GETTING TO MALAYSIA
Most international flights land at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) (IATA: KUL | ICAO: WMKK); AirAsia flights now use the new LCC terminal, a 20km road transfer away from the main KLIA terminal. KLIA's predecessor, the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport (IATA: SZB | ICAO: WMSA) in Subang near Kuala Lumpur handles chartered and turboprop aircraft. Other airports handling international flights are Johor Bahru, Langkawi, Malacca and Penang, plus Kota Kinabalu (Sabah) and Kuching (Sarawak).
National carrier Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has an extensive worldwide network coverage and regularly ranks high in airline quality assessments, while no-frills low-cost carrier AirAsia now covers an ever-expanding set of neighboring destinations including Cambodia, Indonesia, Macau, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
AirAsia +60 3 7884-9000 (hotline within Malaysia: 1-300-88-9933)
Malaysia Airlines +60 3 7846-3000 (hotline within Malaysia: 1-300-88-3000)
Berjaya Air +60 3 7846-8228 (ticketing only); +60 3 2145-2828
Direct sleeper train services connect Bangkok (Thailand) and Butterworth near Penang (Malaysia), also Hat Yai (Thailand) and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). There is also a less used eastern route from Hat Yai to Thai border town Sungai Kolok, but there are no through trains to the nearby Malaysian station at Wakaf Bahru (near Kota Bharu).
Comfortable overnight sleeper and somewhat misnamed daytime "express" trains also connect Singapore with Kuala Lumpur and Kota Bharu. Bizarrely, tickets from Singapore are twice as expensive as those to Singapore; you can save quite a bit by taking the train from Johor Bahru instead.
Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB - Malaysia & Singapore)
State Railway of Thailand (SRT)
Immigrating by train
For obscure historical reasons, if you arrive in Malaysia by train from Singapore, your passport will be scanned in but not stamped. Keep your train ticket until you leave the country again, or there may be some hassle on the way out. Likewise, if leaving Malaysia by train you'll get no stamp, but in this direction the Singapore authorities don't mind.
Long-distances buses/coaches into Malaysia run from Brunei, Indonesian Borneo, Singapore and Thailand. Please see the relevant city pages for more details.
Brunei - buses connect Bandar Seri Begawan with several Sarawak cities. The most popular jumping-off point is Miri.
Indonesia - direct buses operate between Pontianak in West Kalimantan and Kuching in Sarawak.
Singapore - a multitude of bus companies operate direct routes from Singapore to various destinations in Peninsular Malaysia, including Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and East Coast cities. Frequent buses make the short run between Singapore and Johor Bahru. To save costs, many people coming in from Singapore make the short hop to Johor Bahru and catch coaches to other Malaysian destinations from there.
Thailand - several companies operate services from Kuala Lumpur and other cities in Malaysia to Hat Yai in southern Thailand, where direct connections are available to Bangkok and many other Thai destinations.
Land crossings are possible from southern Thailand and Singapore into Peninsular Malaysia, as well as from Brunei and Kalimantan (the Indonesian side of Borneo) into Sarawak. An International Drivers Permit (IDP) is required. See the respective city or state pages for more detailed information.
Brunei - the main crossings are at Sungai Tujoh on the Miri, Sarawak, to Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei) road, and the Kuala Lurah-Tedungan checkpoint which is used for traffic travelling between Bandar Seri Begawan and Limbang in Sarawak. You can also access the Temburong district of Brunei by road from Limbang (Sungai Pandaruan) and Lawas (Trusan).
Indonesia - the main crossing is at the Tebedu-Entikong checkpoint on the main Kuching-Pontianak road. Various other minor border crossings used by locals are not necessarily open to foreigners.
Singapore - the two crossings are the Causeway which links Johor Bahru with Woodlands in Singapore, and the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link which links Tanjung Kupang, Johor, with Tuas in Singapore. See Johor Bahru Get in section and Singapore Get in section for more details.
Thailand - international checkpoints (with the Thai towns in brackets) are at Wang Kelian (Satun) and Padang Besar (Padangbesar) in Perlis, Bukit Kayu Hitam (Danok) in Kedah, Pengkalan Hulu (Betong) in Perak, Bukit Bunga and Rantau Panjang (Sungai Kolok) in Kelantan.
Ferries connect various points in Peninsular Malaysia with Sumatra in Indonesia and southern Thailand, Sarawak with Brunei, and Sabah with East Kalimantan in Indonesia and Mindanao in the Philippines. Luxury cruises also run from Singapore and sometimes Phuket (Thailand) to Malaysia.
Brunei - ferries daily between the Muara Ferry Terminal in Brunei and Labuan island and Lawas in Sarawak. Speedboats, mostly in the morning, also run between Bandar Seri Begawan jetty and Limbang, Sarawak.
Indonesia - the main jumping-off points from Indonesia are the Riau Islands of Batam, Bintan and Karimun; Dumai, Medan and Pekanbaru on the Sumatra mainland as well as Nunukan in East Kalimantan. Ferries link Batam and Bintan with Johor Bahru; Karimun with Kukup in Johor; Dumai with Malacca, Muar in Johor, Port Dickson (in Negeri Sembilan) and Port Klang, the port for Kuala Lumpur; Pekanbaru with Malacca; and Medan's port of Belawan with Penang. Daily ferries also link Nunukan with Tawau in Sabah. There are also minor crossings like between Bengkalis in Riau, Sumatra and Malacca and Muar in Johor; and Tanjung Balai Asahan in North Sumatra with Port Klang, the port for Kuala Lumpur.
Philippines - ferries run between the Zamboanga Peninsula and Sandakan, Sabah.
Singapore - daily passenger boats run between Changi Point and Pengerang, Johor; daily vehicle ferries operate between Changi Ferry Terminal and Tanjung Belungkor, Johor.
Thailand - four ferries daily (reduced to three during Ramadan) between Tammalang at Satun and Kuah on Langkawi, Malaysia. Vehicle ferries operate between Tak Bai in Narathiwat province and Pengkalan Kubur in Kelantan, Malaysia.
It's possible to walk across the Causeway between Singapore and Johor Bahru at the southern tip of Malaysia. You can also walk in/out of Thailand at Wang Kelian and Padang Besar (both in Perlis), Bukit Kayu Hitam (Kedah), Pengkalan Hulu (Perak) and Rantau Panjang (Kelantan).
GETTING AROUND MALAYSIA
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. Fly Asian Xpress (FAX), formerly MAS Rural Air Service, operates turboprop services in Sarawak and Sabah.
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.
As is the case throughout South-East Asia, trains can rarely match road transport in terms of speed (notable exceptions being Kuala Lumpur's LRT and monorail systems, and the high speed ERL services between KLIA and Sentral Station).
State operator KTMB 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.
There are several train types and fare classes. 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 Train" is a daily eastern line service which stops at every station (every 15-20 min or so) between Tumpat (close to the Thai border) and Gemas, including stops at Gua Musang, Kuala Lipis and Jerantut. 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 Taman Negara National Park (Jerantut) or the Perhentian Islands (closest station to Kota Bharu is Wakaf Bahru). 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.
Tickets can be booked and even printed online.
Major Station Telephone Numbers:
- Kuala Lumpur CALLCENTER +60 3 2267-1200
- Singapore (Enquiries) +65 6222-5165, +65 6221-3390
- Alor Star +60 4 731-4045
- Arau +60 4 986-1225
- Bukit Mertajam +60 4 539-2660
- Butterworth +60 4 323-7962, +60 4 331-2796
- Gemas +60 7 948-2863
- Gua Musang +60 9 912-1226
- Ipoh +60 5 254-0481
- Johor Bahru +60 7 223-4727, +60 7 223-3040
- Kampar +60 5 465-1489
- Klang +60 3 3371-9917
- Kluang +60 7 771-0954
- Kuala Kangsar +60 5 776-1094
- Kuala Lipis +60 9 312-1341
- Mentakab +60 9 277-1002
- Padang Besar +60 4 949-0231
- Pasir Mas +60 9 790-9025
- Penang +60 4 261-0290
- Segamat +60 7 931-1021
- Seremban +60 6 761-1708
- Subang Jaya +60 3 5634-1677
- Taiping +60 5 807-5584
- Tampin +60 6 441-1034
- Tapah Road +60 5 418-1345
- Tumpat +60 9 725-7232
- Wakaf Bahru (Kota Bharu) +60 9 719-6986
Malaysia has an excellent highway network, culminating in the North-South Expressway from Singapore all the way to the Thai border. Petrol is cheap at a little over RM1.92/litre, but tolls are payable on expressways.
Traffic drives on the left.
Beware of reckless motorcyclists, especially at night. At traffic lights, they will accumulate in front of you - let them get away first to avoid accidents.
In general, cars and motorcycles might not always indicate line changes and often change from the far right to the far left at the very last minute. Always be aware of what the cars in front are doing!
Care is needed when driving in larger cities, such as Kuala Lumpur. Problems include apparently suicidal motorcyclists, massive traffic jams throughout the day, and bewildering roads especially in the older parts of the city where planning is virtually nonexistent. 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.
To avoid the hassle of driving, taxis are a good way of getting around. They are available in major towns and cities but are most abundant in Kuala Lumpur and its suburbs. Taxis in Kuala Lumpur and its suburbs are metered but when demand exceeds supply or during rush hour, they may ask for a fixed price before commencing travel.
A few tips for unmetered journeys:
If you live in an expensive hotel, quoting a nearby destination such as a restaurant or shopping mall might save you some money.
Once the haggling is done, hop into the taxi, sit back and don't question the driver - the fastest route between two points in Kuala Lumpur is almost never a straight line!
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 and NICE/Plusliner. 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!