The transit days can be fun too! Our mission was to get from our hotel in Langkawi (an island in Malaysia) to a ferry pier in Thailand 600km away. We had the entire day to get to the area around Surat Thani. That would allow us to catch another ferry to the island of Koh Tao the very next day.
Unfortunately, the internet was all over the place with advice about routes to take. Should we return to the Malaysian mainland at Kuala Kedah and then enter Thailand by car at Bukit Kayu Hitam? Should we enter Thailand by way of the Thai island, Koh Lipe and then go to the Thai mainland at Trang? Or could we try option 3 and take a direct ferry from Langkawi to mainland Thailand near Satun? Unfortunately for us, much of the information out there needed to be updated (i.e. pre-Covid), and we could not find any info proving option 3 was viable. More importantly, we knew nothing about any of these destinations or border crossings. Fortunately, the ferry terminal was about 1km from our Langkawi hotel, and we walked there one day to investigate. It was like those old days of travel, where some random tout approaches, and 2 minutes later, you are at a poorly-signed ticket window buying a ticket just like you wanted to. Take that internet! Lots of services and such don’t have a web based footprint. Talking to people can unlock some great options.
The morning of our departure, we took a Grab (like Uber) to the ferry terminal (1.5km down the road), ate breakfast and bought as many snacks as possible. Clearing Malaysian immigration and customs was a breeze, and we easily boarded our ferry that would drop us off in Satun, Thailand. The boat ride was quick and uneventful (I think we all slept the hour). We queued after disembarking to clear Thai immigration and customs. Within the hour, we were through and the kids got another checkmark on their country list. Full disclosure, the Satun port is very small. Upon entry, we were immediately offered bus and taxi trips to different parts of the mainland. In the end, we paid an exorbitant price to take a private car from Satun to our next ferry terminal destination, just 6 hours down the road!
I was angry and shook my head as we probably paid too much, but it worked out for us in the end. It was a long drive, coming in at around 5 1/2 hours. If we had taken buses and transferred, it probably would have been closer to 8 or 9 hours. Having already travelled by boat it would have been a rough day for the kids.
While in the car, we wanted to book our accommodation for the evening, but my Malaysian sim card was no longer working. We asked the driver to pull over, and we tried to purchase one in a small town. We might have been one of the few tourists this shop had seen, but after 10 minutes, we had a functioning phone. The shopkeeper took pictures of our kids, and we were on our way again. Not all parts of Thailand have tourists galore, and the far south is definitely off the beaten path.
Back in the cab, we booked a hotel for that evening in the town of Don Sak. It was five minutes from the pier as opposed to the hour it would have been if we had stayed in the nearby city of Surat Thani. Don Sak is a working town and off the tourist loop. But Paigey and I loved the experience; it felt like our travels 20 years ago. Broken English, friendly locals, plastic chairs in restaurants. And the fishing boats making all sorts of noise outside our window lulled us to sleep.
Waking up in the morning, we found a local market with the nicest vegetables we have seen in a year. Isabella bought herself dill cucumbers and Pad Thai to try (and she did not like it). The adults did! Tasting the tamarind-infused sauce with the crispy peanuts, yum. Thailand, we’ve arrived!
Up next is the game-changer….two weeks on the paradise island of Koh Tao.
Where we stayed:
- The Blue C Donsak: loud, nice, no taxis anywhere
By the numbers:
- Cost of a Thai Sim Card: $12 – purchased with a significant language barrier
- Days the Thai Sim Card should have lasted: 10 days – clearly stated on the packaging
- Days the Thai Sim Card worked: 28 days – Score!
- Number of days stamped on our Thai immigration: 45 – thought we were getting 30 but gladly took the extra days
- Attempts to get a Grab in Don Sak: 3 – gave up and asked our hotel to get us a ride – 10 minutes later a “relative” shows up
- Tuk tuks Isabella saw: 0 – she is dying to try one and we promised they would be in Thailand
Ciao for now,