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Published: January 15th 2011
We'd done some homework for the next leg of our trip. The target being to try & make the 440 or so miles overland from KL to Surat Thani up in Thailand in the most adventurous way possible but within a reasonable timescale. Doing it in a day seemed unlikely as the only direct rail link involved an eight hour wait to change trains & getting to Surat Thani at exactly the same time as the night boat left for Ko Phangan. We liked to think that with a little cunning we could cheat the system & find a few shortcuts although the timetables didn't look promising. However when travelling On The Hoof there's always that glimmer of hope in the back of your mind that wants to believe that it all actually will fit together. We chose the Three Pronged Attack. First stage involving an overnight sleeper train towards Penang in the north of Malaysia. Allegedly a seven hour journey, this would take us as far as Butterworth.
Butterworth was established in the mid-19th century as a landing place across the channel from the capital of Penang, George Town. Named after William Butterworth, the first Governor It was
From Here To Eternity
On Paper, All Trips Seem Straightforward
originally established 180 years ago as part of the territories controlled by the British East India Company back in the Old Days when the brightly glowing lantern of the British Empire still abused the World . These days it is known in Malay as Bagan - probably the local term for margarine or some other non-dairy spread. Its also the travel hub of Northern Malaysia & combined with George Town, a ferry ride across the Perai river, it has excellent bus/boat/train & plane connections to pretty much anywhere anyone would need to get to. This was the perfect choice for our intrepid mob to attempt a foray toward the border.
KL Sentral Station is huge, easily the size of a small airport but the signage isn't too clear. Our linguistically challengened taxi driver had assumed from our appearance & abundance of seemingly surplus luggage that we were needing a train to the airport hence despatched us at the side of the station from whence the KLIA trains departed. We may as well have caught another cab to where we needed to be, some 20 minute walk from there & bizarrely- upstairs - to the InterCity platform
The End Of The Line
where a large crowd were spread in some kind of disorganised queue waiting for the train.
True to form, the 10pm train arrived at the platform around 11:20. Timetables in Asia being more of a guideline figure than actually relating to anything a clock might display anywhere in that particular time zone. Our first class ticket had scored us a pair of twin bunk compartments so I got to share with the Big Fella leaving the girls next door. Although very clean and well prepared with an LCD TV on the wall, nice bedding, a fan, washing facilities and such - it wasn't very first class to be honest. Half the lightbulbs didn't work. The taps were devoid of water. The fan made more noise than the locomotive pulling our train. The TV had no remote, was muted & constantly played a fuzzy Malaysian Railways promotional video. Hardly In Flight Entertainment
but cute touches all the same, at least they made the effort & at £15 a head for a mobile hotel there can be no complaints from me.
On the move pretty swiftly, watched the Petronas & KL Towers float by in
Somewhat Basic But Very Functional.
the skyscape backlit from the clear starry sky punctuated with the occasional meteorite from a passing shower. Initially its quite easy to sleep on a train as the rhythmic rolling of the bed puts you into a state of semi consciousness, almost asleep but quietly staying half alert as the subconcious is aware that when the train stops its time to get off. This is the downfall of these sleeper trains however. Pure conjecture suggests that as these trains aren't in a hurry, they tend to get sidelined to allow other services past. Our experience was that the bloody thing seemed to stop every half an hour, sometimes at a station but more often not, causing a rouse from rest & a swift check of immediate circumstances. Needless to say, sleep didn't really happen but it was fun on the train all the same. We arrived at Butterworth at 8:30am, a two and a half hours later than our published arrival time. Not bad. Here ended the preordained element of our trip. Once off the train at Butterworth we were on our own & had to fend for ourselves to organise transport across the last 100 miles of Malaysia &
Lifes A Gas.
30p A Litre!! Even If Life Ain't Cheap, Petrol Certainly Is.
the second stage. Some sort of cross border route up to the ferry port in Thailand.
Thankfully the bus station - almost right by the railway, had an information desk where we got some gossip on where & when to hitch a lift on a minibus for the four of us to Hat Yai, a half hours drive the other side of the border. With an hour to spare there was enough time for a spot of brekkie in a traditional Malaysian Greasy Spoon. 2 coffees, 2 cokes & 2 cigarettes for a pound. Class. We soon got the nod from the Minibus Guru & had to leg it out to a nearby dual carriageway following a guy in a wheelchair we'd spotted at KL the night before. Ashan was a Sri Lankan dude in his 50s on his way to Chang Mai, 12 hours north of Bangkok. He'd spent twenty years in a wheelchair after coming off worst in an argument between his motorcycle and a taxi & was still spending his compensation payout on extended holidays. Absolute respect to any lone traveller here that can manage to get around Asia on wheels, The pavements
Snapped From The Window Of Our Minibus, This Is The View Of Penang From The Mainland At 120kmh.
are truly terrible, the kerbstones at least a foot high & everywhere seems to involve series of steps to enter into.
Aboard the 12 seater Toyota by half nine, we were then making our way swiftly out of town along the motorway like toll roads. Impressed with the transportation infrastructure as it's been surprisingly easy to get around so far. Stopped for a fuel stop and was suitably gobsmacked when the driver stuffed in 55 litres of the finest 95 octane gasoline for the princely sum of twenty quid & that's including tax!. A quarter of what it would cost back in the Cold Place. The apparent high quality of most vehicles on the road in Malaysia could be attributed to the fact that it costs so little to run them that more is available for initial expenditure. The traffic tends to hop along quite nicely so our journey up was pretty smooth although visually uninspirational as it was pretty flat & very samey for most of the morning. The highlights being either gum tree plantations or miles and miles of paddy fields as a vista. Once at the border it took less than 40 minutes to
A Lot Going On Here, A Bit Like The Humber But With Better Weather.
get through the formalities, rolling into Hat Yai, the Southern Thailand travel hub less than an hour later. Piece of cake to get away from here as its mainly a city of travel agents interspersed with the occasional shoe shop.
It only took 15 minutes to get on another minibus to take us the last 330kms to our ferry port. We were charged just over a tenner for three seats (I shared) but the operating company were obviously making their money from delivering freight as all of the fourteen passengers were encumbered by boxes or bags in some fashion to the extent that there was barely room inside for an extra fag packet. The young driver, sporting a mullet that any 1980s Liverpool football player would be proud of, ran around the houses a little getting us to ST half an hour too late to catch the last boat of the day. Plan B - The Night Ferry was a sound back up and the final leg of our six day journey.
Tot: 2.558s; Tpl: 0.048s; cc: 23; qc: 86; dbt: 0.0578s; 2; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.5mb