2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand – Day 2 – Driving Conditions from Sadao to Phuket

This is the third part of my blog series that details our road trip from Singapore to Phuket, Thailand and offers some advice to would-be travellers who might like to attempt a similar journey. The first part can be found here and the second part here.

In this part of the blog series, we will share about the experience of driving on Thailand roads from the Sadao border to Phuket island.

Firstly, after crossing the border, it is a good time to find a place to eat brunch or lunch before doing the long drive to Phuket. For families especially, a great place to fuel the stomachs would be at Tesco Lotus, Sadao which is just down the road after the Sadao customs towards Hat Yai on the right hand side of the road. Parking is free but as you enter the car park be prepared to show your ID (Passport or Driving License is good) to the security officer to “scan” at the camera. Within the building, you will find family friendly eateries such as KFC, MK Restaurants and The Pizza Company in a comfortable air-conditioned environment. Our eatery of choice for both our trips was The Pizza Company which serves delicious pizzas, pastas and kids meals great for the whole family! (Much better than Pizza Hut, trust me!) This is also a good place for you to stock up on groceries for your trip.

From Sadao, it is another 5-6 hours drive to Phuket, depending on how fast you cover ground. I would recommend you to drive conservatively while getting used to the unfamiliar roads and traffic habits of the Thai drivers and riders.

There are 4 main types of roads you will experience along the way. I will run through each type here:

1. Urban roads through Towns / Villages

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Urban Roads

These urban roads could be single or dual lane roads and are generally fine, except that you need to look out for cars and bikers that weave in and out without signalling. Also, you will routinely get motorists who will completely ignore traffic lights at intersections so do watch out. Don’t assume people will stop just because they have a red light on their side.

 

2. Dual Carriageways with a Central Divider on Major Roads like the Route 4 / AH2

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Dual Carriageways

After you get out of Sadao and make a left turn just before Hat Yai along the Route 4, you will be driving along a well-maintained dual carriageway for about 3 hours. Although the road doesn’t possess the finesse of the Malaysian NSE, it is a pretty good road to drive on and you should make good progress because overtaking is relatively straightforward with two or more lanes going each way. The only thing you will need to look out for along this stretch is traffic (especially motorcycles) suddenly shooting out from the side roads on the left as well as from the central divider on the right. Don’t be surprised that these motorcycles can come out from the central divider whether or not there is a legitimate U-turn point in-between the two carriageways. Sometimes the motorcycles can seem to suddenly come out from bushes and trees in the divider so you have to be alert. You will also get motorcycles (and sometimes cars!) coming at you in the wrong direction at the left side of the road.

 

3. Well-maintained Country Roads

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Country Roads

After the long stretch along the Route 4, you will proceed onto single-lane single carriageways for much of the remaining journey. Most of these are well maintained, but you do have to watch out for the following:

  • Super-slow Vehicles. Some motorists are operating on a different time-line and paradigm to you and will be taking their time crawling along and clogging up traffic, causing a long train of other vehicles to form behind them. Do overtake but only when safe to do so.  When you are overtaking, please check your right mirrors and blind spot to make sure that there isn’t another car coming from behind that is already trying to do a SUPER OVERTAKE.
  • Undulating roads in the hilly regions. These can be very deceptive because it may seem like a clear road up ahead, but there could be cars coming in the opposite direction which are completely invisible because they are hidden behind the curvature of the slope ahead. Don’t be presumptuous when you are trying to overtake along such roads because you could end up in a nasty head-on collision. Even when you are not trying to overtake, you might find that the cars in the opposite direction are trying to do so, so if you cannot see so far ahead because of the curvature of the hill, it will be prudent to slow down a bit to give you the chance to react if there is an emergency situation.
  • Sharp bends towards the left or right. These can be quite sudden and take you by surprise, so please don’t assume you can safely take all curves at the speed limit stated on your GPS.
  • Animals. Look out for dogs, cows and other animals that might be crossing the road or having a leisurely afternoon stroll.

 

4. Uneven Dirt Roads or Unmaintained Tarmac Roads with Potholes

There are some roads like these and we didn’t take a picture because we were too busy moving to the rhythm of the bumps. Just google “thailand roads with potholes” and you will find images of these suspension killers. These roads are nasty especially when coupled with heavy rain, puddles and mud. My advice here is to go slow and save your car from damage. Additionally, you should look out ahead for changes in the colour of the road surface because this could indicate the possibility of an upcoming pothole or of rough surface and give you some advance warning to slow down.

 

Arriving in Phuket

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Scenic drive around Phang Nga

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Arrival at the JW Marriott at Mai Khao Beach

With the kids sleeping in the car after lunch, I did not stop at all from Sadao to Phuket – a straight 6 hour drive. This can be potentially back-breaking, so do take a break and a coffee at the petrol kiosks along the way if you have to!

Enjoy the scenery especially along the roads around Phang Nga, these are really gorgeous scenes with lovely hills and cliffs. The view from the bridge crossing over to Phuket island is also a breathtaking sight so soak it all in! There is a security check at the gateway to Phuket just after the bridge, but you do not have to get out of the car and passports are not required. Just smile at the security officers as they give you a quizzical look at your Singapore registered vehicle.

We arrived at the JW Marriott Hotel / Phuket Beach Club at Mai Khao Beach at around 6:30pm local time, with a sense of achievement and looking forward to a great time at the resort! Mai Khao Beach is at the tip of Phuket and so if you are moving on deeper into the island towards Patong or Kata Beach you will need to give it another 1 hour on the road to arrive at your destination.

I drove to Phuket AGAIN in 2017. You can read about my exploits from the link below:

Read about my Drive to Thailand in June 2017

Finally, my wife and I also enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship and a nice home-cooked meal. So if you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!

 

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2016 Road Trip from Singapore to Thailand – Day 2 – Crossing the Border at Bukit Kayu Hitam / Sadao

This is the second part of my blog series that details our road trip from Singapore to Phuket, Thailand and offers some advice to would-be travellers who might like to attempt a similar journey. The first part can be found here.

This leg of the journey from Alor Star to Phuket is the exciting one, especially because it takes many of our Singapore drivers out of our comfort zone. We have to cross an unfamiliar border at Bukit Kayu Hitam (Malaysia side) / Sadao (Thai side). We also have to grapple with road conditions quite different from what we are used to along the brilliantly well-maintained North South Expressway (NSE) in Malaysia.

The border is not open 24 hours, only from 6am – 12 midnight Singapore/Malaysia Time. No point going too early anyway, cause many of the shops that do the Thailand 3rd party vehicle insurance do not open so early (There could be some that open early, so if you have the info do let me know).

The Thailand 3rd party insurance is quite cheap (less than SGD$15 for 19 days of cover) and can be done at the following places:

  • Shops in Changlun, before the Malaysian immigration
  • Duty-Free complex, in no-man’s land between the Malaysian and Thai immigration
  • Shops in Sadao-Dannok, just after the Thai immigration

For my first trip last year, I got my insurance at Sadao-Dannok, and this year at the Duty-Free complex. Both are quite fuss-free but they were not open in the early mornings. I think around 9am Malaysia time is fine, but I’m not 100% sure about this. The immigration officials didn’t seem that interested in looking at my insurance papers though, so you might be able to just get your passports chopped and settle your vehicle customs first, then worry about getting the vehicle insurance done.

Now we will run you through the actual border crossing process, which should take around 1 to 2 hours depending on the crowd:

The Bukit Kayu Hitam immigration on the Malaysia side is relatively simple, and quite like what we are used to at Tuas or Woodlands. Just drive straight to the booth and hand over your passports. No real issues here.

The Sadao immigration on the Thailand side is more messy and confusing. You will need to park your car somewhere along the road just before the customs compound which you can see in the photo below (The big carpark to the left of the immigration compound is gone! I believe they are working on building a new immigration complex. Once that is done then things will change again.)

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Sadao border crossing

You also need Thailand immigration cards, which you can get for RM2 per card at the Duty-Free complex in no-man’s land (please don’t get fleeced here like I did!), or for free at the Sadao border at the immigration office inside the building on the left side. They are likely to only give you one card per passport so be prepared to show the passports of everyone in your party.

Fill up the immigration forms and queue up at one of the immigration counters to get your passports chopped. These immigration counters are all over the place, so if you are observant, you can actually find one with a much shorter queue. At the immigration counter, please be prepared to pay (a bribe?) of RM1 or RM2 per passport. Last year we “acted blur” and got through without having to pay this at all. This year I was charged RM2 and my wife and kids were more fortunate to be charged RM1 per passport at their counter.

After you get your passports chopped, you need to line up at the counter shown:

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Customs booth for the temporary import of your car into Thailand

There are two parts to this counter, the first one to get the temporary vehicle import form (where you see people queuing in the picture). Here you will need to present your vehicle log card printed from onemotoring (to prove that you are the legal owner of the vehicle) as well as your chopped passport.

The second booth is immediately after the first one where they will chop the form, and you will have to sign on it. They will hand you one copy of the processed form and will keep one copy for themselves. Please do not lose this form because if you do you will have trouble getting your car back through the customs when you return from Thailand!

After getting all this paperwork done, you can get back to your parked car and proceed to drive through border crossing. As you drive through, the border police will check again that you have your vehicle import form done.

Once all this is done, welcome to Thailand!

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After the Sadao border

Click here for Part 3 of this series which touches on the driving conditions in Thailand from Sadao to Phuket .

Finally, my wife and I also enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship and a nice home-cooked meal. So if you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!

2016 Drive from Singapore to Thailand – Day 1

This blog post details our road trip from Singapore to Phuket, Thailand and offers some advice to would be travellers who might like to attempt a similar journey. This was our 2nd time making the long drive to Phuket, last year we did it in our aging Kia Cerato. This year, it was certainly a more comfortable ride in our new Peugeot 5008 MPV (Clean Diesel). We had 6 people in the car, my wife and I, our three kids aged 6, 4 and 2, and our domestic helper. I was the sole driver – having another driver in the party would have been good, but we didn’t have that luxury. This means that I have to manage my own physical state, and make sure that I am well rested every night before a long drive and to take breaks at the R&Rs or Petrol Kiosks whenever I’m feeling tired or sleepy.

My preference for epic road trips is to cover ground more quickly on the drive up, and to take things easier on the way back. This translated to taking the trip to Phuket in two legs, stopping one night in Alor Star. On the way back to Phuket, I planned for three legs, stopping at Alor Star and Malacca. The reason for this is mainly psychological. On the way up, you want to get to your destination as quick as possible to enjoy the fruits of your labour. On the way back, morale can be quite low as your holiday is drawing to a close, and therefore extra stop-overs can soften the blow of having to face reality!

The most important things you need to prepare for the trip:

  • Your passports
  • Enough Malaysian Ringgit and Thai Baht to get by, and lots of Singapore Dollars (I brought S$500 worth of MYR and THB and S$6000 spare in SGD for my 17 day trip)
  • Car log card printed out from onemotoring (This is crucial, you are not getting into Thailand without this!)
  • Send your car for a thorough servicing just before the trip. Change your tires / car battery if need be. You definitely want to minimise the risk of breakdowns and the trouble of finding a workshop in a foreign land.
  • GPS with Thailand maps loaded. (I had two GPS units for my trip, good to have one spare!)
  • Hotel bookings done with hotel coordinates loaded into your GPS.
  • Travel insurance / vehicle insurance with coverage into Thailand. This is optional but recommended. Do note that you will still need to purchase Thailand 3rd party vehicle insurance at the Thai border, but this does not cover any damage to your own vehicle.
  • Touch-and-Go Card to pay Malaysia toll fees. (you need about MYR110 to cover the tolls one-way from Singapore to the Thai border)
  • Hours of good music (to keep your spirits up and to keep you awake!)

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Day 1 – Driving from Singapore to Alor Star 

This is a long long drive, especially for those who are not used to driving long distances. It is important that before you even attempt a drive of this distance (800km), you should build up your driving stamina first. For me, it was a gradual process of going further and further into Malaysia before I had the confidence to undertake this drive. I would recommend you progressively extend your range with one-day drives to Malacca, KL, Ipoh, and Penang, especially if you are the sole driver like me! If you have a co-driver, it makes things a lot easier and you have the benefit of taking a break while your partner takes the wheel.

Always set off early, the last thing you want to do is to begin a 800km drive with a hour long crawl at the Causeway or 2nd Link. For this trip, we managed to pull everyone out of bed at 5am, loaded the car and set off around 5:30am. We were rewarded with a smooth drive through both Singapore and Johor customs by 6am.  I always like driving along the North-South Expressway (NSE) in the early mornings. Traffic is sparse, with a lower risk of being held up due to accidents or police checks.

A few main points to take note of along the NSE:

  • You start off on the E2 from Johor to KL (either via the E3 if you are enter Malaysia through the 2nd Link at Tuas, or via the E14 Eastern Dispersal Link if you use the Causeway at Woodlands)
  • On the E2 around the 285km mark, take the Exit 214 onto the E6 towards Putrajaya / Cyberjaya / KLIA. This will take you around the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur avoiding the jams in the city.
  • On the E6 around the 22km mark, take the Exit onto the E1 towards Ipoh / Alor Star.
  • Along the E1, watch out for grey speed camera at 375km mark on the left of the road.

If you are making good progress, I would recommend having lunch at Ipoh. Our favorite lunch stop is Tim Sum at Foh San in Ipoh, but some would argue that the standard of food there has dropped and there are better options around Ipoh. If you want to save time, just grab lunch at any R&R along the way.

For this trip, we made good progress, and managed to catch a quick breakfast at KFC at a Shell station at the 15.5km mark along the E6 after we topped up on Euro 5 Diesel. Moving on, we arrived at Foh San in Ipoh around 12 noon.

After lunch, it is only a three hour drive to Alor Star. Just be careful of the roads through the hills just after Ipoh which feature some sharp bends and can be quite treacherous especially in wet weather.

Our hotel of choice for the night is AST Hotel in Alor Star which is reasonably priced with clean rooms and a good location near to Alor Setar Mall where you can find a good place for dinner. Besides Alor Star, other possible options for a night’s rest are in Penang or Changlun.

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Click here for the next part of this blog series which details the Malaysia-Thailand border crossing at Bukit Kayu Hitam / Sadao.

Finally, my wife and I also enjoy having guests over at our place for fellowship and a nice home-cooked meal. So if you would like to drop by to try some of my wife’s wonderful cooking and to talk more about travel and life, do drop me a mail at lenniechua@gmail.com to arrange a dinner date! Everyone welcome!