Monday, June 27, 2011

Land Border Crossing @ Padang Besar (by Peter Chan)

It’s possible for one to travel all the way from Tanjong Pagar Station to Bangkok and beyond by train. There are two possible ways but through KL Sentral Station. The first way is to travel on a Keratapi Tanah Malaysia (KTM) night train service to Butterworth to connect with the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) express train #36 which starts at 1345 hours on the next day. This can be pretty inconvenient because we arrive in Butterworth at an unearthly hour of 0600 hours. There is also a morning KTM train service from KL Sentral to Butterworth but arrives an hour after the SKR train has left.

Fig 1: Border map of Padang Besar (c 1983)

The second alternative is to travel on the same KTM night train into Hatyai Junction arriving at about 1000 hours, and spending a half-day there before boarding SRT #36 or SRT #38. Both train services depart within 20 minutes of each other to Bangkok.

Both KTM and SRT trains pass through the border town of Padang Besar, Perlis. The Malaysian side of Padang Besar is simply Padang Besar but the Thai side is Padang Bazar or Pekan Siam.

Photo 1: (Above) A view of the single train track crosses the international border in the distance. The container trucks are heading in the direction of Pekan Siam after clearing Malaysian CIQ. (Below) I am standing facing Malaysian territory on the Thai side of Padang Besar. Notice the single train track. This narrow passage is frequently used by Thais without passports to enter Malaysia. It appears authorities on both sides of the border are familiar with people using this access. That day I encountered a family of four adults and six children when I was at the spot. Maybe I should think of walking back into Malaysia this way.

I did the first train ride from Singapore into Bangkok in 1971 (link). Today, I toggle between trains, planes, buses and “motosikals” to get across the border but I certainly won’t do what we did in 1974 (link). I doubt I have the courage and a pair of strong legs. Anyway the cost for a “motosikal” and bus journey into Hatyai Junction from Padang Besar is RM3 and 40 Baht respectively.

Photo 3: (Above) The lady just cleared Thai CIQ and is now on Malaysian territory. (Below) This is another way apart from trains to get across the border. A metal basket on the handle-bar holds the luggage. Sometimes the pillion-ride wears a helmet but it depends ……

The border between Thailand and Malaysia over in Padang Besar is not quite of the same alignment as it was. In 2006, Malaysia and Thailand concluded a new border agreement whereby land of equal area (approx. 2,200 m2) was exchanged. A new security fence and wall was erected at the same time. The result is the Tokong Buddha Temple is now inside Thailand and parts of the border-road after the Malaysia CIQ to the guard-house is now Malaysian. People who were previously Malaysians and still living in properties beside the Tokong Buddha Temple are now classified as Thai citizens. Having spoken to those people, I still cannot get over the anomaly.

Photo 4: If you prefer to cross the border the conventional way by train, this will be the daily scene at Padang Besar Station. Passengers alight and walk into the building which houses the Malaysian and Thai CIQ. After clearing Thai CIQ, and boarding the train again, you are already on Thai territory and the next stop is Hatyai Junction. Conversely, it is the same for trains departing Hatyai for KL Sentral Station.

So which way will you go mate?


Brian and Tess said...


when we planned our around the world trip in 2009 we had hoped that a train journey from Singapore via Butterworth to Bangkok would be part of the trip. Alas all the advice prior to departure was that terrorist activity in the south of Thailand was preventing trains running. This seemed confirmed by a magazine article I saw just before we left with a travel correspodent setting out to do the trip only to get stuck at Butterworth. So are local people and travellers now able to undertake this trip on a regular basis?

peter said...

The Communist insurgency ended with a formal agreement of surrender in the late 1980s.

There are no more CTs as they call them in the area; many have settled down in the Sadao District of southern Thailand, raised families and often you see them in Hatyai as normal Chinese businessmen. I met one, an elderly 70+ y.o who related stories of the dark age of the 1950s.

There is plenty of movement between both sides and everything is peaceful. Perhaps the notoriety could be attributed to the rise of smugglers who replaced the CTs.

Those who live in the border towns carry a border pass valid for 2 years.

You should come by this place because there is so much economic development in Padang Besar. It has a big inland container port and many consumer MNCs have factories on the Thai side.

Gabriel Lim said...

I guess Brian is talking about the Pattanese Malays separatists. Since I sympatise with the Malays I generally refuse to call them terrorists. But we cannot deny that some are just taking advantage of the situation and not really fighting for anyone's freedom. Even with just one man, thru self-trumpeting he can become the whole national liberation movement.

The situation is dire at certain pockets, and you don't know when and where. But more incidents take place in Pattani, Narathiwat (Menara) and Yala (Jalar), and not so much in Songkhla (Singgora) or Satun (Setul) provinces. As far as I can remember, rail service was suspended for merely a handful times, and sometimes it's due to flooding instead of insurgency.

Would like to visit Pattani thru rail too. Too bad the other rail crossing, from Rantau Panjang, Kelantan to Sungai Golok, Narathiwat is no longer in operation. You can walk though. Or take a ferry from Pengkalan Kubor, Kelantan to Tak Bai (Tabal), Narathiwat.

peter said...

There was one time, I saw some heavily armed goods wagon at Hatyai Junction Station. I went near and found many Thai Army personnel were on their way to Pattani to fight the Muslim insurgents.

Imagine there was a GPMG behind sandbags inside an opened goods wagon.

The soldiers were carrying M16 rifles and grenandes hung on their cest.

It was the first time I saw Thai female military personnel.

Then there was another passenger coach with many soldiers inside.

All these scenes reminded me of our NS days.

Icemoon said...

Too bad we dont own the trains or else our military exercise will involve embarking and disembarking from a goods wagon. lol

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter

This is great done, would like to know you to exchange your border experience, i am recently thinking of Thai Malaysia border history,

kindly add me

Thank you

Dwi Santosa said...

Dear Mr Lam Chun See,

My name is Dwi Santosa from Indonesia. I have read your blog about crossing Padang Besar border. At the end of this month I will have a journey from KL to Hat Yai by first taking Senandung Langkawi train (AEC Coach) to Padang Besar then take local bus to Hat Yai. That's the cheapest way that I know. What do you think? Is it possible to do so? How far should I walk from the immigration to the road passed by the bus?

Thank you very much.