Transport in Malaysia
Navigating your way through a new country, getting from A to B, and even arriving into immigration can be some of the most stressful parts of your travel experience, especially if you’re pushed for time. One of the really great things about Malaysia is that, compared to the rest of Southeast Asia, its transport infrastructure is one of the best. From well-maintained roads, to reliable railways, as well as the country’s international and domestic airports, travelling to and from Malaysia, even inside the country, from east to west, north to south, is easy!
Getting to Malaysia
Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, is an international travel hub with hundreds of flights arriving daily from across the globe making it one of the best-connected capitals in the world and a great place – not to mention the easiest place – to start your trip to Malaysia.
Plenty of international airlines fly into Kuala Lumpur KLIA and KLIA 2, as well as the country’s own airlines: Malaysia Airlines for longer haul flights, or MasWings, Malindo, and Air Asia for shorter flights from neighbouring countries.
Another option into Malaysia is taking the train which is a good alternative for those conscious of their carbon footprint and keen to save a bit of money on flights.
The railway journeys themselves are picturesque, running along the colonial tracks into small local railway stations, through jungles of palm trees and verdant mountains. Should you be coming in from Singapore’s JB Sentral Station there isn’t a direct train to Kuala Lumpur so you’ll have to change at Gemas for another train to Kuala Lumpur’s Sentral station, but the journey is easy and will only take 7 hours and 15 minutes and cost you a mere MYR52 for the two tickets (MYR21 + MYR31).
If you are coming from Bangkok you can similarly take the train to Padang Besar at the Malay border for MYR140.
It is a good idea to buy tickets in advance to secure you a set on the date you want to travel as all tickets come with seat reservations.
Note When booking any internal transportation in Malaysia – whether its flights, train tickets, or bus journeys – to avoid disappointment, be aware of important holydays and festivals such as Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Pusa, and Hari Raya Haji, as tickets normally sell out well in advance.
Travelling within Malaysia
Planning onward travel once you’ve arrived in Malaysia is sometimes easiest if you are starting your trip from Kuala Lumpur as you are best placed for connections to other popular destinations around the country – and usually transport has to go via the capital anyway.
If time is of the essence, then flying is usually the quickest way to get from A to B. Plus, to get from mainland Malaysia to Borneo flying is the only option.
AirAsia, Malindo, and Malaysia Airlines schedule multiple flights a day to Sabah and Sarawak from morning until night.
To get from KL to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah (or KK for short), flight time is just over 2 and a half hours with one way tickets from MYR120.
Flying to Kuching, in the southern state of Sarawak, takes just under 2 hours and prices start from MYR97.
Flights within Borneo are also easy to get, and run daily, if you want to fly into Tawau or Lahad Datu to go diving in off Semporna. To explore the Mulu National Park flying in from Miri is most popular option (it takes only 30minutes!) and there’s two direct flights a day with Malaysian Airlines (MasWings) for around MYR165. Get your camera out because the landing strip is right in the jungle making it one of the coolest runways you’ll ever go on!
If a slower scenic route is more your thing, the railways in Malaysia are some of the best – as we mentioned above – and a way of getting around the country without the turbulence.
If Georgetown is on your agenda (which it should be!) one of the easiest ways to get there is by train from Kuala Lumpur’s Sentral Station to Butterworth in Penang. There are two trains daily, one at 4.15pm arriving at 10pm and the other (night train) at 9.35pm arriving the next morning at 5.30am. A 2nd class adult ticket will cost you MYR34 for the earlier train and for the night train a 2nd class adult sleeper costs MYR40 for an upper berth and MYR46 for a lower berth. Double the prices for approximate 1st class ticket prices.
Once you’ve arrived in Butterworth you can catch a ferry to Georgetown any time from 5.30am-12.30am daily, and adult tickets cost just MYR1.20 for the 15-minute journey.
The route to Georgetown is similar to Langkawi, if you were planning to soak up some sun on its white sandy beaches. The ferry to Langkawi leaves from Penang, running daily at 8.30am and 2pm. The journey on the air-conditioned speedboat takes 2 hours 45 minutes and costs MYR60 for a one-way ticket.
Langkawi is also another entry point if you arrived into Malaysia from Thailand, should you be coming in from the north, with ferries arriving onto the island from Satun four times a day with tickets costing around MYR30.
Getting around the mainland (and indeed around Borneo) many travellers on a tight budget prefer buses – and there are plenty to choose from: Transnasional, Nice, Plusliner, Cityliner, among others.
Buses are cheaper than trains and flights and while they aren’t always the comfiest or shortest journeys, they will always promise to show classic blockbuster movies.
The roads are well maintained but some drivers can be slightly erratic, so although you won’t have a bumpy ride you might experience some hairy overtaking.
For those travelling from Kuala Lumpur to hike the beautiful hills of the Cameron Highlands there are four express buses running daily and the journey will take up to 5 hours and cost around MYR35 leaving from KL’s Terminal Bersepadu Selatan to Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands, Pahang, via Ipoh, Perak.
Malaysia’s UNESCO World Heritage Status city, Malacca, is best reached by bus, too, and understandably it’s one of the busiest routes due to its popularity with buses leaving practically every half an hour from 7am until 11pm from KL’s TBS. Tickets start at MYR15 depending on the bus company and the journey is around 2 hours.
How to get around
Finally, once you’ve arrived at your new locale, to get from A to B (whether it’s from your hotel to a temple, or simply to go eat at a restaurant) transport within both urban and rural pockets of Malaysia is readily available.
In Kuala Lumpur, the Monorail system will link you across the city and get you around comfortably in spacious fast moving air-conditioned carriages – it’s also a great way to get to the airport, too.
All around Malaysia there are also local buses, minibuses (bas mini), as well as local taxi drivers. When using any taxis – especially ones hailed yourself – make sure you pay by the meter (and make sure it works when you get in!) If you jump in a trishaw (pedicab) don’t be afraid to haggle the price before you go, rates will usually be inflated for tourists.
Alternatively, you might find your accommodation has its own shuttle service which could be more reliable and usually cost the same.