1) Pack light and bring Malaysian ringgits (RM):
Your time may only be 2 or 3 days in Penang so pack light; a few changes of clothes, your visa documents, a tablet or e-reader, a good book, and necessary toiletries. Bringing some snacks and water is also a good idea. Tip: save yourself the hassle of finding somewhere to exchange money in Malaysia and go get at least a couple thousand baht exchanged. 30 baht is about 4 RM (Aug ’17).
2) Procure transportation to Nathon pier:
Taxis, vans, songthaews, and motor taxis are all options but they may cost a few hundred baht and up depending on your location in Koh Samui.
3) Nathon ferry to Donsak pier:
This should cost about 220 baht an should include a transfer to the center of Surat Thani. The ferry to Donsak from Nathon is about 1.5hrs. If you didn’t bring snacks, some light refreshments are available on board. Ferries typically leave early half hour to one hour but to save you hours of waiting in Surat Thani, it is advisable to take the last ferry to Donsak.
4) Donsak pier to Surat Thani train station:
Tell the bus transfer staff that you want to go to the train station and they should stop the bus for you to be switched onto a songthaew which takes you to the train station. That should cost between 100-200 baht depending on how many people are onboard. Failing that, if the bus goes to the bus station then from there you can take a cheap public bus, taxi, songthaew or motorbike taxi to the train station which is a little out of town.
5) At the train station:
At the ticket booth you should ask for a ticket to the Malaysian Pedang Besar on the sleeper train, with upper and lower berths costing 630 to 730 baht respectively. This train is scheduled to leave at 1:50am but don’t be surprised if it is late. While waiting for the train, there are a few street side restaurants selling cheap Thai food and a 711 not far either. I recommend settling in somewhere to eat and having drinks to while away the time.
6) On the train:
When the train arrives, staff should help direct you to the right carriage and assist with any luggage you have. On board the seat numbers are clearly marked. Settle in, pull up the blanket, and get some sleep.
7) At Pedang Besar station:
After arriving in Pedang Besar you will proceed to exit Thailand by following the signs to the Thai immigration booths and then following the path to the Malaysian officials to be stamped in. Please note that while most countries are given a 30 day visa on arrival, some are not so it is best to check if your nationality is cleared to receive the VOA. Depending on what time you arrive, the express commuter train to Butterworth may be waiting to depart or arriving shortly, so I suggest heading quickly upstairs to purchase a ticket lest you be left waiting a couple hours with nothing to do. The ticket to Butterworth is very cheap and comes out to a few dollars.
8) Pedang Besar to Penang:
Once the train arrives, I recommend getting a seat at the back of train in the corner otherwise you will find yourself uncomfortably surrounded by people for the duration of the 2 hours to Butterworth where the train terminates. At Butterworth you will follow signs to the ferry, which again is very cheap as it is used on a daily basis by locals. On the ferry you can take some great pictures of the Penang city skyline.
9) Arriving in Penang:
From the ferry terminal it is a short walk to the bus terminal and taxi stand. Here you can take public buses to almost anywhere on the island or a taxi for a more direct way to your hotel. Comfortable hotels can be found for under 1000 baht and there are hostels for those looking to stay in Penang on a budget. I recommend staying in the downtown historic area of Georgetown, Penang for its variety of local foods and rich colonial history. The Thai consulate is not far from this area which makes it especially ideal.
10) Morning visit to the Thai consulate:
You should aim to get to the consulate at least a half hour earlier than the opening time of 9am to avoid long lines. At the gate a worker will ask you to sign in before entering the grounds of the consulate. At the windows you will be given a standard visa form to fill in, if you haven’t already filled it in. This form basically just asks for your basic information, what visa type you’re applying for education (ED) visa, where you will be staying in Koh Samui, etc. Once you’ve filled this in you should line up at the ‘Non-Immigrant visa’ window as the ED visa falls into this category. The ED visa costs 3000 baht but the staff seem to prefer to be paid in RM. Having said that, I had no problem when asking to pay in baht. After handing over your documents and passport you’ll be given a receipt to be used to pick up your passport and ED visa the next afternoon.
11) Picking up the visa:
The next afternoon you will return to pick up your passport and ED visa. It typically isn’t very busy and it shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes to be in and out if there are no unforeseen visa problems.
12) The journey back to Koh Samui:
If expediency is your main concern in regards to returning to Koh Samui, there should be travel agents outside the Thai consulate offering van rides from the consulate to Koh Samui and other locations in Southern Thailand. This should cost about under 1000 baht and includes a van to Hat Yai and another van to Donsak pier, where you will have to wait until the first ferry at 5am. If however you have some time, you can take the train back to Surat Thani. This train leaves Pedang Besar, which means you would need to take a van, bus, or express commuter train, at 5pm and should arrive in Surat Thani station at 11:15pm. At that time you could then get a hotel and sleep in before taking a ferry in the morning the next day feeling refreshed and ready to return to Koh Samui, education visa in hand.