Crossing the Malaysia-Thailand Land Border

Naturally crossing land borders is different than entering a country via an airport. If you’re curious as to what crossing the Malaysia – Thailand border by land is like, what you’ll need and how long it’ll take, keep reading.
*As we left for Thailand from Penang, that is the route I will outline but it’s not much different if you’re coming from Kuala Lumpur.

Penang to Padang Besar

This was the easiest part for us. First you need to get the ferry to Butterworth (free of charge) and walk to the train station, which is less than a 5 minute walk from the ferry terminal with easy to follow signs. As you walk into the main room, the ticket booths are on the left and you can purchase your ticket for the KMT train to Padang Besar. The tickets cost 11.40 MYR and it takes almost 2 hours to reach Padang Besar. There are trains departing every 1 to 2 hours so make sure you check the timetable if you’re on a schedule.

Padang Besar to Hat Yai

Once you get off the train at Padang Besar, you will be greeted by people offering you a taxi ride to the border for various prices. If you don’t have too much luggage with you, you can also walk the distance.

If you accept the transit, you will undertake the following route:

  • Ride (mostly by motorcycle) to the Malaysia border control where you need to get your passport checked and stamped. When we arrived, there was construction work going on and people queued at one of the booths that normally checks the passports of people traveling by car. However, that might not always be the case so just keep an eye out for the signs or lines of people.
  • Ride to the Thailand border control (about a 2 minute ride) where you fill in an arrival form and either queue to receive a visa on arrival or show your pre-obtained visa, have your photo and fingerprints taken and receive your slip, allowing you to enter the country.
  • Ride to the bus station of the border town where you can buy a ticket (50 Baht – cash only) for a minivan ride to Hat Yai taking around an hour.

What we did was walk to the Malaysian border control as we could see how close it was from the train station (less than 100m) and once we passed we took the motorcycle taxi to the border town. The whole transfer cost 10 MYR per person and our drivers also helped us get the forms and explain where to go at the Thai border control part. However, we did ride at the back of motorcycles carrying big backpacks and music instruments so, despite being quick and fun, it probably isn’t the most ideal mode of transport if you have a suitcase or a lot of bags. From what we heard, the entire walk to the town is quite long, especially in the hot sunny weather, so the taxi prices seemed reasonable to us.

Hat Yai to Bangkok (or other cities further north)

Once you reach the Hat Yai bus station, you will again be greeted by taxi offers to various places. If you need to get a train to another part of Thailand, you can get a songthaew (an open back taxi) for 60 Bath per person and the ride is less than 10 minutes. From the train station you can get an overnight sleeper train all the way to Bangkok. We traveled to Hua Hin, which is a few stops before Bangkok and our tickets cost around 15-17 EUR per person (Third class and quite noisy so bring earplugs!). However, I’m not sure if you can buy those tickets on the day, I suggest to purchase them online as early as possible to ensure availability.

Visa on Arrival vs. Pre-obtained Visa

You can get a visa on arrival for up to 30 days. You will be able to extend the visa once you enter Thailand for another 30 days but that will cost around 60 EUR. Since we already had our visas, I’m not sure how long the whole process takes but there were people queuing from before we arrived till long after we left.

If you wish to stay in Thailand for more than 30 days, it’s cheaper to get a visa from a Thai embassy before entering the country as that gives you 60 days instead of 30. You will need to bring 150 Baht in cash, 2 passport photos, a photocopy of your passport, a hotel/hostel reservation or invitation letter from your host and a ticket out of the country within the 60 days. You can also extend this visa by another 30 days for the same price.

*We noticed that they’re not strict about your hotel or flight/train reservations. If you only have a hostel booked for the first two nights, they won’t ask where you’re staying for the rest of the time. They also don’t check your flight/train ticket out of the country so having that is more a formality.

This is what crossing the Malaysia – Thailand border is like. At least what it was like for us. It took us 6 modes of transport and over 24 hours to get from Penang to Hua Hin but it was certainly an adventure – land travel always is!

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