Border crossing

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  • After my first night on a sleeper train I was in surprisingly good form this morning. I didn’t get the best nights sleep I’ve ever had, not because the bed wasn’t comfortable, but because the AC on the train was set to near arctic temperatures.

    After the early morning arrival at Butterworth train station (basically an unpowered hut) I had nearly 8 hours to wait for my next train to Bangkok. With that in mind I hoped the ferry over to Penang Island for a bite to eat and the opportunity to recharge my laptop.

    By 3 o’clock I was once again aboard a train for the final leg of my trip to Bangkok. This was another overnight sleeper train where the seats convert into beds, though it was somewhat more comfortable and spacious than the previous sleeper train from KL.

    Some three hours later the train trundled to a juddering halt at the Thai border.

    I’ll admit that I’d been rather concerned about this border crossing. I wasn’t carrying anything illegal, but we’ve all heard horror stories of people having drugs slipped into their luggage. Drug smuggling carries the death penalty here so because of this, I had watched my luggage like a hawk ever since leaving KL.

    I was quite sure that this border crossing would be rigorous and time consuming, but in the end this was the easiest border crossing I’ve ever experienced. We simply got off the train, without our luggage, walked along the platform to a booth where we officially left Malaysia, then walked along a short tiled corridor to another set of booths where we then entered Thailand. There was no drama, no sniffer dogs, no long stares from immigration agents, no tough questions, and absolutely no luggage inspection of any sort.

    So I’m in Thailand, and by this time tomorrow I’ll be in a city that has a reputation for being one of the most wild and crazy places in the world. Bangkok, here I come!

  • 3 comments on “Border crossing

    1. Seems like the more dodgier the country the less they care about what you bring into the country. Going into Singapore by car the immigration officer will ALWAYS check passport one by one and call your name. Going into Malaysia by car the officer was ALWAYS either chatting with someone that seems to be invisible or on the phone chatting away while stamping passport without even looking up.

      • I think it comes down to ‘security theatre.’ Some countries like the UK and USA love to put on a nice big expensive show for the masses. They have metal detectors, naked scanners, digital air sniffers, and much more, not forgetting, of course, the overweight numbskulls there to snarl at you at security checks. All of this is supposed to make everyone feel safer.

        The truth is that the creation of this huge theatrical security effort has cost us all a fortune and done little to make us safer (see this interesting graphic).

        Most of us play along with the silly steps that were told to do, we have to! But I think it’s pretty clear that the main point of security theatre is to simply create a very profitable mega business. After all, if you install some scanner then you need to build a factory to make it, employ workers to build it, train people to use it, have engineers to service it, and software techs to update it. Security theatre is an ongoing cost that increases year on year while those in charge put in more and more steps to prevent the same amount of lapses that happen no matter how much theatre is installed.

        In short, it’s mainly a huge waste of time and money and while I am surprised that Thailand didn’t put on a good show, I’m not complaining at all. It’s time that we started to demand real security instead of the illusion of security.

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