I recently caught the train and a flight between Penang and KL Here is an updated blog that supercedes this one: https://tropicalexpat.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/penang-to-kuala-lumpur-by-plane-train-bus-and-car-march-2017/
Update February 2017
I wrote this over four years ago. Apart from the train service, not much has changed, so I will cover only the train.
In the interim period the train line has been upgraded from single track to double track all the way to the Thai border from Gemas, south of KL. And Penang now has the ETS – Electric Train Service – meaning that the journey to KL from Penang-Butterworth can take as little as just over four hours.
This is a major improvement and provides more comfort and safety than buses, in a similar travel time.
The disadvantage of the train is that Butterworth station is a bit far from George Town, and you need to catch the ferry. But the bus station has the same disadvantage, being next to the train station. The other terminals for the bus are from Sungai Nibong or Queensbay Mall – also a bit far. Then, you find the same disadvantages for the bus and train in KL, where the terminals are not central. But the airport in Penang is further away, and the airport in KL is even further out, so really, unless you are flying out of KLIA, I find the train offers the best combination of safety, comfort and convenience.
For more information and links please see http://www.travel-penang-malaysia.com/ktmb-ets-schedule.html
As yet I have not travelled on this train, but once I do I will update with a few photos and blurb about the experience.
For details of each mode of transport please see these blogs:
Penang to Kuala Lumpur by night train UPDATE February 2017 – this train is no longer provided.
Minor update on Penang to KL train trip – UPDATE February 2017 – The train discussed has been replace by the ETS. As yet I have not travelled on this train, but once I do I will update with a few photos and blurb about the experience.
Penang to Kuala Lumpur to Singapore by train UPDATE February 2017. Again, this information is superceded with the introduction of the ETS.
KTM – train company web site – note that for purposes of the web site your point of origin is Butterworth, and destination is Sentral Kuala Lumpur.
There are many more bus companies.
And which is best? Of course, this is hard to say. Let’s compare them in terms of travelling time, cost, scenery and enjoyment.
If your destination is KL, then let’s look at the time it will take. You should be at the airport perhaps 1.5 hours before departure. Flight time is about 45 minutes, and then once you have landed it will take at least 45 minutes to collect your luggage if you have any, and to get into central KL, and more likely one hour or more. Thus total time from Penang airport to KL hotel is at least 3.5 hours. That is faster than any other mode. It can also be quite cheap if you catch one of the Air Asia specials. Catching a taxi to and from Penang airport, or parking charges there can add considerably to the cost, however. There is no airport bus in Penang, just a local bus, which is not very frequent or reliable. Apart from shortly after take off, the scenery you will see from the plane is not very interesting. It is more stressful flying, but if you are also flying out of KL, it can often be the easiest mode of transport.
If you are flying out of KLIA then flying is probably the best option. The airline you choose usually depends on which terminal in KL you fly out from. In Penang, there is only one terminal, so there is no issue with convenience for any airline. But in Kuala Lumpur there is KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) and LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal). Air Asia flys to LCCT, so if you are flying from KL on Air Asia, it makes sense to fly from Penang also on Air Asia. And if you are flying from KLIA, then you will probably want to choose a full service airline to fly on from Penang, as it will fly into KLIA. Of course, you can transfer between KLIA and LCCT, but the taxi fare is a little high, and the bus means waiting for up to 20 minutes, although the fare is low. Travel time is 20 to 30 minutes. And perhaps you have luggage, making this transfer even less fun.
Train: UPDATE February 2017
The train now takes a similar time to the bus. It takes about four hours, or up to four and a half, depending on the schedule. Occasionally incidents on the E1 motorway block or slow traffic, which obviously won’t affect the train, but will the bus. You will also have the travelling time to the station at Butterworth, so add on at least an hour for the trip to the ferry terminal, and ferry to Butterworth. It is very relaxing, though, and the scenery is better than travelling by air or road, providing you catch one of the day trains. As yet I have not travelled on this train, but once I do I will update with a few photos and blurb about the experience.
Travelling time by bus can be from four and a half hours to more, depending on traffic. But you will probably leave home an hour before the bus departs, so this must be added to the total travelling time. Bus fares vary quite a bit depending on which company you choose to travel with. But the more expensive bus companies tend to be safer, and more comfortable. Aeroline, the most expensive company, charged RM61.80 including the charge for booking online – in November 2012. Of course, by bus or car the scenery will be the same, as either way you will be travelling on the E1 north-south motorway. Mostly, the scenery is not very exciting. The bus can also be quite relaxing, depending on the skills of the driver – the cheaper the bus company, the worse the drivers, generally. Many people find the bus the most enjoyable way to travel this route. I would avoid any very late night / overnight bus journeys if at all possible, as bus drivers and other vehicle drivers have been known to fall asleep at the wheel.
When I drive, with three very short stops on the way, it takes about 4.5 hours in light traffic. By car you will presumably be driving directly from home to your destination, so it takes only about an hour more than flying. The road charges are about RM45, and I suppose you will use about RM70 for petrol, although this will vary quite a bit according to your car and driving style. Of course, there are other costs, but for me, as I don’t drive much anyway, it is really only these costs that count. RM115. Double the bus fare for one person, but if two or more people,competitive. Naturally you will be able to carry much more luggage, be able to visit other places en-route if you wish, and have use of the car in KL. You will have to pay for parking, however, which at many hotels is RM10 per day.
Is it fun to drive? Not particularly. It’s frustrating as the speed limit is pathetically low, and for the section of the road which is three lanes each way, the left lane is mostly empty, while most drivers drive in the middle lane, making overtaking in the left lane necessary when the right lane is also blocked by a slower vehicle. This is hardly ideal.
Strangely I didn’t mention teleporting, as it seems we’re not allowed to avail ourselves of this technology, although it has been around for decades. Andrew D. Basiago can fill you in – he hopes to have it available by 2020.
I have thought that if I wanted one day in KL for shopping, and dinner, an early bus from Penang arriving early afternoon, when the shops are open, and then the overnight sleeper on the train back, departing about 23.00 and arriving around 6.30AM at Butterworth, might be a good plan.