Travel

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:

 

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.

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Signs of Sri Lanka

Signs and a few typical sights in Sri Lanka:

Kandy train timetable

ginger beer is popular and good

a Sri Lankan curry

so many old buses

toilet costs more to use than in Germany

country restaurant

better watch for those crocodiles going about – but nevertheless I saw men swimming

also watch for elephants

a bit of a climb

they like to put elephant carvings on the walls

tourists have to pay big money to visit some temples – even if for religious reasons

tourists have to pay big money to visit some temples – even if for religious reasons

Sri Lanka has Buddhist, Christian and Islam, among others

at a bus station

I found local Marmite

statues in the making on the way to Sri Pada

so many dogs in Sri Lanka – and they are very relaxed. Few cats.

we climbed Sri Pada

at a Ayurveda shop

at another Ayurveda shop. So many in Kandy.

OK

delicious Kuttu – but fattening

A great many shoe shops – also Shoe Empire, Shoe Galaxy, Shoe Universe etc. Maybe.

A great many shoe shops – also Shoe Empire, Shoe Galaxy, Shoe Universe etc. Maybe.

A great many shoe shops – also Shoe Empire, Shoe Galaxy, Shoe Universe etc. Maybe.

A great many shoe shops – also Shoe Empire, Shoe Galaxy, Shoe Universe etc. Maybe.

A great many shoe shops – also Shoe Empire, Shoe Galaxy, Shoe Universe etc. Maybe.

A great many shoe shops – also Shoe Empire, Shoe Galaxy, Shoe Universe etc. Maybe.

A lot of shoe repairmen can be found on the street – RS200 or so to repair.

a distinct elephant theme in Sri Lanka

tuk tuks everywhere

many buses are old ones from Japan

many buses are old ones from Japan

many tuk tuks have a message

petrol is not cheap

cricket is very popular in Sri Lanka. But this is actually a betting shop.

alcohol is expensive, and they are big on temperance, it seems

some lions

a small scale copy of Borobudur in Indonesia

Hyde Park Corner in Colombo

Malaysian Airlines luggage delay – generally well handled

only three hours flight

We’d just arrived back in Penang from Colombo.  With only one hour ten minutes transit time in KL we wondered if our luggage would be loaded onto our Penang-bound flight.  Particularly as all three bags were labelled fragile.

While waiting at the luggage carousel in Penang Airport we noticed no more luggage was appearing.  Only a minute or two later a MAS employee strode over to tell us and a couple more passengers that there was no more luggage to be delivered.  We were accompanied to a desk three metres away where the employee took details of flight origins, the bag descriptions and all the obvious details.

They said they had currently no information, but would phone us when they did.  And that our luggage would be delivered to our home unless Customs wanted to examine it. In the latter case we’d have to return to the airport for luggage clearance by Customs.  We had not exceeded any Customs limitations, so we certainly hoped we wouldn’t have to return to the airport.  We went home, arriving about 10.30AM.  That was easy as we had only our hand luggage to carry.

At about 3PM a private sedan pulled up at our gate – it was our luggage!  Unfortunately only one bag still had the fragile sticker attached, and one of the others had a broken bottle, despite being securely wrapped.  So, Customs didn’t bother us, and MAS delivered our luggage in a timely fashion, with the only sad thing being the broken bottle.  We weren’t informed of progress at all by MAS, but I’m afraid that lack of communication is typical in Malaysia.

 

Such a relief to get back to Malaysia and get a Grab car from the airport

We just got back from a trip to Sri Lanka.

It was great, but the dishonest and annoying tuk-tuk and taxi drivers drove me crazy – as they do in many countries.  Thus I avoid them whenever possible, and thus decrease their income. Perhaps they calculate they get more money from cheating than they lose from customers they deter.

The main people who tourists deal with are hotel staff and transport providers.  As such they are kind of ambassadors for the country.  However, tuk-tuk and taxi drivers often do their best to give a poor impression.  I would have thought it smart for governments, which usually want to promote tourism, to encourage these drivers to act as good ambassadors.  Other governments may not, but kudos to the Malaysian government which recognises this; however, as I almost never catch taxis I haven’t seen the results.

So it was a relief to open the Grab app at the airport, have a car arrive in three minutes, and know that the car will be quite new and in good condition, with seat belts, and the driver will be honest, not try to sell us anything, and charge the price we agreed when we arrive.

I haven’t tried Uber, as the one time I tried to book they had no cars available.  Since then I’ve used Grab, and I’m happy with them.

As a tourist you can install the app on Android or iOS – (but not Windows phone), and use roaming or easily buy a cheap SIM at the airport on arrival.

 

 

Transportation in Penang for visitors and tourists

another blue ferry, but with a different car/passenger configuration

Penang is quite small and there are also many transport options.

This recently written site gives you some information to which I’ll add my opinions.

On foot:  The attitude used to be that if you walked you’re too poor even to buy a bicycle. If you cycled, you’re too poor to buy a motorbike… You get the idea.  The attitude is changing, but pedestrian facilities are poor, but being improved.  I do have a blog series on walking in Penang for the non-suicidal which you could browse.  So it’s practical and interesting to walk sometimes.  But pedestrian crossings are ignored by all vehicles, so wait until there are none around to cross.  A motorcyclist or driver could be smoking and texting and driving at the same time, so may not notice you.  If there are traffic lights, most vehicles will stop on red – but some cars and particularly motorbikes will ignore them – so cross cautiously looking always to ensure nothing is moving towards you, particularly between cars for motorbikes that might zoom through. But be careful and don’t overdo walking during the middle of the day. preferably wear a hat, keep your walks to under 30 or 45 minutes at a time, drink plenty of beer – sorry, water – to keep yourself hydrated.  If you feel overheated, quickly find a 7-11 convenience store or a bank, a mall etc.  that has air-con and cool yourself down. And drink more water.  Mild heat exhaustion can wipe you out for an afternoon – you might need to sleep.  Worse and it could take days to recover.

Public Buses: Rapid Buses are slow. As a solo traveller you could use one if you have plenty of time.  If you want the experience of riding one you could.  Unless you board at the terminals mentioned in the above site, Komtar or the ferry terminal, you can wait a very long time for the bus to come. I am not anti-bus. I just think that buses should either have a timetable posted which they more or less stick to, or be so frequent that you don’t need a timetable as there is virtually no waiting time. If you do ride one: Beware of pickpockets.

Hop on – Hop off tourist bus:  As run in many tourist cities around the world. So the concept would be familiar. The price if you are Malaysian is reasonable, and perhaps it’s worth using if you are a solo Malaysian traveller. Or even a Malaysian couple.  But for foreigners the price is crazy.  I see the buses often when I am out, and they are almost always almost empty.  It’s a pity as if foreigners weren’t discriminated against they’d probably have many more passengers as it’s otherwise a useful service. Naturally I have never caught it.

Bicycle Rental:  Personally, although I love cycling, I believe it’s too dangerous as the drivers are too erratic to risk cycling in Penang, except for the recently constructed cycle path from George Town to the airport.  Thus I have never rented one.  There are rental cycle stands in various places around Penang, where you can pick up or leave bicycles. Ask at your accommodation or look online for information if you wish. ( However, to use these bicycles involves installing an app on your phone which requires permissions to spy on your data and manage your phone calls etc., and if you read this company’s privacy and other policies on their website you’ll see how they are trying to amass personal data and share it.  I would recommend against using this company if you have any concept of protecting yourself from identity theft, as all it takes is a slip up, a rogue employee, or of course, a hacker, etc.  Renting a car or even possibly taking out a bank loan is less invasive. ) In the future this aforementioned path will be extended to Tanjung Bungah, on the north coast.  Once completed this will be an option – just beware of heat exhaustion.  Don’t overdo it.  But I am looking forward to this path, and I’ll finally be able to bring out my bike.  So the future looks good.

Car and motorbike rental: Both are possible but I know nothing about this.

Penang Airport: If you want the public bus turn left coming out of the terminal and walk a little to find it.  To be honest I’ve never caught it as it’s not worth the trouble. The above site explained the taxi system. They are the white airport taxis. The price is reasonable. I used them for years until I was kidnapped. (It was kidnapping-lite, so we got away quite easily after a while.  But since all of the “authorities ignored my emails with number plate and driver photos, including SPAD which is supposed to regulate taxis, I gave up.) Technically you can’t get picked up by ordinary taxis at the airport, but you can call Grab, which I’ll discuss later) and get them to pick you up. It’s safer and cheaper.  Last time from the airport to Gurney Drive cost me RM23.  White taxi is RM40+.

Train: There is no train on Penang island.  To get to Butterworth station I always get the ferry across to Butterworth from the Penang ferry terminal and walk a few minutes to the station.  When I checked earlier this year there were no longer any sleeper trains to KL. You can see another blog about my last train trip to KL.

Taxis: Apart from getting kidnapped by a white airport taxi I haven’t had any problems with taxis.  Find out what the fare generally is from your accommodation, and then you’ll be able to ensure you don’t pay a driver too much more. Because yes, despite the sign on the side of the cars saying the meter must be used, it rarely will be.  The taxi fleet is improving, but there are still many old cars in bad condition.  Maybe the seat belt is unusable.  The option below is better.

Grab taxi:  This is an e-hailing service.  Unless you are a solo traveller on a very tight budget, this is almost always the best option for getting around.  Install the app on your Android or iPhone (but not Windows Phone) and you can pay cash, so no need to register a card. But you can register a card if you wish to use it. You get a price on your app as soon as you put in the route, and if you tap the button to book, then that is the price you pay. I usually tip a ringitt or two. Gurney Drive to George Town is usually RM6 (less than USD2) when I use it. The cars are much newer than taxis, the drivers are usually much friendlier than taxi drivers, and it’s much cheaper. Uber is also here, but you get a quote not a fixed price. However, from last week the government started regulating e-hailing services.  I don’t know if that will raise prices or change what up until now has been very good. I mostly leave my car at home and walk or use Grab. (Full disclosure – I have no connection at all to Grab – I just think it’s great.)

To summarise:

Penang is not the best for pedestrians, cyclists, bus riders etc.  But it’s better than it was 10 years ago (when I arrived) and improving in many ways.

Solo travellers: On a low budget you could use a bus for longer distances, and Grab for shorter distances that you can’t walk. To circle the island it’s probably better by bus. If you’re going to Butterworth use the ferry.
Couples, families and groups: Use Grab, but the ferry to get to Butterworth. But still, if you can walk safely and the distance is not too great, you’ll see a lot more.  To circle the island you could get the price from Grab, consider the bus if you have time, or maybe a one day car rental would be a good idea.  Some younger tourists rent motorcycles, which is risky, but no doubt, fun.

Note: I won’t really bother with many links as you can find the sites yourself easily enough. But if you want any other details feel free to ask and if I know I’ll tell you and update the site.

Berlin buildings

apartment building in a suburban street

found a Malaysian restaurant

one branch of a chain of second hand shops

Lots of Primark stores in Germany – this one in Alexanderplatz

A shop where you play board games

the main Berlin bus station

A wall that survived the Dresden bombings – the temperature of the forestorms was lower than the temperature the ceramics were fired out

a square in Dresden

Trabant  museum in Berlin

Main branch of Humana

in Dresden

 

Berlin Biggies

Here are the big things I saw in Berlin and other places I visited on this trip.

big rooster in Potsdam

 

big ice cream and big penguin – it looks like the penguin ate some of the ice cream and keeled over

 

no idea what he is

 

the big backpack – in Dresden

 

the big backpack – in Dresden

 

big strawberry in Dresden

 

big currywurst in Berlin

 

big fire extinguisher – in Poland

 

big fire extinguisher – in Poland

 

theatre in Vilnius, Lithuania

 

theatre in Vilnius, Lithuania

 

big chef? on the railway platform, Vilnius, Lithuania