During my time in Georgetown Penang, I decided to take a bit of a different route than my original one. Flying to Japan was expensive, and it is expensive to travel there. My plan was to stay one week, but I figured with all those factors against my budget, I’d save Japan for a bigger trip.
The next logical move appeared to be to head north to Thailand. After a few weeks of being active in Borneo, and hiking in the Cameron Highlands, I decided I wanted some beach time, so booked a bus through my hostel to Krabi.
The Malaysia to Thailand border crossing is a popular one with backpackers on the banana pancake trail.
The night before I was due to leave, I suddenly had a thought after reading about the crackdown on visa runs from Thailand. This prompted me to look up the visa requirements again, even though I had researched this a good while ago.
After reading online, I panicked a wee bit, as I read that sometimes they require an onward ticket (overland border crossings as an exit doesn’t count), but also have a certain amount of money in US dollars.
Oh well. Nothing I can do about it now, the night before I thought. So I sat up with some of my new travel buddies in the hostel bar chatting and drinking until late. My bus was due to be at 5am, but no one else had booked that trip, so I was bumped to the 8.30am bus – slightly more sociable (5am, what was I thinking?!)
I’m normally good at keeping track of my spending, but failed to take note of how much I paid for the bus. I think it was about 80 MYR or US $25 or £15.
The bus was supposed to take 8 hours, it was also due to pick me up at 8am. However, from travelling in Asia I’ve learnt to take bus times with a pinch of salt.
8.45am, no bus. 9am, no bus. 9.15am, a mini bus pulls up outside. I say goodbye to the lovely hostel staff and some of the other Travellers I had met there, my rucksack was thrown in. The owner of the hostel say goodbye, and also with a serious face said “be very care in Thailand.” Gee, if I wasn’t worried enough about the visa and border crossing, this heightened my anxiety a little more. I wanted to say “why, what is wrong with Thailand?”
Instead I hopped in the bus, and took a seat by the window. The bus was full of local people. I was the only Westerner. This is also something I am learning about transport in Asia – most buses, although supposed to be a ‘VIP bus’, is more the term used for local buses with air conditioning.
We finally got out of Georgetown after 10am, and made our way North. A few stops to pick up people on the way also occurred. The drivers, were of Indian Origin, and had loud Indian disco/rave music up at full volume. I took out my iPod to try to counteract this, and looked out the window at the passing countryside.
We finally made it to the Malaysian border at the town of Sadao, and I was busting for a wee. We lined up and were stamped out of the country. I made a dash for the toilets, only to be stopped by an official from the Malaysia tourist board, who wanted to interview me about my time in Malaysia!
By interview I mean, he asked me how long I stayed in Malaysia, how much money I spent, and where I went, a well as my overall impression of the country.
I answered quickly, whilst semi cross legged. He gave me two fridge magnets of scenes from Malaysia, and I was free.
Back in the bus, we drove the 300m or so to the Thai side. Our bags stayed on the bus, we were issued with immigration cards beforehand, which I filled out on the bus to save time.
I cautiously approached the immigration officer in the booth, praying he’d let me through. I handed the card and my passport over. He looked at it and said NO!
NO? No what .. a quick look and you ban me from entering the country?!
Luckily it was in reference to my immigration card. I had failed to fill in the reverse side. So I walked over to a table area, were most other people were filling in forms. I then got a tap on my shoulder by the minibus driver, who said “we need to move bus, meet us in the car park on the other side.” Sure, I thought, with the hundreds of other mini vans … and what if didn’t get through?
Second time lucky … I approach the same immigration officer. He looks at me and the picture of my passport several times (I’ve changed in looks a wee bit since the photo was taken).
He then handed me a laminated card with information on bringing money into Thailand. It was poorly translated, so I didn’t fully understand. It said something about having $800 and no more than $10,000. “OK, I said to him”. “no no” he said pointing at the card. I re read it, thinking “what does he want”. I then took out my important folder, which contained a money bag with $100 in US notes, so I flashed this at him. He said “ok ok” .. seemed good enough for him.
I was also prepared to pay for a visa stamp, and had a passport picture ready, but there was no need. Stamp, went the officer, and off I went. Success!
Normally for overland border crossings into Thailand, you are supposed to get 15 days as a British Citizen, but I got 30 days. Though in the end I spent only 10 days in Thailand, the first time round.
Back on the bus, the next part of the journey took a few hours or so, to reach the next major town of Hat Yai. It was already approaching 1.30pm.
We were then dumped off at a small travel agency, were I changed my original ticket for a new one to Krabi (included in the same price). I then learned that the time in Thailand was an hour behind Malaysia. Strange, as the country is straight up North.
The travel agent told me I had an hour to wait, so I sat down on the sofa that was falling apart. I used the WiFi, and ate my baked goods and fruits I had brought with me.
An hour later, a Thai man shouted “KRABI .. GO GO!” I quickly shoved my tablet computer away, and put on my shoes. I was then bundled into the back of a blue songthaew with some more locals. I knew that Krabi was a while away, and thought it would be odd to be travelling the distance in this, but no, we were just going to the bus station.
At the station, I was transferred into another minivan, full of locals, boxes and bags. I was crushed in a wee space at the back. The air conditioning wasn’t too cold. I put on my hoodie and lay against the window. It was now after 2pm .. a few more hours and we’ll be there, I thought. Wrong again.
The bus did a lot of stopping and starting, dropping off parcels and people. It seemed that the bus I was on was also the Thai mail service!
4pm, and we had arrived at our first rest stop. I was tired, and I wanted a shower. Surely its not much further.
We finally arrived in Krabi town at 6.30pm, a whole 11 hours later, after the scheduled 8 hour journey.
I then needed to make it to Aonang Beach. It was already getting dark. The minivan dropped me near a songthaew driver. 150Baht, he said “its after 6pm”. (its normally 50-60 Baht). I paid the money, and thought we’d be on our way. Wrong again.
Apparently its best to wait until the Songthaew is full to the brim before it leaves. Another 1 hour wait, and 15 people crammed in, with a girl virtually sitting on my knee.
45 minutes later, I finally made it to my hostel. A shower, a cheap Pad Thai, and a long sleep in was on the agenda.
Possibly the most exhausting border crossing to date.