The guy at the reception knocked on the door exactly at 5.30 am making me wonder if he was at the door waiting for the clock to strike the half past. I was already up and getting ready after an invigorating infusion of coffee. Before starting the drive I went over the route once again and that served me well in the end. About 100 kms into the drive Google Maps misbehaved. It just switched off. I wondered if it was anything to do with the hardware or the software. I was totally put off and kept the handset switched off for a while, to cool it off! Anyway, I had to travel by Route 4 to Chumphon and 41 thereafter to Phatthalung via Surath Thani. It was not too much of challenge since the roads were brilliantly signposted. About 25 kms short of Phatthalung I dropped into a fuel station and used WiFi of the coffee shop to get directions to the hotel. That helped me reach The Centris Hotel without any hassles. I had driven 650 kms in slightly over 7 hours.
The road condition was near perfect all the way through, with rough patches at some places. Water drainage was provided either at the sides of the roads or in the middle of it, depending on the camber of the road. At many places road works were on to correct undulations and other defects without creating traffic snarls. The intersections were warned in advance and were wide. The infrastructure, even in villages and small towns, was never compromised. A sine qua non to good infrastructure is proper use of it – the courteous use of the road and observance of rules made high speed possible, which in turn helped clearance of more traffic with the available infrastructure. Provision has been made for vendors at intermittent places; cars could be parked without impeding traffic. Besides, the fuel stations all along the way had rest room facilities and small shops. Along the way are swathes of oil palm and rubber plantations. It looked as if the latter is giving way to the former.
The Centris Hotel, right in the heart of the small town, was an extremely good ‘ buy’ for 1800 THB for two nights. It has covered parking for vehicles and I ‘cornered’ one of them for the car. The room is big and the facilities quite adequate. This time around I asked for a hot water kettle and got one immediately. The only challenge is communicating with the three girls at the reception. They had varying degrees of inability to understand English, but tried to be as helpful as they could be under the circumstances. I wanted direction to the attractions in and around the town; but they could not be of any help, whatsoever. So I did what I could at the time. I did the laundry and in a couple of hours it was dry, thanks to the hot and dry climate.
One of the ‘attractions’ in Phatthalung is the Ok Talu mountains that rise about 250 feet almost from the centre of the town. I decided to take that on tomorrow, as the place opens at 8 am. The rest of the places to visit seemed to be quite a bit out of town, which I did not want to venture out to unless I had adequate information about their location. That left me with just one place to experience this evening – the Larn Ta Chu steakhouse. It is listed as a must visit in most travel sites related to Phatthalung. Since I had not had any solid breakfast or lunch I was hungry by 5 pm. The reviews I read of the steakhouse only exacerbated the condition. The girls at the reception, this time, seemed to know the place and drew it out on a map for me. It was just a short walk away, they said. I walked and I walked, with the growls getting louder with every step. But, the only place I could not locate was the steakhouse. In the process I walked through the entire town, well almost. Phatthalung must surely beat Cochin for ‘the town that goes to sleep the earliest’ tag. Except for a few cars and some shops that seemed to be reluctantly open there was hardly any activity in the town.
I got back to the hotel and retrieved a couple of bottles of Thai beer as I thought it best to spend time with them rather than walking around the boring town. I started looking at options to enter Malaysia. I had planned to take the coastal route on the east to move from Thailand to Malaysia. As mentioned in an earlier post, thanks to the scars on the psyche festooned by the Vietnam experience, every border crossing is a trauma. I do a lot of research to get additional information that could be of help. In the instant case I found that a ferry crossing is involved on the Malaysian side. There is absolutely no mention whether the ferry gets cars across. In the absence of further information I will have to take the western route and go to Pasir Puteh via a diversion of almost 150 km. Anyway, that has to wait for a decision tomorrow; I hope to visit a travel agent to get more information. However, considering the one horse town it is I do not expect to get much assistance.
The beers dulled the hunger for a while. But, as soon as the two bottles were over, the second faster than the first, the stomach became belligerent yet again. I had to find the steakhouse. This time I was in luck. The receptionists had changed and on night duty was another girl who understood where I wanted to go and gave me clear directions to it. I reached it without a fuss too. I realised then that the girls had given me the wrong directions in the evening. They probably wanted me to explore the town and build up a better appetite!
The Larn Ta Cha steakhouse was almost full – all residents of the town seemed to be there. Charming young girls helped me to a comfortable seat and produced a menu that was, thankfully, in English. I took my time over it and chose the spicy fish maw soup with jasmine rice. The girl who took the order asked me at least thrice if I wanted it spicy and I confirmed it all three times. She also asked me to reconsider if I wanted the rice, which I did affirmatively. The steakhouse, besides serving traditional steaks, was also supposed to serve typical Thai food. And that is what I had ordered. The strong fishy aroma of the soup hit me as it passed the door of the kitchen. One spoon of the soup and my palate reacted to the spice and the fishiness. It was really spicy and tangy. I asked for a bottle of cold water and regular gulps from that saved me quite a bit from then on. The serving of the soup was large and I wondered how I was going to get through it. The rice helped. I used the soup as curry and managed to finish the meal. The smell of fish stayed with me till I reached the room and rinsed my mouth and brushed my teeth. So much for the steakhouse – I must have picked out the one dish I should not have ordered.
Well, it all balances out in the end, I guess. I had the run of the road in the morning and in the night I ran on the road all the way from the steakhouse to the hotel with spice spilling out from my ears!