Road trip to southern Thailand – driving one’s car from Penang to Songkhla – and parts north

April 3rd, 2012 UPDATE

On Saturday March 31st, 2012 a bomb exploded in the centre of Hat Yai, killing several people, and injuring over 300, including many tourists. What I wrote below about safety seems now out of date. Further information.

The Thai border is only about two hours drive away, and the whole trip from Penang to Songkhla takes about four hours, excluding stops.  When we decided to retire to Penang, we intended to make frequent trips to Thailand, which was another country we had considered retiring to.  This way we could get the advantages of both countries.

Of course, one knows about the separatist movement in Southern Thailand, and how there is often violence, with innocent people, including tourists, being killed and injured. But that is on the eastern side of southern Thailand, in the far southern provinces (Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat).  It seems perfectly safe crossing the border on the western side of Thailand, and continuing north to Songkhla.

This blog aims to explain the process, not our trip particularly, but, for ease of writing, I will sometimes use the first person.  Malaysian immigration seems to change their procedure all the time, and I don’t know if Thailand does the same, so the procedure could vary somewhat.

Of course, once you have crossed the border you can head off to Krabi, Phuket, or Bangkok, or wherever you want to go.

the route


We stayed in in the BP Samila Beach Hotel – look on Trip Advisor for reviews or to find where to make a booking before going.

Consider making the outward and inward trips on a weekday, avoiding Malaysian and Thai public holidays and school holidays. Unless you enjoy long queues and bigger chaos at the border.

You will need the car ownership documents for when you cross the border.


  1. I know this is a little late, but may I know how much you spent approximately from Penang to the Hat Yai, including the insurance, toll and even petrol?

    1. I am sorry, that is too long ago. Toll and petrol might be around RM50.

      There are two types of insurance. I mentioned comprehensive insurance for your car in the article. You can possibly find out online the price of the compulsory Thai insurance.

      The Malaysian government is soon to introduce another new tax to enter Malaysia by car, of RM20 I believe. If so, the Thais may retaliate by doing the same.

  2. Hi, I plan to do a Penang-to-Thailand drive. A few questions:

    1) Are there other border immigration points I can enter Thailand from? Or is this the only one?

    2) After entering Thailand, where else would be feasible to visit (other than north towards Hat Yai) that I can drive to within 2 hours max?

    3) What is the nearest nice Thai beach that I could drive to from Penang?

    4) Which hours are considered peak/off-peak if I am entering Thailand on a Sunday?

    Thanks in advance!

    1. It’s been quite a while since I have done that trip. I can’t really answer your questions well without doing the same research you could do.

      However, there is a border crossing further west than the main one on the North South motorway that I have heard of.

      The south eastern border states sometimes have terrorist incidents, so many governments advise not to visit. I went to Songkla, and the beach was quite nice, though.

      1. Thanks for your reply. I did come across through googling the other border crossing you mention (the one located in Perlis, called Padang Besar). However there’s little to no information about anyone using that – at least, for English sites anyway. So I was wondering how feasible (traffic, safety, etc) it is to cross there instead of the one at Bukit Kayu Hitam. I read that the queues can be horrendous at the Kedah border crossing hence was looking for an alternative.

        Any idea how safe it is to visit the southwest part of Thailand? I see that no one goes to the areas located in the southwest region and I wonder why. Is there nothing there to do/see or is it unsafe or something?

      2. Hi. I have a friend who regularly drives to Thailand, and is currently staying there. I have asked him by email, as I can’t really answer your questions myself. He doesn’t look at email so often, so it may take a while.

      3. Thank you so much for going to the trouble of asking your friend. My trip isn’t due till next month so there’s still some time.

        Your blog has been a good resource for me, as I’ve been thinking of relocating to Malaysia. That’s how I came across a few of your posts – while “doing research” (read: googling).

      4. Thanks for your encouraging comments. If and when my friend replies – he tends mostly to stay off the Internet while away – I’ll let you know.

        I think that Malaysia is a great place to live if you’re retired, or work remotely, and even more so since the government here changed about three months ago.

      5. My friend’s replied promptly. This is his reply:

        As you know, we have used the Bukit Kayu Hitam crossing many times. We generally try to avoid weekends when
        it can be busier, especially coming back to Malaysia Sunday afternoon/evening. The process has become much
        smoother since the new facilities came into use. I expect it will be even better if/when they are ever finished.
        This time we were through both sides of the border in less than thirty minutes.

        We have used Padang Besar once, coming south, when there was massive congestion at BKH. It’s a pleasant
        enough crossing but a much longer drive from the North-South Highway and from the Thai main road to Hat Yai.

        We have also used the Wang Kelian/Wang Prachan crossing into Perlis when returning from Pak Bara
        (speedboats to/from Koh Lipe). It’s a very quiet and scenic crossing driving through national parks on either
        side of the border, but it’s easy to get lost in Perlis (well, we did).

        The southern provinces which I consider to be unsafe and have not visited are Yala, Narithawat and Pattani.
        The British government includes Songkhla which I have visited or travelled through many times and I consider
        to be as safe as anywhere else.

        For beaches, the best choice is Koh Lipe (speedboat from Pak Bara) off the west coast. We also like a resort
        called Ao Thai at Sathing Phra on the east coast. It’s about 100km from the border. It has a website.

        ps I forgot to mention that there is another border crossing to the east of BKH which takes you though the northern
        tip of Pattani province which enables you to miss Hat Yai on the way to Songhkla and the east coast. We have not
        used this crossing but not because of any safety concerns.

        Soon I’ll turn this reply into a blog as others may be interested.

  3. Thank you to you & your friend for the amazing reply! Lots of very useful information not found elsewhere on the Net! A very good idea to make this a blog post in its own right because I’m sure it’ll help so many other people!

    Thanks to the advice given, I’m now planning to go westward once crossing the border, towards Tarutao National Park and possibly also Ko Lipe (as suggested) if time permits. In which case it would make sense to use the westernmost Malaysia-Thailand border crossing, which I assume is Wang Kelian?

    Have yourself a great week ahead!

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