Running for the Border!


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Asia » Malaysia » Penang » Butterworth
February 8th 2008
Published: February 13th 2008
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Feb 8th - 9th:
We took a bus up to Butterworth where we stayed for one night and then caught what was supposed to be a 6 AM train out the next morning to Padang Besar, the border town where we crossed into Thailand. On our way to the train station in the morning we met a fellow American traveller by the name of Kendall who we ended up traveling with for the next few days. While waiting for the train, which left a couple hours late, we ended up getting to know him. Kendall is a med student from San Diego who is about to start his residency and is enjoying his last bit of freedom.

The border crossing was once again, very lax. When we arrived in the Padang Besar train station it was unclear where to go and we crossed into Thailand without knowing it then decided we'd better clear customs so we found an official who sent us back through to exit Malaysia properly. We enjoyed reading the rules as we waited in the customs line about how Thailand will not allow hippies into the country, among other guidelines (most of which were not enforced). They spell out what constitutes a "hippy" as someone not wearing underwear, wearing improper silk pants, wearing slippers that were inappropriate, something about having long hair, and some other funny, somewhat vague things. They also said you had to have at least $250 in cash, which none of us did, but luckily they didn't check.

Once we were officially in Thailand, miraculously a train showed up for us to continue our journey and we got tickets just in time. The train took us to Hat Yai, much more quickly than we had expected. Before we even got off the train, a guy came on trying to sell us a tour and transportation elsewhere. We soon realized we would need to be prepared for much more aggressive sales tactics in Thailand. He took us to the sales counter and the guy was actually shouting really fast acting like we needed to make a decision right that second. We finally were able to escape and convince him that we needed to go find some lunch before making any decisions about where to go next. This turned out to be a good move.

We had lunch in a really fancy looking hotel where they had a buffet for only 80 Baht, which is really cheap especially for a nice restaurant. It was a choice made largely on air conditioning and the fact that they had room for us to drop our bags off to the side out of the way. We were the only customers so we got really good service and the staff was very helpful in helping us figure out what was in each dish. Our first meal in Thailand was delicious! Over lunch we discussed the plan and decided to head to Pak Bara where we would then catch a boat to the island of Tarutau, a national park. Sounds like an easy plan, but then we headed out into the street and there was much confusion over which bus station we needed to go to. The guy at the restaurant had written it down but the Tuk Tuk driver didn't seem to understand and took us to the mini-bus station, very different from the main bus station and on the opposite side of town. We convinced him to take us to the correct station and then found out when we got there that there weren't buses (from there anyway) going to Pak Bara, everyone said we would have to take a mini-bus. So we had to pay another driver to take us all the way back across town to where we just came from. For 120 Baht each we got a mini-bus to Pak Bara. These mini buses are basically tiny 15 passenger vans that they cram at least 15 people into, plus luggage. It was not a very comfortable ride as our knees were crammed up against the console and it was very tight side to side as well. This went on for about 2 1/2 hours!

Pak Bara is in the far southwest corner of Thailand and is described as being "barely Thailand" due to the large Muslim population (actually this whole southern tip of Thailand is described that way by the books). Pak Bara is mainly a stopover town for people heading out to the islands in the area. The driver dropped us right in front of a tour booking agent, who he probably had a deal with, and she set right in on trying to sell us Ferry tickets and accomodations. We were hesitant due to our last experience and went to walk around to do some comparison shopping. It turns out that the ferry tickets are pretty much sold by every business owner in town and we found a better deal down the street. The first lady however was very angry that we didn't book with her and she followed us around ranting and still trying to sell us accomodations. I should stress here that this is no exaggeration, she literally followed us all around for quite some time. But then some other backpackers were dropped off and so she went to work on them. They did the same thing we did and as we walked down the street looking for a guesthouse, we had them following us trying to find out what we paid for the ferry and where we were staying and in turn, the sales lady following behind them trying to make a reservation....it was pretty funny, like a little parade. We all ended up staying at a cheap little place that was basically an unfinished concrete building with a grass roof thrown on top. We did have our own bathroom and a TV, but that is making it sound far more luxurious than it was. Sometime during the night we had a visitor (squirrel or monkey?) come in and tear open our plastic food pouch (took a huge bite out of it) and eat all our chocolate snacks. It left the other food and took a bite out of our soap and one of our earplugs that was sitting on the table. We're guessing it had a rough next day.

Feb 10th:
We got up and had yummy Thai pancakes for breakfast then got on the Ferry to Tarutao. They had tried to sell us on going to Ko Lipe, an island a little further on, but we found out that is where all the resorts are and it is not actually protected park land like Tarutao. The ferry ride was about an hour or so, during which we saw lots of fishing boats and some type of bamboo fishing contraption as well as lots of islands.




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