Friday, July 16, 2010

Bangkok to Penang to Kuala Lumpur and finally back to marina

We boarded the train in Bangkok around 14:00 Tuesday afternoon and arrived in Butterworth (on the Malaysian mainland across from Penang) around 13:00 Wednesday afternoon. We had tried unsuccessfully via email and phone calls to book ongoing train to Johor Bahru. The plan was to try and purchase tickets at the Butterworth station for first class sleepers on train # 9 departing at 23:30 that night and switch to train #5 early the next morning in Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru. We could take a long taxi tour around Penang while we waited. Or if tickets were not available then we would spend the night in Penang and take the 07:00 train the next morning direct to Johor Bahru. Those plans did not pan out. Turned out that train #9 was recently discontinued; no more sleeping cars; we would have to sit up all night. We nixed that idea.

But wait! A man hustled us as we unloaded off the train from Bangkok and said we could take an express to Kuala Lumpur leaving right then. Okay; we will do that. Then we could take the express bus leaving KL at 21:30 and arrive in Johor Bahru in the middle of the night. Or we could spend the night in KL and take the morning express buss to Johor Bahru. We tossed the duffel bags in the bottom of the bus and climbed aboard, deciding that we would figure out what to do once we reached KL.

Good thing we did not make definite plans. The Sentral (central) station in Kuala Lumpur is closed for renovation. Sentral transit station normally handles all buses and trains; makes traveling through KL fairly easy. We had taken the express bus to Sentral KL in early February on our way to Cambodia. However, during this renovation all northbound buses stop at a temporary station that is quite a distance from the temporary station for all the southbound buses. This is a boom for the taxi drivers, but very inconvenient and very time-consuming for travelers. Luckily we found an English-speaking Indian taxi driver who explained this mess to us. We asked him to take us to a hotel that would cost 200 ringitt or less for one night. We wanted a hotel located close to the departure point for southbound express bus to Johor Bahru. He took us to The Cube and it was fine for a one-night stay. The room was tiny and was completely filled with 2 queen-sized beds pushed together. There was no walking room whatsoever; quite literally a bed=room. I don't know how they made-up those beds! There was a TV and a teensy bathroom. But it was fine for the night and the beds were actually like normal mattresses. This was a welcome relief after sleeping on rock-hard mattresses in Thailand.

We were all very tired and dirty after the train and bus rides, but we walked off in search of a late dinner anyway. Two blocks away we found several blocks of Chinese restaurants taking up the sidewalks and most of the street. We enjoyed a good meal and all felt better.

The next morning Bill awakened around 06:00 and walked off in search of buying bus tickets to Johor Bahru. The ticket kiosk was closed when he found it at 07:30, so he bought snacks for breakfast and returned to the hotel. He called the taxi driver who had delivered us to this hotel the previous evening and told us we had 10 minutes to get dressed and leave. Turned out it was a good thing that Bill had rushed us. We arrived at the temporary southbound bus "terminal" (in tents at a park) and purchased tickets for the 09:00 express bus. It was 09:03 when we purchased the tickets. We would not have made it in time if Bill had not rushed us.

We boarded the bus and sat there for an hour. The driver announced there was a problem with the engine and we transferred to a second bus. At 10:10 the 09:00 bus departed Kuala Lumpur. We arrived at the Larkin Bus Terminal in Johor Bahru and grabbed a taxi to Bukit Indah for grocery shopping, finally returning to the boat mid-afternoon. All 4 of us were so glad to be home! We enjoyed our Thailand trip, but we were ready to be home.

BTW, Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles. You see than on travel ads all the time. But the true name translates differently. Thai means freedom. Thailand is really Freedom Land. Thailand aligned herself with the United States way back in the 1930s when communism was gaining strong footholds throughout SE Asia, and Thailand remains aligned with the United States. The Thai people value their freedoms.

Bangkok is the name of the capital city as it is known by westerners. The Thai people call Bangkok by its real name......or rather, its abbreviated name. The abbreviated name is Krung Threp. Thais never use the name Bangkok and always refer to the city as Krung Threp. The proper name for Bangkok is actually the longest word in the world and was designated by King Rama III. Our guide in Chiang Mai said the full name for us and it sounded like a paragraph. He had to take several breaths to say the whole name. Try to get your tongue around this:

Krungthepmahanakhon Amornrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharat Ratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphiman Awatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit

which translates into English as:

The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated God, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.

We had an "interesting" experience on the train returning from Thailand to Malaysia. I am writing a separate blog about that experience that will not be posted until we leave Malaysia for the final time in December. If any readers plan travel between Thailand and Malaysia before that time, feel free to send me an email and I will summarize our experience so you can be forewarned of a possible problem.

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