If I say I walked all the way from Thailand to Malaysia and you haven’t done that, chances are you won’t believe me but I did!
Traveling to Malaysia from Thailand is easy, especially if you are already staying near the border. I was at Narathiwat, Thailand’s southernmost city for a couple of days before I decided to proceed to Kuala Lumpur.
If you are in Bangkok, it’s another story though that involves a two-hour plane ride or 14 hours trip on a bus.
Narathiwat is only an hour away by van from Su-ngai Golok Boundary Post and the van dropped me and my buddy Rolly right in front of the immigration building. I joined the long line to get my passport stamped with “exit” then we walked across the border to Malaysia, leaving Rolly on Thailand soil. The Customs and Quarantine officers in Rantau Panjang were friendly, asking light questions about the contents of my backpack (my only luggage) until I said I had a bottle of Excedrin. That was when the officers looked at each other and asked me to step aside. Then they inspected my backpack, something which they didn’t do to others, and asked me if I was feeling okay and how many days I had been ‘sick’ and they need to take my temperature if I had a fever or anything contagious. Baffled, I explained that the Excedrin was for my occasional migraine bouts and it had been in my backpack forever. One of the female officers touched my forehead, then let me go, apologizing for the delay.
Then I was on Malaysian soil for the first time, all on my own and without one single Ringgit in my pocket.
If you don’t have Ringgits with you, cross the street after you exit the immigration building in Rantau Panjang and there’s only one money changer in the area. I exchanged all the US dollars and Philippine pesos and Thailand Baht I had in my wallet for Ringgits then crossed the street. Communication is a challenge. I asked four people and after so many frustrated gestures I understood they all said the fare to Kota Bharu was 500 Ringgits.
There was only one money exchange store and I fished all the pesos and dollars that I had and came out with only 470 Ringgits. I was frustrated and feeling overheated and thirsty and yes, scared. I wondered if the bus will accept credit cards. I waited with other passengers at the roofed walkway where Bus 29 stops by every 30 minutes or so, and when the bus came, I boarded it, not sure what to do for my fare. Passengers are required to pay the driver as soon as they board.
I showed the driver all the bills I got from the money exchange and he looked at me with a funny expression then peeled off five Ringgits from the wad of bills in my hand. I have never felt like a stupid tourist in my life than at that moment.
The bus ride from Rantau Panjang to Kota Bharu is about an hour and will take you through several interesting towns and villages. I reached the bus terminal just right after sunset and waited for the next bus to Kuala Lumpur for three hours. The trip to Kuala Lumpur took eight hours in a freezing bus with centralized A/C so if you can’t stand the cold, bring a blanket. These buses usually don’t hand out blankets and water and snacks, and there are no restrooms on board either, so you have to take advantage of the shortstops in between. I didn’t because I didn’t fancy going into the public restrooms (Ok, let’s not go there. I’ll spare you the gross details but it was the worst mistake I ever made. My kidneys were about to burst and I had no choice but enter one of the stalls our last stopover before reaching Kuala Lumpur. Shortly before sunrise, we entered Kuala Lumpur and everything spelled civilization. Here is a city where everyone still mistakes me for a Thai but where everybody speaks and understands English.
By the way, the border from Thailand to Malaysia is less than half a mile away, and crossing it on foot is no big feat. I got you there.