Penang to Singapore

To Singapore by Air Asia

The last trip I made to Singapore was by train – so I thought I’d fly this time.

The main carriers that ply this route are Singapore Airlines, which are usually quite expensive, Malaysian Airlines – which had no direct flight when I was travelling – all flights stopped in Kuala Lumpur, and Air Asia, which has several direct flights a day.  So Air Asia it was, then.

BOOKING:  Air Asia’s (AK) Internet site is quite fast.  But when you book you have to be careful to unselect several default options you may not want, and that add considerably to the cost, and unless you want the travel insurance, read carefully so you can unselect it. If you want to select your seat they want to sell you a “Hot Seat”, but selecting any other type of seat is far cheaper – just look carefully to find that option, if that’s what you want. If you find you’ve done it wrong and accidentally agreed to some option you didn’t want, you have to cancel and start again from the beginning.

PRICE: There is an extra RM10 for using the credit card to pay – or you can pay by bank draft online to avoid it. All up for me the price was a reasonable RM334 for the flight to Singapore and back.  As usual, the governments took half of that.

AK receipt

PRE FLIGHT: I received all the information I needed from AK by email, very quickly after booking. And a few days before the flight I received an email with a link to click which took me directly to the page I needed to check in on the web. Very easy and convenient. Or it would have been, had it worked.  I clicked through the procedure, only for it to tell me at the end I couldn’t check in on the web.  I started again, and again it failed at the end.  Fourth time lucky, though.  I printed the boarding passes for outbound and return.

THE BIG DAY: Included on the boarding pass is a convenient chart showing the four steps you need to take at Penang Airport. Step 1 was to clear security – now this may be correct for domestic flights, but on International flights not.  When I tried to follow step 1 I was told I have to go to the AK desk to have my documents verified.  At this desk a sign says “no luggage”, so there were two people with about 10 passports, passing some luggage to the attendant.  A short wait there left me with the impression it would turn into a very long wait at the speed the attendant was working, so it proved far faster just to go to a normal check in desk for the verification.  Staff was friendly. The check in machines had a sign on them saying to go to the normal check in desks, too, so I couldn’t try that option. Indeed, nothing much had changed when I walked back past the actual verification desk.

After this, all went smoothly.  The plane arrived, everyone boarded, and the plane took off on time.

Air Asia

The plane was clean, and the staff were friendly.

Plane was clean and tidy

Not so much leg room, but enough for me, so I was comfortable enough for the short flight.  The plane was quite full.


Soon after take off the in-flight meal I had preordered was delivered to me.  Not so many people had ordered, it appeared.

the meal

I strongly suspect that the sauce contained MSG (monosodium glutamate), a very cheap flavouring agent.and a known neurotoxin.  There is little awareness in Malaysia of how poisonous this is, and so it is hard to avoid unless you eat at home.  There are a few restaurants in Penang proclaiming that they are MSG free; it would be nice if Air Asia joined them.

the meal unwrapped

It was otherwise fairly standard for airline fare.

The plane arrived on time after a smooth flight of 1 hour 20 minutes.

So, a reasonably economical, fast and quite easy trip with AK, with only some minor easily fixed glitches, already mentioned. The return trip was about the same,(except in Singapore the boarding pass “steps” were correct), so Air Asia was consistent, too. A thumbs up for Air Asia.


From Penang to Singapore by train

If you want to know about train journeys, it’s hard to do better than looking at The Man in Seat Sixty-One.

This is a short account of my trip to Singapore by train in October 2011. The train trip went smoothly, and was interesting.  I am glad I did it. I am not sure I would do it again, though.

I booked seats through the Malaysian Railway’s (KTM site)- basic but functional. The prices were very reasonable. And anyone, Malaysian or foreign, over 60 years old gets a (50% discount) on all classes. I had to make two bookings for the return trip: Penang – Kuala Lumpur return, & Kuala Lumpur to Singapore return.

The train departs from Butterworth, on the mainland, the station being close to the ferry terminal. From home to the ferry was a few minutes by taxi.  Then you follow people to the ferry, as there is no real signage.

The “waiting room” for the ferry to Butterworth.

It seems the ferry goes every 10 minutes or so.  It’s free to Butterworth.

On the ferry

The ferry takes about 15 minutes to cross.

bye bye Penang (Island)

arriving at Butterworth Ferry Terminal

And then there are signs to the train station, which is about a five minute walk, with a lot of stairs.

signage to station

The bus station is much closer.  Perhaps you can even park at the station, but it doesn’t seem that secure.

Butterworth Station

The waiting room is cool and clean.

platform – left to Kuala Lumpur, right to Bangkok

The tickets I printed off the Internet are sufficient, and I don’t need them checked or endorsed.  There is a food court nearby.

The train – all the passenger trains seemed to have the same appearance.

The train left on time at 1400.  It was quite empty.  The carriages are old and not so clean. Second class carriages are four seats across and I believe no food or water is provided.

The First Class carriage.

The trip is very different from the motorway as you pass through many towns, and is more interesting, and there seems to be a lot of infrastructure work going on – bridges, roads, and it looks like they are laying new railway tracks to make it double track north of Ipoh.  But the train is very slow. And there is no trolley coming through and selling anything, and it seems no restaurant car.  And nothing being sold on the platform that you can get when the train stops.  So what you bring with you is what you drink and eat.  However, in First Class they brought us a bottle of water and a sardine bun.

At KL Station there is a First Class lounge – which again is old, run down, and not very clean.  But empty, with no one checking your tickets. There is Wi-Fi in the station, and also power points in the lounge that you can use.  A kitchenette, and toilets, are also attached.

First Class Lounge in KL.

Just around the corner from the lounge, on the same floor, is a Hawker Centre. I had a meal there.

my evening meal at the Kuala Lumpur Station hawker centre

The train left 10 minutes late for SIN.

inside the first class sleeper carriage

The First Class sleeper was two bunk beds, with a small bathroom attached with shower.


All was old, the bathroom was clean, but the bed sheets quite stained and not so clean. Importantly, it was not smelly.


Noodles and water were provided for dinner.


It was quite a rough ride, with a lot of jolts when starting off from a station that the train stopped at.  I slept OK, but woke a lot because it was so rough.

amenity pack provided

Food was provided when we were awoken around 5:30AM by the conductor.


The train stopped around 6am at Johore Baru for a long time for Malaysian Immigration.  Then on to Singapore.

the train arrived in Singapore

But the Singapore train arrival location is a disaster.  It appears they want only locals to use the train.  There is no info, no ATM, no money change, it’s about a half hour by bus to the subway – and the bus only takes exact money.  The Malay railway guy was helpful, and told me where I could go to find an ATM, and which bus to catch to the subway etc.  Then about an hour on the subway to the centre.

Woodlands Station, Singapore

Also, Woodlands, where the train arrives, has many food courts, and is quite dirty, with a lot of litter.  And people ignore red pedestrian lights and cross the road.  So Singapore is less strict now.

So now it is just too inconvenient to use the train.  The train used to arrive in the centre of the city – until July, 2011.

Not having a map I used the location map at the subway station to find the hotel I had booked.

I caught the Second Class sleeper back to Kuala Lumpur a few nights later, just to see the difference.

Second Class sleeper

And the differences? The second class sleepers are not segregated by sex.  Second Class was more fun, travelling by myself as I was, as I could briefly chat to a few different people before retiring to my bunk.  Also one is awoken later, closer to the destination, as no food is served. However, the toilets were a disgrace, disgusting as usual, and there was not even running water – a bucket of water was provided to wash ones hands.  The value of having a clean, non-smelly toilet, and to be able to shower before arrival makes First Class worth the extra.

As I was in Second Class on the return to KL I had to use the shower in KL Station.  This wasn’t so clean, but neither so dirty, and wasn’t smelly, but cockroaches were wandering around and I was worried one or more would get into my luggage.

the upper bunk

Hello from Penang

Most recent on top…

Miami Beach, Penang


There are many things I wanted to know about Penang and Malaysia, and couldn’t find on the web.  This blog, will, I hope gradually cover these matters.

The blog also helps clear out my brain of things I think, so I can move on and think of other things.


I try to write a new blog every three days – e.g 3rd, 6th, 9th etc. of the month

I update previous blogs with new information, but often don’t really bother marking what the updates are.  Sometimes I might use italics to distinguish new material.


Now two thirds through “Blogging for Dummies”.

In the future I hope to cover:

  • Why retire to Malaysia
  • Buying a house, a condo or renting
  • Selling your tax-free car
  • Gardening in the tropics – aka – growing stuff on concrete under an unrelenting sun
  • A typical day for this tropical retiree
  • Local restaurants
  • The German invasion of Penang – the sudden proliferation of German restaurants in Penang this past few months
  • Living with (or hopefully without) mosquitoes
  • 20 pence per hour is too much for parking!!
  • To Singapore by train
  • To Bangkok by train
  • Attractions in Penang
  • Day trips from Penang
  • Walking in Penang for the non-suicidal
  • Couch surfing
  • Sunshine is good for you – sunscreens are not
  • Making your own… simple recipes for stuff that’s good for you
  • Tropical fruit smoothies – so nice you don’t even put vodka in them
  • Interviews with expats and others of interest
  • Expats who don’t speak English (or Bahasa, Hokkien, or Tamil)
  • Can you live without the Internet?

and some more esoteric topics

  • I threw away my walking stick and started running after I learnt Reiki
  • MMS and me
  • My guardian angel helps me park
  • Sungazing?  How’s that working out for you?
  • Past life regression – gee, you mean I wasn’t a pharaoh in a past life?


Hi.  I’m new to this blogging thing.  And I am only half way through “Blogging for Dummies”, so I’m planning to edit this page once I know what I am supposed to be doing.

Tropical Expat