Planes, Buses and Ferries: Public Transport in Malaysia

Transport in Malaysia

When travelling in a foreign country, it can often be hard to decide what public transport option to go with. Sometimes it’s tempting to go with the cheapest (usually buses). Other times it’s tempting to go with the quickest, generally by plane, but not always once you take into account the time to get additional transport to the airport and how long you need to arrive before the flight departs. On my recent trip to Malaysia, I mixed it up, flying once, while taking a bus and ferry the other two journeys. Here’s my verdict on public transport in Malaysia.

Bus from Kuala Lumpur to George Town

Pros: I was advised by other travellers to choose the bus partially to take in the lovely views along the way. Unfortunately, due to the haze the visibility wasn’t that great, but I still got to take in the scenery immediately along the side of the freeway. It was also spectactular going along the long Penang Bridge to get to the island. The bus station in KL was easily accessible, within walking distance from many hotels in Bukit Bintang plus next to a monorail station, and the bus fare was very cheap (about $9 USD). We stopped briefly at a decent spot for lunch, where a number of options such as pastries were available for a few ringgit, and the bus was air-conditioned and quite comfortable, especially as it was only half full. There’s also many regular departures.

Cons: It wasn’t necessary to get to the bus station at least half an hour early, as advised on the tickets. In fact, the bus ended up being 45 minutes late. It was quite confusing for a non-native speaker, as I had no idea how long until the right bus arrived. It was also hot waiting downstairs next to the buses, to ensure I didn’t miss it. Additionally, towards the end of the journey the bus driver advised the people going to Penang to change buses. I got confused and changed, not realising this bus travelled across to Penang, rather than to the Butterworth ferry terminal to catch the short ferry across to Penang. It was quite confusing arriving at a bus station in the middle of the island, rather than a ferry terminal, and needing to catch an additional local bus that I didn’t know anything about.

Ferry from George Town to Langkawi

Transport in Malaysia: Langkawi Ferry

Pros: The ferry leaves from right in George Town, meaning that you can walk there from your accommodation or take the free CAT bus to the closest bus stop. While the ferry ticket advises you to arrive 1 hour early, 1/2 hour should be about right. I also selected the ferry to take in the views along the journey, but was again thwarted by the fog, with often nothing visible around the ferry. However, considering that all flights into Langkawi were cancelled that day, which I only discovered upon reaching my hotel and discovering most other guests had not departed or arrived, it was very fortunate to have chosen it!

Cons: The ferry journey took about 2 1/2 hours, but can be longer depending on the weather. If the sea is rough, some passengers can also suffer from sea sickness, but fortunately the sea was calm on the day I took it. The fare isn’t that cheap, costing about $17 USD one way, which is more expensive that some flights between Penang and Langkawi. Also be warned there is no food available on the ferry, so stock up beforehand or eat afterwards. I’ve also been advised the toilets are best avoided – which I did, so can’t share my own opinion.

Flight from Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur

Transport in Malaysia: AirAsia flight

Pros: Domestic flights are quite cheap in Malaysia, making it an affordable option for transport in Malaysia. It’s also the only option for travel to Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo. The flight takes is scheduled to take 1 hour 5 minutes, far quicker than any alternative transport (generally a ferry to the mainland, then a bus or train). It was a touch late departing (although not as late the bus), but there were plenty of shops to keep us occupied at the terminal prior to the gate, and the security was very friendly.

Cons: It’s a touch more expensive than taking a ferry and bus, but still rather cheap costing me only $20 USD. The main downside is actually getting into KL. The express train takes an additional 35 minutes and costs an additional $8 USD, plus extra for a monorail or taxi to your hotel. A bus into KL is cheaper, but it takes an hour. However, if you’re then connecting to another flight leaving Malaysia, such as in my case, this doesn’t matter and a flight will definitely be the best option. Additionally, I’m not sure how many flights were cancelled due to the haze, but it is a possibility in the latter months of most years.

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