In all honesty, despite the undeserved props I gave myself for inevitably braving the bombing capital of Thailand, I would much rather have spent the night in the Border town of Sadao. Just the label itself – border town – it sounds exciting. And indeed from the little I had read and even less that I saw of Sadao, it looked intriguing.
The morning started out with me hopping into a van by myself just around the corner from where I had stayed. From there, I waiting in another travel agency for 20 minutes before another van pulled up and I was told to get in. So, fully loaded, I was heading south to the Malaysian border with a French guy, a bunch of old, smelly Brits, and a Muslim family.
An hour later, we were driving through Sadao, or at least a part of Sadao. The main part of the actual town of Sadao is built around an intersection. In one direction, you head west and will end up at the Malaysian border crossing of Padang Besar. If you continue straight south down the Thailand National Highway 4, you come to the microcosmic chaos of Dannok. It was here that I was crossing.
The clustered traffic leading up to the actual border was surrounded by a tightly-packed conglomerate of newer looking buildings. Many familiar names passed by my van’s window including the obligatory McDonald’s and KFC.
The extent of my experience with land border crossings had been crossing into Canada, and a lot of that has not been a good history. As much as I would have loved to take a look around the town, my current ride guaranteed me the direction I wanted to go.
Once at the actual crossing, we were told to get out of the van with the entirety of our luggage. I was amazed how much this actually entailed for some of the other people travelling along with me. The van waited while we were brought through a border agent who checked our passports and moved us on. After that, we went into a building where our luggage was x-rayed on a conveyor belt. Afterward we were all stamped through without any issue.
There was nothing but empty greenery and mountains passing us by as once we were all loaded back up. This surprised me, given the items I had read about Malaysia’s supposedly detrimental deforestation. One of the interesting things that became immediately apparent was the series of terraced hillsides likely designed for water drainage.
Another was that everything was no longer written in an unknown script like Thai. Instead everything was transliterated in an official Latin script. This has its pros and cons. The pro, I can read what every sign says. The problem, I don’t know what any of it means. In Thailand, although every sign was in Thai, many were also subscripted in English as well. Not so here.
Regardless, this was just the first step into a country that is, I think, overall much nicer than where I had been living for the last 5 months.