Instead of our usual route driving to Hatyai through the Bukit Kayu Hitam immigration check point, we decided to drive to Hatyai through Betong and Yala. Our trip consists of 2 nights stay in Betong and 3 nights stay in Hatyai with a day trip to Songkhla.
Betong is the southernmost point of Thailand, about 140 km from Yala. It is only about a 15 mins drive from Pengkalan Hulu in the State of Perak, the nearest town to Betong from Malaysia.
Betong is surrounded by mountains resulting in a much cooler climate and occasionally shrouded in mists in the early morning. Weekends in Betong can be pretty busy as a lot of Malaysians drive over for a short visit.
We stayed at the Grand Mandarin Betong Hotel, probably the best hotel in town. Although touted as a 4 stars hotel, the rooms while reasonably clean are a bit rundown – so do not expect too much, especially the breakfast.
The hotel’s swimming pool
We arrived at Betong about noon and after checking into our hotel and a short rest and shower to refresh ourselves, we headed out to town for a massage and some food.
The clock tower is one of the most prominent landmark in Betong – being centrally located, all roads leads to the clock tower.
Ordering dishes for our lunch. Chicken, noodles and fish maw stew.
The following is a photo of the chedi, which was built in the modern Srivijaya style and about 40 metres high. It was built to commemorate the 69th birthday anniversary of her Majesty the Queen of Thailand.
The Piyamit Tunnel – The area where the tunnel is located was once the base of the Malaya Communist Division 2. The tunnel was built in 3 months around 1976, winding through the mountain for about 1 km and in certain areas, about 15-18 metres wide with multiple entrances. It was once used as an air raid shelter and food storage area.
It is quite a long walk (climb) from the ticket office to the tunnel, fortunately, there are rest areas along the way.
Before you can access the tunnel, an ex-communist will give you a lecture (propaganda) about the history and activities of the communist division 2. At the end of the lecture, a small donation is expected.
After the visit, we stop by this restaurant next to the entrance to the Piyamit tunnel for lunch. The food here is really quite good and reasonably priced. It is also own and run by ex-communist members.
After the Piyamit Tunnel, we visited a holiday resort also operated by ex-communist members of Division 2. There are holiday chalets for rent and the weather here is actually quite nice and cool as it is located at quite a high elevation.
Before we head back to Betong town, we stop by the Betong hot spring in Ban Charo Parai village to soak our tired legs.
Early morning in Betong town. One final look and we are on our way to Hatyai via Yala. The route is quite hilly in certain places and quite scenic as well.
The drive from Betong to Hatyai takes more than 5 hours, with stops along the way for food and drinks. In Hatyai we went to the market for some shopping and food and also make a trip to the Quan Yin temple.
Songkhla – It takes about one and a half hours from Hatyai to Songkhla. The usual itinerary for most people would be a trip to the beach, have some seafood lunch or dinner and drive around the town. There is actually nothing much to do in Songkhla. Most of the visitors are local thai. The beach is not suitable for swimming but you can go horse riding on the beach.
We had seafood lunch in this restaurant. There is quite a variety of seafood which are quite fresh and also reasonably priced.
After lunch, we went to a park to watch some monkeys and then return to Hatyai for the last night of our trip.
If you always drive to Hatyai via the Bukit Kayu Hitam immigration check point, going via Betong is an interesting alternative. Two nights in Betong should be ideal. The road from Betong to Yala is single lane carriageway, is quite hilly and winding. The road from Yala to Hatyai is mostly dual carriageway. There is not much traffic from Betong to Hatyai and is therefore an easy and relaxing drive.
Documentation required would be a photocopy of the vehicle’s registration card certified by an officer at the Air Panas Police Station in Pengkalan Hulu and if you are not the owner, you would also require a letter from the owner of the vehicle authorising you to drive the car over the border to Thailand. Also, your Malaysian insurance policy for your vehicle only covers up to 50km from the Malaysian border so ensure that you obtain additional insurance for the vehicle to cover the trip into Thailand.
All photos shot with the Nikon D810 and Nikkor 24-85mm f3.5-4.5g lens.