We're saying goodbye to Malaysia today.
While many travelers take the eastern overland border crossing from Bukit Banga, Malaysia to Ban Buketa, Thailand, we're taking a lesser known water crossing right at the shoreline.
Farewell, Malaysia! And thanks for all the food!
The Malaysian customs at Pengkalan Kubor was simple. A quick stamp on our passports and they didn't seem to care at all about exporting out our Thai bikes. *shrug* Cool.
A French farewell out of Malaysia into Thailand
Waiting for the tiny ferry to take us into Thailand
The aforementioned tiny ferry. It's such a short crossing, you can see Thailand just across the mouth of the Golok River
You pay for the tickets right on the ferry. By the time the ticket lady collects payment, it's time to disembark
Entering Thailand was much more difficult than leaving Malaysia. There were long lineups at the immigration control, and when it came our turn, the official behind the glass scrutinized every page. He was checking all of our stamps to see how many times we've entered and left Thailand, because the government is trying to crack down on Border Runners who illegally live and work in the country, but leave and enter the country indefinitely on Tourist Visa runs without getting a proper work visa.
I was a bit nervous because we had already done a visa run to Laos a couple of months before. But we didn't fit the pattern of someone doing an overnight visa run to return to work in Thailand the next day.
We're stamped into the country and the next step is getting our Thai bikes into Thailand. Which seems easier than it sounds...
In Thailand, we are greeted by Red Tape and Goats
Leaving Thailand, it was impossible to find someone to export our bikes out of the country. The Thai officials there kept waving us out of the border zone: "Go! Go! Go!" But I had done the research beforehand and knew that we needed an export document. It's a bit of a backwards system, because Thailand allows Thai vehicles to be out of the country for 30 days only. If your vehicle stays out longer, you get fined on the way back in.
Thankfully we had persisted and found someone to stamp our export document on our way out of the country. Because the officials that were so scarce on the way out were waiting for us on the way back in.
I think the customs guard was surprised we had all of the proper forms... I'm sure many many travelers just blow past the border on the way out. He checked the dates on our export document, International Drivers Permits, license plates, Greenbooks, everything, and seemed satisfied that all was in order.
Welcome back to Thailand!
Over the communicator, I proclaim to Neda, "We're home!" But the minute I said that, the words sounded hollow. We had just spent nearly three weeks with family, enjoying their company and hospitality. And now we were back in a country where we didn't know anyone, didn't know the language, and couldn't even read the writing... :(
It's making us rethink where we should be calling home. Thailand is cheap, we love the food, the weather is nice all year round, and the standard of living is safe and comfortable. But are those the only criteria for choosing a place to settle? These are things we really need to think about for the future.
Thailand is familiar though. After spending months in the country, we get how they drive on the roads, which shops to go to to get stuff, and how things are done here. We really feel like we've gotten the hang of the country.
We're reversing the route we took out of Thailand. Which meant another stay in the same place in Hat Yai
On-The-Road Meals at familiar food stalls
Neda hides from the hot afternoon sun while I feed the stray dogs some scraps
Our final destination is the island of Phuket. We've heard so much about this place, some good, but mostly bad. But we wanted to check it out for ourselves.
We were prepared for a tourist ghetto hell, but upon crossing the Sa Phan Sarasin bridge into the island, we were very surprised at how manicured everything is. Phuket is one of the top tourist destinations and I guess this is where all the foreign dollars go. We're staying in a nice hotel on Kata Beach, which is on the south-west side, so we see a lot of the island on the way down from the top.
It's so developed here. Some parts of Phuket remind me of Oahu, Hawaii. It's probably the most western place in Thailand that we've visited. And so many farangs too! Most look like they live here, and not like they're tourists.
Farangs on scooters, a familiar island sight in Thailand
We're both exhausted. The heat has wiped Neda out and while we have booked this place just off the beach for over a week, we don't venture out onto the sands. Not even once. Imagine that, visiting Phuket and not even seeing the beach?
Every day, we hide in our air-conditioned room and wait for the sun to descend to a comfortable level just above the horizon. Then we venture out to the food stalls and the markets to get some cheap eats.
Evenings are the only time we experience Phuket
Food markets spring up on Mondays and Thursdays so we take a break from the stalls to try something different
It's difficult to find good food in Phuket. And we tried. Every place on the main strip is terrible tourist fare. Overpriced and not very tasty. Also, Neda walked into a convenience store, bought a few drinks and the Thai checkout girl smiled and said to her, "Spasibo!"
Huh? Was that Russian? How did she know Neda was slavic?
Then we noticed... all the signs are in Russian! Apparently Russians make up a sizeable chunk of the tourists who visit this place. We had heard that the Thai government is having problems with Russians taking over all the businesses in Phuket. Now that we were tuned into it, we heard Russian being spoken and Russian signs everywhere. How random!
SlavicNeda patrols the aisles looking for borsht and vodka
We're hot and tired. Being in Phuket is kind of a waste since we're not going to any beaches.
I think we're done here.
Not just Phuket. Or Thailand. I think we're done with SE Asia.
The weather is getting good in Europe, so we're going to ditch the dirtbikes and hop on a plane back to our BMWs.
We picked up a really ugly suitcase for cheap in one of the tourist malls. I think it was so cheap because it was such an ugly colour. We just need it for one trip back to Croatia, so we didn't want to spend too much. The only problem was how to get it back to the hotel... Well, not a problem if you have have bungie cords:
I got a lot of funny looks riding down the streets of Phuket with this thing strapped behind me
Next, we found somewhere to stash our bikes. We're not completely done with SE Asia yet. There are still some countries we haven't visited, so because we own these bikes we're going to keep them here so we have some wheels to come back to as a Plan B if we every get caught out by winter because we travel so slow.
We're moto-snowbirds now!
Making sure we disconnect the batteries. Not sure if they'll still be good next winter though...
Bye bye, bikes. Europe, here we come!!!