Saturday, 24 January 2015
Penang visa run
Penang visa run
This post is about traveling from Hat Yai to Penang, getting visa at Thai Consulate in Penang, and traveling back to Hat Yai by van. Getting a single entry tourist visa in Penang is a straightforward process. When entering Thailand, you have to show 20,000 Baht.
Ask in 4 travel agencies in Hat Yai, cost for van to Penang is 400, 450 (twice, near bus station) or 650 Baht (near railway station). The 650 Baht justified the high price with “bus station not sure”, i.e. the travel agency at bus station might take me to Penang or not, probably they would have told me any lie to make me book their tour. They all have the same departure times: 9, 12, 15:30, 16:30 (time posted at travel agencies varies +-30 minutes, but then you have pick up at hotel or meet at travel agency 30 minutes before departure), but no prices posted. I book the 400 Baht tour, scheduled 9 am.
Exchange money in Hat Yai, I get 1 MYR for 9.4 THB (same time on xe.com: 9.376).
(all times Thai time, for Malay time add 1 h)
Wait at travel agency for van, 9:20 bording, 9:28-42 wait in standing van, 9:42 departure. 10:47 Reach border crossing (Sadao Dannok สะเดา ด่านนอก the more popular one, there is another one Sadao Padang Besar สะเดา ปาดังเบซาร์ where the railway crosses). The driver asks each passenger for 10 Baht (it remains unclear for what, but seems to be legitimate).
Car and passengers pass Thai immigration separately, and afterwards I cannot see other passengers or car and am not sure where to meet, so I walk to Malay immigration (about 500 m). But there were no other people around, so I walk back, to find car and other passengers waiting for me near Thai immigration.
Drive to Malay immigration, arrive 11:22. There are signs: no pornographic items and no clothes with cannabis leaf prints allowed (these are quite popular in Thailand). 11:40 continue. Malay immigration is a nice change from Lao and Cambodia (where I have to through the humiliation of applying for a visa and paying for it): just a stamp and you are in (as a German).
A stop by police and for refueling on the way. 13:50 arrive at ferry port, 14:10 on ferry, 14:15 departure, 14:33 arrive in ferry port. 11:40 we are just 200 m off Chulia street (from street signs and map), I should have gotten off here. After extensive driving around (a free tour if you see it that way, but I didn’t know if the driver understood that I want to get off at Chulia street and didn’t know if we would get back there) get off in Chulia street 15:35.
Exchange money in Chulia street: pay 10 THB for 1 MYR (xe.com: 9.372), I should have exchanged all money in Hat Yai.
Monday 05.01.2015 (all times Malay time)
Two passport copies A4 black and white for 0.40 MYR in 7/11 (somewhere I read a sign normal copies 0.10 MYR, passport copies 0.20 MYR, are they trying to take advantage of visa runners?). Take bus 101 1.40 MYR (NO CHANGE IS GIVEN) from near Chulia street 9:10, get off at Thai temple 9:24, walk to Thai consul 9:44.
There are many people, I queue and learn later 10:05 that you get the visa application from the same window where you hand in the application (that’s what the people were queuing for) without queuing (just walk to the window like queue jumping). There is some staff around (no uniform, could be touts, but they don’t ask for money or offer short-cuts) and free drinking water. The waiting area is outside, but has a roof. With the application form, you get a receipt with a queue number in big black felt pen, mine is 205.
I overheard a conversation: A German man was there with a woman from El Salvador, and they were on a cruise that would leave for Thailand the following day and they need a visa for the woman. Staff at the cruise messed it up. Instead of a day of sightseeing in Georgetown they had to spend the day at the consulate to get a visa! One of the staff gave them a receipt with a low queue number, it seems in special cases like this one day processing is still possible.
After getting application form, I had to wait to get a free table to fill it out. No glue or pen provided, bring your own! You can glue, staple or paperclip your passport pictures to the application form; there is a field for one picture, but two are required. Queue to hand in application form and pay 110 MYR, leave 10:45. There were up to 50 others. Outside is a car that offers passport pictures, photocopies and flight booking.
Tuesday 06.01.2015 (all times Malay time)
Bus 101 1.40 MYR from Komtar 14:06 to Thai temple 14:19, walk to Thai consul 14:39. Less than 10 people, get passport with visa back, out 14:42. Buy ticket for van to Hat Yai 35 MYR at guesthouse, scheduled departure 8:30. All travel agencies have the same departure times: 5, 8:30, 12, 15 (+- 30 minutes) and same price 35 MYR.
Wednesday 07.01.2015 (all times Malay time)
8:31 departure, we are just 6 passengers in the van (I rarely ride in a van in Thailand that is not full). 9:00 cross bridge. A stop for toilet and shopping 10:53-11:15, the driver collects all passengers’ passports and we get them back with Thailand arrival cards that have our details printed on them.
11:20-25 processing at Malay immigration. Van waits at parking behind immigration building.
11:30-55 processing at Thai immigration. Officer at Thai immigration wants to see 20,000 Baht as proof that I can support myself (in her words “show money”). This is a rule that applies to everyone entering Thailand as a tourist, but is usually not enforced, except for this border crossing. She then browses through my passport and asks what I do in Thailand. I truthfully reply that I live in Bangkok and travel all over Thailand. The mood is unfriendly (not “Welcome back, Sir”, but “What illegal activities are you up to under the guise of being a tourist?”). I get a stamp "TR" in "visa class", before this was always done by handwriting.
Wait at the van for other passengers, the other White passenger comes and picks up his luggage. We continue the ride without him, later the driver tells us he didn’t have 20,000 Baht to show at immigration.
A friend said in such a case Malay immigration cancels the exit stamp and you can stay in Malaysia the remaining days from your previous visa. This is because for crossing at a land border, an exit stamp from the country you come from would be required.
12:16 arrive at Hat Yai train station (after driving around in Hat Yai for about half an hour to let other passengers out at their point of choice).
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