To Penang by train!

A few years ago, an arduous bus journey was the best way to get from Kuala Lumpur to Penang. Nowadays, however, Malaysia’s new and sleek ‘ETS’ electronic trains can make the journey in a safe and comfortable way in less than four hours.

When you have decided enough is enough in Kuala Lumpur, head straight to KL Sentral, which is the main railway station of the capital. I have a lot of experience at KL Sentral, even if I just hop on the non-stop KLIA Ekspres service back to the airport, although the KLIA Ekspress effectively means “goodbye, Malaysia” whereas the train you need today is for a national service, thus it is just “goodbye, KL”! Bookings for the train between KL and Penang can be made online, but I went to KL Sentral a few days before my travel (this gave me some extra time to enjoy the great Malay food of Jalan Alor!) and made the booking in person. It was a stress-free process, and does not cost any different to what you would pay online.

There are a handful of ETS trains every day that leave KL and head to Penang (Butterworth). The earliest of these was the one I boarded: the 09.00hrs departure. This train was known as an ETS Platinum service and cost 79RM (£14). There are also daily departures at 11.30hrs and 16.18hrs, as well as 2 night time trains, which while taking roughly the same time to reach Butterworth, are still not really worth it for backpackers, as you would get there in the middle of the night (not a good idea), even if they are slightly cheaper at 59RM (approx. £10.50). Whichever train you take, remember that from Butterworth, you need the 15 minute ferry across the water to Penang Island, but that’s another story…

The ETS trains were much better than I had envisioned. I have travelled on trains in many other parts of SE Asia, and these ones in peninsular Malaysia rank very well indeed compared to the others. Seats were comfortable and reclined even further than those on aircraft, whereas there was a power socket for your laptop (you still need to bring your own correct adaptors, though!) underneath the seats in front. One bad thing about these trains is the temperature – it was so cold for the 4 hours that at some point during the journey I had to begin rubbing my arms to generate some heat into my body! I was this time wearing merely shorts and a shirt, so maybe next time I will come prepared with a cardigan!

(photo: RailPlaneTravels.blogspot)

Despite the journey being only 4 hours or so, I did receive a complimentary packet of peanuts and a Milo drink (why are these Milo drinks SO POPULAR in Asia?!) shortly after departure from KL Sentral. In addition, it is heartening to know that there is also a “café” aboard the train where you can purchase snacks and drinks to eat back at your seat. I didn’t buy anything – not even a bottle of water – but the guys behind the counter were kept busy with locals’ requests during the train journey nevertheless.

While the trains from KL to Butterworth head up to Padang Besar at the Thai border (an easy overland border crossing for your collection, by the way), most people on my train were heading to Butterworth. It seems that even local Malay people don’t want to go to Thailand! I didn’t spend any time whatsoever in Butterworth, as I had a good hotel waiting for me on Penang Island and didn’t want to miss the ferry, although one day I would like to return to see what this mysterious town has to offer…

One thought on “To Penang by train!

  1. When did you go to Penang, Lee?? Anyway, I love taking the ETS when going to Penang. It is so comfortable and convenient. But I do agree, the temperature inside the coaches is cold and I usually will bring along a sweater.

    As for the food, don’t bother to buy inside the carriage unless you are very hungry. Since the ETS is supposed to provide airplane-like journey, so the price of the food is the same as if you are buying on aboard an Air Asia plane.

    But I did buy a few times because 4 hours journey will make me hungry. Lol

    Oh, when you mentioned about Milo, now I realized. When I was in Europe, it was HARD to find a Milo!!


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