From Malaysia to Thailand. Visas, Red Tape and My First Border Crossing.

From Malaysia to Thailand. Visas, Red Tape and My First Border Crossing.

Getting a Thai Tourist Visa in Penang

The amazing food wasn’t the only reason I decided to add Palau Penang to my itinerary for Malaysia. Since I planned to head into Thailand overland I needed to apply for a tourist visa so that I could stay for longer than 2 weeks. There are two Thai consulates in Malaysia. One in Kuala Lumpur and one in Georgetown. I didn’t really think my trip to Penang through though. I had lost track of my days and unwittingly arranged my arrival for Friday afternoon. The consulate is of course closed on the weekend. I hadn’t planned on staying in Georgetown for more than a couple of nights but it seemed I would have to wait around until the Embassy opened on Monday. Not that I was complaining too much. I had extra time for trying the foods Penang has to offer. I even put back on a couple of the kilos I had lost since I began travelling ha-ha.

I made my way to the consulate on Tuesday morning having missed my opportunity on the Monday since I had to change guesthouses (I had my first experience with bed bugs. I only had one bite and didn’t see many of them but I definitely wasn’t sticking around to see if there were more!). To save money I decided to walk there. It takes about an hour to get there from the main tourist district. It’s a little exhausting in the humidity but I definitely worked off a few of the calories from all the food! The embassy takes applications between 9am and 11:30am but I would recommend getting there early to give yourself plenty of time to get through the line. You get the application forms at the consulate but you need to bring two passport-size photos and a photocopy of your passport with you. A 60-day Tourist Visa costs RM110 payable in local currency only. I had expected to be able to pick up my visa that afternoon but as of the 1st of November 2014 the Penang consulate no longer offers same-day service. I wasn’t very happy that I would have to stay another night but I couldn’t get my passport back until the next afternoon.

On the way to Hat Yai: My First Border Crossing

There are lots of tour companies along Lebuh Chulia where you can organise your transport from Malaysia to Thailand. I was a bit lazy and just decided to get my guest house to arrange it for me. There are a couple of options. You can get a train from Butterworth or a minibus directly from your guesthouse. We’ve already established that I’m lazy so I bet you can guess which one I chose ha-ha. At 8:30 the next morning the bus pulled up in front of the guest house. It’s not as comfy as a coach but it is the quickest (and cheapest) way to get to Thailand. It takes a few hours to get to the border from Penang. About half an hour before we got to the border we stopped for a few minutes to get our departure cards. It was all taken care of by our driver. Just give him your passport and ten minutes later you’ll be back on the bus with a nicely printed departure card. Then it’s on to immigration. You have to go through Malaysian immigration first. It’s a simple affair, just line up and get your passport stamped. Then about 10 minutes later we reached Thai immigration. This should have been simple too but I wasn’t properly prepared. I knew that you needed proof of funds. I didn’t realise that you had to have the money in cash. You need to have 20,000 Baht to show the officials at immigration. They won’t accept bank statements or credit cards. You have to show them the cash.

I didn’t have the money on me. Shit.

Luckily there are ATMs just across the border and the official was understanding. I was sent off to find one. I found it a little weird. I was in Thailand illegally, left to my own devices. I can’t imagine that happening back home! I wasn’t the only one caught out by this. Another girl on my bus didn’t know either and had to do the same. Once we had the money and got our passports stamped it was time to hop on the minibus. You have to switch buses at the border, which is fine, but we didn’t find out until after immigration. I had left an almost full 1.5L bottle of water on the other bus and another couple had left their umbrellas. Oh well, live and learn.

After the border it’s about another 45 minutes to the bus terminal in Hat Yai. From there you can book onward tickets to other parts of Thailand or catch a taxi somewhere else in the city.

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