For your convenience, please refer to The Journey for the itinerary and the latest updates.
Distance covered today: 1,161km
Distance traveled from Guangzhou: 4,417km
Distance remaining to Singapore: 687km
Fact of the day: Penang is the only state in Malaysia where ethnic Chinese has the plurality of the population (41.8% in 2008).
The International Express which I took was a through service to Butterworth in Malaysia and consisted of only three carriages; the other carriages would be detached at their destination Hat Yai (KM 4201). The train reached Hat Yai at 6.45 am, about an hour behind schedule.
It took sometime for the carriages to be attached to another locomotive before it moved ever slowly towards Padang Besar (KM 4246) on the Thai-Malaysian border.
This is only the third place where I cross a border by rail; I’ve traveled on trains between Singapore and Malaysia many times when I was younger as well as the one between Turkey and Bulgaria. In both cases, the train would make two stops; one at the customs of each country before proceeding to the next. More uniquely (at least to me), Bulgarian officers would come up to the compartments to collect the passports and return them after they were stamped; this arrangement certainly beats queuing up with all your bags at the counters.
The arrangement at Padang Besar is kinda weird for me; the customs facilities of both countries are housed in the same building. I went through the Thai one and walked barely 50m to the Malaysian side. Very convenient indeed. The customs officers on the Malaysian side asked me to open up my backpack for check; it was kinda ironic because that was the first time on the whole trip. Being in Malaysia, I had to adjust to local time which is an hour ahead of Thailand.
At the border, I could tell most of the passengers were tourists like me. Although we were cleared pretty fast, we had to wait for almost 30 minutes before a locomotive arrived to bring us to our destination. At the town of Arau (KM 4278), my carriage was suddenly flooded with Malay teenagers on a short haul segment. I suspected that they were going to some event as most of them alighted at Alor Setar (KM 4321).
The train rolled into Butterworth (KM 4417) at 2.30pm (Malaysian time); almost a day after leaving Bangkok and only half an hour behind schedule. I changed my remaining THB to MYR and walked to the Butterworth Bus Station (5 min away) to sort out my onward transportation.
One of the touts approached me as I entered the bus station and asked what was my destination. I found out from him that there would be a bus to Singapore departing at 10pm. He quoted 65 Malaysia Ringgit (MYR), a fair price according to my research. I changed some USD to MYR for the ticket and my expenses in Penang. I also got the guy to look after my backpack while I took the ferry across to visit Georgetown for the afternoon.
The ferry ride between them is only 15 minutes and cost 1.20 MYR.
I only had a few hours in Penang and I couldn’t really decide how to kill time. A movie in an air-conditioned theater would be nice but I didn’t want to leave it too late for my bus back to Singapore. In the end, I decided to go to Gurney Plaza to satisfy my craving for A&W.
Rapid Penang‘s Bus 103 goes from Weld Quay bus terminal (next to ferry terminal to Butterworth) to Gurney Plaza for 2 MYR in roughly 30 minutes.
I alighted one stop too early and had to make a long trek to Plaza Gurney. Having satisfied my A&W craving, I would just hang around at the shopping mall as none of the movie timings suited me. I could tap on some unsecured WiFi at the place and surf a bit of web to while the time.
Although I didn’t feel particularly hungry, I walked over to Gurney Place food center located outside Plaza Gurney at dinner time.
My char kway teow cost 3.80 MYR, not that cheap by Malaysian standard. I waited quite long for the bus back to Weld Quay as the frequency was something like every 45 minutes.
The ferry ride leaving Georgetown was free and I was back in Butterworth in no time. I was in for a bad surprise when I took out my toiletries’ bag from my backpack. Apparently I didn’t cap my shampoo properly before packing and thus they were spilled all over the toiletries’ bag. I spent most of the time while waiting for the bus cleaning up the mess; the consolation was that the bag smelt really nice as a result.
The bus would leave at 10.30pm, half an hour past the scheduled time.