train travel in Malaysia

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

Overnight train from Penang-Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur – November 2013 – the trip

I made the booking, and I have just now made the trip, by ferry from George Town to Butterworth, and then the train to KL.

The first thing I noticed is that the taxi fare to the terminal has gone up 33% after the government raised the petrol price about 10%.

The next thing is that the Penang ferry terminal entrance is undergoing some construction work, and it is even less clear how to get to the ferry. You just go straight in the direct of the water, past a few shops, following the path around to the left, and where the path divides, take the left side (where the sign says Masuk = entrance) up to the waiting area.

Take the left side

Take the left side

At that time of night, the sign said there were four ferries operating, arriving at about every 15 or 20 minutes.

waiting area

waiting area

There is WiFi available – Penang Free WiFi, but otherwise it is an un-airconditioned, covered area with some seats. There is no WC.

When the ferry arrives, the passengers disembark, the cars then drive off, the embarking cars drive onto the ferry, and then the passengers catching the ferry are allowed on.

boarding

boarding

There are toilets onboard.

The trip across the water takes about 15 minutes, and passengers are allowed off as soon as the ferry arrives.

about to arrive

about to arrive

It’s about five minutes walk to the station – go straight ahead, and turn right at the end – where the sign says – then follow the path. The station ticket office / waiting room is air-conditioned and clean. It had taken me about one hour from when I caught the taxi in Pulau Tikus to when I arrived at the station.

waiting room and ticket office

waiting room and ticket office

The rest of the area around the ticket office is under construction. I went to the ticket window to find out how to get to the platform.  They are using new platforms, not the ones next to the ticket office. I told the ticket office attendant which train I was on, and she told me the train was departing at 11PM. The web site, and ticket says 10.28, so I said to her that it was going to be late. She said that it arrives at 10.28, so it will not be late.  Interesting definition of late. The toilet in this office is OK.

To reach the platform you have to return to under the stairs which brought you to the ticket office, and there is a track across the rails to the platform. The staff opens the gate about half an hour before the departure and you are free to board the train.

platform at Butterworth station

platforms at Butterworth station

As they are changing the station area I suggest you arrive in plenty of time to find the route to the platform.

the train

the train

I had a look at the other carriages. Here are a few photos.

Second Class sleeper

Second Class sleeper carriage

Second Class sleeper

Second Class sleeper carriage

Second Class berth

Second Class berth

Second Class seats

Second Class seats

Second Class seats

Second Class seats

seats with tables

seats with tables

I was in Coach L3 – which was easy enough to find, as the coaches are in order, and in Place 7A – which means Cabin 7, berth A.

First Class compartment

First Class compartment

 The quality of the facilities and service has deteriorated markedly. In the previous first class sleeper there was an attached bathroom, with shower, basin and toilet. In this cabin there is only a  wash basin. Previously the berths were attached and parallel to the side of the train, but now the berths are across the compartment, so they are shorter and you can’t stretch.  I think the carriage corridor is narrower as a result. On the top berth your head is very near the luggage rack, so if the train had to brake suddenly your head would be hurt. If you remade the bed the other way it would be safer.  I was pleased to discover there were two power points, as I wanted to recharge my phone, but disappointed that they didn’t work.  Anyway, they are high up, so you need a long cord. You used to be given a 500ml bottle of water, and some more or less inedible food, but not any more. During the night it became cold and the blanket wasn’t enough.  A jumper would be a good idea.

The train departed at 11.15, it was a bit of a bumpy ride, and from around 5AM there were annoying but unintelligible announcements about the next stop.  The train arrived on time!! At 6.30AM.

KL

KL

There is a lounge in KL Sentral railway station for first class passengers on the third level, very near the hawker centre. Previously I think it was always open, so I went there to clean up and charge my devices.  But now it seems to open for an hour and a half before a train departure.

waiting room times

waiting room times

I returned later when it was open.  Now it is infested with cockroaches in both the bathroom and lounge, and some mosquitoes are around,too.

VIP room / First Class Waiting Room

VIP room / First Class Waiting Room

There are showers on the bottom level, again with cockroaches.  And nearby, lockers, the smallest and  cheapest being RM5.

lockers

lockers

I went to the ticket office on the second level to book a return journey,but the train was completely booked for the next five days.  So, early booking is advisable.

If you can get a booking – book early –  it is still a reasonable way to travel from Penang to KL, as you save a day travelling by night, and save a night’s hotel costs. It is now worse than in the past, but still OK and quite comfortable.  But, ensure you use the toilet in the station before you board.  Take something to drink onboard, but don’t drink any more than necessary because you really don’t want to use the toilet onboard if you can avoid it.  Have something warm with you, like a jumper. And for safety consider sleeping with your head in the other direction.

Once the line is electrified it should be a much faster trip, and I don’t know if they will still provide a sleeper service. If they do, I hope they have new rolling stock.

You can see more photos on my older blog on the night train.

Overnight train from Penang-Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur – November 2013 – booking

It has been over a year since I last caught a train in Malaysia. When I went to the KTM website – http://www.ktmb.com.my/ I noticed some changes.

There are now only two trains a day to KL, and two back. These are:

Penang-Butterworth to KL Sentral:

Ekspres Rakyat: Departure – 08:00 Arrival -14:00

Senandung Langkawi: Departure – 22:28 Arrival – 06:30

KL Sentral to Penang-Butterworth

Ekspres Rakyat: Departure – 15:50 Arrival – 22:00

Senandung Langkawi: Departure – 21:30 Arrival – 05:30

In my experience they usually arrive about an hour late.

If you wish to book you can click the link on their web page, or this copy:

https://intranet.ktmb.com.my/e-ticket/login.aspx

Note that their website does not necessarily work, so you may have to try several times, or try again later.  Now you can book online up to four hours before departure time. Previously it was two days.  But if you want a sleeper you should book as early as you can, as they often sell out.

I see that there are changes to the first class sleeper compartment configurations. This is snappily named – ADNFB – Premier Night Standard Class. Previously there were two berths in the first class compartments, and a separate bathroom with toilet and shower.  Now it appears to only have a wash basin.  It is cheaper than the previous configuration, with the lower berth costing RM89 and the upper berth RM80. No food is now provided, which is no great loss.

First class sleeper

First class sleeper

There are also second class sleepers (labelled ADNS), and it appears these remain unchanged. If so, the whole carriage is lined on both sides of the aisle with upper and lower berths, with privacy provided by a light curtain. The lower berth costs RM46 and the upper berth RM40. More sociable as you can talk to previous passengers before you turn in.

2clsleep

second class sleeper

Otherwise you can sit up all night. The site is a bit confusing on the price of these seats.  Maybe RM34 for ASC and  maybe RM19 for AEC, but they look similar.

2cl

ASC second class seating

You can see more photos on my blog on the night train.

Well, that’s it. I am all booked.  After the journey I will write it up, and see if anything has changed from last year.

Penang to Kuala Lumpur by plane, train, bus and car

Read the latest version, October 2018:

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

I recently caught the train and a flight between Penang and KL Here is an updated blog that supercedes this one: https://tropicalexpat.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/penang-to-kuala-lumpur-by-plane-train-bus-and-car-march-2017/

Update February 2017

I wrote this over four years ago.  Apart from the train service, not much has changed, so I will cover only the train.

In the interim period the train line has been upgraded from single track to double track all the way to the Thai border from Gemas, south of KL.  And 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 is a major improvement and provides more comfort and safety than buses, in a similar travel time.

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.

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

As yet I have not travelled on this train, but once I do I will update with a few photos and blurb about the experience.

End Update

————–

For details of each mode of transport please see these blogs:

Plane

A flight on Malaysian Airlines to Kuala Lumpur
A flight on Air Asia to Singapore – just for comparison.

Air Asia web site

Malaysian Airlines web site

Air Asia

Train

Penang to Kuala Lumpur by night train UPDATE February 2017 – this train is no longer provided.

Continue reading on my new site:  http://tropicalexpat.com/index.php/2018/09/19/cleaning-my-air-con/

Penang Hill – November 2012 minor update

UPDATE AT BOTTOM OF ARTICLE

an old carriage displayed near the top station

I don’t mind crowds. But I don’t like waiting a long time because something is crowded.  As we heard that you can wait a long time to catch the cable car up Penang Hill, we chose the worst possible conditions – around opening time (6:30AM) during a torrential downpour. Surely it wasn’t going to be crowded then. It wasn’t.  And it was easy to park the car, too.

And why, after all these years, haven’t I been there before? Well, the ticket prices are far higher at RM30 than for Malaysians, who pay RM5, even for those of us who are residents.  I do not wish to support such discrimination. RM30 is almost our water bill for one year. I only went because a friend of mine was visiting and really wanted to go.

Read here for information from the government site.

You can see from this map where the top station of Penang Hill is, marked by “A”.

And from this map you can see how to get there by car. It is as the end of Jalan Bukit Bendera, and you can park if you turn right into Jalan Pokok Ceri, immediately before the end of Jalan Bukit Bendera.  On the left after a few hundred metres you will find a car park.

From the opposite end to the car entrance to the car park is a path leading down to the lower station.

path to station from car park

For access by bus, catch Rapid Penang No. 204 from Weld Quay to Penang Hill Railway Station. There is more information on the route here.

Entrance with the bus turning circle in front

the car at the bottom station

driver controls

heading up

Once you are up the top you can wander around. But note that the restaurants etc. don’t open until 11AM. For more information on eating

at the top station, ready to head down

My plan, were I to go again,would be to go up early, take coffee and food to consume before the coffee shops etc. open, and wander around everywhere until lunch time.  Have lunch, and then come down. Actually, I am going to try to walk up next time – which is quite a challenge.

———————–

November 2012 minor update

Unfortunately the Penang Hill funicular train service suffers from frequent technical problems. Last Thursday many people were stranded, and the service was closed the next day.  It has closed for business several times since it was reopened last year.

Here is another article from The Star, published Friday November 16th:

Please be aware that it is possible to catch four wheel drive up or down from the Botanical Gardens, if the train is closed. It is also possible to walk up or down, but I am told it is very steep.

And as the last link stated, “… the public could call PHC at 04-8288880 or log on to www.penanghill.gov.my for enquiries.  Before going, this could be a good idea.

Penang Hill

an old carriage displayed near the top station

I don’t mind crowds. But I don’t like waiting a long time because something is crowded.  As we heard that you can wait a long time to catch the cable car up Penang Hill, we chose the worst possible conditions – around opening time (6:30AM) during a torrential downpour. Surely it wasn’t going to be crowded then. It wasn’t.  And it was easy to park the car, too.

And why, after all these years, haven’t I been there before? Well, the ticket prices are far higher at RM30 than for Malaysians, who pay RM5, even for those of us who are residents.  I do not wish to support such discrimination. RM30 is almost our water bill for one year. I only went because a friend of mine was visiting and really wanted to go.

Read here for information from the government site.

You can see from this map where the top station of Penang Hill is, marked by “A”.

And from this map you can see how to get there by car. It is as the end of Jalan Bukit Bendera, and you can park if you turn right into Jalan Pokok Ceri, immediately before the end of Jalan Bukit Bendera.  On the left after a few hundred metres you will find a car park.

From the opposite end to the car entrance to the car park is a path leading down to the lower station.

path to station from car park

For access by bus, catch Rapid Penang No. 204 from Weld Quay to Penang Hill Railway Station. There is more information on the route here.

Entrance with the bus turning circle in front

the car at the bottom station

driver controls

heading up

Once you are up the top you can wander around. But note that the restaurants etc. don’t open until 11AM. For more information on eating

at the top station, ready to head down

My plan, were I to go again,would be to go up early, take coffee and food to consume before the coffee shops etc. open, and wander around everywhere until lunch time.  Have lunch, and then come down. Actually, I am going to try to walk up next time – which is quite a challenge.

Kota Baru to Penang by bus – AKA Circling Malaysia by rail (mostly) 4/4

The Plan:

This trip completes my three day circle of Malaysia.  The plan is to catch a bus to Butterworth Terminal, and then the ferry across to George Town, this being nicer than going to the bus terminal at Sungai Nibong in the south of Penang Island.

approximate bus route

Alternatives:

Now, this is obviously not by rail.  But when one has arrived by rail into Kota Baru what does one do? Well, you could backtrack by catching a (night) train back from Kota Baru to Kuala Lumpur, and another to Penang.  It costs more, takes longer, and you miss some nice scenery in northern Malaysia. But it is by rail.

Or you could catch a bus to the Thai border from Kota Baru, via Pasir Mas, walk across the border and on to the train station at Sungai Kolok, and then catch the train to Hat Yai, and another train to Butterworth. You will be passing through the Moslem separatist states of Thailand where terrorists occasionally kill whoever happens past, local or tourist.  And from Hat Yai to Butterworth it is difficult to get on a train unless you  have an advance booking.  You can catch a mini bus from Hat Yai to Penang, if you wish, though.

The Trip:

We chose the easy way – to catch a bus from the Tesco Bus Terminal, so named because is is relatively near Tesco. You can kind of see Tesco in the distance. The taxi fare from the Tune Hotel is RM10 if you happen to have stayed in that fine establishment.

Tesco Bus Terminal at Kota Baru

This bus site gives some more information. Our bus departed at 9.30 AM, and was scheduled to arrive in Butterworth around 16.00, from memory, but actually arrived about 16.45, despite light traffic on the whole route. It cost RM34.10, the .10 being for insurance. Insurance?

The first bus company we tried said their bus was full, but after another counter which had buses for Butterworth opened we were able to purchase tickets. And their bus was not full, so was more comfortable. My feeling is the scenery is better from the right side of the bus. The bus had no on board toilet, and only stops once, for lunch, apart from picking up and dropping off passengers at a few stops en route.

bus route

I have also driven this route in the past, and include a few photos I took from then.  It is quite a nice route, with nice scenery, and is generally not so busy.

our bus

lower deck

upper deck

The first part of the route, to Pasir Mas and Tanah Merah is urban and partly rural.

still semi urban

By the way, at Pasir Mas the bus stop is only a few minutes walk from the railway – there is no need for a taxi between them. Then the scenery starts to improve.

you see quite a few lorries carrying logs

outside an army base

lunch stop

Considering a stop was overdue we kept an eye out for eligible places, but the bus just kept on going past them until we finally stopped 13.15 at a very uninteresting “food court” with no view, and a little mediocre food still left. We scraped up what we could and ate hungrily, as we had not brought anything much with us to eat. (Note to self – take some sandwiches and something to drink for next bus trip.)

About 40 minutes later we departed.

Apparently elephants come out at night – a good reason for not travelling during the night. Another is that drivers sometimes fall asleep.

The next stop for about 10 minutes at 15.15 was to fill up with diesel.

A little while later, at 16.10 we pulled into the Kulim Bus Terminal where we waited for a few minutes. I could see a lake from my window.

a lake near the Kulim Bus Terminal

And finally at around 16.50 we arrived at Butterworth Bus Terminal.

you arrive somewhere around here in Butterworth Terminal

We alighted here for the ferry, but the bus would continue on and across the Penang Bridge to the final stop at Sungai Nibong in the south of the island.  The toilets at the Butterworth Terminal are around the back of the ticket window building, and cost 30 sen to enter.

The ticket windows. Walk clockwise around this building to the toilets.

The ferry is down the walkway shown in the pictures, up some steps, and then turn right. For the station go more or less straight ahead. There is a clear sign showing which is which.

walk this way towards the ferry – and the train station

The ferry requires 50 sen and 20 sen coins to the value of RM1.20. If you don’t have this change you can get it at a window, and then put the coins into the turnstile.

on the passenger deck of the ferry

The ferry departs when vehicles are on and most passengers too. There are several per hour.

George Town in the distance. The ferry will arrive in another ten minutes or so.

Once the ferry docks you walk down and the bus station for local buses is on the right, and taxis on the left.  No taxi might want to take you if you are just going locally as the fare will only be RM10 or RM15.  In which case just walk to the road and hail one – but either cross the pedestrian bridge or walk back up the road a bit because it is congested and too busy to be safe where buses enter and leave the bus station. Taxis are supposed to use the meter, but generally won’t, so establish the fare before you get in.