Updated: Dec 17, 2019
One of the most common questions that travellers asked is "how to get from one place to another?". Indeed, when planning for trips, we spent more time searching for ways to get around a country than what to do in that country. Such information tends to be limited and gets outdated rapidly due to changes in the transport system, city development and, occasionally, natural consequences. Sometimes, we may have to find other transport options when on the ground which may adversely affect our travel plans.
I did a trip to visit most of the old towns in West Malaysia in July 2017 using only trains and buses to get around the country. Technically, a "land trip". In this post, I will share how I planned the journey to get to the various destinations in West Malaysia from cities to cities. Sharing is the best I can do to assist fellow travellers to get around West Malaysia.
As shown in the map, I started from Singapore, travelled to Malacca, then Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Penang, the furthest point in the journey. After Penang, I made a U-turn and headed to Taiping, then Kuala Lumpur again and Muar before returning to Singapore. It is a leapfrogging roundabout trip along the western coast of West Malaysia.
What are common in these cities or towns? They are well-known to most travellers and have old towns with pre-war structures, historical buildings, traditional local food and rich cultures. And the primary travel objectives are food hunts and street arts.
Let's study the considerations that affected the planning of the road trip in West Malaysia. You may have your own considerations — or personal preferences.
1. Each bus journey should not take more than 3 hours without restroom stop or 4 hours with at least one rest stop. Sounds funny? Some bus drivers are so seasoned by their work conditions that they can drive for hours without rest stops. If the bus is getting nearer to the bus terminal, they are more unwilling to stop the bus. This caused some passengers, especially unknowing travellers, to "burst" their bladders.
2. Maximum bus journey should be capped at 4 hours to prevent poor blood circulations. Unlike travelling in a plane or train, it is dangerous to walk up and down the aisle of a moving bus.
3. For overnight travelling or journeys that take more than 6 hours, it is better and safer to use overnight trains with sleepers. One: travelling more than 5 hours during daytime wasted the day. Two: Overnight trains can save on accommodations and still provide sufficient sleeping time — with a pair of good ear-plugs.
However, the railway network, managed by KTMB, in West Malaysia is undergoing upgrading and train schedules are ever-changing until the work is completed — latest change in schedule was in August 2017. Between Johor Bahru (JB) and Gemas, the railway is being upgraded and older trains are still in use. Between Gemas and further north, the newer and faster ETS trains (Electric Train Service) are used. Travelling to the north from JB requires a change of trains at Gemas.
Due to the faster trains, doing overnight travelling is difficult at this time. It may be possible after the upgrading is completed but over much longer distance.
4. Avoid cabs in Malaysia. Not only foreigners, locals get ripped-off too!
From points 1 & 2, you should know why I leapfrogged from cities to cities instead of making a straight line to Penang. I am breaking all the journeys down to 3 hours travelling time. It is achievable. Now, let's get going!
1. Singapore to Malacca
Note: There is no train station in Malacca. The nearest station at Tampin is about 36Km to the north. The easier way to get to the historical city from Singapore is by bus. The most budget option is to take an intercity bus from Larkin Sentral.
First, get to Larkin Sentral from Singapore. The travelling time can be 1.5 hour on weekdays to more than 3 hours on weekends depending on the time required to cross the border. At Larkin Sentral, get a ticket from any bus companies to Melaka Sentral. 44-seaters cost RM18.00 and 27-seaters/executives cost RM21.00. The journey is about 2.5 hours non-stop or 3 hours with one rest stop — the bus driver calls the shot unless there is an urgent request for restroom.
More details on getting to Malacca
To get to Malacca's historical city, go to the domestic bus platform in Melaka Sentral and take bus service 17. It costs RM2.00 to Dutch Square or the "red house". Uber will cost around RM6.00.
What to do in Malacca Old Town?
2. From Malacca to Kuala Lumpur
If you are in the historical city, take bus 17 to Malacca Sentral. At the terminal, go to the intercity bus platform and get a ticket to Kuala Lumpur (KL). The bus will stop at Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS), the intercity bus terminal in KL. The journey is about 2 hours non-stop and cost RM13.40 (executive).
Note that TBS is about 10Km to the south of Kuala Lumpur city centre. To get to the city centre, use one of these options:
KLIA Ekspres high-speed train (the non-stop airport metro line) to KL Sentral. 15 to 20 minutes interval.
KTMB's ETS trains. There are only 4 services a day running at fixed schedules from Bandar Tasik Selatan Railway Station (just beside TBS) to KL Sentral or Kuala Lumpur Station. These are northbound trains from Gemas to Butterworth or Padang Besar (on the Thailand-Malaysia border).
KTMB's older Komuter trains will also service between Bandar Tasik Selatan Railway Station and KL Sentral/Kuala Lumpur Station but at hourly interval.
Rapid KL's LRT networks covering Kuala Lumpur. Get to Bandar Tasik Selatan LRT Station (beside the railway station) and use the monorail to get to your destination. Changing of monorails may be required.
To get to Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown (Jalan Petaling), take the ETS/Komuter train to Kuala Lumpur Station and walk over. Or use the monorail and alight at Pasar Seni LRT Station, which is only one stop from KL Sentral.
What to do in Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown?
3. From Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh
If you are in Chinatown, walk over to Kuala Lumpur Railway Station and get the next ETS train ticket to Ipoh. The fare range from RM25.00 to RM46.00 depending on whether the next train is ETS Silver (ES), ETS Gold (EG) or ETS Platinum (EP). The journey is about 2 hours 20 minutes. (ETS Train Schedule — tap on "KL Sentral - Ipoh - KL Sentral").
Pre-purchasing of ticket is not required unless during peak periods. ETS Silver trains are the cheapest, servicing between KL and Ipoh only, and they get sold out fast on weekends.
When going to Ipoh, and if you are staying in Ipoh old town, getting there by train is the best option as Ipoh Railway Station is just beside the old town (approx. 400 metres).
To get to Ipoh by intercity bus, you will need to get to TBS and buy a ticket to Ipoh Aman Jaya Bus Terminal (RM28.00), which is about 10Km further north from the old town. A change to bus or cab is