Exploring Karon, Phuket After Sundown

Some cultures might find it disrespectful to have a market selling food / knick knacks / random items at a holy site. Not in Phuket though! Held on Tuesdays and Fridays, the Karon Temple Night Market is located within Wat Suwan Khiri Khet at Karon, and is a great place to explore if you’re looking to immerse yourself in the local culture and nab yourself some tasty street food, snacks and souvenirs.

20190412_121157

The temple itself is beautiful, with a main shrine sitting on an elevated platform, guarded by two nagas (mythical serpents). The architecture is distinctively Thai, featuring a tiered roof and intricately carved golden motifs.

20190412_174320

The market offers visitors a bit of everything – from trinkets and cheap T-shirts to handmade crafts and souvenirs, such as these lovely soap carvings. There were also many stalls selling snacks and local products, such as coffee, biscuits and other snacks. There’s also a food section with both halal and non-halal food options. If you’ve never been to a night market in Southeast Asia, then definitely visit to experience the sights, smells and sounds !

 

20190412_174723

An assortment of snacks on skewers – fishballs, hotdogs, meat balls, crab meat sticks, dunked into a sweet and spicy hot sauce. There’s also pad thai fresh from the wok, and local favourites such as stuffed squid, barbecued moo ping (pork on skewers – a must try!), sausages stuffed with glutinous rice, mango sticky rice, fried oyster omelettes and many more.

20190412_175136

We found a stall selling fried insects and decided to give it a try. We got the mix (50 baht) of three: crickets, grasshoppers and silkworms. They also had scorpion but these were pricey at 200 baht each (about RM27).

20190412_180004

I think the hardest part about eating something ‘exotic’ is that your brain simply isn’t used to it. I remember eating balut (duck embryo) for the first time and was grossed out by the fact that it had feathers on – I felt like gagging when I bit into it – but once it was in my mouth it didn’t taste bad at all lol. 😀

The same thing with these fried insects: my first instinct was to gag, but after popping one in, it didn’t taste all that bad. The texture was very similar to eating small, crispy fried fish, like whitebait. There wasn’t much flavour except for salt and whatever spices the insects had been tossed in. I actually preferred the silkworms because they had a slightly chewy skin and a little bit of mushiness on the inside.

20190412_183815

After exploring the market, head on out to the streets of Karon, which are lined with plenty of restaurants and bars, as well as massage and beauty parlours.

20190412_184609

Walked all the way to the roundabout to see the gorgeous sunset.

20190412_190403

Back to the beach in front of our hotel, there was a game of volleyball going on between locals and some foreign visitors.

While Karon is not as ‘happening’ as Patong, it’s a nice place for families and those who aren’t part of the party crowd. Consider booking a stay in the area if you prefer a more subdued, relaxing atmosphere.

Attractions in Betong, Thailand – Wat Phuttathiwat Buddhist Temple + Largest Mailbox in the World (?)

For a town with a relatively modest population, Betong’s Buddhist temple – Wat Phuttathiwat – is quite impressive. Sitting on a hill top overlooking the valley, the temple features unique architecture, with several golden spires rising into the sky.

Done in a modern Srivijaya style and measuring 40m at its peak, the temple’s most distinctive feature is its gold colour, which is also the colour of royalty in Thailand. Fitting, seeing as how the temple was built to commemorate the birthday of the reigning Queen in that era. Construction was completed in 1953, making the temple well over half a century old. It is still very well maintained though. The building is divided into several levels, and both the inside and outside has marble tiled flooring.

I’d imagine the temple would look gorgeous when the sun rays reflect off the shiny spires, but too bad it was a rainy day 😦

Typical Thai architecture: very detailed and elaborate.

The inside felt quite bare after the opulence of its exterior. In the centre was a raised golden tomb of some kind, but since there were no caretakers/monks around, we had nobody to ask.

Several tapestries hung from the walls, featuring Buddhist monks and people in traditional Thai costumes. The paintings had a raised motif so it gave off a 3D effect.

Very different from Chinese-Buddhist temples, since the paintings here reflect the local culture and beliefs.

The next level had a Buddha statue in the middle, an altar and a prayer mat. What was interesting though, was the corners of the hall…

I’ve never seen stained glass designs in a temple before! Instead of saints, they had flower/geometric/animal imagery.

More traditional elements.

Although it’s literally down the road from the town centre, the temple is a quiet little sanctuary for meditation and reflection should you need to escape the stresses of daily life.

WAT PHUTTATHIWAT (WAT BETONG) 

Moo 1, Tambon Betong, Amphoe Betong, Yala, 95110, Thailand

Before returning to the hotel, we braved the drizzle to make a quick pitstop to another tourist attraction in front of the Betong Town Hall: the supposed largest mailbox in the world (not really sure about this though, coz Guinness certifies the record to one in Illinois) !

It is very impressive, towering up at approximately 2.5 stories high. I wonder where the slot for the box is. Didn’t go near coz it was raining so we only took pix from the stairs.

Attractions in Betong, Thailand – Betong Hot Springs

Aside from the Piyamit Communist Tunnels and the Winter Flower Garden , another popular attraction while visiting the southern Thai border town of Betong its its natural Hot Springs. Hold the bikinis though – the springs are not meant for soaking the body, since it’s a big public pool and doesn’t seem that hygienic. ._.” Entry is free.

A nice park built around the springs, perfect for a morning stroll. Some really cute statues of Betong’s famous chickens, ridden by a colourful costumed character (?)

We arrived there around noon so it was pretty hot, but there were several kids taking a full-body soak. Everyone else sat around the edges and dipped their legs into the water. The weather + hot water had us sweating in seconds, lol. Unfortunately I don’t think the springs are open at night so it’s best to come in the morning.

Drumsticks lol.

There was another pool adjacent to the one we were soaking our feet in but that was not open to the public since the temperatures are extremely hot. There was also a small well where you could cook eggs (!), which are sold by a local vendor.

As the springs are located within a village, there are also lots of souvenir/snack shops/cafes around the area.

BETONG HOT SPRINGS 

Ban Charo Parai Village, Tano Maero, Betong, Yala, Thailand

Opening hours: 9AM – 5PM

 

Travel Guide: Top Things to do in Betong – Attractions, Famous Food, and more

Think Thailand, think popular spots like Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Krabi… you get the drift.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that those places, as vibrant as they are, make up only a small fraction of a country that is half a million square kilometres in size, with a population of 69 million. There are many other less traveled spots with hidden gems, and I discovered one of these on a weekend trip – to the border town of Betong. It is about five hours drive from Kuala Lumpur, accessible via the North-South highway heading to Grik and Pengkalan Hulu.

Sitting between the Malaysian state of Perak and southern Thailand, Betong (from Malay ‘betung‘, which means bamboo) is home to an estimated 20-30,000 residents, mainly Thais, Chinese and Malays. This also means that most people speak a mix of Thai, Malay, Cantonese, Mandarin or other Chinese dialects.

For a small town, Betong has good facilities: there is a post office, hospital, school, market, municipal council, places of worship and many stores offering different services and goods. Due to its close proximity to Malaysia, many Malaysian tourists visit over the weekend, and there is a flourishing tourist trade, with hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. If you’re here on a 3D2N stay, there’s more than enough to see (and eat!), with time to spare for chillin’ in a relaxing, small-town-like setting, away from the hustle and bustle of the capital.

BETONG ATTRACTIONS 

1 ) Explore a (former) communist hideout @ the Piyamit Tunnels 

High up in the hills, about half an hour’s drive away from Betong town is the Piyamit Tunnels, once used by members of the Communist Party to evade the Malayan-Thai authorities. The 1960s was a time of unrest for both Malaya (now Malaysia) and Thailand due to the communist insurgency, and Betong was where many Malayan communists fled to and made base camp. Life was difficult in the jungle for the 50-60 people living here. They couldn’t have open fires for cooking or to dry their clothes. Sanitation was a problem. To act as bomb shelters, they dug tunnels (which stretch 1km long and have 9 exit points) out of the earth, sometimes with their bare hands. Be prepared to hike a little as the museum/attraction sites are far in. You’ll pass by quaint little streams and lush vegetation during your journey.

2 ) Stroll through the Winter Flower Garden

Located just a few kilometres away from the Piyamit Tunnels, the Winter Flower Garden is a well kept attraction that offers great opportunities for pretty pictures. The spacious garden is home to temperate-climate flowers and trees, such as roses and pines. The place is quiet and relaxing, with a pond stocked with fat koi fish. If you’re looking for a pure getaway from all the city distractions, there are also chalets to rent for stay, a cafe and restaurant.

3) Let the minerals heal your body at the Betong Hot Springs 

On your way to the Piyamit Tunnels/Winter Flower Garden, you’ll pass by the Betong Hot Springs, a natural lake rich with minerals. The pools are surrounded by nicely landscaped gardens, eateries and shops. Entrance is free. However as it was a really hot day, we opted to just soak our legs instead.

4) Pay homage to Buddha at Wat Phuttathiwat

Back in town, stop by at the golden Wat Phuttathiwat and admire the building’s unique architecture. Situated on a hilltop, the Thai Buddhist temple has sharp spires typical of Thai architecture. Step inside to cool marble floors, beautiful traditional motifs and tapestries depicting scenes from Buddha’s life, and oddly enough, stained glass windows similar to those you find in a church. The balcony on the shrine’s third floor is the highest vantage point in town, where you’ll be able to see the whole of Betong.

5) Explore the town – Clocktower

Explore the streets and go shopping! 🙂 During the day there are shops selling cheap cookware (pots, pans, etc.), clothing, Chinese herbs, groceries and more, while at night, street stalls make their presence known in alleyways. Nightlife is not as vibrant as it is in Bangkok or Phuket, but there are still bars you can frequent (they look seedy as hell though). Massage parlours offer cheap promos. Not sure if there would be happy endings; heard that there is prostitution here.

The town has a neat block-by-block layout, so navigating the place is easy.  If you’re lost, just remember the main landmark which is the roundabout/clocktower

6) Take a selfie with the largest mailbox in the world

Well, what do you know – Betong is home to the largest mailbox in the world! Measuring 9 metres tall, the structure sits in front of the City Convention Hall. I’m not actually sure if this is for show or if people actually put letters in it, haha. There is also another smaller 3m mailbox at the town’s clocktower, which was built in 1924.

6) People watch

One of my favourite activities to do (not creepy at all): Watch the locals go about their daily lives. The pace is much slower here than it is in a major city, so you’ll often find people just hanging around doing nothing, or enjoying a smoke (and a hot bun) by the road. (Above) A soft toy peddler rearranges his wares on a motorized cart.

7) Buy fresh and cheap produce at the Central Market

Betong’s Market is surprisingly large for such a small town. Spanning several floors, there are wet and dry sections, which is further divided into category (ie vegetables, meat, seafood, etc.). The Thai /Chinese sellers have separate stalls from the Muslim ones. Petai is particularly popular in Betong; you can get peeled ones for 200baht (RM26) per kg.

8) Bonus: Blue Mosque

img credit: Betong Immigration Checkpoint blog

For Muslim visitors, Betong is home to the Ahmadi Mosque, or the ‘blue mosque’ owing to the blue colour on its dome. We didn’t stop by but the building looks pretty at night as it is lit up with different coloured lights.

FAMOUS FOOD IN BETONG 

Attractions aren’t the only thing you can experience in Betong – there’s also an array of mouthwatering dishes to try! Since it’s so close to Malaysia, textures and tastes are not too different so I don’t think it’ll be a problem for even the more delicate palates.

1 ) Bird’s nest

Where to get it: Inter Bird’s Nest Soup (Waze) 

Birds nest is a Betong specialty, and you can get huge warm bowls of it cooked either in ginseng or rock sugar at Inter Birds Nest, near the centre of town for 200baht per bowl. If you’re thinking of taking some home, they also sell them in dried form.

2 ) Betong Chicken

Where to get it: Ta Yern Chinese Restaurant

Betong’s chickens are said to be more tender, with a smoother texture. To bring out the best flavours, the chicken is usually prepared poached, drizzled over with soy sauce.

3 ) Cheapo dimsum

Where to get it: Seng Dimsum

Located just across the road near the clocktower, Seng Dimsum does brisk business with its super affordable dimsum plates at 20baht each. Granted the portions are small, but they stack up really fast! Aside from your typical siewmai/fishball varieties, they also have some not-so-traditional ones too.

4 ) Braised fish maw soup

Where to get it: unnamed shop, across the road from the market

This is something I rarely see in Malaysia except at banquets, because fish maw is so expensive. You can find the ‘stall’ in front of a bak kut teh shop across the road from the market (you can sit inside, but remember to order something from the bak kut teh or they’ll give you the stinkface…since the space belongs to them).

The fish maw sellers scoop up bowls of the warm broth from two giant vats. Each bowl costs 80baht and comes chock full of ingredients – at least four to five largish pieces of fish maw which were soft and spongy like tofu, quail’s egg, pork blood cubes (done well, no overwhelming iron smell) and mushrooms.

5) Thai dishes – fried soft shell crab, shrimp cakes

Where to get it: Krua Samui

We are in Thailand after all! Popular among locals and tourists alike, Krua Samui has a selection of local dishes such as fish/shrimp cakes, tomyum, fried omelette, pad thai, and more. The setting is nice and cosy with an indoor and outdoor dining area, patio and ‘huts’ for more privacy.

Stay tuned for more detailed updates of each of these places! 🙂