Bored with the usual border crossing at Bukit Kayu Hitam, Malaysia and Sadao, Thailand and with the crossing at Padang Besar (Padang Basar to Thais) I decided to go for a more adventurous route!
There are a few main border crossing points betwen Malaysia and Thailand. The most popular is Bukit Kayu Hitam - and it is normally very busy and can be stressful. There are also crossing points in Kelantan at Jeli (very small) and near Kota Bahru.
The Betong crossing must be the most exciting and has the best scenery. The Betong route also has the least traffic and stress - with a que of just 4 people at the immigration posts instead of the usual 40 to 400 over strong crowds that are normal at Bukit Kayu Hitam.
Despite the recent and ongoing troubles in the South of Thailand I have to say it is still very safe for foreigners regardless. Once you pass Betong and throught the entire stretch from there to Yala to Pattani the Thai military is everywhere putting on a big show of force.
I have to say I felt very safe indeed with Thai military "humvees" and APCs every couple of KM along the roads - roadblocks about every 2.5 to 5km and a huge number of foot soldiers including special forces walking patrols up and down the roads.
The soldiers were all very friendly and all smiles. They seemed happy to see some foreign faces and it probably brightend up their day to think that they made us feel safe enough to even be there. They are doing a great job and Thailand and visitors like myself owe them some thanks for the security they are providing.
If you are planning a road trip and thinking about going to Betong, Yala or Pattani then don't let the news reports and "mini-war" that is going on put you off. The reports are not exaggerated and bombs do go off and people do die however the area believe it or not is still safe for travellers. The area is too beautiful to be missed!
Photo above: Thai soldiers on a foot patrol along the road.
Photo above: Welcome To Yala! road sign.
Photo above: Entering a roadblock / checkpoint in Yala.
The map below shows the main routes to drive from Gerik up to Pengkalan Hulu - the border with Thailand.
The map below shows the terrain around Betong.
The best part of the road trip is the drive between Betong and Yala. This is the most mountainous part. The lake and rivers are high up and don't sit at the bottom of the valley. I think there is a dam causing this as it seems unnatural for a lake to be at such an altitude.
Some photos of the lake taken on route 4106 between Betong and Yala:
Check out the map below for the Betong to Yala route.
The road map below is zoomed out a bit to show the whole area covered in the trip. Betong to Yala to Pattani to Chana / Songkhla province and finally the busy city of Hat Yai.
The image below shows a closer view of the border crossing point at Pengkalan Hulu, Malaysia and Betong, Thailand. You can see the jungle scenery and it is quite mountainous.
Interesting facts, KL to Betong:
- Betong in Thai is เบตง.
- Yala in Thai is ยะลา.
- Pattani in Thai is ตตาน.
- The name Pattani is actually the Thai corruption of "Pantai Ini" in Bahasa Malaysia. In English this means "this beach".
- Pattani history lesson - Since the late 1700's Pattani province has been in and out of control of both Thailand and Great Britain. It has also been independant and semi-independant. Recent conflicts over religion and political issues have seen the area turn into a semi war zone since 2004 as many locals support a fresh militant movement for independance from Thailand.
- Betong has a strong communist history - former communist militias who battled against British, Malaysian and Thai forces are still alive and living in Betong. Vietnamese VC (Viet Cong) came to Betong to train militias and many remnants of their battles remain in Betong such as the famous Betong communist tunnels.
Some links for more information to help you plan any trip the area:
- National Malaya & Borneo Veterans UK (Photos)
Finally here is a very useful roadmap of Hat Yai because it can be tricky to exit the city in the right direction unless you are familiar with the roads already...