You have a few choices travelling between Penang and Kuala Lumpur.
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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.
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.
On Air Asia you would not normally be served anything, but of course the flight time is similar.
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
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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