Time to leave Georgetown and time to leave Malaysia.
I thoroughly enjoyed the time here but it was time to move on and my next destination was Thailand.
I had found it impossible to book a train in advance, either using KMT (Malaysia’s rail service) or agencies like 12GoAsia and Baulao so I was using a bus.
Yes, I could tried to book tickets at the railway station in person but ai prefer to have tickets arranged in advance so I don’t need to worry about it.
I arrived at the travel agency responsible for getting me the approximately 700miles to Bangkok where I would be catching another bus to my intended destination.
This time I would be on a minibus and it quickly emerged that I was the only person waiting for it. I climbed aboard and there were only two other women aboard.
Coronavirus really is limiting travel.
I had been checking updates on Thailand’s border policy all week in case of changes. India followed America’s lead last night and it looked like Sri Lanka was considering similar.
It seemed unlikely in the wake of news coverage showing the impact of a fall in tourism on people’s livelihoods. Today the news featured an article on a monkey riot over food caused by a drop in the number of visitors feeding then.
Damned if you do travel. Damned if you don’t.
On the bus, one if the women was wearing a mask. Conversation wasn’t going to be likely.
We stopped fifteen minutes later at an underpass and collected one more passenger, a Malaysian woman, who climbed into the front seat beside the driver and they chatted.
We crossed the Penang Bridge, drove through Butterworth without stopping at the station and headed out of town along the highway.
I spotted someone who was taking o chances in travelling with other passengers.
It was an approximately two hour drive to the Thai border and the scenery was similar to the rest of Malaysia – palm plantations interspersed with towns, villages and small farms.
As we approached the Thai border there were more rice fields – miles of flat fields and not quite as striking as the hillside terraces in Southern China.
We stopped for fuel and the other women got out out for cigarettes and toilet breaks. We’d only been on the road for an hour.
One of them came back and handed me an immigration card as she had noticed I hadn’t got out of the bus.
I started filling it in, from left to right and realised almost immediately I had done it wrong. The left hand side was the departure card and the right hand side was the entry.
I’d have to watch that – automatic habits for form filling are not a good idea.
Closer still to the Thai border, the landscape became hillier.
Meanwhile, the girl wearing the mask removed it in order to talk to me – totally defeating the objective of the mask. She left it hitched to her ear, presumably for later use or maybe a fashion statement.
At the border on the Malay side was a sign saying: “See you again. Bon voyage.” Even border control is friendly here.
We were the only people crossing the border this morning and the driver dropped us at the Malaysian border building. Inside the staff stamped the passports and waved us on our way.
Outside the driver was waiting for us with forms in case we didn’t already have them. We completed his passenger manifest and continued to the Thai side.
The girl with the mask popped it back into place. Pointless as she was now already exposed to any germs carried by us on board the bus.
If the Malay side of the border was quiet, it was slightly busier when we arrived at the Thai edge of business.
We were directed into a building. One of the girls from the bus had her temperature checked but neither mine nor the other girl’s were taken.
We joined the passport control queues.
“Over there, please,” and I was pointed to the health screening counter.
There was a lengthy form to fill in and the staff asked when I had left England. September 2019 was clearly a good answer but I did see them pause when they spotted the Chinese stamps in my passport.
Thankfully, they noted the dates I had left… significantly prior to December 2019. The health screening was handled in a professional and friendly manner though they seemed more concerned about the two other women on board the bus being from France.
EDIT: An hour after I arrived, it was announced that the UK had been added to the list of countries that Thailand was monitoring more closely with regard to coronavirus.
All three of us had to explain where we had been since we left our home countries.
I wondered how Italian travellers were faring. They’re probably being discriminated against in the same way as the Chinese have been.
And for those of you keeping a tab on these things. My temperature today was 35.6°C.
Once through health screening, it was back to passport control. Other than asking, though not demanding to see, if I had a ticket to leave the country, this was straightforward.
The girl in the facemask took substantially longer to join us and I found myself slightly wondering if there was a problem with her health… rather than her passport.
There’s nothing like a pandemic for raising anxiety and suspicion. You can see people jump out of their skins if someone so much as clears their throat.
The driver went to look for her.
He came back. She had been refused entry to Thailand and sent back to Malaysia. The other girl told me it was because she had come from Thailand and only spent one day in Malaysia before returning to spend longer there.
It’s a common practice but she was unlucky today.
We left the border. I had no idea how she would get back to Georgetown.
As soon as we got onto the high street, we stopped for the Malaysian lady to pop into a shop. After fifteen minutes, our poor driver was packing the streets.
Considering he started with only four passengers, this was like herding cats.
I watched the trucks queuing up to head for Malaysia.
The passenger returned and we got under way.
For the next hour or so the road passed through towns, cafes and shops close to the roadside. We passed glittering and painted temples and drove alongside fields and woodland.
The biggest change I noticed in entering Thailand was the number and size of portraits of the royal family everywhere.
And then I was dropped at a bus station in a town called Hatyai. The driver explained that I’d be catching a bus at 3pm to Bangkok.
This was an unexpected development. There was nothing on my ticket to say that this would be happening. Oh, well, three hours to spend in Hatyai… I went for a walk.
To be continued…