About 22 hours into the rail journey, just before reaching Butterworth (Penang) the train stops at the border. Here you get off the train, go through the border controls and get back onto the train. All went ok and I was allowed entry into Malaysia for free on a 90 day visitors visa. So far so good.
A little later the train arrives at Butterworth Station. Here, the connecting train to Kuala Lumpur is 9 hours later. I was informed that there would be an opportunity to visit a money exchange at the station to enable me to change Thai Baht or English Pounds into Malaysian Ringitt. The station has however been rebuilt and is brand new. There wasn`t a money exchange in site and the signposted ATM machine didn`t yet exist. I needed local currency to buy the onward ticket from Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur. What to do?
In hindsight I should have perhaps changed my cash on the train as money exchange gentlemen approach you as you get near to the border. Their exchange rates sounded a little high to me and so I didn`t bother.
Note: It is said that you will always get the best exchange rates when you are actually in the country (whether this applies to just S E Asia I do not know) which is why I only change my money once I am in the country concerned.
At the station I approached a lady guard who pointed out a nearby bank in the distance across the road. Basically their isn`t anything much at Butterworth but a least their was a bank. People use Butterworth as a gateway to the nearby island of Penang either by ferry or bus. (I assume there is now a bridge connecting the mainland to the island). My plan was to get a little Malaysian Ringitt out of the ATM to cover the train ticket and the cost of the ferry crossing (1.20 Ringitt return, about 25p). I would therefore nip over to the ATM, withdraw some cash and return to the station to get my train ticket and then pop over to Penang on the ferry and find a money exchange. I didn`t want to leave it too long to buy my train ticket as they can run out if it is busy.
The walk across the road at the hotest part of the day with a rucksack on your back and a large hand luggage bag in one hand is not easy. And when I say cross the road, I mean an intersection, about 3 roads, a walk of about half a mile. Needless to say and maybe my age and overall level of fitness doesn`t help but I was exhausted by the time I got back to the train station to buy my ticket. And there wasn`t a shop to buy any water from in site. The little kiosk at the station was also closed.
Anyway, I made it, bought my onward ticket and was relieved to find a little shop selling cold drinks at the ferry terminal.
The ferry over to Penang takes about 10 minutes and they run very frequently. Being Chinese New Year Holidays it was very busy too.
Unfortunately, on my way off the ferry in Penang, my sandles of the flip flop variety, worn for the past half dozen or so summers at home and on holidays abroad had decided they`d had enough and one of them sort of disintegrated. So I was now looking for a money exchange and a shop selling shoes in Penang.
Shortly after leaving the ferry terminal I passed a ramshackled looking open fronted shop where a lady waived and beckoned me in. I`m not really sure what the shop sold as it was very sparse with a few old sofas to one side. But I did notice a cold fridge with a few cans of drinks inside. I sat on one of the sofa`s and chatted to the lady who had invited me in and asked her if she knew where I could find a money exchange and a shoe shop. She beckoned over another, younger lady who proceeded to tell me where to find what I wanted, just up the road. The younger lady was very friendly and asked me questions like where I was from and what brought me over to Penang. She also asked where my wife was.
"Ah, you travel alone. You not married. You have girlfriend?"
"No. Just me travelling on my own", I replied.
With this news she must have thought I was a rich foreigner because she asked if she could be my girlfriend and made a few suggestive remarks like. "you want sex?" But in a more down to earth way of the four letter variety.
I told her, I`m sorry but I`ve got a train to catch :)))))))
With that she asked for my mobile phone and proceeded to write her name and telephone number in my contacts book.
A short time later I departed the shop, found the money exchange and shoe shop, changed my sandals and walked back to the ferry terminal to head back to Butterworth on the mainland to wait from my train.
I arrived at Kuala Lumpa Sentral Station at 5.40am the next morning where I was to be met by Simheswara, my contact at the farm project where I was heading.
A panic came over me when I exited the front of the station and he was nowhere to be seen. I'd attempted to contact him by mobile phone the evening before but couldn`t get a signal. All sorts of things went through my mind like maybe he thinks I`ve changed my mind. I wandered around a little, went back inside the station building and wandered a little more. Then, to my relief and delight I heard my name and I turned to be greeted by Simheswara.
Simheswara took me for breakfast and then drove me the one and a half hour journey to the farm near the small town of Lanchang.
Next time I`ll tell you about my arrival at the farm and the guys I`m sharing my life with for now.