train travel in Malaysia

Arriving at Butterworth by train

Arriving at Butterworth by train you’ll end your journey at Penang Sentral. Penang Sentral is a hub from which you can catch the train, bus or ferry.

If you have been heading north on the train you can continue going north. If going south, you can continue south. Butterworth is on a branch line off the main line. It is also possible if you do not want to visit Penang to go directly to or from the Thai border from or to Kuala Lumpur.

From Penang Sentral there is a train service north to Padang Besar on the Thai border. You can cross the border to Thailand at the station. From there you can transfer to trains travelling north through Thailand. Or you can cross the border at the road crossing and catch buses to other parts of Thailand.

As for the train service south: it stops at cities such as Taiping and Ipoh on the way to Kuala Lumpur, and on towards Singapore.

Alternatively, arriving at Butterworth by bus, you can catch other buses to various parts of Malaysia from Penang Sentral. Finally, there is a ferry service four times an hour, across to Penang Island, a 15 minute journey.

If you are in no hurry, there are plenty of food outlets in Penang Sentral. And coffee shops etc.

So here are some photos and video of what it’s like to arrive in Penang Sentral. And thus moving on the catch the ferry to George Town.

Arriving at Butterworth by bus

Arriving at Butterworth by bus you’ll end your journey at Penang Sentral. Penang Sentral is a hub from which you can catch the train, bus or ferry.

From Penang Sentral there is a train service north to Padang Besar on the Thai border. You can cross the border to Thailand at the station. From there you can transfer to trains travelling north through Thailand. Or you can cross the border at the road crossing and catch buses to other parts of Thailand.

Alternatively, arriving at Butterworth by bus, you can catch other buses to various parts of Malaysia from Penang Sentral. Finally, there is a ferry service four times an hour, across to Penang Island, a 15 minute journey.

arriving at Butterworth by bus

The train from Malaysia to Chiang Mai

Bangkok Station

Bangkok Station

The train from Malaysia to Chiang Mai

The train from Malaysia to Chiang Mai is interesting and fun if you like trains. And a useful and safer way to travel if you want to make stops along the way.  And you’ll see some of the countryside, and have the experience. But if you don’t want that,  fly – if you’re flexible you can find cheap flights.

So you could make one or more stops or travel all the way to Bangkok in one go, and then take another train on to Chiang Mai. The latter is what I will describe here as in the past I have visited the below-mentioned.

Previously you could catch the train from Singapore to Bangkok on the one train. More recently it was Butterworth, Penang to Bangkok, but Malaysia has electrified the lines, while Thailand hasn’t.  So now one must change trains at the border of Thailand.

So the the train from KL and Penang to Chiang Mai is actually three trains. Train one to the border, train two to Bangkok and train three to Chiang Mai. For more photos and videos related to this trip, please see Part 2.

http://tropicalexpat.com/electric-scooter-assorted-minor-matters/

Malaysia’s Jungle Line – (Malacca to) Gemas to Kota Baru by train – AKA Circling Malaysia by rail (mostly) 3/4 – late 2017 update

13/10/2017 UPDATE

Talking to a KTMB representative today she told me that this line is open again and has been since repairs finished last year.

24/06/2014 UPDATE

Yesterday I noted an interesting article in the Star newspaper concerning this line. If you are planning a trip, you should check to see if this service is running before committing to travel plans.

However, in case the link disappears, here is the text copied from the Star site above:

Continue reading here.

Penang to Kuala Lumpur by plane, train, bus and car – March 2017

You have a few choices travelling between Penang and Kuala Lumpur.

Read the latest version:

http://tropicalexpat.com/index.php/2018/09/19/cleaning-my-air-con/

Plane

The main carriers from Penang to Kuala Lumpur are Malaysian Airlines and Air Asia.  Kuala Lumpur has two main terminals at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).  KLIA, which is where the full service airlines fly to and from, and KLIA2, which the low cost airlines use.  (There is another airport, Subang, which Firefly and Berjaya Air operate from, which is likely to be useful only if you wish to go to that area.)  Prices vary, but can be very cheap – as cheap as bus or train fares.

Air Asia web site

Malaysian Airlines web site

Air Asia

A flight takes only about 45 minutes, and in that time on Malaysian Airlines they serve a drink in a plastic container and a packet of peanuts, and then come around to collect the rubbish.  Those two activities take up the cabin crews’ time while at crusing height.

the cabin in economy

peanuts and juice

the seat back – screen not activated for use on this short flight

On Air Asia you would not normally be served anything, but of course the flight time is similar.

Train

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.

For more information and links please see http://www.travel-penang-malaysia.com/ktmb-ets-schedule.html

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  provides more comfort and safety than buses, in a similar travel time, and for a similar price as the better bus companies.

For my blog about a recent train ride from Penang to KL see here

Bus

Penang to KL by bus

KL to Penang by bus

Aeroline bus company

Transnasional bus company

Nice bus company

Konsortium bus company

There are many more bus companies.

Car

Driving from Penang to Kuala Lumpur

Heading south – typical landscape

And which is best?  Of course, this is hard to say.  Let’s compare them in terms of travelling time, cost, scenery and enjoyment.

Plane:

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.  Using the Grabcar app from Gurney Plaza to the airport is about RM26. Uber may be similar. 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 KLIA2.  Air Asia flies to KLIA2, 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 KLIA2, but it takes some time, and is less fun if you have luggage.

Train:

The train 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.

Bus:

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,   quotes on its web site a price of RM60 one way in March 2017. 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. However, around Ipoh, which is about half way, the scenery improves for a while. 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.

Car:

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.

My conclusion:

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 to central Kuala Lumpur.

For historical interest you can see a much older blog on this topic

Catching the train from Penang to Kuala Lumpur – March 2017

The train is a very viable transport choice between Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

Look here for prices and timetables, and to book online:  http://www.travel-penang-malaysia.com/ktmb-ets-schedule.html

Or see the official KTM web site, which is more difficult to use: 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.

Basically there are several trains a day in both directions, and the ticket prices as of this writing are RM59 or RM79, depending on which train you take.  The train is one class.

This blog describes the journey from George Town to Butterworth, where the train station is located, and then on to KL by train.

after alighting from a taxi or bus you walk along a passage towards the sea and the KTM office, where you can buy a train ticket if you wish.

note the opening hours of the KTM office

the KTM office

at the office the path turns right angles to the left, then later 90 degrees to the right and up a ramp to the ferry waiting area

some ferries load cars this way

looking back from the ferry towards George Town

looking back from the ferry towards George Town on the other side

about to disembark the ferry

Once you disembark from the ferry you walk straight ahead and then veer right, heading for both the bus station and train station.

you walk along an elevated walkway and cross the railway line

You cross a pedestrian bridge over the railway, turn left…

elevated walkway

at the time of writing construction continues, but you go straight here for the bus terminal, or right for the train station

… and then to the right for the train station, or straight still for the bus station.

the ground floor of the station – nothing but a small waiting area

you can catch a lift or walk up the stairs to the first floor where you can see the bus station from the window

It’s very easy to find. There is a lift that takes you up to the ticket offices and waiting area.

corridor towards the first floor ticketing and waiting area

the ticketing and waiting area

The station is bigger now, but it is very hot inside. You aren’t allowed access to the platforms until the train has arrived and passengers have disembarked. In my case we were allowed onto the train about 10 minutes before the train was due to depart. The carriages and seats are clearly marked, so finding one’s seat is easy.

the board

a poster

a poster

the platform, which you reach by walking down the steps or catching a lift

the train

the train

inside the carriage

inside the carriage

the network diagram

The train departed on time, and arrived in KL on time.

the view a few minutes after departure

the snack bar

There is a small café taking part of one of the carriages, with just few tables. You can buy coffee, teas, soft drinks, and a few light meals. The coffee was ok. The noodles I ordered were not very good.

food available

availability notice

what I bought

every passenger receives this snack package

contents of the snack package

scenery

The scenery is pleasant enough, but quite similar to the same trip by road.

scenery

The train makes a few stops along the way for short times, and is a smooth ride

Taiping station

Taiping station

scenery

scenery

scenery

scenery

Ipoh station

Ipoh station

Ipoh station

toilet is clean

There are clean toilets in a couple of the carriages.  LCD displays show progress, the next station and the speed of the train, which reaches about 140kph.

the electronic board in the train showing progress and speed

old KL station, a few minutes before the train arrives in KL Sentral. This is a view of the station I took from a bus

And as I mentioned above, the train arrived on time.

Of the three choices of public transport to KL, which is better?

If you want to see the scenery, then surface transport. But really, once is enough.

The airfare can be a similar price to the train or bus, especially if you factor in the cost from KL Sentral station or the bus station to the airport, if you are flying out of KLIA. So I tend to think flying is better if you’re going to the airport.

From Penang to central KL all three modes take around the same time.

If you’re going to central KL, neither the train station or bus station is really in the centre, but you can quite cheaply and reasonably quickly get there.  Whereas from the airport it’s a bit expensive by train to central KL, or slow by bus.  So going to central KL I’d suggest the surface transport.

The train fare can be higher than many bus fares, but similar to the better bus companies. With a bus you might get WiFi, with the train you don’t, but there are working power points on the train for every two seats. The train is smoother and safer, and more comfortable, so that would be my choice, unless you want to save a few Ringgit by using a cheap and possibly not so safe bus company.
So, to summarise, my idea is to fly between Penang and KL  if you’re then flying out of KLIA, or vice versa; otherwise catch the train.

Malaysia’s Jungle Line – (Malacca to) Gemas to Kota Baru by train – AKA Circling Malaysia by rail (mostly) 3/4 – mid-2014 update

 
Find a newer version here: http://tropicalexpat.com/malaysias-jungle-line-gemas-kota-baru-train/

24/06/2014 UPDATE

Yesterday I noted an interesting article in the Star newspaper concerning this line. If you are planning a trip, you should check to see if this service is running before committing to travel plans.

However, in case the link disappears, here is the text copied from the Star site above:

East coast line to undergo repairs

KUALA LIPIS: Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTMB) is expected to close down its 321km Gemas-Gua Musang stretch along the east coast railway to conduct major track repair works soon.

Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar said that despite its earlier notice to KTMB ordering its closure on Thursday, he expected KTMB to appeal the decision.

“We have noticed that KTMB has continued to operate despite such risky conditions,” he said.

It was important to stop as the Government had approved RM400mil to im­­prove the current railway track, he said after conducting a joint inspection with KTMB president Datuk Elias Kadir and KTMB chairman Datuk Nawawi Ahmad, senior SPAD officials and KTMB staff along the stretch yesterday.

The major track repair works involving 11 affected areas are expected to take up to two years to complete.

Among the affected parts along the stretch are railway bridges along Kuala Krai and Gua Musang in Kelantan, which face the problem of rotten wooden slippers, as well as soil subsidence and erosion affecting the tracks along Kuala Lipis and Jerantut in Pahang.

It is learnt that 13 minor derailments have occurred on the railway line since 2012.

Syed Hamid said while the notice issued was made in the interest of public safety, a final decision would not be made until KTMB had formally made their appeal.

“We understand KTMB’s situation and their services are a real need. Therefore, their position must be improved from time to time,” he said.

When asked whether the changes in the notice could affect those travelling during the upcoming Hari Raya season, he said the safety of the public remained the biggest priority.

“We have suggested KTMB to provide alternatives as we do not want to risk a big tragedy during the balik kampung rush,” he said.

Admitting their financial shortcomings, Nawawi thanked the Government for approving the allocation, but hoped that SPAD would delay the closure notice.

“We will discuss our appeal during the KTMB board of directors meeting on Thursday and will hand it over to SPAD soon.

“While we are very concerned about the safety aspects of our passengers, we would also need time to adjust to the possible closure,” he said.

—————

Malaysian rail network

Planning:

The plan was to catch a taxi from Malacca to Gemas, have breakfast if time, and then board the train for Wakaf Baru, the station near Kota Baru, where we would spend the night.  There is only one day time train a day, and so if you wish to see the scenery you have no choice but to take it. It only has second class carriages. They are in worse condition than the west coast trains.

Malacca to Gemas.

As there is no train line to Malacca, the branch line having been destroyed during World War 2, and having had no desire to spend the night in Gemas, we found ourselves having to catch a taxi early in the morning to Gemas Station.  There may be a bus, but I wouldn’t reply on being able to get to Gemas on time for the train. And as the train comes from Singapore there is no good train connection from Kuala Lumpur to meet this train.

Google Maps showed the following about the route by road from Malacca to Gemas:

  • Route 1 91.4 km, 1 hour 32 mins
  • Lebuh Amj and Route 1 89.2 km, 1 hour 36 mins N15

The taxi stand in Melaka Sentral quoted us RM140 to Gemas, and a driving time of up to two hours.

The Jungle Line – Gemas to Kota Baru:

Train 14 to Kota Baru [Wakaf Baru] (EKSPRES SINARAN TIMUR  17-Sep-2012 09:38 17-Sep-2012 18:52) is scheduled to depart at 9.38 from Gemas.

The other question is where to alight the train. There is no actual station at Kota Baru. This is what The man in Seat 61 says:

“Which station for Khota Bharu?  The closest station to Khota Bahru is Wakaf Bharu, about 5 km (3 miles) away.  A taxi from Wakaf Bharu to Khota Bharu costs around 12 Ringgits.  However, if you want to travel more cheaply by bus, there’s a better and more frequent bus service from Pasir Mas, 19km from Khota Bharu.  Buses run from Pasir Mas to Khota Bahru every 15-20 minutes from 06:45 to 19:00 from a bus station just 100 metres from Pasir Mas railway station.  If you want to complete the whole train journey to Tumpat, no problem, buses also link Tumpat with Khota Bharu every 45 minutes 06:45-19:30.  Bus information for all these routes is at www.cityliner.com.my, select ‘Kelantan’ then ‘Khota Bharu’ as your location.
Heading into Thailand?  Bus 29 runs every half hour from Khota Bahru bus station near the central market via Pasir Mas to the Thai/Malay border point at Rantau Panjang, fare 5 ringgits (£1), distance 45 km, journey time about 1 hour.  A taxi will cost about 17 ringgits.  Walk across the border from Rantau Panjang (Malay side) to Sungai Kolok (Thai side) and keep walking straight on for 800m to Sungai Kolok Railway station for trains to Hat Yai, Surat Thani & Bangkok. “
As most Malaysian trains do not have a dining car or even trolley service, we brought some food and water which we’d bought in Malacca the night before.
We booked a hotel in Kota Baru in advance as the train was scheduled to arrive around 7PM, which was a little late to be hunting around for a hotel.

The Trip:

We had  a taxi booked for 7AM, as we were told it could take up to two hours.  We were told the going rate was RM140, but were charged RM120 as the hotel managed a discount for us. As the traffic was light, it being a holiday, it took only one hour 20 minutes.

So we had over an hour to explore Gemas and the station, and to breakfast.  Most of Gemas was still closed at 8.20, and there did not appear to be so much to see anyway, but The Curry Point was open, and busy.

a great place for breakfast

We asked for Dosa,and a cup of coffee each, and the dosa was delicious. Cost for both of us, RM5.80.

dosa

Gemas station also has a cafe, but we were too full to even properly look in. It was open by 9AM, though.

Gemas station has a new platform, but all prospective passengers waited on the old platform until the train was shunted in to the new one, and then the way was opened for us to enter the new platform and board the train.

old platform

The main rail line is electrified, but the Jungle line uses diesel locomotives, so changing locomotives took time.  The train was only three carriages long, and they were all second class. Not long after boarding the train it departed, at about 9.45AM.

new platform and train

The point of this trip is to see the wonderful scenery. There is a report by a traveller on the The man in Seat 61 web page, which is what enticed me to make the trip in the first place. But as we continued to travel along the line, what we saw was mainly palm oil plantations, or land that was cleared, presumably for more palm oil plantations.

By 15.00 this had not changed, and we were still passing by the palm oil plantations or the devastated cleared land. This was disappointing.

There was a trolley on the train with snacks and sweet drinks, but no actual food.  It was wheeled through the train a couple of times, but was kept in the last carriage. We were happy we’d brought our own supplies.

At around 15.15 we arrived at Chegar Perah, little suspecting that we would spend the next 2 1/2 hours there. Of course, it was not announced, and even if you ask the conductor you don’t get much of an answer.  Apparently there was some breakdown somewhere up the line, and we were kept in a siding until other trains had passed. It is only a single line, with some sidings along the way for passing.

We amused ourselves watching the cows, goats and hens with their chicks wander past the train. The goats could actually walk on the rails without falling off.

goats walking along the rails at Chegar Perah

We walked around the train. Looked at the cows.

cows crossing the lines to where the grass is greener

There was a shop we found, by watching other people go there, but it wasn’t selling any food or drinks we were interested in.

the siding on the left, and the main line on the right

We got too hot outside and sat in our seats, as the air conditioning was still on.  A couple of trains went past in the opposite direction. We tried to sleep. Eventually around 17.40 the train moved off.

we finally move off

And from now the scenery improved.

At 18.45 we arrived in Gua Musang, and the train shunted into a siding again, and we waited for perhaps 30 minutes while trains passed by going  in the other direction.

It seemed to us that the train controllers had decided our train’s punctuality was a total lost cause, so they might as well make us even later, and keep the trains going south on time. Of course, there was still absolutely no information from the conductor, the driver, or the train company as to what was happening. By now it was almost dark, so we knew we were not going to see the scenery we had ridden the train to see.

Once we finally moved off it was dark and we couldn’t see anything. We stopped at Bukit Abu around 21.04 for about 10 minutes, and then at Kuala Krai at about 22.00, where we shunted again and went backwards and waited for a while. At last, around 23.50 we pulled into Wakaf Baru, five hours late, and with no apology or explanation from any of the train staff.

The locals get picked up by their friends, but there were quite a lot of foreigners, who no doubt wanted taxis, and not many taxis, so we had to hurriedly agree to a fare of RM35 (which probably should have been RM20), for the 10 minute ride to our hotel, or wait perhaps half an hour until the taxis returned and try for a cheaper fare. It was the only time we were cheated on our trip.

Hotels:

Malacca: River Song Residence, 100 Lorong Hang Jebat, Jonkers Street. This hotel/residence is inexpensive, new, clean, and has terraces right on the river, but the best thing is how friendly and helpful the management/staff are. We made a couple of requests, and they were 100% reliable.  In the past I have usually stayed in the Equatorial, which is exponentially more expensive, and a totally different atmosphere, but nice.

view from rear terrace of Melaka River

Kota Baru: Tune Hotel. I wanted to stay in one to see how it was. The staff were very friendly and helpful, and the rooms were surprisingly large for the image of the hotel.

Tune Hotel room is quite spacey

Conclusion:

It appears the best scenery is probably from Chegar Perah to about Kuala Krai.  As I missed seeing this due to it being dark I am thinking of taking the day train from Kota Baru next time, and then turning around and catching the train back to Kota Baru once I have seen the best part, or perhaps catching the 17.16 evening Intercity train and seeing most of it before it gets dark. There are other possibilities, too.