Trang to Penang – entering Malaysia

Posted from Bukit Kayu Hitam, Kedah, Malaysia.

After six weeks in Thailand I decided it was time to move on to the next country, magical Malaysia. But it wasn’t going to be a simple task.

The problem I saw with getting from Koh Mook to Penang was timing. I was travelling over Songkran, the Thai new year, and if there’s a few things I’ve learned about travel during a holiday over the years, it’s never cheap, it’s often fully booked and it’s crazy busy. The good part was Songkran is a Thai thing – and I was traveling into a completely different country. No problem.

Here’s what my journey looked like before I left Koh Mook. Take boat to mainland and then van to bus station in Trang. Take minivan to Hat Yai. Do whatever necessary to not have to stay in Hat Yai overnight by finding minivan to Penang. Hope to get to Penang before 10 p.m. as I’ve made no booking and am unsure of anything.

So here’s why it had to be this way.

– There aren’t any direct buses from Trang to Penang.

– The ferries from Koh Mook to Penang would’ve been more than double the price. And they probably would’ve taken two days.

Hat Yai is a major hub in Thailand, but the violence from the southern provinces has been known to spill into this peaceful city. That means bombings. The last bombing occurred on April 3, 2012, coincidentally Lonely Planet last updated their webpage on Hat Yai on April 2, 2012. What many people don’t know about Thailand is there is a large contingent of people in the south, made up largely of Muslim groups, who want to separate from the country. Bombing occur more often in the southern provinces, the last one happening only a week before my journey, killing two soldiers and wounding six.

Groups target major areas, and in some cases hotels. In one bombing a few years back two tourists died. These days vehicles are routinely checked, bags searched and people detained in the city due to necessary security measures. I had no real choice but to travel through Hat Yai – or fly. I figured the chances were slim that separatists would bomb this area on the Thai new year.

I wasn’t sure if I would find a ride in Hat Yai, though. So I didn’t book a hostel in Penang. I wrote down the address of one, just in case.

So here’s what happened.

At 9 a.m. I took a longtail boat to the mainland and was immediately put in a minivan and driven to the bus station. I now see the difference when booking with a resort rather than a travel agent. The van was virtually empty, but we left anyway. We didn’t pick up other passengers as this van was only for patrons of Charlie Beach Resort. I’ve never had such exclusive travel, and I liked it. This experience was 400 Baht.

On the longtail headed for the mainland.

On the longtail headed for the mainland.

Once at the bus station, about two hours later, I, very quickly (with no time to pee,) found a minivan to Hat Yai for 100 Baht. I was squished into the backseat with three men who didn’t seem too happy to have a girl crammed between them. I’m getting used to this behaviour. It may have something to do with religious beliefs in these parts.

Once I got to Hat Yai I found the information booth to inquire where to get transport to Penang. They told me I had to leave the bus station and look outside on the street. For what? But I quickly found out when a tout found me. Minivans are run by agencies. I went to one agency directly across the street and used their toilet, finally. They wanted 590 Baht to take me to Penang. Wow. And they wouldn’t leave until 3:30, so that meant a two-hour wait and I wouldn’t arrive until 9 p.m. local time. There’s a time change when you get into Malaysia.

The van getting inspected after the hotel. Mirrors and camera and hands-on.

The van getting inspected after the hotel. Mirrors and camera and hands-on.

I decided to look around first and went to about five other agencies, which were cheaper at 450 Baht, but sold out until the next day. Defeated, and knowing it was worth the money to not have to pay for a guesthouse that night, I went back to the first agency and booked. They had one seat left – and it was mine. I really didn’t want to tempt fate with bombs and such.

The van picked me up at 3 p.m. and we drove through heavy city traffic to a hotel to pick up the rest of the passengers, who were all from Indonesia. We passed a check point and got inspected for explosives, then wound our way back down city streets, spending at least an hour getting out of Hat Yai. But by then it was clear sailing down the highway until we got to the border. Well, somewhat clear. I’m still getting Mario Andretti drivers, and this one loved his gas pedal and brake pedal equally.

Traffic at the border.

Traffic at the border.

It’s Sunday. It’s Songkran. It’s 5 p.m. And everyone and their mother are crossing the border. Traffic is backed up and we know this crossing is going to take some time.

More than one hour later, after waiting in the right line (it moved fast) we were through the Thai side. They stamped me out, took my departure card and 20 Baht. The real delay was trying to find the other people in the van after we were all through, but no matter. We drove over to the Malaysian border and had to get out and cross with our bags.

Half way through the line. Woohoo!

Half way through the line. Woohoo!

The Malaysia side is efficient and quick and free. I got a three-month visa, just like that. No one asked me any questions. No one asked me to declare a thing. All I had to do was put my bags through an X-ray machine. It took about 10 minutes to get through the Malaysia side.

It costs a few Ringgit to cross the border. There are toll booths everywhere on the road

Happy to be through, but it being close to 7 p.m. I could only think about what was going to happen when I rocked up to Penang with nowhere to stay. I settled on the fact that I may just have to take anything, no matter the price.

Mario Andretti drove like the wind and we arrived in Penang just after 9 p.m. Of course, after dropping everyone else off, I didn’t get out of the van until 10 p.m. I was on Chulia Street, somewhere in Georgetown. I was tired and starving. So I started walking and made it only one block before I saw a sign pointing down a street called Love Lane, which I had heard of, for a hostel. I wasn’t sure, but I decided to walk down the poorly lit street and quite luckily was greeted by a guy named Lucky Ken (who I later found out manages a Buddhist cultural center across the street) who guided me straight to Red Inn.

I booked in for 28 Baht/night into an all-female 4-bed dorm. The owner gave me leeway to pay until the next day as it was late, I had next to no Ringgit and I needed to spend what little I had on food. I was starving. Then Happy Ken gave me a lift on his motorbike to the night market, but that’s for another post.

So it all worked out.

My costs.

400 for the boat and van transfer
100 to get to Hat Yai
590 to get to Penang
20 at the border
10 (equivalent to 1 Ringitt) for toll fees.
= about $40.

Hello Malaysia!

10 Responses to Trang to Penang – entering Malaysia

  1. Did you get a visa on arrival into Malaysia, and if so, how easy was it/were there any restrictions?


    Brian August 18, 2016 at 2:22 am Reply
    • Yep. Visa on arrival was pretty easy to get. We had to get out of the van and stand in line to exit Thailand, and then we had to go to another building to get our Malaysian visas. It was pretty painless. A bit confusing because there were so many people, but our van driver took great care to keep an eye on all of us. We did have to put our bags through x-ray machines.

      Sheri August 18, 2016 at 9:35 am Reply

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