The older version follows.
You could catch the bus or train, or even fly cheaper. It’s not so interesting to drive, so why would you want to do it?
If you catch the bus you must of course get to the bus terminal. In Penang that is either Sungai Nibong, five minutes drive from Queensbay Mall on Penang Island, or Butterworth, near the ferry terminal on the mainland. If you catch a taxi there it adds considerably to the expense, unless you live nearby. If you drive your car there you have the expense of parking, and worries about security. Or you could catch a Rapid Penang Bus there, which may involve changing buses, and would involve carrying your luggage. In which case, perhaps consider catching a bus or taxi to the ferry terminal and then the ferry across to the bus terminal at Butterworth. Still, you must carry your luggage for the distance. Also note which terminal the bus arrives at in KL – you may have again to catch public transport or a taxi to get to your destination, and that could be pricey if it involves a taxi. The actual time on the bus is only marginally more than driving – but as you must get from home to the bus terminal, wait for departure, and after arrival, get to your destination, the point to point time becomes considerably more. And if you value your safety use one of the more expensive bus companies, and catch a bus that departs and arrives during daylight hours.
The train is very slow, although that may not be a disadvantage, and it is quite relaxing. But, again, it involves many of the same problems getting to the station in Butterworth as getting to one of the bus terminals. One useful ploy could be to catch the first class sleeper to KL, shower before arrival, spend the day in KL, and catch the sleeper back. An efficient use of time and a saving on a hotel. If you want a shower during the day there is one in the station at KL. Ensure you take any food or drink you may want to consume on the train. For more details on the train see my earlier article on catching the train to Singapore.
As for flying, it involves advantages and disadvantages that almost any international traveller is already aware of. It can be quite cheap as well.
So again, why drive?
You want to do it at least once
A lot of shopping to bring back
Stopping along the way to see / do something
You’re going past KL to elsewhere
There are several people going, so it’s cheaper (at least if you ignore the car running costs)
You can set your own schedule
You need the car in KL
You hate public transport
So, some statistics:
Driving at around the (very low) speed limit of mostly 110 kph and with a couple of short stops it takes about 4 1/2 hours, if not caught in traffic
Distance is about 175 miles or 281.58 Kilometers as the crow flies
Road distance is about 370 kilometres
The occasional car, lorry or motorbike has no functioning rear light – you may want to reconsider driving at night, especially as the traffic seems no lighter at night.
It is mostly an uninteresting drive – however, a few kilometres before Ipoh, and after Ipoh, the landscape is more interesting.
Toll charges are about RM45 one way.
It is useful to have a Touch and Go card to pay the tolls. The queues are smaller than the cash payment booths. Buy a Touch and Go card before you leave – the web site tells you where.
There are almost no electronic sign boards to warn of any problems ahead.
There are rest areas along the way.
There are petrol stations at some of the rest stops.
Petrol prices are set by the government, so it costs no more buying on the motorway.
Toilets vary in cleanliness at the rest stops, but none are very good.
There is absolutely no good coffee to be found at rest stops.
You can buy fruit, different kinds of Malaysian food, soft drinks, souvenirs, icecream at some of the rest stops – but some rest stops have only toilets.
For about two-thirds of the journey there are two lanes, and thereafter three lanes. From about Slim River, south, from memory.
A huge percentage of drivers drive in the middle lane, leaving the left lane almost empty on the three lane section. No point having three lanes, really.
Road signage is very poor in KL so a GPS is very handy- as long as you have the maps up to date.