Saturday, October 28, 2006

So Lets Drive Through The Night: A Trip To The Springs In The Dead Of Night

Listening to: Writer's Block - Peter, Bjorn and John ; (video)

For those of you who haven't heard of Ulu Legong, its a hot springs in Kedah near the Thai border. Thats where my colleague WK and I decided to go this Monday with three of his friends. Ideally, the plan was to set off at 5:30PM, pickup the 3, drive all the way there and return just before midnight. We had work that day; in the form of a training session given by a colleague from the US branch of our company and the plan was to finish at 5PM sharp. As usual, the training went a
little late and it was only 6:30PM when we could scoot.

To pick up WK's pals (Steve, Geraline, and Ann), I had to drive to the USM grounds where they were waiting for us to pick them up. One of them, Geraline had parked her car within the gated compound of the university. Bad move (and you'll see why). After crossing the Bridge to the mainland, we stopped by a gas station to fill up as I did not have the foresight to gas up earlier that day. The last time I crossed the bridge to Prai with my Sentra, I was also low on gas and hunting for a station with an American colleague who was visibly worried about the prospect of being stuck at the side of the road in a foreign country. Luckily, we had a navigator on board in the form of Steve who knew Seberang Prai like his hand. After filling up a thirsty Sentra, it was onward to Sungai Petani to meet up with Geraline, Steve's, and Ann's other pals - all 10 to 14 of them. Then, we continued our journey to the springs in separate vehicles.

A long nighttime drive along a slick and rainy trunk road brought us to Baling and from there, a long and narrow road through several kampungs and a rubber estate. Now, I was given the impression by Steve and WK that it would be just a drive along the interstate highway all the way to Baling. I wasn't expecting roads where... if you turned off your headlamps, everything would be literally pitch-black, save for the light from your onboard CD player and the radium from my wristwatch. Not that I had a problem with it, but I was worried the park would be closing once we arrived (Ulu Legong is now open 24-hrs/day).

According to Steve, the hot springs back then wasn't as "developed" as today... it was flush in a natural jungle setting with the concrete-lined pools being the only sign of human construction around apart from the nearby village, of course. Today, the whole place has been almost paved over with tiles, chalets, a food court, gazebos, and yes, chalets. Now I don't mind some development to the place to make it more convenient for tourists... but I don't think development meant converting it from an ecotourist spot into a frigging tile n' concrete park. The place is open all day and night, so there are visitors all the time. I only had a dip in a hot pool for 20 minutes before getting out and walking to an open foodstall at the nearby kampung to silflay. I hadn't eaten dinner yet (and it was already 12:05AM, Tuesday. Selamat Hari Raya!). Everyone was already packing up to leave once I got back...

The trip home after Baling took us through a much faster route; a two-lane expressway to Lunas that passed through the middle of nowhere. Driving through this deserted stretch at 90, the nighttime scene of Kedah's flatlands somewhat reminded me of the highway scenes in Forgiveness where three characters drive through the desolation of South Africa's plains on their way to the West Cape. At this point, everyone else in the car were already asleep. We only reached this island at around 4AM.

Now, I mentioned earlier that it was a big mistake for Geraline to park her car inside the USM compunds. Selamat Hari Raya! and that meant every single gate to USM had been locked for the festive night with her car inside and no one to unlock it. So that meant a detour all the way to Tanjong Tokong & Ayer Itam to drop off WK and the three at their condo. But before that, we went to silflay at Subaidah's Nasi Kandar where the girls poked fun at some tipsy china-mui's* and their stiletto-boots at a nearby table, freshly out
from a nearby AhBeng-ish nightclub. By the time I arrived home, it was 5:30AM and I passed out in bed without changing out my T-shirt, jeans, and the swimming-shorts beneath that was still slowly drying.

My verdict on Ulu Legong? Unless you are from the area, have a friend/relative there, have some arthritis or don't mind travelling far to soak in an bigass-natural jacuzzi, its perhaps not worth visiting the place more than once or at least a several times. But if you do, plan to make it a whole-day event... rather than a half-assed 1.5 hours like we did.

Photos on Ulu Legong can be found on this guy's photo-site (Is that correct terminology? ). I just stumbled on his site while looking for photos of the place on the Internets.

* Women from China (legally or illegally). Some disappear into the masses to become illegal immigrants and work in nightclubs and bars.

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