Thursday, 16 August 2012

Bangkok to Hat Yai train. The hitech visa run.


The big news is that I've recently taken my first flight since Feb 2009 (when I flew from the Philippines to Malaysia after three weeks with the Angels of Angeles). I've also bought a new Smart-Phone which I hope replaces the need for a separate phone, camera and laptop. I have a 30 day Thai visa which I hope I can convert to a working visa in Bangkok next week (thus negating the need for further visa runs). I have been in Bangkok for 5 weeks and I'm beginning to sense that I'm more at home in less frenetic environs.

Moore's Law

I first learnt about this law when I was studying IT at University. It states that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. In 1985 my parents bought a ZX Spectrum+ (left picture) for us to play games. 27 years later, I bought a Samsung Galaxy Ace Plus S7500 (right picture). The difference in power and size is incredible.

ZX Spectrum +
Samsung Galaxy Ace Plus S7500
Resolution (colours)
256x192 (7 colours)
320x480 (16 million colours)
External Tape Recorder

For example the phone's processor is 285 times faster. The Spectrum's RAM consisted of 2^14 + 2^15 = 49152 bytes whereas the phone's contains 2^29 = 536 870 912 bytes. This is an improvement by a factor of almost 11000. These vast increases in power are exacerbated by the ever smaller physical volumes required to house these components. The continued reductions in price which allow this technology to be available to the masses is compelling. Life is becoming more like Star Trek every year. It would've been laughable when I was at school to think that today's students would have handheld devices with the above capabilities in the classroom!

The new phone cost £140 in Penang. It came with a protective sheet of plastic for the touch screen, a protective casing and a 16GB microSD card. These are £200 in the UK without the extras and £180 in Thailand. It has replaced my tired old Nokia's 2MP camera with a 5MP camera. However, I have set the camera's resolution to 640x480 so that I can easily upload photos to this website without re-sizing them. This leaves the 5 million pixel feature obsolete. There's a camera flash and all sorts of other features contained in the 150 page user manual that I have yet to read.


This is Srinakharinwirot University of which my school Satit Prasarnmit International Program is part of. It's a very modern establishment that is quite well-known and highly regarded in Bangkok.

Many of the students here have the benefit of rich and successful parents. Perhaps this is why there's a Starbucks on campus. One of the benefits for me is watching all the young Uni girls in their uniform of: black-mini-dress-and-white-blouse (all skin-tight).

These are a few of my new work colleagues. From the left is Luke the PE teacher from England, Dominic the English teacher from SW England, Mike the Art teacher from Australia and Rattaporn the other PE teacher from Petchabun. Behind them are Grant and John who are part of the management team. We were waiting to greet HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn who came to open the new school building. After she left we could finally use the main elevators instead of the service lift. The main lifts had been closed for months in order to keep them clean for the Royal visit. Her visit was also on TV that night but I didn't see us.

Visa run

Ask any expat living in Thailand what they think about visas and they'll all agree that the Thai visa situation is a nightmare. I started working at this school with a work-visa but the school told me to go to Malaysia and come back illegally with a tourist visa (where work is prohibited). My last visa expired on Sunday 12th August so I had to get my arse out of Thailand by 2359hrs that night.

Pre-empting this trip I purchased a train ticket from Hualampong train station in Bangkok's China Town area. The ticket to Hat Yai cost 555bt (£11) for 2nd class sleeper carriage. From Hat Yai I would change to a 300bt (£6) minivan for the final leg to Penang. Just like Central Station in Newcastle you can see people crashed out on the floor while a few men wash the carriages.

How clean do these brand-spanking new train coaches look?

This was the only carriage with beds in it. The upper bunks flipped down and the bottom seats became a bed. My bunk was the upper one behind the Muslim lady.

The 1000km BKK-HY journey was only 3hrs late taking a total of 21hrs. We left BKK at 1535 on Saturday 11th Aug and arrived in HY at 1230 on Sunday 12th. That is an average speed of 30mph - not exactly Japanese-esque. To think that Shanghai's MAGLEV train took me to 431km/h!

I guess you can afford to leave the doors open when you're only bimbling along at 30mph.

A plastic spoon, omelette and rice for 40bt. You won't get that on the Orient Express.

Gazing out at rice emerald green fields was a treat once we'd left the big smoke.

A view from within my coffin. This is actually way bigger than the bunks on HM submarines. The width is about the same but this train bed has far more head room.

The journey from Bangkok to Penang took around 30hrs in total. I stayed in the dorm at 75 guesthouse again where I enjoyed meeting the current batch of residents. I went to watch the Bourne Legacy movie in between eating copious amounts of Indian food at Jaya restaurant. Just like in February I didn't want to leave Penang. I feel so content there. However, on Tuesday 14th I boarded a 3000bt (£60) AirAsia flight back to Bangers. What took 30hrs at the weekend took only 90 minutes the other way. I was surprised that security didn't take my dangerous toothpaste and shampoo from my hand luggage.


As you can see I have been messing around with the website. I've finally managed to merge this website with my old blog ( so that all 217 posts since April 2006 are in one place. I've also included a dynamic map showing the 52 countries I have been to.


My time in Penang had me socialising with travellers again - I loved it. Sharing past travels and possible future endeavours over coffee was great. I have come up with some possible ideas to mull over for the rest of this contract.

Around July 2013 I was going to retire in Cambodia shortly before my 40th birthday. However, being an ephemeral kinda guy, this plan now has some serious opposition. I am thinking of going to Australia (visit an Aunt in Brisbane) followed by India and Nepal. I am then looking (tentatively) into riding my motorbike from Thailand to Newcastle (via Laos, China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Europe). However, the paperwork obstacles (carnet, visas) seem expensive and problematic from the little research I've done. If I can do it I would then register and sell the bike in England.

After returning to Geordieland to see my Dad I intend to go to America - both North and South. I am thinking of riding a motorbike (or campervan) from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego over a few years. Learning Spanish is an option alongside a possible visit to Antartica from Ushuaia - thus achieving footfall on all of the world's seven continents.

Many words in Thai are the same as English but in a more sing song tone:

ComputER - computer
SABAghetti - spaghetti
SAteak - steak
PAPOR - passport

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