By Chris Gowland



Our ice-hockey team had a tournament in Kuala Lumpur & five players flew down from Bangkok to take part. Being a happy but impoverished scuba instructor I couldn't afford that, & since the trains were full, I drove down from Pattaya - a 5,000 km round trip. Here's a brief rundown:


I needed to be in KL on Friday for a pre-game press conference at 6 pm & a game at 8 pm. It was at a place called Sunway Lagoon. I hoped it would be easy to find.


Wednesday 21 Feb


I left at 8 pm, after a day of diving, upon finding out that I didn't have to dive the next day. I bought a dozen bottles of water so I wouldn't have to stop & buy any along the way. I thought I would drive a couple of hours & when I got tired, pull over at a gas station somewhere for the night. I think it was because I was driving under the influence of Alanis Morissette & Green Day music that fended off sleep & I wound up at Chumpon at 4 am.


Thursday 22 Feb


I woke up at 6 am after a good night's sleep curled up on the front seat. It was time to head for the border & I wanted to apply for a Thai visa in Malaysia in the afternoon. I was worried that the border officials wouldn't let me drive to KL because (1) my Thai driver's license expired six months previously & (2) I'm not the owner of the car. At 1 pm, I crossed the Sadao border, without anything being checked except my passport. Realizing that I couldn't make it to the consulate in time, I opted for the scenic route across northern Malaysia to Kota Baru (rather than the boring motorway to KL) so I could make my visa application at the consulate there on Friday. The nice woman at the Malaysian tourism office across the border gave me a decent map of Malaysia, a sketchy one of KL, & the address of Sunway Lagoon, a casino/hotel/shopping complex.


Once I got up in the hills the scenery was brilliant. The road constantly twisted and turned, climbing hill after hill of virtually undisturbed rainforest. The slopes are so steep & the road is an engineering marvel in some places. Hardly anyone uses it - just the occasional logging truck piled high with freshly slaughtered torsos. After a couple of hundred kilometers of great panoramas, including two long bridges that cross a large dam & a spectacular sunset (I stopped to watch), it was getting dark so I stopped for the night at a roadside village where truckers take a break. The villagers didn't speak English & I was the only foreigner there. The simple restaurants had some interesting local food. I tried some spicy curry & sticky rice

wrapped in banana leaf then I caught up on lost sleep.



Friday 23 Feb


I was up before sunrise but as I drove along I didn't get to see it because of the heavy fog. It was so thick I had to keep my windscreen wipers on until the sun eventually broke through. A nice thing about Malaysia is that the fuel is 1/3 cheaper than Thailand. That was especially important for me as I was on a tight budget. I eventually rolled into Kota Baru at about 10 am & drove around in circles for two hours until I finally found the consulate. Everything is closed on Fridays & Saturdays due to their strong Muslim values.


There isn't any alcohol for sale, no nightlife, & there were only a few guys playing soccer so I guess they watch a lot of TV. I wanted to check out the scuba diving scene in Malaysia & when I stopped at the airport to ask for directions I ran into a local diving instructor & he told me all about the dive sites & diving operators on the islands. For some reason there are very few tourists.


The time had come to blast down to KL & I had six hours to do 400 kilometers. The road was narrow & got busier as I got closer to KL. There were areas of beautiful rainforest, then plantations & hills stripped bare, which was depressing. In some places the forest had grown back but it just didn't look the same. I didn't make such good time, a wrong turn cost me a half hour, & there were lots of hills but I finally got on an expressway at 5 pm with 100 kilometers to go.


I arrived in KL at 6 pm - I wasn't going to make it to the conference but I had plenty of time to get to the game. Going into KL I looked for the Petronas towers & headed for them - right into peak hour traffic (they're not as serious about their religion as those in Kota Baru). While I was stuck in the traffic jam I noticed a clock tower. It said 7 pm. I had totally forgotten about the time difference between Thailand & Malaysia & now I only had 1 hour to find Sunway. I knew it was south. I went past a turnoff & noticed too late that it was the road that was on the Sunway address.


Malaysia doesn't have it together when it comes to road signs. When I came across one of these rare items I often couldn't match the name on a sign with any name on my map & more often than not there wasn't a road number given. I managed a detour through Chinatown, & got back to the turnoff. It was getting dark & about 7:30 I saw a sign with Sunway on it. I wanted to drive fast to get there but if I missed the turnoff I would be done for. I had to drive slowly so I could spot the turnoff that would undoubtedly appear without warning.


Fortunately Sunway management are interested in their customers finding the way & I got to the car park at exactly 8 pm, grabbed my gear & ran into the building in time to see the players warming up on the ice. I only missed a few minutes of the game, which we won 4 -0. One of the players in KL, Matt, put me up in his house. We went out & had a few drinks at a disco - very different from Kota Baru.




Saturday 24 Feb


I spent the day unwinding & fixing up the old Mitsubishi for the return

journey. In the evening we had the second game, which was close right up to the last minute - very exciting, & we won 6 - 5 in overtime. I wanted to get to Kota Baru on Sunday, so after the game (about midnight) I left KL & headed for the east coast. There was a torrential downpour that night (it must rain a lot in Malaysia because it is very green) & I stopped at the scene of a nasty accident on the way. It took me 4 hours to get to the coast, where I slept like a log in the back of the pick-up until 8 am.


Sunday 25 Feb


The drive up the east coast was pretty flat & straight. I got to Kota Baru just before the consulate opened for the afternoon. There was a sign prohibiting shorts but I only had shorts & I was worried they wouldn't let me in. A French guy waiting with me kindly offered the use of a pair of pants he had in his suitcase if they gave me a hard time, but when I applied the staff just asked me to remember to wear trousers next time.


There wasn't much for me to do in Kota Baru & I had to wait until the next morning to pick up my passport. I checked out a couple of guesthouses but they were dingy. I explored the one & only department store in town - the top floor had lots of video games but not one kid was in the place - very strange. I camped out in the car again.


Monday 26 Feb


I watched the sunrise at the beach & then went running along the sand. Every 2 kilometers there are these old concrete bunkers. You'd expect the military to do a proper job of setting them up but they have been almost completely buried in the sand by the waves - they wouldn't be much use in the event of an invasion. After a swim in the not so crystal clear waters I drove back to Kota Baru with muscles aching (I hadn't been running for months).


I was on the last leg of my journey. What could go wrong? I parked near the consulate & got out of the car. I needed to change out of my wet shorts but as I tried to open the other door to get some clean clothes I realized I'd locked the keys in the car. Argh! It took me 10 minutes to find a suitable metal thing to get the car unlocked (using a method I wont disclose) & swore I'd be more careful.


I got my visa & headed for Thailand. I made sure I filled up the tank before I crossed the border & stopped in Sungai Golok for lunch. As I walked away from the car I had a sinking feeling. Sure enough I'd done it again - I'd locked the stupid keys in the car again. Fortunately for me I'd had the foresight to keep the metal thing I'd used earlier. Pretty soon I wouldn't need to use a key to open the door anymore. After that faux pas I went to Songkhla to visit some friends. We had a game of basketball. I couldn't jump because my legs hadn't recovered from my morning run. They had a cute baby pet otter & as soon as I held it the little monster gave my finger a savage bite.


Tuesday 27 Feb


The next day I did a few repair jobs around the place to show my appreciation to them for putting me up for the night. After lunch I got in the car, turned up the music & drove nonstop to Pattaya. Just as I was coming into Pattaya I ran over some object lying on the road & it somehow flicked up& made a nasty dent in the side of the car - the only damage to the car on the trip. I got back at 2 am. I was able to get some sleep before going diving the next day.


Chris Gowland can be reached at



Page Head    Index Page    Back