned to stay 2 weeks and exit from Cambodia. She started flicking me passport’s pages. Since I left all my gear at the hotel in Surat, she urged “Only 1 bag?”. While explaining that I left my cycling stuff in Surat, I saw on her computer screen the image of me when I crossed the border 15 days earlier with my cycling hat and dirty clothes. I pointed at the image and showed her my bicycle in the background. Surprised, she smiled and asked “You cycling to Cambodia?” . Confidently, I said that I planned to do so and asked her to join me. She smiled, stamped my passport and handed it back while saying “Nooooooooo! Too hard! Impossible for me!”. Happily saying thank you, I picked up my stuff, walk back in Thailand and found the minivan back to Hat Yai. Visa run done. Now, let’s get up the coast towards Bangkok before doing another visa run, this time in Cambodia where I’ll probably stay for 3 weeks.