To take a plane or train to Malaysia?

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ July 25th, 2011. Updated on October 5th, 2013. Published in: Travel blog » Malaysia » Thailand.


Old train in Thailand

Take the old train … or take the new plane?

What’s cheaper and easier, flying or taking the train to Malaysia?

Decisions, decisions. I wanted to return to Malaysia as I had to leave a little to soon before. From Bangkok one would think that a short budget flight would be the answer. And it should have been. Only I wanted a last minute flight, and the price was … well, reasonable.

Only problem was, I’d only seen the price, and not the “extras“.

Buying a cheap flight in South East Asia is not always that cheap, nor easy!

Without naming names … Alright, it was AirAsia. I looked up several flights. Not bad prices. I chose one, then clicked next.

“Server Error”

What a great start to confidence building. I waited an hour and tried again.

Things started to work this time around. I clicked next, and was presented with Airport tax along with fuel surcharges (why???).

  • Lot’s of form filling …  next.
  • Then, Baggage fees.
  • More form filling.
  • Then pick a seat. Looks like one has already been chosen for me by default … wait … look to the left and see you are being charged for this. Deselect!
  • Que an annoying pop up box saying I’ve not chosen a seat!!
  • Click confirm and continue … another pop up box!
  • Next page, insurance has now been automatically chosen for me at some more cost. No thanks, next.
  • Wait … where do I untick here … there is nothing, I have to click a small “cancel” button. Is that right? … yes, another annoying pop up.
  • Next!
  • Now something else about buying more “travel protection”. No thanks.
  • Next!
  • Now they want me to buy a skybus ticket. Okay .. I will, I save 2 ringit.
  • Next!

And …. loading …. loading … Server time out!

It’s a good thing I am not on holiday and depending on this serice. For the record, I tweeted two AirAsia accounts, and got no reply. Being more sensible, I went to the train station and bought a one way ticket to Malaysia in 5 minutes. And, got a service with a smile.

Train station in Bangkok

The beauty of train travel, hop on, hop off

Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur direct … or … stop for the world’s best meal …

Apparently I could have booked myself all the way overland to Kuala Lumpur, but just as I was about to, I realised I was in no real rush.

And, the true beauty of train travel, is to get on and off and explore.

It also meant I could revist my favourite place in West Malaysia, Penang. If for nothing else, the world’s best Tandoori Chicken.

The train left Bangkok station on time. No three hour checkins. No taking one’s shoes or belt off. No taking your laptops out. Heck, I could even take my bottle of water with me. No security, no stress, no hassles.

Travel Tip:

Want to know where all the border crossings are from Thailand to Malaysia? Check my guide on traveling from Thailand to Malaysia overland

Choosing the right seat

Luck was with me some more as I sat opposite an old British long term traveler. He didn’t care for talk about what to see or do, instead we enjoyed ripping into Bangkok’s tourists and their daily plight. So, yes. An enjoyable train journey.

Coupled with a quite good dinner service, a little man made my bed with clean sheets and a blanket. And, I got an even better breakfast service. I really can’t complain about the overnight journey.

First thing to do when you arrive in Penang …

I arrived just past lunch time. By the time I got my next ticket and got the ferry to Georgetown it was nearly 2pm. There’s a clear drop in standards between Bangkok rail, and Malaysian. That’s said, the food in Penang knocks Bangkok on it’s heels.

Tandoori eaten, I checked in, with still enough time to go and visit the old fort and pier area.

Plane or Train from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, which was cheaper?

Taking into account an extra night in Penang, and the extra charges with AirAsia. The Train route saved me 1,000 Bhat.  And, I had a lot less stress, met some nice people, and revisited a great place.

No contest, the slow train won this one.

Hotel search at the Longest Way Home

Planning on booking a hotel room in Malaysia?

Looking for the best online rates?

I recommend you try my own hotel search for Malaysia. The best online rates guaranteed!


Coming Soon:

Fort Cornwallis a quick look before an early start …

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19 Great responses to To take a plane or train to Malaysia?

  1. Lois says:

    Hahahah… I had the same experience booking most of our promo tickets from Airasia. Not to mention a lot of hassle at the airport just to add baggage allowance when we failed to include it on the initial ticket. But yeah, we still go with them because it’s affordable. I haven’t been on the train in Malaysia yet, but a friend who took the same one you took told me it was pretty good. It even had wifi!

  2. I so agree with you! I have been trying to tell my friends for years that low cost airlines are not necessarily cheap!! But they seem to be brained washed. I have bought air tickets on full frill carriers for way lesser than Air Asia! And these very same friends would ask me how did you get it for that price and on their next trip take Air Asia again! Just plain weird! Today I will be taking my second train ride from KL to Singapore but this time I’m taking the sleeper… Pretty excited! In fact taking the train is cheaper than taking the bus to Singapore plus the train station is just 3 km from our home in Woodlands!

  3. John Wilson says:

    Yupper, airline travel is getting to be a real hassle.
    Basically they lie – offer a price, then jack it up with numerous fees.
    Call it what you like, I call it – “They lie!”
    Just for curiosity, do they have any sort of pass like they do in Europe on Asia? Or for a particular country?
    Seems that would be an interesting way to travel in Asia if they did.
    Good story, glad you got where you wanted to go.
    John D. Wilson

    • I think these low cost airlines all lie. The big international guys have to abide by international standards, including putting all the fees on the initial price tag. A lot easier.

      No such thing as a rail pass between countries here. It would be good alright. But, I think the train lines are only effective between Singapore, Malaysia and Singapore. Still, they could work something out, if they wanted to.

  4. iamthewitch says:

    LOL! Your account is so accurate and straight to the point! It’s really annoying booking with AA, they like to add in miscellaneous charges subtly. Oh I guess you haven’t completed to the end of the booking, where they’ll also charge you RM20 “Convenience fee” if you’re paying with credit card. Total bollocks!

  5. Aran says:

    I’ve done a train ride from KL up to Bangkok with my girl and my cousin from Canada. We stoped along the way at Hat Yai and Nakhon Si Thammarat. We loved the train ride and just exploring our way up.

    With the short train rides in Thailand we opted for 3rd class it was even cheaper. Just really slow. The overnight to Bangkok was fun, we drank some Shingha and chatted with people.

  6. I quite enjoyed the train from Bangkok through Malaysia, and eventually through to Singapore. In general I find train travel much easier – and more interesting – than flying. (No to mention the environmental and cultural benefits therein).

  7. Rick says:

    I want to take this trip. How much was the train fare? What time did it leave Bangkok? Can one take the train all the way to Singapore? I will be in Thailand in September.

    • About 1200 Bhat.
      Left Bangkok at 2.30 approx.
      You need to change at Butterworth Malaysia, then it’s all the way to Singapore

      • Adrian says:

        Just to point out for those who don’t know, if you’re doing Singapore to Malaysia/Thailand by train cross the border at Woodlands and board at Johor Bahru to avoid paying double! (Exchange rate issues..)

  8. Heather says:

    Glad to hear about the good reviews about the Thai rail service! We are heading to Thailand early next year and are planning to take the train from Bangkok to southern Thailand instead of flying. Now I’m even more excited about it!

  9. Palawan Martin says:

    Airasia are not so bad, this year i have been to Paris for 99 eur, bali for 25 us dollars, many internal malaysian flights for 5-9 usd, all including taxes. I know the drip pricing is annoying, but you just have to look at the final price. I remember the days when all airlines flew only half full, businessman prices, how things have changed. Nobody could afford to leave Palawan except the chosen few….

    If i remember well the connections at Butterworth are extremely problematic, some connections 3 am , huge gaps between the Thai railways and the Malaysian railways timetables, and i have to mention the timing, these trains are regularly 2-3 hours late and more.

    And …… is that the train on which you travelled hehe ?

  10. Mahfuza says:

    very informative. I have a plan to visit Thailand and form Thailand to by bua Malaysia and Singapore.

  11. Lisa says:

    I’m planing to go kl from Bkk. How long it take from Bkk to kl? Is there many stop in Kl or only 1 stop ? And price