July 16, 2014

Overland Penang - Laos : Butterworth to Bangkok by Train

Earlier this year, I planned to do an overland trip covering this route : Ho Chi Minh City - Phnom Penh - Siem Reap - Bangkok - Butterworth - Kuala Lumpur. But being a makan-gaji engineer, I couldn't afford to take leave for so long. 

So I broke the trip to two separate trips. 

The first trip covered Siem Reap -> Phnom Penh -> Ho Chi Minh City.

And here's the second trip, covering Penang -> Bangkok -> Vientiane -> Luang Prabang 

Notice I didn't start the trip from Kuala Lumpur?

The train heading to Bangkok would depart at 2.30 pm daily. Only one train per day. Matching it with the KTMB timetable, the best option for me was to take the Senandung Langkawi which departs from KL Sentral at 9.30 pm, and arrive in Butterworth at 5.30 am. However, 9 hours transit time sounds too long for me to wait, and too short to enjoy the attractions and food in Penang.

So I cheated and took a plane to Penang. haha.. 

And here's where the drama began...

You see.. I arrived in Penang ideally at 10 am. 

Time left before train departure : 4 hours 30 minutes

Still a lot of time left ey? So I sat at the airport lounge, played with my phone and read a book. Had brunch at McDonald's.

Time left before train departure : 2 hours 30 minutes

There's ample time left but let's make a move to the train station since I didn't know what else to do at the airport. Backpacker mode on: I chose the most economical way; ride the bus and then transfer by ferry.

From Penang International Airport, you can take bus 401 or 401E outside the arrival hall to get to the jetty.  
Operating time : 5.20 am to 11 pm

In my head I estimated I needed only an hour and a half at most.


What I didn't foresee was the waiting time, and the traffic. Pftttt. I waited from 12 pm and the bus only arrived about 40 minutes later. I was okay with that cos I believed I had sufficient time. I mean, just how long would it take from the airport to the jetty in Georgetown? Prolly not more than an hour?

Turned out the bus journey took longer than usual. It was a Saturday so there's a bit of traffic around the city. FML. I finally arrived at the jetty almost 2 pm!

Time left before train departure : 30 minutes

Breathe.. breathe.. I told myself. The ferry ride would only take about 15 minutes so I still could make it. I brisk walked towards the pedestrian waiting area only to find there was no ferry in sight. My heart dropped and at that moment, I knew I was going to miss my train. Damn!

One ferry then arrived shortly after, unloaded the cars and the pedestrians, loaded the cars and pedestrians and finally departed at 2.15 pm.

Time left before train departure : 15 minutes

It was the most anxious 15 minutes of my life! As soon as the ferry docked, I sprinted towards the train station which was conveniently located right next to the ferry terminal, hoping the train was delayed. But of course, it was gone. Looked up my watch. It was 2.37 pm. Gahhh!! Train y u no delay!?!

The station master asked me to catch it at the next station(s). He's afraid I might be late to catch it at Bukit Mertajam, therefore he asked me to straight away head to Sungai Petani.

So I walked to the taxi stand, negotiated unsuccessfully and was charged RM 60 one-way to Sungai Petani.

Lucky thing, I arrived safe and sound and most importantly, just in time for the train. Thank God!

What a way to start a trip eh?

Anyway, notice the logo on the train? Yup.. this Butterworth-Bangkok train service is operated by State Railway of Thailand (SRT) and not our KTMB. But fret not, you can buy the ticket locally. I bought mine at KL Sentral.

Leaving on a train...

This is an all 2nd class air conditioned train. No 1st class cabin, no 3rd class seater. So the choices are limited to a sleeper bed, either lower bed or upper bed.

Inside the coach...

The bed during daytime. You'll sit together (awkwardly facing each other) with your upper neighbour so borak la korang berdua or pretend to read a book while listening to the mp3 player. hahaha...

During dinner or breakfast time, a table would be set up in the middle so dinner/breakfast date la korang. ;p

There is a washing area, and both western and squat toilets at the end of the coach.

Plug points to charge your electronic devices. Awesome!

On paper, the whole journey would take 23 hours. A lot of people asked me how could I stand riding the train for almost a day? Won't I get bored? 

Honestly, it was a very exciting journey. I chatted with my neighbour and the nearby passengers. My coach was filled with a bunch of oldies heading to Hua Hin and a few backpackers. Then I read a book, stalked people on FB, checked out people's ootd and food they had on IG, played Candy Crush, and just enjoyed the view. 

The railway track was lined with rural villages, green landscape of the vast paddy fields, as well as karsts.

I did enjoy the scenery all the way.

At around 6 pm, we arrived at the Padang Besar railway station. All passengers were asked to get off the train here and prepared the passports for immigration and custom clearance.

There's a food court on the upper level if you want to buy drinks and snacks since they would be a little more expensive on-board the train.

Loading the food supplies.

We departed at about 6.45 pm. The train attendant then started to take orders for dinner as well as tomorrow's breakfast. This is not included in the train fare so you have to pay separately.

I didn't want to order anything initially as I already bought some snacks and a bun from the food court. But seeing everybody ordered something from the menu, I gave in. #peerpressure hahaha

Dinner was served after we departed from Hatyai at about 8 pm.

My dinner date.

Right after dinner, the train attendant started to make up the beds with a proper mattress and fresh clean bedding, as well as hook up the individual curtains which are provided for each bed to give us privacy. 

The fare for the upper beds are a bit cheaper than the lower ones. I bought the upper bed for safety reason but then I thought lower bed is much more convenient in case I want to go to the canteen or the toilet. As if he could read my mind, my lower bed neighbour offered to switch places while both of us were getting ready for bed. Thanks neighbour!

The night was still early but I couldn't do much since the bed does not come with personal reading light. I slept once I settled down in my little compartment, and woke up about 7 am the next day. Good sleep jyeah!

Our beds were folded back, and breakfast was served to those who ordered. I didn't succumb to peer pressure this time. Contented with my bun. haha..

All the oldies were getting ready and chitchatted happily. Excited as the train neared their destination, Hua Hin, although we were already more than one hour late from the original schedule.

After we left Hua Hin, the coach was rather empty so my neighbour moved to other seat so both of us had more spaces to ourselves. I continued reading my book as I didn't want to switch on my data roaming.

The train was moving rather slowly... we finally arrived at Hua Lamphong railway station at 3 pm!
That's more than 24 hours on board. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the entire experience.
Ready for Trans-Siberia trip now. *flex biceps  

July 5, 2014

Halal Food in Ho Chi Minh City

Did I tell you there's a Malaysian Street in Ho Chi Minh City?

Ok.. the street's name is actually Nguyen An Ninh but it has turned into Malaysian Street. Go there and you'll feel like you're back home already. Locals aside, I can say almost 99% of the visitors there are Malaysians. Ok.. I made that up but you get the picture.

Apart from the good deals offered here, there's a lot of halal restaurants along the street as well as the surrounding area, such as Luu Van Lang, Truong Dinh and Thu Khoa Huan. So it's another reason why Malaysians flock this area.

See? Siap ada Warung Saigon 1 Malaysia lagi. haha..

Some of the restaurants are more popular than the others, and some restaurants have limited seats, so they can be full at times. But you don't have to worry at all cos there's a lot of choices.

On my first night there, we had dinner at Hjh. Basiroh.

I read the CARI forum (OMG I haven't been there in ages! hahaha) briefly before the trip and it seems this restaurant is quite famous. Perhaps because it's among the cheapest options.

Those uncles recommended I took private tour to Mekong Delta with the guy in the white t-shirt (he's from the restaurant), but it was quite expensive since it's just me and my friend. Forgot the rate he quoted me but if you go in a big group, it's definitely cheaper.

Wanted to try local food so I ordered Pho. 

Pho and a drink cost me VND 70,000.

Unfortunately, it tasted rather bland. Not sure whether this Vietnamese noodle soup is supposed to taste like that or kedai tu yang tak sedap. haha..

After that we went to meet our friends at Kabil Biryani House. It's not on Malaysian Street though, but a short walk away on Truong Dinh.

Since we already had our dinner, we just ordered drinks and chitchatted.

The following night, we went to Kampung Melayu.

I didn't really miss Malay food but we couldn't agree on which restaurant to go since we were spoilt for choice. In the end, we just walked into the restaurant in front of us at that time senang cerita.

Looking at the menu, we felt the prices are on the upper side. Hmmm... takpe la splurge sekali sekala -_-

Char Kuey Teow with a glass of fruit juice cost me VND 154,000. Doubled from yesterday's dinner.

Then on our last night in Ho Chi Minh City, we tried Kasim Baba's Prata House.

Map to the restaurant.

You can see Nguyen An Ninh (marked as NAN), Luu Van Lang (marked as LVL) and Truong Dinh on the map as well.
And Ben Thanh Market.

I ordered Mee Mamak here.

Sedap ok. 

They have Malaysian cuisine, Vietnamese cuisine. The choices are abundant. 

Will definitely come to this restaurant again on my next trip(s). 

All these restaurants are a stone's throw to Ben Thanh Market so it's easy for you to have your meal after all the shopping :D