Getting Around Malaysia

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Getting Around Malaysia

By plane

Largely thanks to budget carrier AirAsia, Malaysia is crisscrossed by a web of affordable flights with advertised "promotional" prices starting at RM9 for flights booked well in advance. Flying is the only practical option for traveling between peninsular Malaysia and Borneo, as well as reaching some of the more remote outposts of Borneo. State carrier Malaysia Airlines also has competitive fares which now offers equal or even lower priced tickets if booked in advance through the internet, with sustaining class of hospitality. And their offshoot Firefly has a handy network radiating out of Penang previously, has also began operating from the Subang (Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah) airport.

Berjaya Air also flies small Dash-7 turboprops from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to its own airports on the resort islands of Pangkor, Redang and Tioman. Prices are steep (from RM214 plus fees one way), but this is by far the fastest and more comfortable way of reaching any of these.

In Sabah and Sarawak, MASWings, operates turboprop services linking interior communities, including those in the Kelabit Highlands, with coastal cities. MASWings took over the rural air services network from FlyAsian Express on October 1, 2007, which in turn took the service over from Malaysia Airlines 14 months before that.

By train

The Jungle Train at Gua Musang

Long-distance trains in Malaysia can rarely match road transport in terms of speed, but state operator Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) [23] provides relatively inexpensive and generally reliable services around Peninsular Malaysia (but not Sabah/Sarawak in Borneo). The main western line connects Butterworth (near Penang), Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru, while the eastern line runs through Gua Musang and the Taman Negara National Park to Kota Bharu, near the Thai border and the Perhentian Islands.

The pride of KTMB's fleet is the ETS (Electric Train Service) from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh, running modern air-conditioned trains 10x/daily at 140 km/h with a travel time of just over 2 hours. The rest of the network, though, is mostly single-track, with slow diesel locos and all too frequent breakdowns and delays. First and second class are air-con, third class has fans instead. For sleeper trains, KTMB's epitome of luxury is Premier Night Deluxe (ADNFD - between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur only) featuring individual cabins containing two berths and a private shower/toilet unit. More economical are the Superior Night (ADNS) sleeper cars, which have upper and lower berths along each side, each bunk having a solid partition at each end and a side curtain for privacy. The carriages shake and rattle quite a bit but are comfortable and clean.

The Jungle Railway is the apt description for the eastern line between Tumpat (close to the Thai border) and Gemas, including stops at Gua Musang, Kuala Lipis, Jerantut (for Taman Negara National Park) and Wakaf Bahru (for Kota Bharu and the Perhentian Islands). The original "Jungle Train" is the slow daytime service which stops at every station (every 15-20 min or so). It's 3rd class only, meaning no air-con and no reservations, and some stops may be lengthy as it's a single line and all other trains have priority - hence the "Jungle Train" waits in side loops along the way so that oncoming or overtaking trains can pass. Tourists may use this service to travel to Some find it to be a fascinating and stunningly scenic ride; others feel there's not much to see when you're in the jungle. Eastern line night trains (for which reservations are possible and recommended) also have 2nd class berths and seats, and some have 1st class sleepers too.

In East Malaysia, the only railway line is run by Jabatan Kereta Api Negeri Sabah (JKNS), running from Tanjung Aru near Kota Kinabalu to the town of Tenom.

By car

Malaysia has an excellent highway network, culminating in the North-South Expressway along the West Coast from Singapore all the way to the Thai border. Gasoline or locally known as Petrol is slightly cheaper than market prices at RM1.90/litre (Ron 95) (in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak). Tolls are payable on expressways, but these are priced at varying degrees, ranging from expensive to reasonable: driving the length of the country (734 km) from the Thai border to Singapore costs RM 108 (~US$25). While you can drive from Singapore to Thailand within a day on the West Coast, the highway system is considerably less developed on the East Coast, with no expressways, and even less so in Sabah and Sarawak, so be sure to factor in additional travel time if travelling in those areas. Toll prices for highways and causeways inside major cities, especially Kuala Lumpur, is priced exorbitantly ranging from RM4.00 to RM7.00 for each exit.

While driving quality and habits in Malaysia are better than most of the rest of Southeast Asia, it is not necessarily great, especially if for travellers coming from a Western country. Traffic in Malaysia drives on the left, a legacy left by the British. It should be advised, beware of reckless motorcyclists, especially during the night, and especially if you are a pedestrian: locals typically disregard a red light for left turns, putting pedastrians at risk. As a motorist, at traffic lights, they will accumulate in front of you - let them drive away first to avoid accidents.

Care is needed when driving in larger cities, such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Problems include apparently suicidal motorcyclists, congested traffic lanes throughout the day, and bewildering roads especially in the older parts of the city where planning was virtually nonexistent by the then British colonial occupier. Out of town however, cars and motorcycles are the best and sometimes the only way to explore the country. Some of the more rural areas have motorcycles and scooters to rent for as little as RM25/day, a great way to explore the local area or larger islands like Langkawi. As expected, most rental agencies will require a valid drivers licence to be presented upon rental. Fuel levels are often compared before and after rental, as well as for damage, so ensure everything is documented, and request a refund of any excess fuel if possible. The bigger car rental companies like Hertz and Avis may also require you to have a valid credit card where a deposit will be authorised but not deducted from (unless there is damage to the car).

Taxis are available in all cities and larger towns, although in smaller places you may have to call one (ask any shopkeeper or consult the yellow-pages). You will generally need to negotiate the fare in advance, although prepaid coupon taxis are usually available at airports. RM5 should suffice for a short cross-town trip, while RM100 is enough to hire a taxi for a full day.

In Kuala Lumpur, the budget taxis are usually coloured Red and White (City taxi - these taxis are not allowed to travel out of the city e.g. to another state) or Yellow. Taxis are usually small saloons such as Proton Wira and run on NGV (Natural Gas). The Blue taxis are larger saloons or MPVs (Multi Purpose Vehicles) and more luxurious. These cost typically 25-30% more than the budget taxis & are normally available at taxi stands all over Kuala Lumpur including the major malls & hotels. The Red & White taxis can be hailed off the roads & are metered. Ensure that the taxi driver is a Malaysian (all drivers must have a taxi permit &amp license with their photo on it) before you board, as unscrupulous taxi owners have been known to rent their taxi out to unlicensed stand-ins. Like in most other countries, a foreigner on a work visa are only allowed to work in the job/industry specified in the visa. All taxi drivers must be Malaysian or a PR holder as the Malaysian government does not issue work visa to foreigners to drive taxis.

Additionally, beware of unlicensed taxis (taxi sapu) at the airports. They can literally take you for a ride. There will be touts at the airports offering travellers their taxi service, even pretending to be legitimate. As unbelievable as it may sound, some have been known to rob first time visitors hundreds of ringgit for a single trip into the city, charging 100 times more than the correct fare. At the airports always get your taxi from the authorised operators' booths set up in the airport itself & never from anyone that solicits directly. They will always claim to be legitimate but are rarely licensed and may be unsafe. The taxi operator booths can provide you with receipts. Another tip is to book your taxis in advance. All good hotels' concierge will be able to assist you with this. If travelling in an unlicensed taxi you may not be covered by your travel insurance should that taxi be involved in a mishap.

By bus

The cheapest way to travel in Malaysia is by bus. All towns of any size have a bus terminal offering connections to other parts of the country. There are many companies of varying degrees of dependability, but two of the largest and more reliable are Transnasional [25] and NICE/Plusliner [26]. 24-seater "luxury" buses are recommended for long-distance travel.

If travelling on holidays or even over the weekend, it is advisable to reserve your seats in advance. Note that air conditioning on some buses can be extremely cold so don't forget to bring a good sweater, pants and socks, especially for overnight journeys on luxury buses!

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