Or, A Very Brief Stint in Malaysia
After 6 months in Thailand, it was time for me to embark on what is called a "visa run", where you leave the country for a day or two in order to renew your visa for living in Thailand. Having been extremely busy with my instructor course, instructor exam, and moving, I hadn't been paying attention to the expiry date of my current visa - I thought I had until October 9th, but to my horror on the morning of October 5th, I discovered I had to leave that very day. I also discovered that since it was Friday, and the embassies don't open until Monday, I would be spending quite a few nights away from my beloved Koh Tao and my new home with my best friends.
I booked the visa run to Penang, Malaysia, because of it's easy accessibility and cheap price - I say easy accessibility in a somewhat sarcastic manner, as it takes a boat and two busses to get there - and after all was said and done I boarded the night boat to begin my journey southwards.
The last time I took a night boat from Koh Tao, I was headed back to Pattaya to pick up the belongings I had left at my friend's apartment. Then, the boat had individual bunk beds, air conditioning, and a general sense of being well-kept. This was not the case this time around: each person was assigned a number, which corresponded to HALF a twin bed, and we were all packed into the wobbling, less secure feeling ship like sardines. Luckily for me, I can sleep anywhere, and was extremely exhausted from my first aid instructor course earlier that day, and I managed to drop off as the boat was leaving the harbour and awake at 5:30 am when we hit the next one. From there, I boarded a highly crowded, extremely uncomfortable mini bus that for some reason had hard knobs all over the tops of the seats, preventing any sort of head comfort, and the roads were so bumpy that I almost was knocked completely unconscious more than once whilst leaning my head against the window. Once we arrived in Hatyai, we boarded our final bus over the border to Penang.
The border was easy enough to get over, especially considering I had overstayed my visa. Luckily it was only by one day, so my fine was 500 baht (about 12 dollars Canadian), and I made sure I was extremely polite and was excused very quickly. Another fellow in there wasn't so lucky, however - he had overstayed by 30 days, and was inquiring about the possibility of a "discount" for staying so long ... the ignorance of some cultures truly does astound me.
I managed to sleep about 15 of my 20 hour journey South, which was extremely lucky, as my iPod has recently broken and they tend to turn off the lights on night boats and busses, impeding my reading. I arrived in Penang and was brought to my hotel, which, run-down as it appeared, soon transpired to be quite a pleasant place. It was full of animals - cats, turtles, fish - and extremely friendly Malaysian employees. My bed was easily the most comfortable one I'd ever encountered in a hostel, and the room had air conditioning, which I actually had to turn off, being too cold. I was silly enough to not think that power converters would be different in Malaysia than in Thailand, and therefore I had no way to charge my computer, but the lovely man who owned the hotel lent me one for the duration of my stay, and the wonderful Indian hippie across the road, Jim, lent me a portable Internet stick so that I could entertain myself while the rain poured down outside.
Penang is famous for it's massive, very current shopping mall, and I padded there, barefoot, on my first full day in Penang. I attracted many stares, but as I am accustomed to no longer wearing shoes, I didn't think anything of it. I even had people offer me the shoes off their feet. The fact that someone will offer a complete stranger a pair of their own shoes really restores my faith in the human race. The mall was massive and freezing cold, and full of everything I could ever want, but I hate shopping, and didn't feel like spending money anyway, so I took a cursory look around and settled down at Starbucks for a green tea (a rarity on Koh Tao) and a banana chocolate chip muffin before making my way back home. It took me a while to figure out the conversion rates between Malaysian Ringgits (not Ribbits, as I kept hearing), Thai Baht, and Canadian Dollars, but it turns out one Ringgit is 10 baht, so that made things a little easier when trying to figure out my spending.
I left Koh Tao two days ago, and I head back tomorrow, and I am thoroughly looking forward to stepping off the boat onto my familiar island again. Having just become a scuba instructor, it's time for me to look for work, doing a job I love so very much. I count myself extremely lucky to live where I do, and how I do. Until I leave tomorrow, however, I'll be enjoying the company of the wonderful people of Malaysia, and am now in pursuit of the apparently awesome Indian food Penang has to offer - very vegetarian friendly!