Eventually and sadly, we left Koh Samui and the pups that kept us company for the last few days. It took us two days to get from our little corner of Thailand to Penang, Malaysia. Why? Cause we’re cheap and avoided planes. Budget airline Firefly was quoting something like $100 per person to go from Koh Samui to Penang. Taking the overland route was cheaper: about $90 for the both of us to get bus tickets to Penang, with a night at a budget hotel in Hat Yai.
But what a trip it was. You too can get from one side of the Malay peninsula to the other by doing the following:
1. Ferry from Koh Samui to Don Sak
Beautiful weather for a cruise along the northern coast of Koh Samui. Not a bad way to spend two hours.
Time spent: two hours
2. Minibus from Don Sak to Hat Yai, but actually Nakhon Si Thammarat
We disembark from the ferry and end up in a minibus by ourselves and the two drivers, full air conditioning on full blast. We’re thinking: This is awesome. We can spread out, take in the scenery, I’ll catch up on Serial…
The driver drove at 150 km/90 mph as he weaved in and out of traffic on the two-lane road. We’re both warily eyeing the speedometer. I was laying down, thinking that if we got into an accident, my spine would be snapped into two. I sat up and looked for a seat belt. No seat belts.
Kiwi chastised the driver to slow down, which he did for about 15 minutes. Then, the driver would slowly work his way back to 90 mph, and Kiwi would give him the side eye to stay in a safer speed.
I fell asleep, then woke up to find out we [our itinerary and the people on it] had been sold to another minibus. Meaning, we have to switch minibuses. Great.
Time spent: two hours, plus a chastisement
Total time spent: four hours
3. Minibus from Nakhon Si Thammarat to Hat Yai
We end up on a almost full minibus, which proceeds to flirt with maximum capacity at each stop, taking on one more additional passenger. And the air con felt more like someone breathing on you, like a creepy heavy breather, than actual coolness.
Time spent: three hours
Total time in transit: seven hours
We finally got off the minibus with the heavy-breather air con. The taxi touts tell us that our hotel is 15 minutes away, but we can take two motorbikes there for 100 baht ($3).
4. Motorcycle from Hat Yai minibus stop to Hat Yai hotel
Kiwi looked at me distantly upon the offer of motorbike taxi because in the past, I’ve said no f**king way to motorbikes. People drive crazy on them, and I was fairly sure that our travel insurance didn’t cover motorbiking.
Well, I checked the policy while on Koh Samui and we’re covered. I jumped on the motorbike with the driver, my carryon and my backpack on my back. Kiwi got on the bike with his driver, and we were off. The bikes don’t go much faster than maybe 15-20 mph, and the breeze felt refreshing.
When we stopped at an intersection, I looked to Kiwi to see how I should be holding on. Originally, I grabbed the sides of the driver; Kiwi had his arms around his. Kiwi fondled the driver’s chest as a joke. The driver laughed, pointed at me, then back to Kiwi, which I took to the effect that chest-grabbing is a couple thing to do. But who is supposed to grab whose chest? I don’t know. Whatever. I’m on a motorbike in Thailand, I need to focus on staying alive. When we got off the bikes at the hotel, I ran up to grab Kiwi’s chest to get a laugh out of the drivers.
Time spent: 15 minutes
Total time spent traveling on day 1: Seven hours, 15 minutes and two masculine chest grabs
That night, we explored Hat Yai. It’s a culture shock for me, an American, to see snowflake decorations at a town seven degrees away from the Equator.
We ate some roti canai and made puns with Hat Yai (“Are you excited to be in Hat Yai? You mean Hat YAY?!” or “Hattttt Yaiiii [oh oh]!” to the tune of “Hey Ya,” complete with Andre 3000 jazz hands.)
5. Bus from Hat Yai to Thailand-Malaysia border
We had the oldest, nicest bus I’ve ever seen: 1970s-style armchairs that lean back and USB ports for phones. But we wouldn’t be on for long. Once we reached the border, we were told that we needed to walk through Thai immigration, then a minibus would take us through Malaysian customs and immigration.
Time spent: two hours
Total time in transit: nine hours, 15 minutes
6. Waiting time at the Thailand-Malaysia border
A busy border crossing. We walked around the border town for a bit, browsed the shops. One shopowner muttered farang (foreigner, in a similiar way gringo or gringa is used by Spanish speakers for English-speaking Americans. Not a slur, but I don’t love it. I wouldn’t wear it on a t-shirt ironically or unironically.)
We might have been the only Westerners walking through that day. Most Westerners probably would have just taken Firely or Air Asia. But we’re backpackers. Onward.
Time spent waiting: 90 minutes
Total time spent in transit and waiting: Over 10 hours over two days? Am I even calculating this logically?
7. Minibus from Thailand-Malaysia border to a Penang mall
Malaysia’s highways are really well kept. You could blink and think you were in the States or New Zealand or something.
There was a point where our van was trying to bypass two lanes merging into one by cruising along the median. The guy in the car in front of us was actively blocking the van. Our van would try to pass on the median, the car in front would go into the median, then merge back into the highway. Our van would try again, the car in front would straddle the lane and median. The driver let out something in not English, then punctuated it with “motherf**cker”. Kiwi and I yelled “yeah!” Obnoxious tourists.
Time spent: Are we there yet?
Total time spent: No, seriously. Are we there yet?
8. Walk from Penang mall to hotel
The walk was actually pretty nice. We walked by many street food stands: chicken rice, vegetarian food, prawn noodles…
Time spent: 20 minutes?
Total time spent: Too tired to count. Good night.
Now that we’re in Penang, we’ve seen so many cool coffee shops and food halls. Eventually, we summoned the will to eat some char kway teow (smoky fried noodles). A summary of Penang coffee and street food is for another post…