Kota Baru to Penang by bus – AKA Circling Malaysia by rail (mostly) 4/4

The Plan:

This trip completes my three day circle of Malaysia.  The plan is to catch a bus to Butterworth Terminal, and then the ferry across to George Town, this being nicer than going to the bus terminal at Sungai Nibong in the south of Penang Island.

approximate bus route


Now, this is obviously not by rail.  But when one has arrived by rail into Kota Baru what does one do? Well, you could backtrack by catching a (night) train back from Kota Baru to Kuala Lumpur, and another to Penang.  It costs more, takes longer, and you miss some nice scenery in northern Malaysia. But it is by rail.

Or you could catch a bus to the Thai border from Kota Baru, via Pasir Mas, walk across the border and on to the train station at Sungai Kolok, and then catch the train to Hat Yai, and another train to Butterworth. You will be passing through the Moslem separatist states of Thailand where terrorists occasionally kill whoever happens past, local or tourist.  And from Hat Yai to Butterworth it is difficult to get on a train unless you  have an advance booking.  You can catch a mini bus from Hat Yai to Penang, if you wish, though.

The Trip:

We chose the easy way – to catch a bus from the Tesco Bus Terminal, so named because is is relatively near Tesco. You can kind of see Tesco in the distance. The taxi fare from the Tune Hotel is RM10 if you happen to have stayed in that fine establishment.

Tesco Bus Terminal at Kota Baru

This bus site gives some more information. Our bus departed at 9.30 AM, and was scheduled to arrive in Butterworth around 16.00, from memory, but actually arrived about 16.45, despite light traffic on the whole route. It cost RM34.10, the .10 being for insurance. Insurance?

The first bus company we tried said their bus was full, but after another counter which had buses for Butterworth opened we were able to purchase tickets. And their bus was not full, so was more comfortable. My feeling is the scenery is better from the right side of the bus. The bus had no on board toilet, and only stops once, for lunch, apart from picking up and dropping off passengers at a few stops en route.

bus route

I have also driven this route in the past, and include a few photos I took from then.  It is quite a nice route, with nice scenery, and is generally not so busy.

our bus

lower deck

upper deck

The first part of the route, to Pasir Mas and Tanah Merah is urban and partly rural.

still semi urban

By the way, at Pasir Mas the bus stop is only a few minutes walk from the railway – there is no need for a taxi between them. Then the scenery starts to improve.

you see quite a few lorries carrying logs

outside an army base

lunch stop

Considering a stop was overdue we kept an eye out for eligible places, but the bus just kept on going past them until we finally stopped 13.15 at a very uninteresting “food court” with no view, and a little mediocre food still left. We scraped up what we could and ate hungrily, as we had not brought anything much with us to eat. (Note to self – take some sandwiches and something to drink for next bus trip.)

About 40 minutes later we departed.

Apparently elephants come out at night – a good reason for not travelling during the night. Another is that drivers sometimes fall asleep.

The next stop for about 10 minutes at 15.15 was to fill up with diesel.

A little while later, at 16.10 we pulled into the Kulim Bus Terminal where we waited for a few minutes. I could see a lake from my window.

a lake near the Kulim Bus Terminal

And finally at around 16.50 we arrived at Butterworth Bus Terminal.

you arrive somewhere around here in Butterworth Terminal

We alighted here for the ferry, but the bus would continue on and across the Penang Bridge to the final stop at Sungai Nibong in the south of the island.  The toilets at the Butterworth Terminal are around the back of the ticket window building, and cost 30 sen to enter.

The ticket windows. Walk clockwise around this building to the toilets.

The ferry is down the walkway shown in the pictures, up some steps, and then turn right. For the station go more or less straight ahead. There is a clear sign showing which is which.

walk this way towards the ferry – and the train station

The ferry requires 50 sen and 20 sen coins to the value of RM1.20. If you don’t have this change you can get it at a window, and then put the coins into the turnstile.

on the passenger deck of the ferry

The ferry departs when vehicles are on and most passengers too. There are several per hour.

George Town in the distance. The ferry will arrive in another ten minutes or so.

Once the ferry docks you walk down and the bus station for local buses is on the right, and taxis on the left.  No taxi might want to take you if you are just going locally as the fare will only be RM10 or RM15.  In which case just walk to the road and hail one – but either cross the pedestrian bridge or walk back up the road a bit because it is congested and too busy to be safe where buses enter and leave the bus station. Taxis are supposed to use the meter, but generally won’t, so establish the fare before you get in.

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