Days 370 & 371 – Phuket – Penang (Malaysia) / motorbike GS Dakar RTW overland adventure traveller

  • Left – 9am & 8.30am
  • 10th & 11th April 2015
  • Miles rode – 440 (704km)

A long ride the first day, 300 miles, especially as I’ve been so lazy the past week or so.

The following morning I felt on top of the world. I stayed in Hat Yai last night, I was so pleased I spent my last night in Thailand outside of the tourist areas. I only had 25 miles to ride to the border and whilst I’ve loved my time here I was ready for a new country. Malaysia was calling.

As I rode south hundreds of bikers were heading north to ‘Phuket Bike Week’, it’s the biggest bike event in SouthEast Asia where reputedly 10,000 bikers from many countries converg on the island. As I rode alone I was pleased I had left the day before it started.

10 miles before reaching the Malaysian border I took a right turn to a remote border, the lorries that had been building up for the last 50 miles (as they do at all borders) disappeared and I had a quiet last ride in Thailand. I arrived at the border expecting to be there quite a while with all of the immigration and motorbike customs paperwork and the same into Malaysia. I was wrong! I rolled up to the Thai immigration window handed my passport over and within a minute it was handed back with a smile, I continued onto the Thai customs window but there wasn’t one? I kept riding and 50 metres on I stopped at a further window again handed my passport over and again within a minute it was handed back with a smile. I wasn’t sure what they did at that window but nevertheless I continued thinking I would reach Thai customs very soon.

As usual I have my helmet off when I ride through borders as I have to stop and talk continually so I was shocked when after another 50 metres a policemen indicated to me to put it on, so I did. I was further confused when I noticed the car registration plates were no longer Thai and the border buildings seemed to have finished, there were shops either side of me? At many borders there is an area of ‘no mans land’ between one country and another and I assumed this was where I was and I’ll arrive at the Malaysian border any minute. Where were the Thai customs officers? I continued riding and the shops ended and I was in countryside with perfect tree lined roads and we’ll cut grass verges. There was no rubbish, what just happened at the border? Was I on ‘The Truman Show’?

After 5 miles curiosity got the better of me and I pulled over to check my passport, there were the stamps out of Thailand and into Malaysia with a 90 visa!

Great, yes great, if only all borders were this easy! Having left and returned to Thailand 3 times in the last 5 months I thought I knew what to expect. I had previously had everything checked including my motorbike customs temporary importation paperwork. There is a fine if you over stay, this is why I spent so much time and money getting the extension back in Bangkok a few months go! I hadn’t dreamt it had I, where were the Thai customs officers, Nobody checked my motorbike paperwork?

I love small border crossings, why can’t they all be like this?

I had time on my side so I ignored the motorway and headed to the coastal road, now where’s an ATM as I have no currency, there wasn’t one at the border that’s for sure!

The tree lined road was in perfect condition and the grass edges immaculately groomed. When I came across cars they were considerate, kept in their lane, stopped at traffic lights and not one car went faster than the speed limit. Wow, I felt very safe.

Then I started seeing mosques for the first time in 8 months. I pulled up at traffic lights and heard ‘the call to prayer’, it sounded great to hear it again. Not so sure I’ll feel the same in a weeks time when I’ve been woken up early by it every day!

Having got cash I needed food so as usual I look for somewhere busy. I stopped at a crowded place and sat down, instantly a few people came over with a smile saying hello and explaining how the restaurant works. I help myself to an amazing selection of hot and cold food from the buffet and when I return to my table a women comes over, adds the cost up, writes it on a piece of paper, I then take it to the cashier when I’ve finished. I forget how very welcoming and helpful Muslims are. Whilst Thailand was only 50 miles away the food was so very different, gone were the wonderful aromatic spices replaced with spices and flavours I would normally associate with The Middle East or India. Lovely.

In Thailand I felt everyone wanted my cash and I was looked upon as an ATM. I know I paid so much more for everything than the locals did. It feels very different here, I am 100% sure I paid the same as the locals. As I got up to leave most of the 50 or so people smiled as I passed their tables, they wished me well and safe on my travels.

Another 30 mins down the road I noticed I had jumped forward an hour when I crossed the border so I got on the motorway. Another 30 minutes and the heavens opened with tropical rain like I’ve never experienced before, I made the mistake of not pulling into the service area but carrying on. As I rode down the river of a motorway towards Penang I was wetter than I’ve ever been before riding. 

I crossed the Penang Bridge and I had arrived even if a little wet. I think I’m going to enjoy Malaysia.