THE PIYAMIT TUNNEL RIDE
The invitation from Customs Cycling Club which comprised mostly members of the Nova Riders to Kelab Basikal Shah Alam MBSA for the said ride was a letter most welcome. Armed with that official letter, a formal paperwork made its way into the Mayor's office who eventually approved the trip. But the number was clipped to only 20 staffs since it is an out of the country trip and they are bound by General Orders regulations that says overseas trip must be applied and approved. Extension of, was also offered to MusangKing members and 7 of them made it good.
It was around 5pm April 4th 2013 and activities for the logistics had already started. We wrapped our bicycles neatly with plastic wrappers to avoid scratches during transportation before loading it onto the official frigate - MBSA truck. As early as 4am the following pre dawn, our Greyhound was ready for us. Everyone in the entourage arrived, together with the truck, we shoot off upnorth. Bismillahirahmanirrahim, Allah save our journey.
Our first checkpoint was at Tapah R&R where we regrouped with the main group of The Customs Cycling Club led by Tn Hj Ahmad Daniel. Numbered to about 30 of them, they arrived earlier in a number of pickups. We had our earlier than normal breakfast after performing the Suboh prayers before continuing our journey. Exiting Kuala Kangsar way, travelled further up till Gerik and eventually reached Pengkalan Hulu immigration checkpoint. It was a smooth process at both Malaysian exit and Thailand entry points since the official notifications to the authorities were done prior to the trip.
We reached Betong town at about noon. To the benefit of those who failed their geography, to refresh, this place called Betong is the most southern town for Kingdom of Thailand sitting in the District of Yala. The nearest town to Malaysia is Pengkalan Hulu in Perak. Distance between both towns is merely about 20km. There is no doubt that most of the villagers are related to each other, only to be differentiated by their citizenship.
The hotel we stayed in is Garden View Hotel, Betong. Its a 3 star rated and rate per night is THB 890 - thats equivalent to about slightly more than RM 90 due to our weaken and shrinking RM value (even Thai bahts are building strength compared to RM. Oh my country!) To the right of the hotel is a roofed arena where it can seat about a thousand party goers for a concert. The road fronting the hotel is a pasar malam venue. To the left is a pub named Oxygen. At the back is a row of a single storey terrace houses. The hotel sits majestically on a high ground. After the normal process of checking in all that matters, most of us took a break before going out for lunch. Finding a halal eating place is no big deal here as most Thailand's muslim population resides in the southern part and this town is one of them where we, Muslims from Malaysia, can find comfort for that matter. About 5 minutes walking distance, most of us had our hefty lunch at this one muslim restaurant. Some had their nasi campur while most had their tailored lunch - not missing the very original tomyam. Ermmm...yummy...!!!! Evening was at our own leisure.
This time around, it is the time of a fiesta called Chicken Fiesta (Pesta Ayam) in Betong. No, you don't get a twisted mind when I mentioned the word ayam. It is that literal ayam, not the lateral one! Ha ha ha... I know what you all are thinking about. But keep that thinking alive, I m gonna touch that subject too later. So, we spent the night strolling the pasar malam and then stayed at the corridor of the hotel and listen to the live performance from the music blasted from the arena. Some of us also had a good leg massage to be ready for the ride the next morning.
Its Saturday April 6th, 2013. Time 6:30am local time. Venue - Compund of Garden View Hotel, Betong. After some light packed breakfast, don in our respective jerseys, we unloaded our bikes and do the necessaries - check tire pressure, filling up the tumblers, fitting and checking the speedometers etc. Led by the local police escort, we flagged off at about 7:30am. I would say that the police marshall deserved our commends. Every junction was manned exceptionally well by traffic police. Excellent!
Piyamit, here we come!
We passed through Betong town and used the trunk road which leads us to Yala. After about 10km of ride we were taken to a secondary road that led us all the way to our destination. The terrain of the path was a real challenge as it has its own uniqueness as compared to venues such as the Golden Back, Genting Sempah or Fraser Hill. These venues, I must say, a must training ground in order for anyone putting an intention to have a good ride here. Joined by a group of about 10 local riders, they demonstrated that this place is peanut to them. Even the Ah Sohs in the group can embarass us by outdoing our youngsters. Thats when we said, training makes perfect.
We ended our first part of the ride right beneath the arch to the tunnel after a stop of around 10 minutes about 3km before. By now, we had done about 14 km of steep and hilly challenge. Some of the riders had used the services of the truck by now. However, the real challenge is yet to come.
By now, we were located at several hundred meters above sea level. The weather was perfect. Temperature shouldn't be more than 30 deg C with less than 3km/h of wind speed. After arrival of all our cyclist and allowing the late comers to grasp some oxygen, now here comes the best part of the ride.
Total distance for the whole challenge is about 18km one way. By now, we were just roughly 4km away from our destination. We dont expect a smooth ride. With an elevation of something not less than 45deg for the final lap, off we go. Some pedalled for a few hundred meters and surrendered. Those retrying to get back on their bike have to make zig zag ride or else gravity will pull them. Some cyclist have to keep moving in this zig zag manner. No more gear speed to be used as most had used the last - the smallest for the crank and the largest for the drive. Still many couldn't make it even with that combination. Even the likes of Kenny had to make a few stoppages before restarting. Most of us, me inclusive, have no choice but to face the reality - get down and push! Its torturing and gruelling but no doubt, its exciting. Finally, we managed to force ourselves to reach the ride destination, The Piyamit Tunnel.
After some photo snaps and souvenirs sightings, we made a beeline to the entrance and started the journey into the jungle towards the tunnel. Some of us that had experienced entering the tunnel before were left behind and doubled up as guard for our bicycles. Entry fee charged was RM 5 per person. Distance walked from the entry point to the tunnel is about a kilometer.
We were greeted by the caretaker of the tunnel, an ex Sergeant of The 12th Regiment, Communist Party of Malaya by the name of Kai Sheng. Aged in the seventies, he hailed from Sg Chua in Kajang but was now a citizen of Thailand. When the peace accord was signed between the Government of Malaysia and The Communist Party of Malaya in Narathiwat in the year 1987, the condition is for the members of the party to lay down their arms and stop their struggle. Once this was fulfilled, they were given a choice of returning to Malaysia or, with the generosity of the Thai Government, were offered Thai citizenship plus 6 acres of land and a house for each family. But they will have the rights to visit Malaysia on a social pass ticket. Obviously, the members of the party chose to be Thais. However, it is quite disheartening to understand that eventhough all of them were permitted to have a social visit to Malaysia, the head of the party was refused entry even to visit his birthplace in Sitiawan. This was not only against the spirit of the agreement, but obviously turning back on the agreement. This guy was Chin Peng.
Th tunnel tour was brief. Sgt Kai Sheng took us for the tour inside the tunnel and explained all those stuff - in how to have a smokeless kitchen from inside the tunnel, how the tunnel was built, the airwell, the food storage, the marital ground, the sleeping place etc etc..
After about an hour on the tunnel matter, we thanked Sgt Kai Sheng, and then tracked back to where we entered. After letting off some fire crackers, we were ready to head back.
Getting downhill especially with that sloppy gradient was very dangerous. Extra precaution has to be excercised. Braking skills is a must. A slight error will be too costly. We got on our bike and had a free fall for descending. There goes the speed. A controlled speed but my maximum had clocked 80km/h! A slight error with this speed can be fatal. Almost all cyclists had a record of their own for this downhill ride.
We reached our hotel about an hour past noon. Feeling high for the ride, we exchanged experiences almost immediately. Then only we prepared our bicycles to be loaded into the truck. Still in our attire, we walked a short distance for our lunch. Back to hotel then and we had a long rest - zzZzzzzzz
Saturday nite was a free and easy nite. Some of us paid RM 30 for a 24hrs bike rental from the locals to move around. Some took tuk-tuk with a charge of RM 2 / person for a single ride. Thats pretty practical. Enough with exploring Betong nite life, with a few friends, I just sat down in front of the hotel lobby observing observing people moving around. Oh yes! Its a sight that we can see all sorts of whats in a tourist when they are here in Betong..
We made our last dash of shopping the next day. Most of us went to the morning market of Bendang Siam (Nat Sanai). Some bought fruits, some bought visas for their wives and many bought Thai fragrant rice which is fairly cheap compared to the price back home. A pack of top the range rice of 10kg rice is priced at RM38 while the same is priced at RM 56. Its high time that our agriculture policy need to be reviewed.
We checked out at noon and had our last regroup for lunch on the way back. At about 5pm, we hit the North South E1 highway via Kuala Kangsar toll. It was a ridiculous traffic snarl we were facing. To describe how terrible it was, from that point to Sg Perak R&R is only about 5km but it took us one hour to reach!
After some refreshments, we decided to wait till Maghrib prayers before we restarted our journey. The traffic was still terrible but we had no choice. It lasted until about the tunnel mouth due to a stalled bus! Somewhere along the way, one of our members, Zaidi Salleh, received a distress call. His father had just passed away. We consoled him and made the necessary detour to his place in M,round 11:30pm, we reached his place. All of us got down from the bus and offered some prayers for his late father. We managed to pass the hat around and handed over the amount to him before we left for Wisma MBSA. We reached safely sometime past midnite.
To sum up, this expedition is worthwhile. It had created a record of sorts; average speed of 19km/h and a top speed of 80km/h. Betong is a town just like home since trading is also done using RM. Logistics arrangement was excellent. And finally, to the late father of Zaidi Salleh, may his soul rest in peace.
My special thanks to Customs Cycling Club as well as Nova Riders, Thailand Authorities, Malaysian Authorities, Majlis Bandaraya Shah Alam (MBSA), MusangKing Cycling Team and last but not least my very own club, Kelab Basikal Shah Alam members and also those who had involved directly or indirectly in making this outing a memorable one. Our next ride is slated to take place in Sept. This time around our destination will be either Batam or Tg Pinang in Indonesia. Till I see U again, happy cycling!
Footnote: Photos and stories will make its way to www.zonten.blogspot.com as well as to www.musangkingcyclingteam.blogspot.com at a later date.