Day 2, April 26, 2013, Friday
Penang and Butterworth - Bangkok Express, Coach 9, Berth 8,9,10,11, 12,13
I got up properly when we reached Bukit Mertajam at 6.00am. The journey was a non event so far as I slept through most of the journey. The train will always sway and shake, and those that are not used to it will find it very difficult to be on the train. Let alone to sleep comfortably like me ha ha. I am a veteran I would say as train ride is a second nature to me now. Regardless whether it is a bunk or seat I will just go to sleep if I want to.
The attendant came around at 6.18am to alert everyone that we will be arriving at Butterworth soon. We were ready. I was more then ready for the Line Clear fish head curry ha ha ha. We arrived at Butterworth station at 6.29am, on time. The station was still a makeshift one as the new station was still under construction. It has been years and still not completed. I guess it is following KTMB’s planet time schedule as usual he he. Nevertheless, we made do with what we had as the boys went to say their Suboh at the Surau, I used the station’s restroom to clean myself. I came out fresh and ready for Penang. The next thing we need to do was to store our luggage at the station so that we do not have to lug them around Penang. I asked one of the train attendants in the office was there a place we could store our luggage and he said yes and one of the porters at the platform could help us to do it. I waited for a while until I saw the porter walked in. I asked him nicely and he showed us their office and where we could store our luggage at RM3 for a bag. I paid him RM18 for 4 backpacks and two cabin size luggage. With that we walked out of the station towards the ferry terminal about 800 metres away. The walk was taxing for Sam and the boys helped her going up the staircases. On the way to the terminal we witnessed the progress of the construction of the station. I do not like to bet but I can say we are lucky if it is ready by next year.
The ferry terminal is getting very old and need renovating as well. My observation is that they do not have to do a major one as all they need to improve is the waiting area to make it a bit more comfortable for the users. Although we had enough change with us we still struggled to get in. The attendants duly helped us. The ferry fare was still RM1.20 each for adult and RM0.60 for Mar. We did not have to wait long as the next ferry arrived after few minutes. Once the ferry docked and the gate opened the attendants let the cars in first. It is their logical system so that the pedestrian would not be in the way of the cars moving in to park. Furthermore pedestrians can walk in to fill in the gap left by the parked cars if necessary. That was actually the case as there were limited seats for us, pedestrians. Clearly their main customers are all kind of transportations and not pedestrians like us. I sure hope the ferry operator knows the value of the service and what it means to their customers. The ferry service is not just a mean of transportation across the strait to Penang island but more than that.
The name of our ferry is Pulau Payar and that should give someone a clue as to why the ferry service is important and nostalgic to some people. Mar and I stayed standing at the side of the ferry looking out enjoying the breeze blowing against our tired faces. Once in awhile I took a shot at the sea or anything I fancy capturing. The ferry ride ended when we were about to enjoy it. The anticipation of our longest train ride yet brought out the best in us. We seem to be enjoying everything now especially each other company. Traveling together as a family is always the best for me. I am pretty sure the train ride over other country would not be our last and we will take whatever opportunity that we will have to do it.
We walked across out of Penang ferry terminal. I did not feel that hungry but I know Sam would like to have a light breakfast before we push on to Penang Road. I have only one thing in mind - Line Clear. I would like to have breakfast there. As we walked out under the covered walk-way we stopped at one of the stalls selling kueh. They are the normal kueh-kueh so I did not bother to buy. Sam and others picked up some and Mar started munching one of them. BTW the name of the stall was Pak Ya Kueh. The strange thing is that the name Pak Ya is always associated with people from the east coast. As we walked out of the walk-way I was still thinking on how to go to Penang Road. My options were the cab, bus or walk.
We were standing outside of the covered walk-way thinking what to do next. The town bus terminal was on our right and the taxi stand on our left when a gentleman, the taximan as usual asked us where we would like to go. I in a way ignored them as we had to take two taxis and it would not be fun. The bus is an interesting option but we had to find out the right bus to take. While we were standing there and the rest waiting for my decision a taximan, also a good samaritan, came over and asked us where we were going. I told him so. He explained that we can either take two taxis there at RM10 per taxi, take a bus or to go on the Hop For Free shuttle that was already waiting by the roadside. We thanked him and Hop For Free we went he he he.
The bus pulled out at 7.57 am. The Hop For Free tourist bus took us around the heritage sites around Penang and looped back towards the Jetty. It was an enjoyable ride accompanied most of the time by senior citizens or unties and uncles going and coming back from their morning tai chi or walk. Their happy faces and banters among each other were really refreshing. There were a couple of office workers on board as well at times.
We disembarked at Chowrasta Market bus stand along Penang Road and walked back towards Line Clear for breakfast. However, when we got there I discovered they do not have Chappati. Its neighbour also did not have chappati for me so we walked back to another mamak restaurant that I knew would have chappati in their menu. I cannot remember the name of the restaurant but it is opposite of Cititel about 20 metres to the right. I ordered my chappati and kopi o. Actually I wanted to have more but with fish head curry waiting at Line Clear I paced myself ha ha ha. We spent a good time there talking and joking what lay ahead of us. Eventually we walked out of the restaurant and up towards Chowrasta area. We were too early for Penang’s shop owners to window shop. With nothing to do and while waiting for Line Clear to really operational we explored the area around the Chowrasta wet market. Interestingly we discovered the unexpected. Unexpected like a Chinese guy selling a fresh four season meat. It was katak my friend and they look delicious ha ha ha. Only RM12 per kg. Several good eating places were also available around the wet market and since we just had our breakfast we just settled for titbits here and there. After awhile we got tired and need a rest. We lepak ourselves at the bench on the five foot pathway. By now I was like a zombie due to lack of sleep and I tried to catch few winks sitting down at the bench. By now the new morning world of Penang took shape in front of us. Street vendors getting very active, shop owners opening their shops for the day. All kind of business from different walks of life. We just stood there admiring and observing them. Their actions indicated to us the time of the day and without looking at our watch we knew it was 10.30am and the fish head curry should be ready soon for us to devour ha ha ha.
Eventually we walked back towards Line Clear and without missing a beat ordered our fish head curry and our other favourite dishes. We focused ourselves on the food ha ha ha and hingga menghirup kuah kari. As big as the fish head was we finished it effortlessly. Fresh, hot, spicy and super delicious. What can I say I am a sucker for fish head curry.
We walked out of Line Clear satisfied, at least I was, and clueless as to what we should be doing next. Wandering along Penang Road the obvious hit us. At the bus stop in front of Chowrasta we waited and hopped onto the Hop For Free to the ferry terminal.
Luck has it, it was the same ferry we took this morning. The weather is getting very hot now and I already could imagine, although short, the unbearable walk to the Butterworth railway station. As we were walking up to the ferry terminal I noticed a Mat Salleh carrying a big and heavy backpack. When I saw the flipper I knew straight away he was carrying a diving gear. The backpack must be really heavy as he was really perspiring and puffing when he arrived at the top. He just drop everything on the bench and walked to the kiosk to buy a bottle of 100Plus. He dried it immediately and, must be to his dismay, soon the ferry arrived.
The plan was to retrieve our luggage, settle ourselves at the surau and wait to board our train at 2.45pm. That what we did as soon as we reached the station. It was Friday except for musafir like us we did not expect anyone else to be at the surau. It was a makeshift surau made of a cargo container. A bit unpleasant with one or two of the fans not working. The boys and I took turn to take our bath at the toilet. I must say the public toilet was not well maintained. It crossed my mind to walk over to the restroom inside the waiting area to take my bath. But it was a bit too far to walk in a sarong.
There was still a lot of time after we said our prayers so we had a short siesta. A good one hour sleep did wonder to my demeanor. I was even more positive about our long impending ride to Bangkok in a short while. We tidied ourselves and left the surau for the waiting area. There were a lot of people already waiting and I thought all of them were fellow riders to Bangkok until an express train arrived from Singapore. I checked the platform and saw our train was already there. I enquired from the attendant and he told me the crew was cleaning the train we will be informed when to board. At least I knew we would be departing on time. There were several Caucasians in the waiting area and I was pretty sure they were going to Bangkok with us including the guy that was carrying the heavy diving gear. He must be going diving in Thailand
We were called to board eventually and everyone was really excited. We walked on the platform with a gait of someone going to collect the biggest prize ever on stage. Oh yes, we were that excited ha ha ha. It was a four coaches orange-purple train with Express Butterworth - Bangkok plague firmly attached on the side of the train. Our joy was almost dashed the moment we boarded when we found out an Indian family was occupying out two of our seats. I double checked and they were indeed at our seats. I asked them for their seats number but there were none and I told them that they were at our seats. They, in Malaysian English, made don’t know of my concern. I asked them where were they going and they told me Padang Besar and only then I realised why they were there. I happened to read this from somebody’s blog before. For the information of those reading this, KTMB to make extra money would also sell tickets for locals travelling between Butterworth and Padang Besar if there were empty seats but their tickets would not be numbered. So the Indian family just picked and choose. Furthermore each seat, before it is turn into bed, is big enough to sit four people each side. Not wanting to spoil our mood and since there were a lot of empty seats and we definitely going to get our seats back at Padang Besar I asked the boys just to sit somewhere.
Feeling tired and still needed to recover some lost sleep I dozed off after we left Bukit Mertajam. I woke up when the train was slowly entering Alor Setar. I knew straight away that I will be awake until Padang Besar simply because of the breathtaking scenery of vast paddy fields along the way. By now, at 3.28pm, several of my friends already knew of our adventure after we posted our status and shared few photos. My phone could not stop beeping either of FB replies or Whatsapp queries. A few of them were excited and thinking of doing the same with their family. Of course I fully recommended them to do it but if you do not like train at all better not to do it. If do not like train you would not like train what can I say.
As I predicted I spent most of the journey looking out the window soaking in the view as well as thinking about the adventure the next few days. At times I was asking myself why I could not do what I was doing for a living? Traveling on the train and writing about it. I know certain authors like Palin and Theroux are doing it but I do not want to be just that or at least a little bit different. Maybe different in style or model. Both of them no doubt already famous and their books sell. But me, I need a good business model and point to start.
When we reached Padang Besar we immediately disembarked to clear the immigration which was on the other side of the platform. You can leave your luggage on the train but make sure you secure them. The process was quick and we did it in few minutes. We had enough maggi and bread on board just to make sure we decided to tapau some food. As advised by the train attendant we went up to the cafe at the station to buy rice and snacks for our dinner for the night. The food were nothing to shout about and if you have better option along the way buy somewhere else. I just wish it was the train in the early 70‘s. For sure you will get to a lot of food sellers on every platforms that we stopped selling their food. The train stopped there for about 30 minutes and we had more then enough time to buy our food. When we boarded the train again both the engine car and the crew had been replaced with the Thailand Railways engine and crew. Soon enough after we boarded the train pulled us out into unfamiliar territory. We left Padang Besar at around 6.30 pm Malaysian time and with that the train took us into Thailand night. Looking out with Thailand getting slowly dark and with the horizon getting red brought certain kind of feeling in me. I thought it was just me until I realised that all of us were a bit quiet. The cool early night maybe or maybe because everyone was thinking of what to expect. I knew that it would be a short ride from Padang Besar to Hatyai
We arrived at Hatyai at around 7.30pm their time. Immediately our coaches were detached of the engine car and hooked to the Hatyai Bangkok Express making it a 10-12 coaches train to Bangkok. Slowly our fellow passengers to Bangkok fill up the seats making it a full capacity train. The new passengers being still fresh created a vibrant atmosphere inside the train. By now another set of crew came on board and most of them ladies. These ladies started getting busy preparing and I was not sure for what at first but when they were going up and down the isle with a menu only I knew they were there to serve dinner that was pre-ordered by the passengers. Seeing others having dinner we started to unpacked our own and chowed down with vigour even though the food were tasteless.
After dinner the attendant started to make the beds for everyone and we cannot wait for him to do ours. It was not just the beds that we were anxiously required for our tired bodies but also to watch the process of converting the seats into beds. Being very experience at it the attendant took less than five minutes to do ours. With the bed ready we were ready to call it a day. Of course we did what we have to do as a muslim and once done I started to change into my version of a pyjama. The romantic me was telling me not to sleep and to enjoy the train journey as I used to do in Malaysia. My body though said I need a rest and my practical mind agreed as I would be doing a lot of walking when we arrive in Bangkok.
I was warned before about the uneven track at the early stage of the journey after leaving Hadyai. I thought it cannot be any worse than what we had at home.I was wrong! As I was trying to sleep or already in a slumber I was jolted by a lot of rocking and shaking. Quite interesting though ha ha ha. On one of this episode I was awaken to see a beautiful moon up in the sky. It somewhat lit the space outside a bit. I checked my watch and it was 8.54pm. I just stared out a while trying to make a sense of the place. I could make the silhouette of secondary bush and intermittent of patches of low land. After a while I saw a lot of small shiny dots everywhere in the bush. Initially I thought I was seeing a reflection but as I focused my eyes better I instantaneously knew there were fireflies. Straight away my perspective of looking at the scene as a whole changed. With the moon spraying a bit of light on the ground the fireflies flickered like ceremonial lights. Amazing sight.
I was in a deep sleep most of the journey after the rolling and shaking experience. I woke up to the stillness around me. For a while I thought I was in my bed at home. The train actually was on a platform stopped for quite a while. It was 2.39am very early in the morning. I was initially clueless as to where we were until I saw the sign saying Cumphon. I checked my map and found out it is a town by the sea. I saw on the platform disembarked one Mat Saleh who was carrying a very heavy diving gear from Butterworth. Obviously this is the station for divers going for excursion. After about half an hour waiting the train rolled out of Cumphon at 3.09am. I did not go back to sleep immediately trying to enjoy the night ride. We crossed with an antique train at a small station. I was amazed by that for two reasons. The first was of course the train itself and second the fact that we were on the outside track rather than inside as usual. It was getting really dark outside and nothing much to see so I dozzed off again.
My FB friends could view photos of Day 1 and 2 here
My FB friends could view photos of Day 1 and 2 here