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Days 342-343 Thursday-Friday March 27-28, 2008 – Penang, Malaysia to Trang, Thailand
After going back and forth, we came into the day with the plan to take a train from Butterworth on the Malaysian mainland, to the border town of Hat Yai in Thailand. We made this decision based solely on the fact that when given a choice, I prefer trains over buses. The train situation did leave us with a little uncertainty. With the train leaving Butterworth at 2:40pm and arriving in Hat Yai after 7pm, we would have no choice but to spend the night in the Thai border town. Unfortunately, Hat Yai has a bit of a bad reputation for its adult atmosphere, so we were feeling a bit nervous. After eating breakfast and checking out of our beach resort on Penang, we started to second guess our plan to travel by train to Hat Yai.
Unfortunately, the only other way to Thailand is by minibus and while looking into our other options, we discovered that if we wanted to chose this route, we would have to stay another night in Malaysia. We ultimately weighed all of our options and decided to take the train to Hat Yai in lieu of wasting another day. To get to the Butterworth train station, we caught a bus from our hotel to the ferry terminal where we took the ferry across to the mainland. The Butterworth train station was a short five minute walk from where the ferry dropped us.
We arrived at the station around 1:30pm, meaning we had plenty of time to kill before the train left. After sitting for a minute in the nicely air conditioned station building, I headed for the ticket office and was told that they could only sell me a ticket to the Thai border, where I would need to buy another ticket for the one hour onward journey to Hat Yai. This seemed odd and left me unsettled, but at this point we didn’t have a choice and agreed to buy to Malaysian ticket. With our tickets in hand, we were finally allowed to board the train around 2pm.
After looking our tickets over, I saw that the sales lady had stamped them with “Seats not guaranteed” without me noticing. This train was an overnight sleeper train to Bangkok and since we weren’t going all of the way, seats were not sold to us. I had wished that the woman might have mentioned this, but there was nothing I could do so we ended up moving three times as people boarded to discover us occupying their seats.
Once the train began to move, the next three hours were pretty uneventful. Around 5:30pm, we pulled into a station where both the Malaysian and Thai customs areas are located. After getting our exit stamp for Malaysia, we waited in a twenty minute line to be permitted entry into Thailand. While waiting, I noticed a sign on the wall describing what a “hippy” is. This sign went on to describe what characteristics are attributed to “hippies” and how if someone fit the profile, they would be refused entry into Thailand. Luckily we were pretty clean and not hippified on this day and somehow were allowed to enter!!
After getting our Thai stamp, I headed for the ticket office and asked for three tickets to Hat Yai. The man very seriously looked at me and said that it would be 544 Baht. This is equivalent to $18USD and considering I was told in Malaysia that the ticket would be about 30Baht each, this didn’t sound right. I tried to talk with the man and told him I didn’t have enough money, but he argued back. I then got on the train and asked the man checking tickets for help, but he just told me to buy the tickets inside. At this point a local man got involved and offered to bribe the ticket taker for me and I initially agreed. This bribery scheme would only cost me 200Baht and that seemed ok, but after a minute something didn’t seem right, so I decided to walk back to the ticket office to negotiate.
When I changed my ringgits before leaving Malaysia I was given a 500Baht bill because the money changer didn’t have anything else. I simply walked in to the office and put the bill down and asked for my ticket and the man obliged. We paid 500 Baht for a one hour train ride. I am sure the man needed it more than me.
Once in Hat Yai, I wove off the many touts that approached us at the station and we began looking for a hotel. After checking out a couple of places all within a stones throw of the station, we settled on one and locked up our bags. At this point we were famished and quickly hit the streets once again looking for a place to have dinner. For dinner, we ate at a Thai chain restaurant called MK. We ended up having a vegetable steam boat and some rice with chicken and duck for our first meal in Thailand. A steam boat is a boiling pot of water that you use to cook various ingredients on the table.
After dinner we settled in for the night. On Friday morning after getting some lunch, we checked out of our hotel and caught a ride on the back of a pickup truck to the mini bus station. At the counter we bought three tickets for Trang. The minibuses in Hat Yai leave when full and since we took the last three seats, our minibus was ready to go right away. The drive took around two hours and we were dropped off near the railway station in Trang.
Immediately we once again headed out to look at hotels and settled at a nice place a short walk away. We are using Trang as a jumping off point to visit some of the surrounding islands. In fact, much of our afternoon was spent talking with travel agents about various hotels and bungalows on the nearby islands. We finally settled on a trip to Koh Sukorn for Saturday. Other than having dinner at a great local restaurant and taking a short walk to the Trang night market, we spent most of the day in the air conditioned comfort of our room excited that in less than 24 hours we would be living the island life once again.
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