Exploring the Malay Peninsula

From Singapore to Bangkok

An Excellent Network of Ground Transportation 

The two Southeast Asia gateway cities of Singapore and Bangkok, which lie at either end of the Malay Peninsula, are connected by an efficient, inexpensive, safe and comfortable network of ground transportation.  I had been wanting to check out this route for a number of years and finally had the opportunity to go by bus and train from Singapore in the south to Bangkok in the north, with overnight stays in the Malaysian cities of Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown/Penang.  I met a number of other travelers, including solos, groups and families, following the same trail and it turned out to be a great way to experience the culture and history of this interesting region.  As per my usual routine, I had made no reservations for transportation or lodging ahead of time, but had no difficulty in securing either along the way.

Bus Leaving from Golden Mile Complex, Singapore

Bus Leaving from Golden Mile Complex, Singapore

Logistics 

While travelers could just as easily start at the huge, but visitor friendly train station up in Bangkok and head south, I began my journey down in Singapore going north.  The trip only took me three days, but of course it would have been nice to have had more time to explore some of the sights along the way, such as Melaka and the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia or Phuket on the Southern Peninsula of Thailand.  After carefully researching all the alternatives I chose to take the bus from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur and then from there to Georgetown.  I then took the overnight train from Penang to Bangkok.  A good starting point for planning your trip is a visit to the website, The Man in Seat 61, one of our featured links, which has all the details on ground transportation in Southeast Asia and throughout the world for that matter.  I found that the detailed information described on this website was factually correct, reliable and up to date…spot on, as they say…and I used it as a guide during my entire trip through Southeast Asia.

Inside Bus from Kuala Lumpur to Georgetown, Malaysia

Inside Bus from Kuala Lumpur to Georgetown, Malaysia

Booking Your Tickets

When visiting Southeast Asia, I recommend that you fly in and out with an ‘open jaw’ ticket, arriving in Singapore, as I did, and flying home from Bangkok, or vice versa.  This precludes the need for backtracking, saving both time and money.  While I was exploring Singapore, I stopped at the Golden Mile Complex on Beach Road, a shopping mall where there are many bus companies standing by to book your seat on a coach heading north.  For $32 I reserved a seat on a bus with Five Stars Tours (Update: Five Stars Tours abruptly closed all operations in January 2014) leaving the next morning for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  The six hour ride took us across the Straits of Johor and on through some beautiful country.  Arriving in Kuala Lumpur around 3 PM gave me plenty of time to explore this city and get my bus ticket for the next day heading on to Georgetown/Penang.  On that leg of the trip the five hour bus ride was comfortable and included rest stops along the way, including a stop at Ipoh near the Cameron Highlands.  The train is an equally good alternative for traveling between Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown.

Ferry from Butterworth to Georgetown, Malaysia

Ferry from Butterworth to Georgetown, Malaysia

A Town Called Butterworth in Malaysia?

Confused about Penang vs. Georgetown vs. Butterworth?  Well, here’s the low-down.  Penang is a state on the northwest coast of Malaysia which consists of an island, known as Penang Island, and a portion which is situated on the mainland.  Butterworth (love that name!) is a city on the mainland part of the state of Penang, which has a bus and train station and a ferry landing all within walking distance of one another. Georgetown is a city on the Penang Island part of the state of Penang and it has a bus station and ferry landing, but no train service.  The most popular way in and out of Georgetown on Penang Island is through Butterworth on the mainland.  The 20 minute ferry crossing costs about 40 cents for pedestrians going from Butterworth to Georgetown and is free going the other way.  Ferries leave every 10 to 20 minutes from about 6 AM to 1 AM.

Inside the Night Train to Bangkok, Thailand

Inside the Night Train to Bangkok, Thailand

Night Train to Bangkok

In my case I arrived in Butterworth from Kuala Lumpur by bus.  I walked to the nearby train station to purchase my ticket on the night train to Bangkok for the following day.  Then I took the ferry across to Georgetown for the rest of the day and overnight.  The following day, I took the ferry back across to Butterworth to catch the train.  The ticket for a sleeper on the train cost $34 and the train left at 2:20 PM, arriving at the Hua Lamphong Railway Station (the main station in Bangkok) at 12:20 PM the next day.  So, what was it like spending almost 24 hours on a train traveling up the Southern Peninsula of Thailand?  It was actually quite pleasant and relaxing with some spectacular scenery along the way.  I enjoyed meeting a number of other travelers and had a good night’s sleep before arriving in Bangkok the next morning.  It was also my first introduction to the sometimes painfully slow speed of the trains in Southeast Asia, compared to the express trains of Europe or the bullet train in Japan.  While the departure and arrival times were reliable, there were times that the train seemed to be just pooping along.  In the end this ate into some of my allotted time, which I eventually had to make up for by taking several unplanned in-region flights.

Scenery Along Train Route to Bangkok, Thailand

Scenery Along Train Route to Bangkok, Thailand

Coming Next:  Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown with reviews of two Awesome Accommodations.

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