Ok so I had to do another visa run due to complications with my work permit. So what is a visa run you ask? A visa run is something you do when living and working in Thailand so you can stay longer in the country. Basically cross the border and come back. They vary from just an extension, a tourist or a non-b visa. I was going for my second non-b this time!
We live in a small village about an hour from the city of Surat Thani. I was going on my own as Yuri didn't need a new visa, he got his work permit. We left on the Friday straight after school to meet up with a friend to have some pizza and catch a movie. They only show one or two English movies on a Friday. So it has become some what of a ritual to go to Surat at least once a month. On Saturday morning me and Yuri said our farewells and I took a van down to Hat Yai. My ticket on the van was 240 baht(R77), which I think is really a good price as we paid a Songthao (local "cheap" transport) 100 baht(R32) for maybe 10 km! And to Hat Yai its about 330 km! The Songthao driver was really nice though and we will use him again, his name is Non and his English is pretty good.
It takes about 5-6 hours to get to Hat Yai with one stop on the way, so I made sure I had enough snacks and used the toilet before the journey started. Our agent lives in Hat Yai so we always stay at the teachers house when down there, which is really convenient, because doing another 4-5hr journey will be too tiring, and it's fun, we always go out for some food and go to a local club/pub. And being able to speak with fellow native speakers is great! Living in a small thai village you soon realise how good it is to be able to speak English to someone that actually understands what you are saying and can talk back. I met Louise and Anna (fellow teachers from SA) and they became my travel buddies.
From Hat Yai there are only 4 vans per day to Penang, first one at 9am then 12:30, 3:30 and 5pm. After a late night or early morning we didn't make the 9am van so caught the 12:30 one. You can pay between 450 and 550 baht, which again is quite reasonable I think. If you can, try NOT to sit on the back seats in the van as this is REALLY uncomfortable, because of the speed these vans drive and the conditions of the road you will feel like a tossed salad, trust me on this.. Because everyone knows this they all run for the van as soon as it's ready to leave and pile in from the front so we got stuck with the back seats. Huh ...bump...ow...!
From Hat Yai to the border is about an hours drive. Once there you have to get out of the van and go through passport control. SA passport holders go to an air conditioned office to get stamped, while all other passport holders have to go through the queue's outside in the hot humid thai weather. Me travelling on my British passport had to queue and it took much longer then Louise and Anna that was traveling on their SA passports. After the " friendly" thai immigration officer stamped my passport we proceeded across the bridge to Malaysia to go through the Malaysian side. There you have to take your bags and get your passport stamped again to enter Malaysia. This process takes anything from 10 min to maybe 50 min. As it was a Sunday the border was very busy and it took us about 40min. Back on the van, now the last stretch to Penang which is about 3hrs depending on your driver.
Huh .....ow...ao ow....bump!!
Once you cross the Penang bridge(which is 13.5 km long) it's not that long to the final van stop(Or it's not suppose to be long).Again depending on your driver, our driver made a few personal stops and it took about 40 min extra before he finally dropped us off. The good thing was he dropped us off about 50 meters from where we decided to stay! We heard of this place, but wasn't sure if it's ok!? So in the van we started talking to the other falang(thai for foreigner) and they where all gona stay there, so hey why not. The place is called Banana, they have 40 rooms ranging from double bed with tv and own bathroom to 3 singles with shared facilities, which is what we went for and it was only 20 ringgit pppn (R62). So 400 baht for two nights not bad! The accommodation was very basic, but that's all you need. Now the best thing of Banana is they have a visa service, you give them all your documents ,passport and photos and they go to the ambassy for you. Now being a South African it was tough to give your passport to a stranger that doesn't work for an official government company but there were so many other people and our fellow falang said they have done it before and it's fine. We handed in our documents with passport and 2 photos paid the 260 ringgit and trusted! If you go to the embassy yourself the non-b visa is 220 ringgit so an extra 40 ringgit for them to process it. You save on transport to and from the embassy and you don't have to queue and waist time. We handed in our paperwork when we arrived and were told we should get our visa's back by 2:30pm the Tuesday(or so they say). Now we had almost 2 days free to explore and enjoy all Penang has to offer. We were hungry and tired. Finding a place to eat is not really hard as there are many street venders and local restaurants on Lebuh Chulia and if you feel like something more western the shopping malls is only about 12 min walk away and open till 10 pm. We ended up at the Reggae club in front of Banana that serves free drinks ( alcoholic ) to ladies from 5pm - 9pm. The food was good and cheap and the staff very friendly.
Since we had the whole next day free we decided to book an excursion, and Banana does that as well. So we booked a 6 hrs tour of Penang for 80 ringgit starting at 9:30am. Our tour guide Zali was really sweet and very patient with us falang that first wanted to stop at Starbucks for a coffee! After the essential Starbucks stop we headed to the snake temple. Beautiful temple with real live snakes, I first thought they where fake but trust me they are real, apparently the smoke of the incense makes them want to sleep?! Keep burning that incense please !! Next it was the Kek Lok Si temple, a massive Buddha and beautiful Chinese temple with a few interesting sculptures (Mickey,Minnie, monkeys and a little doggie). Next stop Penang hill where we had about 2 hrs to walk around and have some good Malay lunch. We then stopped at a place were they showed us how they make silk shirts and sarong dresses, then off to the bee gallery where they showed us bees and honey. By this time we were way over our 6 hr trip so by the time we reached the next stop (some temple, I forget the name?)it was closed. We rushed to Dharmikarama Burmese temple and the Wat Chayamangkalaram thai Buddhist temple, one of largest reclining Buddha statues in the world. Then the grand finale the chocolate boutique. I've been looking forward to this all day. We got a brief history of Malay coco beans blah blah blah show me the chocolate.....then the tasting started...mmmmhhhhhmmmm some good stuff. I did a few tastings of my favourite dark chocolate and then spent 28 ringgit ( R88,more than my accommodation) on a small tin of chocolate. Crazy I know, but it was worth it!
Got back to Banana at 5:30pm, so a 6 hr tour ended up being a 8 hr tour. Next off to the shopping mall for shopping and food. We tried out a place called Kenny Rogers restaurant. Which looked good and we thought we are getting a great deal. But in hindsight it was pretty expensive. Off to bed we thought, but we decided to stop off at the local grocery shop next door to get a water. It's there where we met David, a lovely Malay guy that owns the grocery shop, a hostel and a little cafe. He is such a friendly helpful man so we ( him, his fiancé and his business partner Lloyd, also from SA living in Penang) all sat chatting until Tuesday early morning hours. It doesn't seem like Penang ever sleeps. I would definitely recommend you stay at the Super K hostel, his rates are 25 ringgit for a dorm. And your bed has its one little curtain for privacy. The grocery store downstairs is open 24 hrs and it's next door to Banana, so stay at Super K and get Banana to do your visa for you. That's what I'm gona do my next visa run.
After only a few hours sleep we decided to go walk around little India and explore some more local sights like Fort Cornwallis and Queen Victoria memorial clock tower. We headed back to pack our things and wait for our passports. Heads up if you stay at banana the check out time is 12 pm, even if you just hang around to wait for your passport, they didn't tell us this so we took our time had a shower and only left our room at 2pm and had to pay extra half day rate, so our stay ended up being 30 ringgit for 2 nights. The waiting for the passports felt like the longest wait ever. They said 2:30 pm our passports finally arrived at 5pm so we all grabbed our passports and jumped in the van, which you can book at Banana too for 28 ringgit, so much cheaper than from Thailand! Then the long journey back which strangely enough felt shorter back than it did there. Border same as before have your passport ready with your new visa and get stamp at Malaysia side then back in van drive across bridge and get your passport stamped at the thai side. Now sometimes they can give you a hard time, especially if you are on a South African passport. My friends got asked for 20 000 baht but they just ignored the lady that wanted the money and went to another guy and he didn't ask for money and they got stamped. On our way back the van was pretty empty and everyone was falang so we all had a good laugh and chatted all the way. I must say I love doing visa runs. They are fun and you get to meet a lot of people and the Malay people are so friendly and there is a lot to do in Penang.
Looking forward to my next visa run in dec.