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.
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