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January 15, 2014

The International Express (Part 2)

Total distance so far: 17 340 km at Butterworth. Weather: 28 degrees C, part sunny.

06.52
I wake early, as before we hit the border the Thai restaurant carriage will turn back for Bangkok. Mr Grumpy converts all the sleepers back to seats and refits bedding ready for the next use. My purser sets up a table in front of me and advises me that my “full Thai” breakfast is inbound.

No problems to report in the night other than using the toilet, which is so wet that it might have a leech problem. I wish I had bothered to unpack my Crocs for this leg.

07.33
We have reached Hat Yai Junction. Other than Clapham, I always thought stations called “junctions” sounded quite glamourous (perhaps I’m mainly thinking “Bhowani”). There is much fried chicken coming on to the train from the platform, but seemingly little demand. I hope all those chickens didn’t die needlessly.

07.52
We have done an emergency stop and the guard has been hopping all over the outside of the carriage. Its quickly declared unserviceable. We think it might be the brakes. There is a mass exodus to another carriage that I hope its going to Butterworth. I have tried to enquire about our destination, but my new carriage guard wears an iPod so you cannot communicate with him. Come back Mr Grumpy, all is forgiven.. Anyway the carriage I was in 10 minutes ago has quickly been removed and shunted off. We are back under way.. I do a deal with a local currency trader in the carriage and learn he is actually an off shift Thai train driver.

08.35
We arrive at the Thai – Malaysian border station of Padang Besar. Everything comes off the train and we enjoy a short walk through Thai and Malaysian formalities.

The usual stamping of passports (no visas involved for me this time). Malay customs does a full search of my bags – I must look dodgy. Bit surprised I didn’t need to complete any paperwork – let’s hope that doesn’t present a problem leaving..

09.20
A rather clapped out looking KTM locomotive is attached to our two carriages (still running as the “Special Express”) ready to head south to Butterworth. The new guard on the two carriage train welcomes me to Malaysia.

The scenery on this journey has been great, but mainly spoiled by dirty and steamed up windows. Good train photography involves not just trying to shoot through dirt and reflections, but also missing telegraph poles and wires (unless they are there as an artistic touch of course!)

13.30 (local)
Once I remember to adjust my watch to GMT +8, I realise that we have arrived in Butterworth on time.┬áThen it’s a short walk and just a half hour across on the local ferry and I’m in Georgetown, the colonial capital of Penang. Cost RM1.20 (30p), return.

I’m stopping here for a few days and will check in before my next rail leg on Monday – The “Rakyat Express” to Singapore. “Singapore Woodlands” to be precise – almost Singapore.. I’ll explain next week.

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