The one good thing about Hat Yai, is that it is close to the Malaysian border. When my original tourist VISA ran out and I needed to update it for another 2 months, I decided to travel to the small island of Penang on the west coast of northern Malaysia. Here I could easily take advantage of the many visa services that deliver your passport to the Thai embassy and return it with a renewed VISA.
Getting to Penang from Hat Yai is very easy. From the many little tour shops (or even the bus station in the city), you can easily catch a minivan. It takes roughly 4-5 hours depending on how many people are being collected in Hat Yai and dropped off in Malaysia. Cost is +- 300ThB ($10 / £6 / 7.50€) for one way.
It takes roughly an hour to get out of Hat Yai because the minivan collects people around town from various hotels. Once you’re on the road, it takes approximately 1 hour to reach the Malaysian border where you disembark and go through Thai immigration and officially ‘leave’ Thailand.
Climb back in the minivan which drives down the road and parks up outside the Malaysian immigration offices, you disembark and officially ‘enter’ Malaysia. Once your luggage is scanned, you climb back into the minivan and drive for another 3-4 hours.
You know you’re close when you cross Penang Bridge – a 13.5 km (8.4 mi) long bridge. It’s the longest bridge in Malaysia as and the fourth-longest in Southeast Asia.
We spent another hour dropping people off at various hotels and apartments and eventually arrived at Banana Guest House. A very basic and relatively inexpensive hostel which has its own attached visa service.
It was after 22:00 when we arrived and after checking in, I asked where I could get passport photos taken tomorrow as I realised I didn’t have any for my visa.
‘No problem,’ the receptionist (who was trying to look like John Lennon) replied, ‘follow me.’
We headed out the door and across the road to another office which was still open and manned by a small, grumpy man. I was asked to sit in front of a blue screen, SNAP, and within 1 minute, my photos were ready. Grumpy man asked me to sign 2 places on a form and then asked for my passport. Warily, I handed it over. After I’d paid 1900Thb ($64 / £40 / 48€) (or 190 Malaysian ringgit), I was told my passport and renewed visa would be ready the next day at 14:00. Just like that.
The next day, Chitti and I walked around and explored George Town which is the name of the main town on the island. It has an area called Little India which has pounding Bollywood music and beautiful saris, materials and delicious foods for sale.
Walking around the rest of the town, the colonial influence was obvious. The Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower built for Queen Victoria, who sadly died before its completion, the city hall and other buildings are good examples.
George Town has a free bus service which is great for site seeing. It uses a circular route around the city and it’s great for seeing a larger area of town. The whole route takes roughly one hour. The town isn’t very big.
At 14:00, it was back to the hostel and across the road to the visa service. I handed over my slip and was handed my passport with my renewed visa. Hmm, that was easy!!
Then it was back to the seafront to appreciate the gorgeous afternoon light.
There is a shopping centre with about 7 or 8 floors in George Town too which we explored briefly. All the big names like Gap, Boots, Monsoon and others can be found. I started to appreciate how cheap things were back in Hat Yai after checking out a few price tags.
The next day, we caught a local bus to out of town to visit Kek Lok Si, a huge Chinese temple on a hill.
There were a LOT of stairs and a small railway too but it was worth it – the views were amazing.
Beautiful statues of all the chinese zodiac signs stood all over the gardens.
Back on the bus and a long walk through town and past the beautifully decorative Kapitan Keling mosque.
We spent the last few hours of our time walking around the town.
Before we knew it, it was time to catch our minivan back to Hat Yai. So armed with my new visa and lots of photos, we boarded the minivan. After the amount of walking we’d done, my body was really tired so I slept most of the journey back.
And that was that – Penang and a new Thai visa – DONE!