Health note: Bangkok airport now, it appears on a sporadic basis, employs full body scanners, which scientific studies have shown cause cancer, and damage DNA. In the US the machine attendants are coming down with cancer. Besides, many dangerous objects have been snuck through them, and so they are not even effective. I for one will not fly out of Bangkok anymore. An alternative to flying to Malaysia is catching the train south.
I am planning sometime this year to catch the train from Bangkok to Penang. The first step was to check The man in Seat 61. There you can find good information and photos. The information here is in addition to Seat 61.
Then I asked a friend who has done the journey a number of times.
You have to buy a ticket at the station in Bangkok. They speak English.
There is only one class of travel to Butterworth.
However, there are upper and lower bunks. The lower is far more popular as there is more headroom, and a window..
The ticket is about RM110 for the upper bunk, the lower a bit more.
The station is at the end of a subway line, so easy to get to.
There is only one train a day – around lunchtime. Two carriages go to Butterworth. It arrives about lunchtime in Butterworth.
But the train can be three or four hours late arriving.
Food is available on the train – the conductor comes around and takes your dinner order fairly soon after departure. Dinner is basically Thai food. Beer is available anytime and isn’t expensive. You can also get food when the train stops at stations.
The train is reasonably clean, and the bedclothes are clean. There is a basin and a toilet at the end of the carriage – which is not clean. There is no shower. There aren’t mosquitoes.
The aircon is too strong so it is cold.
The beds are made up around 8 or 9pm, and then people tend to sleep. And the beds are returned to seat state when people wake up – but it is done so noisily everyone wakes up.
Scenery tends to be paddy fields in Thailand and jungle in Malaysia.
The train stops at the border, and everyone disembarks, and goes through first the Thai Immigration and Customs, which is quite quick and not thorough, and then through the Malaysian equivalent, which is much slower and may check luggage. Then it’s back on the train – which hasn’t moved. All told it takes less than an hour to cross the border.
At Butterworth the train terminates, and then you can catch the ferry across to George Town, Penang.
Addendum on 8th September, 2012:
Now I have made the trip, which you can read about here.