Georgetown Penang for me is by far the best Thai VISA run from Bangkok as Laos I now find tedious, Cambodia involves lengthy bus treks and flying to Singapore et al. requires bigger budgets. In fact I live near the borders of Laos and Cambodia for much of the year, yet I still choose Penang for my Thai VISA runs. This is mostly because it is stress free, and easy and it has the least complications. Malaysia is also the only country bordering Thailand where a VISA is not necessary to enter. Otherwise I have written my Top Ten VISA Runs here. Anyway, for travel to Penang, the overnight train from Bangkok to Butterworth (1,200 each way) is my usual route (alternatives below) which is relaxed and even enjoyable. At the border there will be a quick stop for the passport stamp out of Thailand, and then into Malaysia before it continues on to Butterworth. From Butterworth the ferry to Penang Island departs regularly and costs next to nothing, then from the arrival port I would walk to Chulia Street which is the centre of Georgetown’s Unesco area, which is the ideal spot to kick back for a couple of days, with cheap hotels, amazing food and reliable agencies to do the legwork of the Thai VISA application (more on these below). Anyway, here is a video from my previous Thai VISA run to Penang from Bangkok.
The Simple Thai Visa Application
The usual tourist VISA will be for 60 days in Thailand with the option of an extension (90 days in total). Which means an overnight stay is necessary. The 60 day tourist VISA currently costs 150RM and, for convenience, The Thai Visa Application should be made between 09:00am and 11:30am on a weekday at the Thai Embassy in Penang (be sure to check for holiday closures) where the process is quick and painless. Just turn up with the necessary documents (as below), fill in the VISA application form, and wait in line to hand it over. It should take no more than 40 minutes. You then pick up you passport and Thai VISA the following day, between 14:00PM and 16:00PM. Alternatively you can have agencies do the leg work for an additional fee (more on that below). Anyway, here are the necessary documents for the standard tourist VISA to Thailand. Through 2017 / 2018 Thai VISA Applications will be made in a temporary building opposite the actual Thai Embassy. It’s all easy to work out when there.
- A photocopy of main passport photo page.
- VISA application form which is provided at the embassy.
- Two passport photos.
- A copy of onward flight and proof for exiting Thailand (new requirement).
- 150RM Visa fee in Malaysian Ringgit.
Where to Stay? Chulia vs. Gurney
If planning to make the VISA application in person, the Thai Embassy is found in the leafy back hills of Georgetown (1, Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, Pulau Tikus, 10350 George Town) which can be reached on foot from two nearish tourist areas. The usual choice for most travellers would be the Unesco and backpacker area around Chulia Street (below left) which is roughly 5km away. I have walked it before and the simplest route is to just follow straight up Burma Road, then take a left onto Cantonment Road until Jalan Tunku which is on the right. The Thai embassy is then found at the beginning of the road, and is simple to spot as there’s normally minivans and taxis waiting outside. A taxi is around 20RM each way. Here for hotels around Chulia Street. Alternatively I prefer to stay in the Gurney Drive area, a more modern and high-rise setting in Georgetown (below right) which is also a lot closer to the Thai Embassy (2km away) by again just following Cantonment Road. A taxi would be 10RM to 15RM. Here for hotel in the Gurney Drive area.
Thai VISA Agents in Penang
Alternatively it is possible to have agencies do the leg work on your Thai VISA application for an additional 20RM. There are a whole bunch of these agencies on Chulia Street and the Love Lane are where you just drop in your passport on the day you arrive, fill in the forms, then pick it up the day after. It is definitely worthwhile considering, given it costs around 15RM each way, when taking a taxi from the popular tourist areas to the Thai Embassy. But I do prefer doing the Thai VISA application in person, so I can then pick it up first thing when the Thai Embassy opens at 14:00 the next day, and start my return journey to Bangkok before rush hour traffic. As the agencies normally won’t return your passport and VISA until near 16:00PM the next day, or later.
Travel to Penang / Alternative Routes?
Flights to Penang are of course the quickest route but they are normally expensive and flights to Kuala Lumpur are often cheaper. Personally, most of my journeys between Penang to Bangkok are by train (full details here) but this was made harder recently when the Malaysia trains were upgraded and Thai trains could no longer cross the border. So now it is necessary to transfer at Padang Besar. But there are many alternative routes, my own preferred being via Langkawi (and Satun), making it a holiday, but this is also the longest and most uncomfortable route when it comes to the long-haul bus journey from Satun. Otherwise the cheapest and easiest route from Penang to Thailand would be by minivan which have a pickup outside the embassy, and leave soon after the VISA collection time (shown below left). There are normally touts waiting around to help you at the entrance to the Embassy. The minivans also go to various destinations throughout the south of Thailand, first crossing the Thai Malaysia border at Danok, and a good option here is Hat Yai where cheap flights are almost guaranteed through both Air Asia and Lion Air. This is the option I went with recently with a last-minute 1,000 Baht flight to Chiang Mai which is similar to the overnight train to Bangkok. So it is always best to check flight options.
Georgetown: Worth the trip alone
Georgetown is easily one of my favourite Asian cities with its unique cultural harmony and mixed heritages of Chinese, Indian and Malay. One of the better examples is in the Unesco area, not far from Chulia Street, where three prominent temples sit side-by-side, Sri Mahamariamman Temple (Indian Hindu), Han Jiang Temple (Chinese Ancestral) and Kapital Keling (Muslim Mosque), near the corner of Queen Street and Kapitan Keling. The food is also unbeatable and my VISA runs tend to centre round the local Mamak Restaurants and Nasi Kandar stalls. And there’s also the delightfully garish nightlife of Red Garden Food Paradise. Otherwise the picturesque backstreets are what drives the tourists, the wall art, and wall caricatures can be found dotted throughout Georgetown’s Unesco Heritage area (and beyond). There is other stuff.