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Coming Soon: Isaan Tours
Wanderlust Travel Blog of the Year ’13
A spontaneous trip, introduced and executed in less than two weeks (9 nights of travel). What started off as a quick weekend in Singapore soon became an overland journey through Malaysia and Thailand to our final destination Bangkok. We start at the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia (Sentosa, Singapore) and travel 2,000km North via five amazing destinations. For this journey planning was next to none as I am not new to the area. In the past I have visited three times to Singapore, ten plus times to Malaysia and countless times to Thailand. I now know the region like the back of my hand and while this does take a little from the excitement of the journey, we still create some great memories. For others considering similar our journey will make for a great guide to one of the best possible routes. Here it is, travelling from Singapore to Bangkok Overland and Island Hopping.
We start with three expensive nights in Singapore where prices can be triple that of their Southeast Asian neighbours. In my opinion it is well worth paying. Singapore has a little extra to offer than other Southeast Asian countries with ‘modern Asia’ where the Marina Bay area is the stand out attraction of the city and it is central to Singapore’s futuristic facade. The new attraction here (for me) was Garden’s by the Bay. For travel to and around Singapore the convenient MRT lines will cover most places worth visiting and for onward travel we book our buses in advance with Easybook who cover travel on through Malaysia and further.
Where to Stay? The better budget hotels are found near MRTs in the Little India area (Burgis MRT) and Geylang area (Aljunied MRT). ‘Hotel 81’ the popular budget chain in these areas. We stay at Hotel 81 Dickson in Little India. Singapore Hotel Guide here.
What to do? Three days should cover the main attractions of Marina Bay (Merlion Park, SkyPark, Gardens by the Bay) and Sentosa Island. A good starting point for travel is Sentosa Island at the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia.
Where to eat? Little India, Chinatown and my personal favourite Geylang. Some of the best food in the world. Chilli crab or Fish head curry? Both. Here for our Singapore food guide.
Having booked in advance our bus leaves Singapore to Malaysia from the Golden Mile Complex (beside Golden Mile Tower). It is best to check times and book in advance. The station is a 15 minute walk (or cheap taxi) from our hotel at the Burgis MRT line but is closest to the the Lavendar MRT station if travelling from elsewhere. The Singapore Malaysia border crossing is simple. Stamped out at Singapore border and given VISA on arrival at the Malaysia border. No forms to fill, only a quick baggage scan. Our original plan was for Malacca (Melaka) a destination still on my ‘to do’ list. This trip was cancelled when we find every hotel fully booked. It was Vesak Day; public holiday and long weekend in Singapore. A popular time for Singaporeans to visit Malacca. Instead we travel to Kuala Lumpur a 6 hour journey North from Singapore.
A quick Kuala Lumpur stopover we arrive with time constraints and we don’t stay long. From Singapore we arrive at Berjaya Times Square conveniently located in the lively Bukit Bintang area. We cross the road to the Imbi Monorail station and a short walk finds our hotel. There is no need for taxi or public transport. The hotel backs onto Jalan Alor food street which is our main (only) planned destination on this stopover and we stuff our faces, sleep, then move on. Check here for our full Kuala Lumpur city guide.
Where to Stay? Bukit Bintang is best for budget accommodation. Convenient location and lively city life. We stay at My Hotel @ Bukit Bintang next to Bukit Bintang Road and Jalan Alor. Alternatives; the KLCC (Twin Towers) area is expensive, but worth it and Chinatown (Petaling Street) is backpackerish.
What to do? For Kuala Lumpur attractions add two, maybe three days. Petronas Twin Towers, Merdaka Square area, Batu Caves. For touring the city use the cute and convenient monorail. Kuala Lumpur is an easy city for travel.
We take the bus from Pudu Raya bus station a short walk from Bukit Bintang. Frequent buses travel from Kuala Lumpur to Penang throughout the day. Our bus (Shamisha Ekspress) cost 40RM and takes roughly 5 hours to reach Sungai Nibong bus terminal in Penang. 25RM taxi finds Georgetown. A more scenic option is the bus to Butterworth then take the ferry crossing to Georgetown (Weld Quay).
Overlooked by mass tourism and backpacker trails in favour of mediocre beaches of Penang. For beaches go to Langkawi (our next destination). For culture, heritage and amazing food go to Georgetown. We spend our time in the Georgetown Heritage Zone. We eat and drink at the delightfully garish Red Garden Food Paradise and enjoy walks on quiet back streets. For full Georgetown blog check here (needs updating). My previous visit to Georgetown was for Thaiphusam Festival in Penang. Amazing scenes.
Where to Stay? Stay in the Georgetown (Unesco) Heritage Zone. Budget hotels are found on Chulia street and for more backpackerish accommodation try Muntri Street. We stay at Chulia Heritage Hotel an impressive boutique heritage house on the main stretch of Chulia Street. Hard to find a better location.
What to do? Walk around. Eat. Multicultural temples and shrines. Cute art and graffiti. Slightly hipster. For the more adventurous join the Penang island tours (full Penang blog here).
Where to eat? For me Georgetown is all about Mamak food and the many food courts dotted around the city. Some of the Malaysia’s best Indian food is found in Georgetown’s Little India. Follow your nose.
Two boats leave at 08.15 and 08.30 from Georgetown’s Swettenham Pier. No more. One way is 60RM and takes 2h30mins. The earlier boat stops at Pulau Payar (book in advance). For full routes, schedules and fares for Penang to Langkawi check here. After 3 hours of the worst subtitled movies I’ve seen we arrive at Langkawi Kuah pier.
Fanfan loves beaches. I love cheap booze. Langkawi Duty Free Island is our perfect destination. Langkawi is slowly becoming my favourite island in Southeast Asia. This was our 3rd visit in the past year and as always we stay in the (touristy) Pantai Cenang area. Two nights of mamak food and cheap booze.
Where to Stay? Pantai Cenang is our preferred beach (26RM Taxi from Langkawi Pier). Feel free to try other areas.
What to do? Langkawi is a big island with a lot going on. Take your pick. Personal favourite is the island hopping and eagle feeding tour. I’m a bit of a bird nerd.
Where to Eat? If staying in Pantai Cenang visit Nasi Kandar Tomato. Amazing mamak food, top notch Nasi Kandar and some of the best Roti and Tandoori I’ve tasted. Check here for our top 10 Malaysia food.
The original plan was for travel to Koh Lipe. Plans scuppered. The Langkawi and Koh Lipe boats are terminated from the end of April until the end of October (dangerous tides). Instead we travel direct to Thailand arriving at Satun Pier. From Langkawi it takes 1 hour by boat to Satun. With an hour time difference between Thailand and Malaysia we arrive at the same time as we leave (09.45). The boat costs 30RM. You will need to complete immigration forms before arrival. For land border crossings to Thailand you will be given a 2 week tourist VISA on arrival. For a longer 2 month tourist VISA organise this in Georgetown (Chulia Street tour operators).
There are many alternatives here. Most areas I have covered before so I skip all the fun places. For more info check my blogs. Here for bus travel from Satun to Bangkok. Here for guide to Krabi (Ko Lanta and Railay our recommendations). Here for Surat Thani (Koh Tao our recommendation). More destinations offered. All easily organised at Langkawi tour offices. For this journey we opt for a train journey from Hat Yai to Bangkok. To reach Hat Yai we take a Songtaew from Satun Pier to Satun Bus Terminal. From Satun Bus Terminal we travel to Hat Yai (incl. quick taxi to train station on arrival). Booked train tickets.
With time to spare in Hat Yai we do a quick tour of nearby temples. Easily organised with songtaew drivers at the railway station.
So we didn’t actually stay overnight in Hat Yai. We travelled in the evening (18:10) on an overnight sleeper train to Bangkok. We pay extra for a first class cabin (3,000 baht for two) and celebrate in private with Bailey’s and red wine from Langkawi Duty Free. We relax as Thailand passes our cabin window. Roughly 20 hours later we arrive in Bangkok (4 hours later than scheduled). Check here for train travel in Thailand.