In January 2017, I had to get from Bangkok to Penang to renew my Visa for Thailand. As I was on a budget, I tried to take a train, but the tracks were flooded and my Visa was expiring in a couple days. Here’s how I managed to get a flight to Hat Yai in the south of Thailand for the same price as the train, and then traveled from the airport all the way to George Town in Penang for only 206 baht ($6).
Flights from Bangkok to Penang would have cost me over $200 round trip at the last minute, which was far out of my price range. Instead, I was able to fly from Bangkok to Hat Yai, the southernmost airport in Thailand, for a mere 2500 baht ($90) round trip using Thai Lion Air and Skyscanner.
From there, the real adventure began.
As I left the airport, I was ushered to the waiting queue of taxis to bring me into town for 250-300 baht. I had done some research earlier and knew to look for the songthaew stand at the end of the parking lot. To be sure, I asked the information desk where it was, and they pointed to the waiting taxis. So I walked out into the parking lot. A police man stopped me to ask where I was going. I told him songthaew. He said “minivan” (a bad translation) and pointed to the taxis. I smiled and kept walking. At the end of the parking lot (to the left of the entrance/exit of the airport) on the main road, there is a small shelter with a dozen broken, plastic chairs to wait at. After 30 minutes, a tuk tuk arrived to pick up a handful of locals and me, the only foreigner.
The songthaew takes about 30 minutes to get into town and costs 30 baht. I don’t there’s any way to find out from the driver when to get off. I used my GPS, and the easiest way to describe it is to get off at the first stop after the bridge that goes over the train tracks. If you miss the stop, the tuk tuk turns left and goes away from the train station.
From the stop, walk south down the street the songthaew was turning on. After less than half a mile, you’ll see the train station down one of the side streets to your right. Just before the train station on your left, there is a Tops Market which is a great place to grab a meal, since there isn’t any food on the train, and there wasn’t on the flight either.
At the train station, you will be harassed by dozens of locals trying to sell you a minibus ticket to Penang for 300-500 baht. Ignore them. Personally I put my earbuds in and didn’t even look in their direction. At the train station, if you make the mistake of telling them you need a ticket to Penang, you will have every person, including the ticket seller, tell you there is no train to get there. Instead, ask for the ticket to Padang Besar. The cost is 50 baht, and the ride is about 40 minutes long.
Once you get to Padang Besar, you’ll need to get stamped out of Thailand. Next, walk around to the next room on your left and get stamped into Malaysia. Head upstairs to purchase your ticket to Penang for 11.40 ringgits (114 baht or about $3.25). I’d recommend giving them 150 baht. They’ll give you change in ringgits (MYR) which you can use to pay later for the ferry. The Malaysian train is a lot nicer (i.e. air conditioned) and takes about half an hour to reach Butterworth. Finally, follow the signs to the ferry (one very long walkway).
Finally, get your ferry ticket for 1.20 MYR (12 baht). The trip lasts about 45 minutes. If you’ve booked your hostel in Georgetown, chances are you’ll be able to walk there from the ferry in less than half an hour.
Once you reach the airport in Hat Yai, your expenses are: songthaew for 30 baht, train for 50, second train for 114 and ferry for 12. That’s a total of 206 baht!
But if you’re not counting pennies, by all means, take the taxi from the airport to the Hat Yai bus station, and then a mini van to Georgetown. They’ll probably drop you off right at your hostel, and it’ll only cost you about $30. The choice is yours.
If you’re traveling from Bangkok to Penang to get your Visa, many hostels and hostels in Georgetown will do the whole service for about $10 (the price will go up in February). When you’re ready to return to Bangkok, simply reverse directions on the ferry, trains and songthaew (get the songthaew across the street from where it dropped you off) to get back to the airport. As a note on that songthaew, I’m pretty convinced that no local in town knows about it. Just ignore all their advice and ask each songthaew that passes by until you get the one going to the airport for 30 baht. Good luck.
- Transportation – Find the best flights to Thailand and Malaysia on Skyscanner. Read my tips on how to find the cheapest flights.
- Attractions – Get up to 40% off attractions across Thailand, Malaysia and the rest of SE Asia with Go Voyagin.
Couchsurfing is my favorite way to stay in a city, but I didn’t try it in Penang.
If you’re traveling with more than one person, I’d recommend using Airbnb. Some locations can be fantastic.
You can also find opportunities to volunteer in Penang via Workaway.