Thailand | Oasis Greets Us

When planning this trip, I decided to take a somewhat unusual route and base most of my research from blog sites and traveler tales, not guide books. Thus, I found myself entranced by many websites, but was particularly struck by an entry in the Backpack Foodie blog, which raved about a secret, wonderful spot hidden in Thailand. I immediately wrote to Daniel, the blog owner, begging him to please reveal this majestic spot. Since he kindly trusted a total stranger, I will follow in his footsteps and not reveal this magical place, for we, too, enjoyed its elusiveness and lack of Western infringment — we even stayed four days, which is actually a significant chunk of our allotted time in Thailand. Henceforth it is only our Thai Oasis, our quiet retreat; now, too, our Happy Place.

The journey here, however, was much less than divine; First, we boarded a bus at the Kuala Terengganu station at a frightening hour, then spent another couple of hours overlanding to the Thai border on a dodgy local bus – which took us over an hour to locate and board. It literally dropped us at the doorstep of the Thai-Malaysia border, which we meandered across blindly, after being nearly killed crossing the busy street intersection. Needless to say, this crossing was not exactly pedestrian friendly. Upon recieving our Malaysian exit stamps, we stood in exasperation, burning in the heat. Where were our entry stamps? After backtracking to the office, we were again pointed towards the clustery traffic situation ahead. Thus, stampless, we weaved through mopeds and cattlecars, no sidewalk in sight. After having crossed well to the Thai side, a plainclothed man waved us back frantically to three sad-looking windows across the street, apparently the official entry point. Seems a gross oversight to let pedestrians walk on the left side and wander freeley without the use of any kind of barrier. In any case, we eventually got our entry papers, picked up maps from the Office of Tourism, and then hiked our way slowly to the train station, along with our newfound Kiwi friend (also Daniel), who shared in our local bus confusion. Having bought 3rd class tickets, as all else was unavailable, we found a little eatery to kill some time, then boarded the cart in a timely manner, though it did not leave for another hour (a phenomenon known as “Thai time”). Had we known then what we know now, we would have avoided this situation at all costs. Firstly, there is a lot of political tension in the eastern south of Thailand, where the people are extremely Malaysian in both character and religion. Several bombings and attacks have made this area a kind of tourist caution zone, resulting in hundreds of armed military officers patroling public areas and walking up and down our train aisles with guns bigger than their arms. Admitedly, we knew about this situation at the outset, but decided it wasn’t worth the extra day or so to make it to a mid-western crossing. Truly, what made the situation so horrendous was not the hard, half-broken seats or the lack of airflow… it was the fact that we were crammed into one cart like sardines for 16 hours, though the other 3rd class carts were mostly empty, and this averages to a speed of about 15mph. 15mph? Seriously, Thailand? We could’ve ridden a horse faster! Also, we arrived in our location over an hour late, leaving us an hour to panic that we had missed our stop…

In any case, we made it to Happy Place, and instantly loved it, even after having been deposited in utter darkness (just before sunrise) with swollen feet. We had a bit of coffee at an outdoor cafe, then headed to the beachside to watch the sun come up, which nearly took our breath away. So startled by this undeniable beauty, with grand islands in the distance, a big, sweeping bay, monks wandering along the shoreline, and hundreds of fishing boats rocking in the gentle waves. There are even temples plopped atop these mountainous isles, each glinting golden under the piercing sunlight, which has never seemed quite so bright. We chose a fabulous hotel on the beachside, which is more of a luxurious palace for the likes of us. Read: hot water, fresh sheets, a beachfront pool, fabulous included breakfast, actual, working air conditioning, a Western toilet, a special shower area (not atop the toilet), and a balcony overlooking the entire bay. At $30 a night, this place may be pushing our Thailand budget, but is a total steal. After having racked up seemingly endless nights totally sheetless (sleeping without covers is more uncomfortable than you might think), the feeling of real beds is thrilling – and so well timed. Happily, they let us check in at 7am, thus ensuring us a few hours of hearty napping before facing the hot day.

After resting, we just strolled around, popped by the tourist office, and ate to our heart’s content at random hawker stalls and eateries. Also, Happy Place is home to at least three markets, two of which operate at night, thus entertaining us plentifully in evenings. One night market is more like a carnival, a village of twinkle lights and bizarre kebabs. Every now and again, you get a wave of heat from the cooking of chili peppers. This is rather shocking, resulting in coughing and extensive eye watering — even from the locals. Seems a uniting factor. The next day, we rented a motor bike and headed south, where the tallest of the lush mountains was waiting calmly for our ascent. On the way, we drove through a military base and consequently beside the King’s beachside residence and over two runways, which was surreal. Before this climb, however, we were surprised by a troup of monkeys waiting at the base — which we promptly fed and played with for over an hour. There were even two babies, which are bright yellow in coloring until maturation. Though the heat was already heavy upon us, we began the climb anyway. Soon, we had surmounted the challenges thrown our way, including thousands of steep steps and even roped trail, despite losing half of our body weights in sweat. We were eventually met at the summit by a small Buddhist temple, which provided shade and seating before our venture downwards. Turns out, this was mostly repelling, and involved just as much sweat. However, the trip was worth it, as the views were amazing — I do not know how this place has stayed hidden from Western tourism so long…

We liked the motor bike so much (and Happy Place), that we decided to keep it another day, this time using its abilities to take us beachward. Never have I felt such water; clean and warm like bathwater! No matter how far you went, you could still stick your sand in the toes. 150 yards out, we were still above water, and well on our way to walking to the next island over! In the evening, we enjoyed a seaside meal and decided to leave the next day, though we love it too much to go happily. After enjoying the amazing scenery and calm atmosphere for days, it is only with sadness that we leave our Happy Place, resolved to one day return again.

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