I am considering travelling by train from Southern Thailand (starting in Krabi, bus to Hat Yai ) in July. I understand that it is recommended to avoid the provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat, and Songkhla due to the possibility of separatist violence.
1) Is it safe to go to Hat Yai (in Songkhla province) to catch the train to Butterworth/Malaysia?
2) Is the train journey from Hat Yai to Kuala Lumpur scenic/interesting? I am keen to check out Georgetown for a few days - how is the rest of the ride?
3) Alternately, is taking the jungle line, passing through the Eastern provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat, and Songkhla safe? Is it spectacularly scenic (and worth skipping Georgetown for)?
Any other info/suggestions appreciated. I have been checking the seat61 site but was looking for other personal impressions.
#1 karuthless has been a member since 23/3/2011. Posts: 10
1. Hat Yai is perfectly safe. There were a few incidents in the past, but it's well outside the area targeted by the insurgents. There's also security in effect - particularly at the train stations!
2. It's not a particularly interesting ride from Hat Yai to Georgetown . Also realize that Georgetown is on Penang Island, so you need to get the train to Butterworth then get a bus/taxi to Georgetown. If you get a bus/mini-van Hat Yai-Georgetown it'll be faster and they'll take you right there.
3. The jungle railway is a very indirect way to get from South Thailand to Kuala Lumpur, but it is scenic. You need to get to the border town of Sungai Kolok (can take a train from Hat Yai), then go to the Malaysian train station at Wakaf Bharu. The "Jungle Railway" refers to the train ride from Wakaf Bharu to Jerantut (a launching point to Taman Negara national park). Unless you're going to spend some time in the park and maybe even in Kota Bharu (Malaysian city near the border), it isn't worth the extra days.
I did this exact journey with my boyfriend last year, but in reverse (Singapore-KL-Krabi) so will try to answer your questions:
1) Is it safe to go to Hat Yai (in Songkhla province) to catch the train to Butterworth/Malaysia?- Yes, although we literally got off the train and then arranged a bus for a few hours time to Krabi. I'm not sure if we missed something, but we didn't feel like there was 'much to do' in Hat Yai so just passed through it on the way.
2) Is the train journey from Hat Yai to Kuala Lumpur scenic/interesting? I am keen to check out Georgetown for a few days - how is the rest of the ride?- As your probably going to do the entire journey down to Singapore in at least two parts (Hat Yai-KL, KL-Singapore) you should know that the first leg will be MUCH longer than the second. I don't know your preference, but we chose to do the longer part (from KL to Hat Yai, so from Hat Yai to KL for you) on a night train which saved us a night's accommodation costs and made it go a bit faster. We did the Singapore-KL (KL-Singapore for you) part by day. This was about 7 hours if I remember correctly, and it was quite nice to look at some of the scenery, but I can't imagine spending any longer journey awake so would suggest you do your Hat Yai-KL journey by night, especially if you do decide to just pass through Hat Yai after the 6 hour bus journey from Krabi.
Overall we really enjoyed taking the train along this route; the night train especially was a fun/interesting experience and made what would have been a really dull journey pass much quicker! We booked our tickets at the train stations rather than online, although we made sure to go a day or two before to make sure we got a seat/bed. If you do decide to take the night train, I would recommend you go for bottom bunk, 2nd class: bottom bunk because they're slightly wider, and 2nd class because its much more comfortable than 3rd but still affordable. Oh, and take a sweatshirt on either the day or night train to keep warm because the aircon is surprisingly good, and take snacks because all legs of the journey are very long!
Hope this helps!