The Epic Drive

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In June of this year, my family embarked on a trip to Thailand and the destination of Koh Samui. We had never travelled so far north away from home with the closest being a car ferry crossing to Langkawi via Kuala Perlis in 2015. Having convinced the wife that a 10 day road trip to Siam would be fun and safe, I am writing this from a first person perspective hoping that it will allow many other people to face their fear of the unknown and just go for an unforgettable solo driving trip with their own daily driven vehicle. To me, cars are meant to be used and driven, more so with a 10 year COE tagged to every local car.

This Thailand adventure versus any trip to West Malaysia has major differences. Just in case things didn’t work out and the car broke in Langkawi for example, it could still be repaired or towed back to Singapore. Thailand is different, a foreign language, unfamiliarity with import and customs clearance, vehicle insurance and accident coverage are just a few concerns of mine. We had been to Phuket via flight many years back but it was overcrowded with tourists, so Krabi, HuaHin and Koh Samui were explored. Ultimately it was the draw of Koh Samui’s full moon parties, being relatively off the beaten path, the gorgeous beaches and reading a certain 2009 thread from a local BMW forum that inspired this journey. 

Planning started astutely about 3 months prior to this. Research was done on crossing the border into Thailand at Bukit Kayu Hitam and I even explored a detour via Yala province on the return trip back to Malaysia to visit the communist tunnels at Piyamit in Betong. In terms of getting to the island of Koh Samui, the most crucial part was making the 12noon car ferry from Donsak pier in Surat Thani province.  This was the only way to get to the island so the driving part hinged on this ferry crossing. What was initially planned as a 12 day trip had to be cut short due to some family emergency at home. We delayed the start till Wednesday 6th June and made it back on 14th June, the day before Hari Raya. Below is the abridged chronology of events that appeared on my facebook posts during that period plus some photos attached. Pardon the short forms and colloquialisms.

June 5th 2018 Tuesday 

Supposed to leave over the weekend but I had to delay due to some issues on the homefront. Turned out to be a blessing in disguise, the alternator was on its last legs and started groaning in agony on Saturday night. Got it fixed with a brand new one today and its firing nicely now. I actually thought the conrod bearing gave up inside my EJ25 engine thus causing that spinning sound.

The oil got changed out to the Ducatus 10w-60 PAO for the long trek up north, RoamingMan mobile hotspot got delivered to the house a few days back, travel insurance done, ringgit and baht changed and the Thai customs forms TM2/TM3 all filled and in duplicate.

Ready for Koh Samui.

 June 7th Thursday – Day 1&2 

About 9 years ago in 2009 i read about these 3 cars that travelled to Koh Samui. So all credit goes to them actually. Here’s the link:

https://www.bmw-sg.com/for…/threads/trip-to-koh-samui.26677/

Broke the trip up north into 2 parts with a night in Alor Setar then a dawn deliberate entry into Thailand the next day. Nothing much going up, had BKT in Klang, visited the Design Village Outlet near Penang which is not very good in my humble opinion. Found the “keymaster” uncle at Gurun R&R Caltex who typed out everything for me for RM88. This included the whitecards, compulsory 3rd party insurance plus my own add on comprehensive cover for the WRX. He even told me what to do with the TM2/TM3 forms and my LTA car registration copy when clearing the border the next day.

I figured that I rather get the paperwork done the previous day than to stumble around filling my own whitecard the next morning. The Caltex uncle was spot on in his paperwork, it was a very smooth crossing the following morning. I hit the border at 6:45am when it opened, Malaysia side crossing was as per normal like Tuas/Woodlands checkpoints. Thailand was more complicated. At the Thai passport booth everyone had to get out of the car to have their pictures taken on the webcam. Passports, TM2, TM3 were chopped and returned. Next up I had to park and do the customs declaration to “import” the car. The counter girl keys in the data from the LTA registration printout and then I had to sign it, then a customs officer signs and returns to me the precious import form. With this, I could then drive through the customs clearance lane with the duty officer taking a look at the printout. I was done by 7:10am (6:10am Thai time) and off along the road bypassing Hatyai and onto Donsak.

The Thai highways have no police patrol (I didn’t see any) but there are U-turn lanes at regular intervals. Needed to be always on the lookout for the motorbikes and dogs that stray out. Hit Donsak ferry pier by 11am local time, boarded and the ship left on the dot at 12noon.

Still pumped by the whole drive cos it’s always exciting doing things for the first time.

Checked into the hotel at 3pm.

June 8th Friday – Day 3  

Woke up to a nice brekkie by the beach. The hotel also gave my car special parking beside the guardhouse so I’m quite assured the WRX won’t go missing.

Went searching for Na Muang waterfall in the southern part of the island and topo’ed through the rocks to find a spot to strip and go for a dip. Refreshing and cold.

We were on the way up to Bophut Fisherman’s village and it was very uneasy to see the amount of bikers that choose to ride sans helmet. Maybe i think too much. That picture with the mum with the toddler riding in the rain, that’s a big no no for me.

Up north, Bophut is a quaint little hippy-esque village with lots of handicrafts and trinkets which the wifey likes. Food is good and the long island iced tea even more potent! Wanted another glass but decided against it.

Night time, the main street at Chaweng where we stay comes alive and is quite happening. Going back to the same mango sticky rice shop again tonight. It is that good. Just a loud and busy street with live bands everywhere and storeowners hawking their wares. Can’t imagine when they have full moon parties every 15th and 30th of the lunar calendar month, must be a crazy place to be in.

Till tomorrow…..

June 10th Sunday – Day 4&5.

Always a joy to watch God’s creation. Sometimes we take it for granted that the sun rises in the east every single day of our entire life.

The back is red from the scorching sun, but I got to build my sandcastle complete with moat and irrigation channel. It is somewhere there on the sand bank. Soft surf, clear waters and powdered sand on the sea bed allows me to wade out 70m for great views of the entire Chaweng beach. I was able to still stand in the water at that distance away from the beach.

Junior took ill yesterday and we popped by the Samui International Hospital to see the doctor, get a jab and some medicine. I totally believe in travel insurance and getting the family covered, just in case things of this sort happens.

They sell bottles of gasoline by the roadside for the motorbikes. Don’t know what kind of moonshine they put inside, but in any case I just pour in octane boosters to be on the safe side when I pump 95RON at the Thai gas stations.

We leave for Hatyai after breakfast today.

June 11th Monday – Day 5&6.

Left yesterday after breakfast on Sunday and had to wait a bit at the pier for the 12noon ferry. The drive down was smooth and I chose the longer central Asian Highway 2 route which is really long and straight. Set the cruise control and after an hour it’s still as straight and never ending as ever.

Still dying to try that E85 ethanol corn oil. Read so much about it on the US Subaru forums. But in the end I still pumped 95RON plus a bottle of octane booster.

Got into Centara Hatyai by 7pm. Dinner at Washington restaurant and we met up with the wife’s childhood friend who was also there with family on holiday.

The market this morning is reminiscent of Clarke Quay/Boat Quay in my younger days. The cashew nuts at KimYong market is cheap. For me, it was the steamed roadside kaya buns that I liked. Delicious.

Dimsum was not too bad, 20baht each for each dim sum dish, that’s s$1 a dish. Eyeing that salted vegetable pork soup next door. Maybe tomorrow.

June 12th Tuesday – Day 7.

Quite a breeze crossing back into Malaysia. Checked out 8:15am Thai time (9:15am Malaysia) and drove an hour down to the border at Sadao. The immigration booth looks spanking new and as usual everyone gets off to get their faces scanned. Malaysia side requires double index finger scanning so i had to get out as well. Set the clock forward an hour and we set off to KL at 10:45am.

Met up with a convoy of supercars returning from a trip to Koh Lanta, they had their trip stickers plastered prominently on the doors. They were fast but they had to refuel more often. The Thailand fuel took us to Taiping where the WRX finally topped up with Petronas 97, her favourite choice of gasoline. I remembered a friend telling me to try the duck drumstick soup in Bidor so i finally did. There’s quite a few shops, so we settled for the coffeeshop beside the Caltex in the town centre. Good stuff really. 

By 4:30pm it was back to Klang and my in-laws and topping up the fluids at home. Popped in a can of Ducatus valve&injector cleaner just to be on the safe side from all that Thai 95RON gasoline. The methanol unbelievably I used only 4 litres for the entire week. Guess I never boosted much up north.

Every barang barang is out of the car now. Going to get the car washed and interior vacuumed and polished today. Sad to see her so dirty.

June 14th Thursday – Day 8 & 9.

Back home at noon today. Clocked in at almost 3000km on the tripmeter.

The spoils of war- Onitsuka Tigers from Mitsui outlet and a rare H&M tee shirt that I picked up last week at their outlet in Alor Setar. I have that same New Order album in the glove box and listen to it regularly.

To drive long distance we must have True Faith.

[Text & Photos]

TAN WAH KUM

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