To get away from the drudgery of work behind the wheel, six taxi buddies and I took a 5 days break in Penang and Hatyai last week.
My last visit to Penang was about 20 years ago and Hatyai, 15 years. Among my buddies on this trip, four had similar intervals like me and two have never visited these two cities.
The number of days and costs were major factors in deciding where to take our break. As you probably know, taxi drivers have to pay rental when they're not driving and these "self-paid leave" become part of our holiday costs. sigh.
With a small budget of $500, we decided to fly to Penang with a $100 two way ticket and chartered a van at $45 per person from Penang to Hatyai and back. With $100 for hotel at twin sharing for 4 nights, each of us were left with about $255 to spend on food, shopping and fun.
Now, the first thought that most Singaporeans have on visiting Penang is more likely the island’s famed hawker food rather than its tourist attractions.
On our first night in Penang, we stayed at Hotel Sentral Georgetown and walked across a street onto the famous MacAlister Street of Penang to savour their outstanding culinary of hawker food. We had chay kwai teow, Hokkien mee, prawn noodle, assam laksa, rojak, oyster omelet, cendol, etc...etc.. With seven staving adults, we were able to order and gorge small potion of about fifteen varieties of Penang most famous hawker food there. Total cost MR300 (S$120) with soft drinks thrown in.
After dinner, we ambled across the street and settled down at a modern open-air stage infront of our hotel to have our beer and enjoyed young and attractive Chinese singers performing Mandarin and Hokkien pop songs. For audience with cash to spare, they would buy garland of flowers costing MR50 a piece to please their favorite singers. We just enjoyed our beer and the show till midnight.
At 7am the next day, we left in our chartered 11 seats van for a smooth and pleasant four hours drive to Hatyai, with an half hour break along the journey for breakfast. Without prior hotel booking, we purchased our hotel rooms through a hotel booking agency in Hatyai city at 40% discounted price. I now realized we could get a room cheaper than an hotel agent in Hatyai through an advance internet booking at Agoda.com. We stayed at Sakura Grandview Hatyai for S$45 a night.
After a quick check-in, we hurried to have a cheap and delicious buffet lunch at nearby Lee Garden Hotel. As senior citizens, we were given ten percent discount for our meal. Each paid S$5. While walloping our food, we heard that a nearby central police building had been attacked with grenades by Southern Thailand separatists. The police building was engulfed in flame but nobody was injured. We were not perturbed and finished our lunch leisurely, though some buddies received frantic phone calls from their family members checking on their well being.
In the evening, we had a simple Thai dinner and later stomped into a "karaok lounge" in our hotel. With each of us having a seductive female companion pampering us, we finished two bottles of 12 years Chivas Regal (bought at Changi Airport) before midnight. We sung, danced and gentlemanly "misbehaved" like we were young yesterday and there was no tomorrow. After the partying, my buddy, Johnny and I retired to our shared room. Some had to buy an extra room for the night.
Unsurprisingly, the younger ones in our group were spell bounded by the sleaze and glitz of Hatyai city lights and busted their wallets soon enough. They cried for emergency loans the next morning.
Nowadays, my asset is used mainly to drain my bodily fluid, though I did enjoyed the invigorating Thai massages.
On the third day of our holiday, we received the sad news of one of our buddy passing away. He was 52 years old and died the previous night around midnight of a sudden heart attack while ferrying a passenger along PIE.
After leaving his/her taxi fare on the back seat, the nonchalant passenger fled without calling for help. Many motorists, including countless taxi drivers must have noticed the stranded taxi at the shoulder of the expressway and they, like the unconcerned passenger, did not stop to check out whether the taxi driver needs help. How about the EMAS (Expressway Monitoring Advisory System) vehicles and highway police patrol cars?. Were they all asleep in the wee hours of the morning? Our buddy's death was discovered 4 hours later after a close buddy checked with COMFORT for his location and went to search for him when he failed to turn up at his usual taxi handover point.
Away from the depressing reality and morbid subject of death, I spend the rest of the morning in a kind of daze. I keep thinking about those lines: "Get busy living, or get busy driving and dying" In the end, I think "it matters not how long we live, but how well with whatever we have".
The day was uneventful and we spent visiting three famous Thai temples, having seafood at Songkhla, massages and shopping at ubiquitous malls and street stalls. The subject of our buddy's death was never mentioned again during the remaining days of our holiday.
We did almost the same thing on the last day in Hatyai, eating, window shopping and relaxing with facial and body massages. What else could elderly people with shallow pockets like us do?
On the final day of our trip, we left Hatyai hotel at the break of dawn in our chartered van directly to Penang airport. Initially, we were worried that our chartered van might not turn up as promised and soon discovered our worries were unfounded as Penang van drivers are honorable people. We rewarded him with handsome tips as we are drivers too.
Immigration clearance at Penang airport was efficient and smooth. Once inside the TigerAirways plane, all my buddies were snoring away. I guess they need to catch up some lost sleep and energy so that they could start their night shift driving in the same evening. I took that day off.
It was a great holiday and nice break. Hope to do it again next year to another cheap place.