We’d had a great time on the islands, but time was ticking on and it was time to start heading to Malaysia. Heading directly from Koh Samui to the Malaysia border was a bit of a long trip for one day, as the ferry times did not really fit in for such a long journey, so we decided to break up the trip by spending a couple of days in Trang.
A lot of southern Thailand experiences regular problems with insurgency due to clashes between Muslims and Buddhists. This is mainly condensed in the south-east, with provinces such as Hat Yai and Trang only on the fringes of the problem spots, so we decided that Trang was a good, safe place to go, plus a good place to begin a border crossing to Malaysia.
We boarded a car ferry to the mainland from Koh Samui, which was not as flashy as some of the boats we’d been on previously, but did the job, and went through a series of buses and mini-vans to Trang. Some of the transfers were reasonably complicated, and we weren’t sure we were going to make it to our intended destination, but we did arrive in Trang as promised!
After the heavily touristed islands of Koh Samui and Koh Tao, Trang was a breath of fresh air. It actually felt like we were in Thailand again – albeit, a very different Thailand from what we’d visited up north. Although Trang has a Buddhist majority population, there were significant numbers of Muslims in the town, which made it a very interesting place from a cultural perspective. Furthermore, the people were really friendly – genuinely friendly, like they were actually pleased to see you there, and not just because you’re a tourist either. There were very few tourists in Trang while we were there, and it was nice to walk down a street which actually had Thai people also walking on it, and not just working in bars, or pandering to tourists!
One of the best parts of Trang were the vintage style tuk tuks about town – these must surely be unique to the area, and we’ve not seen anything like them anywhere else. They’re so cute buzzing around town, and although we did not sit in one we admired quite a few! Trang also had quite a few classic cars buzzing about the place, lending it a real character and likeability factor.
We spent the only full day we had there wandering about the place and taking in the feel of the town. We didn’t really see any sights, but just spent time enjoying the town. There is also a heavy Chinese influence in town, and many of the shops were selling Chinese food and goods – there were several selling lots of gold jewellery too! It was really nice walking around – people were happy just to say hello to us, something we’d not really experienced since Cambodia.
We stayed in Sri-Trang Hotel, which was a place with a character all of it’s own. I’m not sure who was actually running the place, but it seemed to be jointly run by a syndicate of elderly Thai men who seemed to sit around drinking and smoking, but somehow also efficiently run a hotel. It was basic, but pleasant enough, and we had access to the internet café downstairs – unfortunately, while sitting there in the afternoon, I was mercilessly mauled by mosquitoes in a period of five minutes – I was very upset, as mosquitoes don’t usually bite during the day here, they caught me out!
Two nights was enough time in Trang, and we booked a bus ticket to Pulau Penang on the west cost of Malaysia. Even the travel agents we booked the ticket through were friendly – definitely the most helpful travel agents we’ve met! A mini-van sped us off to Hat Yai, where we met yet more friendly people at a guesthouse while we waited for our connecting mini-van, which promptly arrived and sped us off to the border.
While on the mini-van, we picked up a dotty old dear who was returning to Malaysia after a holiday in Thailand (I think, I kind of made up a story for her). She had a lot of food – she’d really stocked up. She had two bags full of bags of nuts, pickles, sweets, chocolates, cooking ingredients, meat, fruit, and bizarrely, kebabs. When she opened up her main luggage bag, I was surprised to see more food in there, including tinned tuna. Very strange.
We got to the border which was a very formal and efficient affair in comparison to the other land border crossings we’ve done. It was kind of like two international airports tacked together, only you just carry your bags all the way through. I’m not sure how the dotty dear managed to get all her tasty treats through customs, but she emerged intact on the other side and off we went. We, meanwhile, gained our entry stamps for Malaysia – we can spend up to 90 days in the country – hurrah!
Shortly after the border crossing, Mahmoud got hungry – as often happens. The dotty dear was snacking on some dried broad beans, and Mahmoud had a whinge – “I wish she’d give us some, I’m starving!”. What he wasn’t counting on was that a lot of Malaysians speak very good English, and within seconds she popped the bag under our noses and said, “Would you like some?”. I was highly amused.
The view changed dramatically once we crossed the border. Within a few kilometres, we noticed the difference in the road – traffic was a little calmer, and the road was a little straighter, and all the road signs were in English. Malay is a very different language to Thai, it’s written in Roman numerals rather than script, and so looks quite similar to English (mainly as many words are the same), so it means you can understand a lot more. Within a few more kilometres, we started seeing housing estates, and the radio came on in English, playing Western music. We could have been forgiven for thinking we were back in the UK!
Eventually arriving in Georgetown, Penang, our driver dropped us off at the door of our hotel. We breathed a sigh of relief to have arrived after a long day of driving, set our clocks forward an hour, and walked in. It was a shame to say goodbye to Thailand after a very good month, but time is marching on and Malaysia will be a new experience entirely!