Penang is a cultural melting pot located on the northwest coast of Malaysia. For such a small island, Penang has so much to offer – vibrant culture, colourful heritage, amazing food, urban wonders, and untouched rainforest. At its heart is George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a city rich in history.
If you’re one of the many tourists travelling from Hat Yai to Penang to explore other Malaysian gems, you have 2 options to travel the 215km distance: a 4-hour minivan with rates from $15 and a 3.5-hour train with fares from $10.50.
For this route we don’t think one option is better than the other, it all boils down to your preference and budget.
The minivan is a direct 4-hour transfer, with one of the options even offering free hotel drop-off in Penang city centre. The one small disadvantage is that it can be a bit cramped, especially for taller passengers.
Travelling by train from Hat Yai to Penang can be very cheap with combined fares from $10.50, which is why many travellers prefer this option This requires several transfers – 2 trains and 1 ferry – but they’re all interconnected so you won’t have a hard time finding your way.
A few notes when crossing the Thailand-Malaysia border
Hat Yai is a known shopping haven so it’s easy to lose yourself in its many shopping centres. We’re sure you won’t be out there to buy anything legal, but we still want to remind you of some items that are not allowed into Malaysia.
You’ll have to pay hefty fines or receive heavy punishment if you are found with any of these as you cross the border from Hat Yai to Penang:
More than 1-litre of liquor
Even a few grams over the 225g-limit of tobacco per person (that’s around 200 cigarettes)
Over 3 new wearable items and 1 new pair of shoes
More than 1 electric or battery-operated personal hygiene equipment
Unlicensed weapons, counterfeit bills or coins and illegal drugs. These can lead not just to huge fines but even the death penalty!
A minivan is a good option if you prefer a direct ride from Hat Yai to Penang.
KST Travel, Adang Sea Tour, and Nominatee Tour are the companies offering trips for this route. We recommend travelling with KST Travel as they offer free hotel drop-off if you’re staying in George Town. Fares start from 470 THB ($15) and travel time is around 4 hours.
The minivans depart from their respective offices in Hat Yai town centre. They park at Komtar Bus Terminal, which is within walking distance from most hotels in George Town.
Customs & Immigration at Danok Sadao-Bukit Kayu Hitam Border
Around 1.5 hours into your journey, your minivan will stop at Danok Sadao in Songkhla Province for Thai immigration & customs. After this, they will cross the border and stop again at Bukit Kayu Hitam in Kedah for Malaysian immigration & customs.
Procedures are quite simple. Drive-through immigration booths are available on both sides of the border, although you will still have to get off the minivan for a customs check. Don’t worry, your driver will guide you through the process!
Hat Yai to Penang by Train
Duration: 3 hours 20 minutes Cost: $10.50
Travelling by train from Hat Yai to Penang involves several transfers, but we think it’s a very comfortable alternative especially if a 4-hour minivan ride feels too cramped for you.
Also, the fares are very cheap!
Step 1: Hat Yai to Padang Besar by Train
Duration: 55 minutes Cost: 50 THB ($1.60)
First, you’ll have to take the train from Hat Yai to Padang Besar, Malaysia’s northernmost town. There are only 2 trains operating this route daily, so take note of the following schedules:
50 THB ($1.60)
50 THB ($1.60)
Travel time is only 55 minutes, just keep in mind that Malaysia is 1 hour ahead of Thailand.
Tickets are available at the train station on the day of your trip. Fares start from 50 THB ($1.60) for a 3rd class seat.
Customs & Immigration at Padang Besar Train Station
At Padang Besar Train Station, you will find the customs and immigration office on the same platform you arrive. Show your passport so you can be stamped out of Thailand and stamped into Malaysia. Be prepared to have your luggage checked as well.
Expect some queues if you’re travelling on a weekend or during the holiday season. If you don’t want to get stuck in long queues, try to be quick when getting off the train.
Once you’re cleared to enter Malaysia, you can head upstairs to buy your train ticket.
Alternative Option: Hat Yai to Padang Besar by Minivan
Duration: 1.5 hours Cost: 60 THB ($1.90)
To be clear, we only recommend taking the minivan if you absolutely cannot take the train. We don’t think this option is worth the hassle, especially when you can get a very convenient transfer and immigration experience when taking the train.
But if you missed the last train from Hat Yai, read on for a step-by-step guide.
First, take a tuk-tuk to Hat Yai Bus Terminal. This normally costs around 10 THB ($0.30) before finding the minivans bound for Padang Besar. These are available from 07:00 to 19:00 and ticket prices start from 50 THB ($1.90). They depart as soon as they are full.
The minivan drops you off right at the Thai immigration office. Have your passport stamped and then cross the border to Malaysia (around 100 metres away). You will find the Malaysian border control office on your left. Have your passport stamped here as well.
From the immigration office, it is another 600-metre walk to Padang Besar Train Station.
Step 2: Padang Besar to Butterworth by Train
Duration: 2 hours Cost: 21 MYR ($5)
Online booking for train tickets is also not available for this route, so you’ll have to buy your ticket at the train station. That means you have to come prepared with some Malaysian Ringgit because there is nowhere to exchange your money inside the station.
Buy a ticket to Butterworth, the closest mainland town to Penang. This train ride takes almost 2 hours and fares start from 21 MYR ($5).
Trains depart almost every hour, by the hour, from 05:25 to 21:25. You shouldn’t have a problem getting an immediate train transfer as long as you don’t take too long at the immigration.
The train arrives at Butterworth Station, which is conveniently connected to Pangkalan Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal by a walkway.
Finally, you are to take a quick ferry from Pangkalan Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal in Butterworth to Weld Quay in Penang Island. The journey takes only 10 to 20 minutes and a ticket costs 3 MYR ($0.70).
Ferries depart twice every hour from 05:20 to 00:10.
Weld Quay is located some 2km away from George Town, the heart of Penang. To cover this distance, you can take a taxi for 5 minutes or the bus (Line 101) for 20 minutes. Rates start from 13 MYR ($3) and 4.50 MYR ($1), respectively.