Alternative Visa Runs from Phuket
Dannok (near Hat Yai) & Malaysia
Trip Done: May 2006
Dannok is a Thai border town 60km from Hat Yai. It is between the Thai town Sadao and the Malaysian town Bukit Kayu Hitam. I made this trip a full week's holiday with car and family.
Let's cover the border crossing before I describe the rest of the trip. This is the busiest border crossing between Thailand and Malaysia. There is another border crossing if you turn right at Sadao towards Padang Besar which I believe is quieter, although I haven't been.
Dannok has grown into a thriving border town with lots of hotels, bars, restaurants, etc. There is also quite a hostess bar scene catering to visitors from across the border looking for a bit of fun. Dannok is reputed to have the highest prostitute per person ratio in all of Thailand.
A direct drive from Phuket to Hat Yai is around 6 hours and then another 50 mins to the border. You can get a bus to Hat Yai and then a minibus or taxi to Dannok cheaply enough.
The Thai immigration checkpoint and the Malaysian immigration checkpoint are 1km apart. You can walk between them but I hired a motorbike taxi for the trip. I think he would have done it for 20 baht but I gave him 50.
So I did the usual routine. Stamped out of Thailand. Took the motorbike taxi to the Malaysian side and stamped in and out. I got him to stop at the duty free shop on the way back and bought a couple of bottles of wine and some chocolate. Then back to Thailand for another 90-day stamp. Nothing to it.
So to the rest of the trip. There was no point in rushing around too much for this one as I was giving it a full week. There was no definite plan, just a few vague ideas of where I would like to stop.
We made our first stop at Noppharat Beach in Krabi only two hours drive from Phuket. This beach is in a national park that also includes the Phi Phi Islands.
There is park accommodation but it is mostly big bungalows. When Thais travel, they are often in big groups and this sort of accommodation suits them. For our small group of four they were a little excessive so we got a bungalow at a nearby resort for 800 baht.
The scenery here is good as always along the Krabi coast. I thought the beach was poor with course, muddy sand. Of course, our kids loved it and played their hearts out. There are some nice seafood restaurants at the end of the beach. It was a pleasant stay but I didn't think it was anything special.
The next day was our longest driving day. We drove to Hat Yai and on to Dannok to stamp my passport. Then we returned to Hat Yai for the night.
I didn't expect much from Hat Yai but I was pleasantly surprised. We found a nice hotel in the downtown area. There were a couple of markets nearby. One was a standard fresh food market and the other was selling mostly imported stuff from Malaysia. This seems to include a lot of chocolate, dried fruits, biscuits and cakes. Damn, I like chocolate and the temptation was to try everything.
In the evening, the hotel kindly provided a baby-sitting service so I could go out with my wife. There were plenty of bars and restaurants, including a couple of western style bars. There was also an area that was clearly the local red light district. We had a good night. Generally, I was impressed with Hat Yai. It seems to offer a range of accommodation and entertainment to suit most tastes.
The next day we did the short drive to Songkhla. We quickly found a big, comfortable room for 300 baht.
The attractions of Songkhla? Well there is a long sandy beach. On the beach is a statue of a mermaid which all visiting Thais seem to need to touch. And as usual, there is a good selection of seafood restaurants.
There is the Songkhla National Museum which houses what is reputed to be a very fine Thai art collection. It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. What two days were we in Songkhla? You've guessed it. We will have to visit this one another time.
Songkhla apparently has a significant ex-pat population working for the offshore oil industry. That probably explains why there are several western bars and restaurants.
Next to Songkhla is an inland sea (Talay Sap). The next day on the way out of Songkhla, we crossed the bridge to Koh Yo. This island in the inland sea is well known for its textiles. Many of the homes have their own looms. There is a small market in the middle of the island where you can get good deals on clothes and cloth. We bought some casual shirts and shorts for around 100 baht each.
Talay Noi, Phattalung
I saw on my map, just north of Phattalung and the huge inland sea, was a small lake, Talay Noi. It was marked as a bird sanctuary. I don't know why I fancied taking a look; I have never been a bird-watcher. Just the same, that is where we headed.
An easy couple of hours drive and we were by the lake. We quickly saw a group of beautiful teak bungalows to which we took an immediate liking. To our surprise, they were only 500 baht a night. It was May and apparently, that is not the best time of year for bird watching. November to February is the best time to see birds.
As is usually the case with these small bungalow operations, the owners were very friendly and gave us lots of personal attention. We asked what there was to do and they told us that in the morning we should rent a longtail and go to see the birds and lotus flowers. So that is what we did.
At 8:00am the next morning, we were on the lake, skimming through the stunning carpet of lotus flowers. It might have been out of season but there were still plenty of brightly coloured birds around. I thought the noise of the engine would scare them away but they were clearly accustomed to the tour boats.
I'm afraid I really know nothing about birds and cannot give any bird-watchers amongst you much info on what I saw. There were cormorants and herons, one that looked like an eagle and quite a few colourful specimens running across the lotus leaves. What mattered to me was just the tranquil beauty of it all.
When we do these trips, these are so often the places I like best. You just take a punt on somewhere with no real expectations and find yourself in a beautiful location with charming, local people. We stayed another night.
Railay Beach, Krabi
Before I even came to Thailand, a friend of mine had raved about Railay Beach and said it was a must see. And here I was after six years in Thailand and I still hadn't seen it. The time had come.
We drove to Ao Nang and parked the car. From here, you have to take a boat around the headland to Railay, 50 baht each.
The boat was packed and one American man was very unhappy that it was not safe. He became even more agitated when we arrived at Railay; he was expecting to be dropped off at another beach. We left him ranting at the boatman that he was not going to pay. The boatman plainly could not care less whether the guy paid or not. I like this about the Thais, he just didn't think it mattered.
You arrive at Railay West Beach. It is a nice beach surrounded by beautiful limestone cliffs. Just the same, I could not see why my friend had raved about it so much. I thought maybe I was becoming blasé after all this time in Thailand.
There are plenty of bungalows At Railay but they are all in quite big resorts. The Rayavadee Resort at the south end of the beach was charging 20,000 baht a night! We booked into a nice enough bungalow at the Sand Sea Resort for 1,500 baht.
The majority of tourists were westerners and most of them probably thought they were doing a remote beach getaway holiday. I thought the beach was distinctly touristy. The main restaurants belonged to the bungalow resorts. There were a handful of independent restaurants and bars but they were very westernised.
We had a nice evening meal by the beach while the kids played. A lot of the tourists sat in groups on the beach drinking by candlelight. There are only a few shops and none of them sells beer so you have to buy it from the bars or restaurants.
The next morning we went for a walk around the rest of Railay. First, we came to Railay East Beach. It is a shingly beach with rocky seabed so I still didn't know why my friend had loved this place so much.
Then we followed a footpath around a rock face to Phranang Cave Beach. Finally, I began to understand. This is a stunning beach of fine sand and inviting turquoise sea. The cave is in the cliff face at the south end while coconut palms line the beach and there are a couple of spectacular limestone outcrops in the bay.
There were only a handful of people walking the beach. The only resort which seems to have any bungalows here was the up-market 20,000 baht a night place.
So now, the Railay fans begin to make sense to me. There is a nice beach and a very nice beach. Great scenery and a good laid back feel. The place is just a little touristy and westernised for my liking. The problem is although places like Phuket, Koh Lanta, etc are very touristy, they are also big enough that you can get away from it. In Railay you just have touristy and there is nowhere else to go.
So another visa run completed and another good trip. Every time I do one of these, I get to know the country a little better.