Visa Madness and A Nightmare Train Journey!

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August 14th 2009
Published: September 12th 2009
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I wasn’t looking forward to the next part of our journey. It involved getting the 11.30am boat off Kapas, then the public but to Terangannu followed by a bus to Kota Bharu, further north, where we would stay overnight (not one of my favourite places). From there, next day, we would need to get the public bus to Rantau Panjang on the Malay/ Thai. border. Walk across the border to Songai Kolok before taking a 10 hour train journey to Surat Thani. Another overnight stop, then make our way, by a series of buses and a ferry, to Koh Phanang, an island off the East coast of Thailand renowned for it's full moon parties. Sounds daunting but not so bad if you just take it day by day.

In recent years there’s been a few terrorist attacks on public transport just over the border on the Thai side and a few kidnappings too. The general advice is to travel straight through and not linger for long in the area. We had no intention of doing so!

Everything seemed to be going smoothly until we reached the border, we got stamped out of Malaysia no problem but when we’d walked the kilometre over ‘no-man’s’ land and got into Thailand we were only given a 15 day visa, that took us to the 27th August. We fly home on the 31st August! When I asked why, we were told ‘new rules’. Apparently now, when you arrive in Thailand overland, 15 day visas are issued instead of the usual 30 day visa. After pleading with them to extend it by 4 days and even showing them our flight tickets they told us to go to the immigration office in the centre of Songai Kolok. To get there we needed to take a motorbike taxi, there were no cars, the only alternative was a rickety bicycle rickshaw which looked very dodgy, an accident waiting to happen! We chose the bikes. The motor bike Stan was on sped off leaving mine way behind. I clung on for dear life trying to keep my eye on the bike Stan was on, alas, it whipped through the traffic and was out of sight. My driver pulled up at the train station and tried to drop me off, it took much persuading to get him to take me to the immigration office instead. When we finally arrived
Armed Guard on Songai Kolok Train Station.Armed Guard on Songai Kolok Train Station.Armed Guard on Songai Kolok Train Station.

Otto, wondering if he dare take a photo of him!
Stan was stood waiting looking a bit concerned and I was only just managing to hold on as my driver was quite fat so not much room for me and my backpack which was slowly dragging me off backwards!

Once inside the immigration office things didn’t improve, they just kept repeating ‘new rules’ then suggested we could sort it out on Koh Samui, then instantly changed their minds and said Surat Thani, then changed their minds again and said Bangkok! We were getting nowhere. We left feeling very frustrated and walked (couldn’t face the bike saga again) to the train station, bought a second class ticket (first class were all sleepers) and discovered the next train was due in one and a half hours time.

As we sat and waited we were aware of armed guards all around the place , a bit unnerving! We had considered going back to Malaysia for 4 days but we got speaking to a fellow traveller from Norway, Otto. He lived on Ko Samui and he seemed to think we would be able to pay an ‘overstay’ fine at the airport when leaving. It’s 500 baht each a day which amounts to
songai Kolok Train Station.songai Kolok Train Station.songai Kolok Train Station.

Little bikes regularly diced with death crossing the train line fully laden, often getting stuck on the line!
£80 in total - a lot of money considering that, if we’d known, we could have stayed on the beautiful island of Kapas another 4 days and then our visa would have taken us to the 31st. We sat and thought about it on the hot dusty station and decided we couldn’t bear to go all the way back and do this all over again in 4 days. No, we’d just have to pay the fine. We did discover later,however, that that option is possible but really not advisable because if during the 4 days overstay you get stopped and have your passport checked you can get thrown in jail for being there illegally!! Not likely but possible.

We didn’t know this fact at the time so happily got on the train when it turned up. An hour later after it had been cleaned and restocked with rice ctc. etc. we set off. There were many empty seats in our 2nd class carriage which was good as our allocated seats were broken. Soon after though each time we stopped at a station more and more people got on and we had to return to our own seats. The train gradually became packed it was very hot and dusty there was no air conditioning only ceiling fans so all the windows were wide open and we were constantly blasted with hot dusty air coming in which was then blown around more by the ceiling fans. The seats were upholstered in plastic so in temperatures reaching above 30 degrees I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. It wasn’t helped by the fact some kind soul got on laden with Durian fruit, that’s the one that’s supposed to taste nice but smells awful!

Armed guards constantly patrolled up and down the aisle of the train. Otto, the Norwegian guy, insisted he’d never seen that before on a train in Thailand so was convinced something was ‘going on’! He’s booked a sleeper seat for double the price of our 2nd class but was dismayed to find that unless actually lying down it was less comfortable then ours. He spent most of his time in the restaurant car persuading us to drink beer with him. It was tempting I must admit as the journey was fast becoming a nightmare but my better judgement took over and we declined the offer. Drinking Chang for
Long Train.Long Train.Long Train.

Winding it's way Northwards through Thailand.
the remaining six hours would have left us incapable of anything and when we finally arrived at Surat Thani we needed to find a bed for the night! One plus point of he journey was the sunset, as we travelled along looking out of the window it was magnificent, probably the best we've ever seen!

As soon as we got off the train we were bombarded by taxi drivers. As it was now 10pm we took the soft option rather than the bus. We’d already arranged to share a taxi with a Swiss couple and agreed on a guest house. The last we’d seen of Otto he had two local ‘ladies’ draped around his neck in the restaurant car. Now he appeared again and was trying to join us in the taxi into Surat Thani but he and another guy constantly argued over the price so the 4 of us just left them there in the end! Oops, sorry Otto.

When we arrived at the guesthouse there was only one room available and everywhere was closing up for the night, the taxi driver helped us find another place but then gave the hard sell for the bus and boat transfer to Koh Phangang next morning. As we were so tired we agreed to go with his agency at 7.30 next day.

The bus turned up more or less on time but we hadn’t bargained on the mini bus ride to some random café, half an hours wait then being herded onto another bus that was crammed full three to a seat, meaning we had to spend the one and a half hour drive to the port standing in the aisle.

We finally got on the ferry and three hours later we were on the island of Koh Phanang. sigh!!!

Additional photos below
Photos: 9, Displayed: 9


Sunset from the Train.Sunset from the Train.
Sunset from the Train.

Open windows and plastic covered Seats made for a not too comfortable journey!

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