07.08.2012 - 07.08.2012 31 °C
Satun, the southern province of Thailand over the Andaman Sea was not my intended destination for this trip to the Land of Smile. My intended destination was Trang province, further north to the province of Satun. But to get to Trang from Malaysia, there isn't any direct flight services. The only flight service available is to fly to Hatyai and to either boarding a bus or minivan onwards to Trang. This is the most easiest way to get to Trang from Malaysia. There are surely some other more challenging options depending on how one would want to endure such travel obstacles, which include to fly to Ko Langkawi, board a ferry to Satun and then a bus or minivan to Trang. Or one could also take a bus to Kuala Kedah or Kuala Perlis, board a ferry from either these 2 port town to Ko Langkawi and then another ferry onwards to Satun. I, however opted to take a bus to Kuala Perlis, board a Thai fishing boat from the Fishing Development Board of Malaysia's pier to Thammalang Pier in Satun which costs MYR15 in which the journey took about 45 minutes. This pier was located about 500 metres from the Kuala Perlis jetty and easily reach by walking there. There is a Immigration Department building located just next to the pier where you need to get your passport stamped out before you board the fishing boat to Thammalang Pier. Many fishing boats to Thailand dock their boats here to unload the catches of the day from the sea. These fishermen would wait for the arrival of their customers who would arrive in small lorries to load the sea products. Though the immigration office opens as early as 6.30am, you would unlikely get to board the boat in the early hours as the fishermen would take quite some time to unload their catch while the lorries may also arrived late to load their orders. I was actually unsure at first of whether I should board the ferry from Kuala Perlis to Ko Langkawi and then onwards to Satun or I should just stick to my initial plan of jumping onto the longtail boat to get to Thammalang. Not many people opted for the latter but this is the fun, interesting and challenging way to get to Satun. I would have just purchased the ticket to Ko Langkawi from Kuala Perlis jetty and on reaching Ko Langkawi jetty, purchase another ferry ticket to Thammalang Pier.
It was still early when I reached Kuala Perlis jetty at 5.15am and the jetty has not opened yet at that time but there were already group of passengers both locals and foreigners whom were seen lingering around the Kuala Perlis bus stop which located about 300 metres from the jetty. While waiting at the bus stop, I took the opportunity to speak to some of the locals, whom I think should be private taxi drivers who either provide services to certain destinations around Kuala Perlis of to sme major towns out from Kuala Perlis. I was told there were actually another option to get to Satun, which is to board the taxi or should I say private taxi, to Wang Kelian, the border of Malaysia-Thailand, which is a land gateway to either country. The costs was MYR50 according to one the men. From Wang Kelian, after stamping out from Malaysia, one would have entered Wang Prachan, where there would be either motorbike taxis, minivans or private taxis that would offer services to Satun town. I thought this look easy, simple and convenient but perhaps not the one that I would opt for. It was rainning at time of my arrival in Kuala Perlis, so I was kind of worried that the sea condition may not render boarding longtail boat a safe journey. Yet, I was still determined. After about 30 minutes, those waiting passengers were seen moving towards the jetty, so I walked along with them. There was a hotel located just after the bus stop before reaching the jetty, which looked rather rundown. Walking further down about 150 metres and crossing the road would be where the jetty is located. The jetty has not opened until about 6.30am but the people has seen queuing up at the ticket booth to purchase their tickets to Ko Langkawi. The jetty of Kuala Perlis looked rundown and was in the midst of renovation on the interior and exterior of the jetty building which is a simple 1 storey buidling. The current structure brings back to some good old day memories due to the old structure of the buidling design including the wall windows but once renovation completed it would probably look much better in its contemporary design. Across from the jetty there were row of shops which include a restaurant which sell local malay cuisines and some budget hotels. Kuala Perlis is a small town but if you would want to experience the town, I think it may be a good idea to stay over a night or so.
The earliest ferry to Ko Langkawi from Kuala Perlis is 7.00am and tickets cost MYR18, one way. The ferry service ends at 7.00pm. When the ticket booth opens at 6.30am, I was still undecided which option would be the best for me to reach Satun but my heart tells me that no matter what it will be, I should still stick to the longtail boat option. The morning was still dark, so I still have some time to decide and think about. Not much informations available about the longtail boat from the locals as they were also unsure about whether there is any regular boats that would provide service to Thammalang Pier of otherwise. When the morning gets brighter, I began to walk away from the jetty to get to the fishing boat jetty over at the Malaysia Fishing Development Board buidling. As I walked, it started to drizzle again after the earlier rain stopped. After walking for about 5 minutes, I found the building and asked around on the location of the pier where I could board the lngtail boat to Thammalang Pier. It was lcated another 100 metres further down the building. There I saw 2 men sitting right on their desks and I asked one of them, Mr.A on the longtail boat service to Thammalang Pier, if they know how regular the service are. I was told that the services are not regular and it depends on how long it took the fishermen to unload the sea catch of the day as well as how early the lorries arrived to load these sea catch. I was still worried and unconvinced yet my heart says I should wait and see. So I took a walk around the place and discovered that the Immigration Department of Kuala Perlis was just right next to the fishing boat pier. The Kuala Perlis town was just few metres away with several row of 2 storey old shops and is a very small town indeed.
After a brief walk, I have decided that I will board the longtail boat to get to Thammalang Pier. When I walked to the immigration counter, the officer asked if I was sure that I would board the longtail boat, I said I wasn't sure if there would be any boat that would offer a ride over to Thammalang Pier. So he told me not to have the passport stamped first but to wait until when I found a fishing boat that has agreed to provide a ride, then only I should return to get it stamped out. So, I walked out to get to the longtail boat pier which located in between the fishing boat pier and the immigratin office. I spotted a fisherman on a boat and asked if its possible to get into his or any other of his fishermen's friend boat. He said its possible and that once they would leave the pier, he would get them to informed me. I felt relieved and that was when I knew I would be able to get to Thammalang Pier for sure. The weather was getting clear as the morning matured. The drizzling has also stopped. As I waited at the small pier, with some plastic seats, I get to chat with sme of the people around there including a guard, an immigration officer and Mr.A, which I spoken to earlier. As we chat, Mr.A in his 50sactually works as a freelancer to facilitate on the immigration papers for the Thai fishermen or any persons from Satun who need to get their immigration papers processed. He has a wife who hails from Satun and as such he has his contacts from Satun to get such businesses. The guard in his 40s looks after the small pier to ensure no illegal crossings by foreigners as well as no smuggling of goods or illegal items. He has work for several years at this small pier as a guard but stopped working after he hurt his feet while working and has now started to work again after recovering from the pain. He said life was tough for him as he earns meagre income as a guard just enough to feed him, his wife and his young children. He spends his time at work to read books as time permits him to do so since the pier is not busy most of the time. Mr.Immigration Officer related a story about how he had encountered a Jewish man who entered Malaysia with an Israel passport. However, after querrying him on why the passport was without a stamp on where he travelled from, the Jewish man told Mr.Immigration Officer that he forgotten that he actually used his American passport to stamped out. So, this was how it works in this world where 2 systems would be the way to go if it benefits one party but while others were doing the same, it would not be allowed by a more superior country, which deemed as the world police. But when such systems benefit them, they would allow it to happened at all cost.
While chatting, I took the opportunity to ask on any of the interesting places in Satun that I should not missed, they appear to be rather confused and without much informations at hand. I was stunned because when querried further, some of them have never even been to Satun, let alone exploring the province. Most said they been to Hatyai, which surely enough because this is the best entertainment city for those from Malaysia. I took out a Trang map, which include Satun province and they had a good look at the map. In fact, I had decided on 2 places that I should visit in Satun province for a 1 night stay before departing by a bus or minivan to Trang province. Many travellers would have opted to head to Ko Lipe but islands at the Satun archipelago were out from my list though these islands were very much tempting with its clear sea water, sandy beaches and quiet surroundings. After chatting for about 2 hours, one of the fishermen came calling that his boat was about to leave the pier. I told him to please wait while I get to the Immigration Office to have my passport stamped. Inside the office, it was a breeze as only 3 people were at queue. After getting it stamped, I jumped into the longtail boat which were loaded almost fully with empty big blue boxes which were used to store the sea products. However there were still 2 row of woodedn seats right at the end of the passengers compartment. The boat departed from Kuala Perlis about 10.50am and reached Thammalang Pier about 11.35am. While cruising along the calm seawater, I could see a significantly huge size of mangrove trees found along the fringe of the mountains surrounding the coastline of Satun province. Later, I discovered that these mangrove trees were located at one of the biggest mangrove swamp found in Thailand, which was the place to visit included in my Satun itinerary. On reaching Thammalang Pier, it look almost deserted without any passengers or travellers around. There was a lady trader selling food and drinks with her children around and there was also money exchange service available within the pier which include an immigration office. Expect to pay THB10 or MYR1 on weekends or non-working days as overtime to get your passport stamped. Such practice was rather common in Thailand though some immigration offices do not have such policy but still this is still much better than being charged THB50 in a neighbouring Thailand.
After clearing the Thai immigration, I was approached by a motorbike taxi man, who introduced his name as Man (pronounced as Marn). Not much transport option was available and Man seemed to be the only motorbike taxi service provider while there was also probably some private taxi waiting for passengers. The journey from Thammalang Pier to Satun town took about 30 minutes or so and the fees was THB80 for motorbike taxi service. After agreeing on the price, I get onto the motorbike and off we go to the town. I told him to get to Ang Yee Guesthouse to check on the room and price first. Satun province was surprisingly quiet without much cars or activities going on. The journey from the pier to Satun town was pleasant and most of the surroundings are still very much natural with rubber plantations being one of the most important products in this Thai southern province. Upon reaching Ang Yee Guesthouse, there were only 1 room left, which cost THB400 per night without aircond. I thought it was inexpensive but I also thought of getting a better deal. So, I said I need to survey around town to get the ideal place to stay. So, I told Man to move on to On's Living Room Guesthouse. Upon reaching On's, I was told by Khun On that the only room available is THB750 per night. I told her I was looking for a better deal and then left for Pinnacle Wangmai Hotel. Upon checking, the room per night cost THB650, but the staff was rather unfriendly and perhaps the hotel environment was not what I preferred. Both Ang Yee and On's Living Guesthouse offer a very distinguish place to stay for a great backpackers' style of experience, which was what I always wanted since I started my backpacking travel in New Zealand. I decided that Ang Yee is the best place to stay, so I headed there again and booked the room. Ang Yee is a 2 storey shophouse converted to a guesthouse occupying the end lot of a row of 2 storey shophouses. It has a reception, which also doubled up as a bar, a living hall doubled up as a lobby, an open bedroom for 2 persons, 2 guest rooms, a washroom as well as a creative gardens with some paintings and decorative items along with some table and seats for guests to relax. There were also plam tree and some other plants being decorated around the garden. All these were on the ground floor. On the upper floors, there is a sizeable living hall with few guest rooms and 2 bathrooms. All rooms are without attached bathrooms. So, guests would require to share the facilities among them with the 3 available bathrooms. My room was located on the ground floor just next to the 1st room near the entry of the guesthouse. I was invited by the owner of the property to have a chat with her over at the garden where she was smoking and chatting with one of her female friend while eating some steamed peanuts. She told me her friend has a shop selling t-shirts, souveniers, food and drinks in Ko Lipe, but due to the low season, the shop was closed as there were not many customers around during this time of the year. She said there were less than 10 rooms available in the guesthouse and the creative decorations of the guesthouse was the work of her artist husband.
Since I only had a day to travel Satun, I set up a deal with Man to go with him to 2 places, which include Laem Tanyong Po and Tham Lod Puyu. These are the 2 most closest places to Satun town availabe to reach by motorbike. First, we headed to Laem Tanyong Po. Not much information was available from the internet though it was listed as one of the place to go while in Satun province. I had a look at map on Satun province and it was also listed on the map, which earlier Mr.A, the guard and Mr.Immigration Officer took a look on it. Mr.A mentioned it was worth a visit with some peaceful surroundings in store over a great sea view from the beach. While getting to Laem Tanyong Po, we went through a great length of rubber plantations, both on the left and right of the 2 lane road. There were some road constructions to widened them at some parts of the road leading to Laem Tayong Po and this shown the initiative of the local government to improve road facilities which will bring in a good level of development to some of the less developed tourism products. Such are some of great indications that the local government initiations to help improve the life of the locals. I believe in time to come, the scene at Laem Tanyong Po would changed significantly with increasing number of tourists or travellers heading to this place. After passing through the rubber plantations, we had to ride up through a small hill and the sea can be seen while going up and down the hill surrounding the cape. Laem actually means cape in Thai, so literally, it was called Cape of Tanyong or Tanjong Po. Upon reaching the cape, at the fringe of the beach there were some small food stalls selling food with tables and chairs. You can have your lunch here with great sea view while enjoying your food over at the table and chair. Or you can have picnic or just sit on some of the available chairs and tables facilities made available at the quiet beach. Some of the undeveloped land, according to Man has also been advertised to be rented out, which also indicated that Laem Tanyong Po is destined to be a developed tourists destinations with hotels, guesthouses, seafood restaurants and shops to be developed in time to come. We spent some time sitting down and chat, relaxing while Man had his self-made cigarette, tobbaco filling rolled with dried tobacco leaf. It was very common for Satun folks as well as in Kuala Perlis to smoke in such way as it is inexpensive as compared to those regular pack cigarettes. After some chat and finishing his smoking, we moved on to Tham Lod Puyu.
To get to Tham Lod Puyu, we need to get to to Thammalang Pier again to board a motorboat from the pier. I don't know what to expect from this place indeed. The motorboat man was the son of Man's sister and he owns the boat. Some of them provide boat services from certain points along Thammalang to get to certain villages located surrounding Thammalang, where the boat transport could be the most covenient and cheapest way to tavel to the intended destinations. Though Man did not tell me what his nephew's job was, I think he could be one of the boat taxi service provider to transport villagers of Thammalang to their final destinations as well as transporting goods for suppliers or purchasers and vice versa. Before setting off, I bought a special local food from the sole woman trader at Thammalang Pier, whom now I know was the wife of Man. This food is a sticky rice, either white or black, stuffed into small bamboo sticks and then cooked over the fire from burning charcoals. It has sweet taste and well, quite delicious to me. The cost for 1 stick was THB35. Man offered a bottle of cold water and off I board the motorboat to head to Tham Lod Puyu. Cruising along the calm seawater was intensely pleasant and fresh. The landscape surroundings were great with karst mountains and with great length of mangrove trees that dotting along the coast of Satun. Only now did I realised that the earlier mangrove trees witnessed while on board the longtail boat from Kuala Perlis to Thammalang Pier is this place called Tham Lod Puyu. What can be seen from outside were just a huge number of mangrove trees but as we cruised along, there were actually many canals surrounding the mangrove swamps. The boatman manoeuvre the boat into many of the canals so that I can take many photos in different directions, whether it be the mangrove trees, the mangrove swamp, the karst mountains and the lanscape surrounding Tham Lod Puyu. The sea and the canals were so quiet and calm and you get to experience how close you are to the nature. You would start to wonder how much different it were to be while out of the gift of God which remain fully untouched by development. In most countries and in particular neighbouring country of Thailand, much of the mangrove trees have been cut as source of woods due to the significant price tags of such products. Surprisingly, Thailand has still huge mangrove swamps left undisturbed and hopefully, the Thai government or perhaps the Satun provincial government would maintain such policy for the rest of the time for as long as this mangrove swamp could be left undeveloped. This swamp provide an important defence to destruction of sea from strong wave and could also help to reduce the possibility of flooding to the areas, towns and villages surrounding the coastline. Why is this place called Tham Lod Puyu? Tham means cave in thai and of course there is a reason why this place is named as such. As we cruised the coastline of Satun, we reached the karst mountain with cave openings and boats, kayaks and sampans on small scales could pass through these openings. This is how the mangrove swamps got its name of Tham Lod Puyu, which means the Cave of Lod Puyu. As we crossed the cave, I could see water dripping from the stalactite. It was another one of the wonderful nature experience that I had on this Satun trip that was never expected. There was a small pier for those who would want to experience kayaking and if you are into it this is seriously a great place to kayak to get close to the nature. As the sun is setting down, we cruise back to Thammalang Pier and the boatman brought me again to some of the canals to take more photos of the mangrove trees and the swamp.