Why go to Bangkok
Is there another Asian capital where the latest progress and traditional lifestyle blend in such a harmony as in Bangkok? Bold skyscrapers pierce the skies, golden temples adorn the city; chic shopping malls host top world brands while the vibrant street markets tempt with delicious flavours of the yummiest and spiciest local dishes. State-of-the-art skytrain cuts through the city, flying high above the street bustle, clumsy ferries ply the muddy waters of the Chao Phraya River and it seems that real magic helps speeding cheerful pink, yellow and green taxis find their way through the labyrinths of incredible Bangkok spaghetti junctions.
As centuries ago, the stately prangs of Wat Arun catch the first rays of sun dawning over the capital and the dazzling chedis of Wat Phra Kaew shine bright. Austere giant Yaks guard the capital while the Bangkokians and the guests of the Land of Smile alike dine and wine in the vertigo rooftop restaurants, work, party and picnic. Steel and concrete have not yet taken control over leafy parks and squares, and quaint khlongs embraced by wide modern thoroughfares are reminiscent of the times when the Bangkok of today was only a newborn.
From Butterworth to Bangkok
If you are looking for a direct service between Butterworth (or rather Penang) and Bangkok, then flying is your only option. Since September, 2016, there is no more direct rail service between Makaysia and Thailand. Connect via Padang Besar to get to Bangkok straight away or make a longer stop at Hat Yai.
From Butterworth to Bangkok by train
Passing via Padang Besar
Northbound trains from Butterworth bring you to the border town of Padang Besar where you have to get off the train and get through the immigration booth of both Malaysia and Thailand. There are two ETS trains and one Komuter train from Butterworth to the Thai border a day: at 7.20am (#9500), 1.25pm (#9208) and 2.25pm (#2964). All of them take about two hours to get to their destination and offer AC soft seats (from MYR29 for ETS Gold).
The two latter trains connect rather conveniently with train #36 operated by the State Thai Railways originating from Padang Besar and heading to Bangkok. It leaves Padang Besar at 6.40pm/5.40pm (Malaysian/Thai time) daily and covers over 1000 km to Bangkok in 17 hours. For a berth in a second class AC sleeping car expect to pay THB1200. This combination is the fastest way to get to Bangkok from Butterworth overland.
Note Trains #36 offers second class air-conditioned sleeping cars which provide arguably the most convenient way to travel between Butterworth and Bangkok. There are upper and lower berths organised by four in an open-section compartment with two more berths (a lower and an upper ones) placed at the opposite side by the wall and facing the compartment. Each berth has curtains that pull together providing a necessary degree of privacy. During daytime upper berths are folded in and the lower sleeping berth are thus transformed into sits.
Normally there are no issues with cleanness and service on board the train. The things which you still may find annoying during your trip include squat toilets only in some carriages; freezing temperature inside the carriage; and the head lights which are sometimes not turned off even during the night.
Tip: Lower berths are considerably wider than the upper ones. They sell out quicker: to secure one for yourself, be sure to book as much in advance as possible.
Note that there is a dining car in long-distance trains in Thailand, and hawkers monitor carriages constantly to ensure you are not going to die of hunger or thirst.
Passing via Hat Yai
Instead of immediately hopping onto train #36 at Padang Besar, you can take a shuttle train from Padang Besar to the Thai city of Hat Yai (55 minutes). There are two trains a day, at 9.55am and 3.40pm (Malaysian time), both taking 55 minutes to get to Hat Yai. Buy tickets at Padang Besar train station. You can also get to Hat Yai from Padang Besar by local bus or taxi – both bring you there in about one hour (60 km).
Passing via In Hat Yai makes sense only if you want to spend a day or two in the city. There is not much to do or to see in Hat Yai, to tell you the truth, but the atmosphere of Thai South is very authentic and street food is delicious.
In Hat Yai, you can then hop onto one of the five trains connecting Hat Yai to Bangkok or opt for a bus instead – with buses you have a wider choice of departures and slightly shorter transit time.
Detouring to Suratthani and the islands of the Gulf
Take the same train #36 from Padang Besar to Suratthani. It takes about 6 hours to get to Suratthani. Suratthani sits approximately half the way between Butterworth and Bangkok. Even if you are not planning an island escape from Suratthani, the city itself is a colourful kaleidoscope of narrow streets of the old market quarter and spicy cuisine with obvious Muslin influence; it is also a very convenient base for visiting one of the most interesting national parks in Thailand, Khao Sok, which is a great place for jungle trekking, elephant encounters, canoeing and much more.
Provided you have more than just a day to spend in Suratthani, it is a sensible idea to make a short trip to Koh Samui – both Lomprayah and Seatran take about two hours to bring your there. Koh Phangan (three hours) and Koh Tao (5–6 hours) are considerably further away, but reachable from Koh Samui, as well. To be on the safe side, book your tickets to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao from Suratthani in advance.
Flights from Penang to Bangkok
An easy hop from Penang to Bangkok, flying takes just under two hours. If you choose AirAsia which offers one flight a day, expect to pay from THB2500 to THB3000 for a one-way ticket at standard price. In Bangkok AirAsia is based in Don Mueang Airport which is the second airport in the capital, in the northern part of Bangkok. With shuttle buses connecting the airport to BTS hub stations and commutor trains heading to the center (Hua Lamphong train station), it is easy to get out by public transport. Expect to spend from 50 minutes to 1½ hour to get to your destination within the city boundaries.
Where to stay in Bangkok
It is easy to get lost in the sprawling neighbourhoods of Bangkok and become totally confused by the endless accommodation options on offer. First thing to do is to define the budget you are going to spend on accommodation and take into consideration the activities you are planning to be engaged in while in Bangkok.
A perennial backpackers’ favourite, Khao San Road and a couple of adjacent streets, including Soi Rambuttri, Soi Phra Atit and Soi Samsen, is the realm of budget accommodation in the capital with all the traveller-oriented services readily available. Chinatown, known as Yaowarat, possesses infinite charm for any city explorer and boasts very decent budget guesthouses. Silom and lower parts of Sukhumvit Road both have solid mad-range hotels normally located within a walking distance from BTS stations. For a shopaholic paradise head to the centrally located Siam but be prepared to pay no less than THB2000 for a simple room. The atmospheric Riverside is famous for its luxury hotels but for budget digs Thanon Charoen Krung is worth browsing.
Things to do in Bangkok
Time spent in Bangkok is never enough as the city offers virtually endless opportunities for exploring, sightseeing, dining and wining. While everyone will surely find an activity and a destination within Bangkok to their tasting, no visit to the Thai capital is complete without:
- Checking-in at the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew where the most revered image of Buddha in the whole country is hosted.
- A heavenly massage session at Wat Pho, the national headquarters of preservation of Thai medicine.
- A drink in one of the glamorous rooftop bars with an outstanding city view in a company of beautiful crowd.
- A river boat ride along Chao Phraya elbow to elbow with other commuters and unexpected water splashes into your face.
- Browsing the narrow twisted aisles of the crazy Chatuchak weekend market selling a wealth of souvenirs, cheap closes, local designer creations and exotic animals.
- A relaxed afternoon at Jim Thompson House, a leafy little oasis of peace and tranquillity by the side of a khlong.
- A strenuous ascend to the main prang of Wat Arun or to the top of the Golden Mountain.
- A ride on a skytrain for a bird’s eye view of the city.
Have a pleasant stay in Bangkok. Relax and enjoy – we know, you will!