What to expect when you go on a visa run on a budget from Thailand to Penang, Malaysia.
There are multiple ways you can go about your visa run from Thailand.
You can take a bus, a train, mini-van, or airplane.
I’ve taken a full-service mini-van trip several times, and also via airplane when I didn’t want to sit in a car for 8-10 hours at a time.
I haven’t done a ultra budget version of the visa run before until last week.
I’ve decided to try it out to see what it was all about and also to be able to share the experience.
By far, it was the most uncomfortable and the longest of visa runs I’ve done, but this method requires the least amount of planning and it runs daily. The other thing that made it worth it was that it was the most interesting and one where I’ve made the most meaningful connections with people.
Here’s what you need to do and what to expect.
My departure point was from Koh Phangan. You may be leaving from Koh Samui or Koh Tao which would be a very similar process.
Visa RunTrip Down: Going from Koh Phangan to Penang, Malaysia
- Purchase your ticket from a travel/tour agent. I used a travel agent in Thong Sala and purchased a trip down to Penang. The ticket I got was run by SongSerm Ferry company to go down to Hat Yai and from there to transfer into another mini van going down to Penang. This trip from Koh Phangan to Penang Malaysia leaves daily, but some days are non-operational due to holidays. Keep this in mind & check your dates when planning your trip. Check Thai holidays as well as Malaysian holidays. (I paid 1350 baht, ~$41usd, for the trip going down) If you’re going from Koh Phangan, check out Mr. Kim. He is the guy most people go to for booking visa run trips. I didn’t use him for this trip, but if I was to go again, I would go through him.
- Departure Day – Get to the Pier by 6:30am : Get to the pier 30 minutes before the boat leaves. My boat left at 7:00am, but you need time to check in and sometimes there is a long line, so it’s better to get there a little early, check in and get on the boat to get a decent seat. Don’t take any chances of missing the boat. Boat from Koh Phangan to Donsak pier took about 2.5 hours.
- Take the transfer bus to the next van stop (Songserm office/junction): Once you arrive on the mainland side, at Donsak Pier, you will get off the boat and will be directed to a transfer bus that will take you to your next car/bus. This took about 1.5 – 2 hours.
- Take a mini van to the next mini van: Next, you’ll turn in your ticket and be given a sticker with your destination location written on it. They will drop you off at the next waiting spot. Here I waited for about 1.5 hours and from here took a mini van down to Hat Yai.
- Bus Station Hat Yai: get to the bus going down to Penang: So, here is when things got a little interesting. When I arrived in Hat Yai, the driver pointed to a travel agency across the street and said I needed to go there for the bus. I went across the street with one other traveler who was also going to Penang. The travel agent said that there’s no more bus going down to Penang and that we were too late. I had to call my original travel agent and after a lot of going back and forth and asking for help from another tour agent next shop over, they were able to sort out the situation by arranging for a bus that goes down to Malaysia, but only to Butterworth, a city just outside of Penang. They said that I would need to catch a taxi from Butterworth into Penang. (Another cost I wasn’t planning on spending. Anyway, I just needed to get to Penang, so it was what it was.)
- Bus Ride to Penang: We didn’t get to leave Hat Yai until around 9pm. When I looked at the map, it said it should take about 2 hours to get to Butterworth. I thought, great, I will be able to get to Penang by at latest 11:30pm and still be able to turn in my visa documents tonight before they close. Nope! The bus didn’t get to Butterworth until about 1:30am.
- Taxi from Butterworth to Penang: Me and the other tourist had to grab a taxi in the middle of the night to take us into Penang. He charged us 70 ringgit, ~$16.70usd, (no metered taxi options at this point) for us to split, so 35 ringgit per person.
- Arrive in Georgetown Penang: Finally arrived into Georgetown about 2:00am. Checked into my hotel. (Hotel cost can vary, but I stayed at a place that was about 650 baht per night, ~$19.60usd. It was close to the visa office, central location, and clean.)
- Turn in your visa documents to your agent: Everyone I know goes to Jim in Penang for their Thai Visas. You turn in your Passport photos, money, visa paperwork, passport, and work permit (if you have one). I was able to turn in my documents in the morning before my visa guy’s agent left to the Thai Embassy’s office. I paid about 7000 baht, ~$211usd for a 1 year Non-B Visa. The visa documents were prepared by a lawyer’s office in Koh Phangan. Passport photos were taken in Thong Sala for 200 baht for 6 of them. You only need 2 photos. Arrange with Jim for your trip back to Koh Phangan/Koh Samui, Koh Tao. (I paid about 40 ringgits, ~$9.50 usd for the ride back to Hat Yai)
- Have a free day in Penang: After you turn in your documents, you’ll have the rest of the day free. Enjoy the city. Walk around. Go sight seeing. Check out the street art, little india, the beach, and the food… the food!!
- Pick up passport from agent at 2:30pm the next day: The day after you’ve turned in your visa docs, you can go pick it up from Jim’s at 2:30pm. From there, you wait for your minivan to arrive to take you back to Thailand.
Visa Run Trip Back: Leave Penang Malaysia back to Koh Phangan
- Take minivan to Hat Yai: This was arranged via the visa agent. To leave from the office through the border, to Hat Yai bus station.
- Stop at Immigration Office: Once the car arrives at the border, everyone needs to get out and go through the Immigration office. This day, the line was super long so it took a lot longer than usual. We had a group of about 10 people and one couple with a baby. One of the girls ended up having to pay extra money for an unknown reason, and the mom of the baby was held in the office for about 30 minutes because she didn’t have a visa for her baby. They gave her baby 30 days visa only. The mom was previously told from both Thailand side and Malaysia office that she didn’t need to get a separate visa for her 1 year old baby. Something to note here is that the rules for foreign visitors can change all of a sudden depending on the day and depending on the person you’re dealing with. Everyone else got through the line with no problems. Expect nothing and expect everything.
- Continue on to Hat Yai Bus Station: After everyone gets through the Immigration check point, you continue on with the drive to Hat Yai. Same car. Same driver.
- Take Bus or Van back to Donsak Pier: Once you get to Hai Yai, you can either take the big bus or take the mini van back to Donsak. Because of the long line at immigration/border, we got to Hat Yai after the last bus had left. We all took the minivan back to KP. The tour agent where you get dropped off arranges either the bus ticket or the van for you. The van was 650 Baht (~$19usd) including the ferry ride back to Koh Phangan from Donsak. Arrival time was around 3:30am.
- Sleep/Rest Until First Ferry: Grab a seat and wait until 5:00am. First ferry to Koh Phangan leaves at 6:00am and the office and minimart opens at 5:00am.
- Ferry from Donsak Pier to Koh Phangan: Buy your ticket and get on the ferry. The ferry ride is about 2.5 hours. You will arrive at Thong Sala Pier Koh Phangan by about 8:30am
- Back on Koh Phangan. Grab a taxi back home or get some food: There are taxis (songtaews or motorbike taxis) at the pier when you get off the boat. You can take one to get you to your destination right away, or you can go and get some decent food at a restaurant by the pier area. I like going to Nira’s Bakery which offers good food & coffee, and friendly service. After you’re done with your breakfast, you can grab a taxi easily around the pier. For typical taxi rates, see here.