Taking an overnight train from Thailand to Malaysia presented me with a unique part of travel missed when you fly; borders. The border of Southern Thailand and Northern Malaysia had crisp contrast. The border began kilometers before the changing of the guard. It began when in the myriad of palm trees and banana groves the minarets of a mosque could be seen over the canopies. It became clearer when colorful hijabs whizzed past on motorbikes. The old paved roads of Thailand led into Malaysian roads with new asphalt and concrete lane dividers. What had been a sleepy pastoral plain with free-roaming oxen and storks wading in the grass became a busy intersection with a Pizza Hut delivery van advertising halal pizza. The monks in orange robes became hard-faced dark-skinned men in fezzes. The Thai-script melted into Roman letters. The pomp billboards boosting the royalty were the same size, but the kings changed.
Northern Malaysia was starkly more developed than southern Thailand. Imagine zipping from rural Mexico to a suburb of Houston in a blink-of-the-eye bullet train. Malaysia’s population is 70% Muslim Malays. The remaining 30% are Chinese Buddhists, Indian Hindus, and mixed. We went from Thailand with the hum of temple bells to Malaysia saturated in the muezzin calls to prayer.
Seeing the border, watching the departing passengers exchange money with the boarding passengers as we neared the last stop before Malaysia was interesting. The people shared the land and its wealth intimately, but their laws, histories, and cultures were different. In terms of developmental progress that made all the difference.