Penang visa run from Koh Phangan
Penang is perhaps the most typical choice if you need to do a visa run and you are living on Koh Phangan. Some people hate Penang, some like it. Anyway, if you have a 3 months’ tourist visa (to be more precise 60 days, which you are able to extend 30 more days at the Immigration office on Koh Samui) you have to leave the country after it expires.
I bought one of those packages which included transportation, hotel with breakfast and visa arrangements. That meant that we didn’t go to the Thai Embassy ourselves. We just filled the applications, gave them to our travel organisers and received passports back when everything was ready.
They have a few different tour agencies offering these trips so compare the prices, dates and decide if this would be the best way for you to do a Penang visa run. Another option would be to fly to Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, and do it there.
If you like travelling in a cramped minivan…
In a way, this package deal is quite convenient but next time I would take the train and do it by myself. I heard comments from other people who have taken the train and it’s not that complicated. Travelling in a cramped minivan is not the best fun in the world. I would also want to see a bit more of Penang but I was feeling pretty worn out after having slept only some hours in the vehicle.
Hence, this time, I spent the whole time in George Town (1,5-2 whole days depending on how you look at it) which is a really cool place, but ideally, I would’ve wanted to explore the island a bit more. There are so many sights to see within walking distance (George Town belong’s to UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites) so it is very convenient especially when you don’t need to stress about catching a bus or taking a taxi. You might also want to try rickshaw if you are not so keen on walking.
There aren’t 7/11:s in every corner like in Thailand though, so it might get a bit hot during the day. Luckily the hipstery coffee shops are never too far away in this part of the world either. My favourite one was loftyish Awesome Canteen. Such a cool place! Another great one was the Mugshot at Chulia Street’s backpacker ghetto. This street has everything that a backpacker needs: travel agencies, hostels, cheap eats, bars, BEER, etc. A very convenient location, I’d say.
George Town is famous for its murals and street art. Both are close to my heart since my Master’s Thesis was about graffiti and zero-tolerance policy. I was very happy just wandering around and discovering all these beautiful pieces of art, and sitting down for a cappuccino or a fresh coconut every once in a while, to rest my legs.
Another thing that I would very much recommend is Pinang Peranakan Mansion. If you want to catch a glimpse of how lavishly the upper class used to live, this is the place to be. The rooms are so beautiful and there is ample of antiquities, such as cut glass and china.
Just around the corner from Pinang Peranakan is the Indian quarter. So much inexpensive Indian food and products. I got a bit carried away at the local Indian version of Target. The idea was to take a brief look inside but the shop was so much larger when you made it inside and they had so many things.
In the end, I needed to go exchange some more money because they didn’t accept foreign credit cards. Oh well… I would especially recommend buying incense, Henna colours, soaps and kitchenware, such as beautiful bowls or plates. It is one of my favourite things overseas anyway, going to the local supermarket and checking all the different products, whether it be food, cosmetics, kitchen utensils or something else.
All in all
You don’t get to see much Penang during a 1,5-day’s visa run but it’s a lovely place and definitely worth seeing. I really want to go there again but next time will stay longer. The organised tour does have some benefits, though: You don’t need to queue at the Embassy and are free to roam around. You could also go see Jim at his shop on Chulia Street. He has helped countless Thailand overstayers and, in general, is able to help you get your visa without visiting the Thai Embassy yourself.
If you are interested in seeing Myanmar, I applied for my Non-B Visa in Yangon and it went smoothly. They do regular tourist visas there as well.