Transportation in Malaysia – A Guide to Getting Around

by | May 6, 2020 | 0 comments

If you are planning to travel to Malaysia, I’m sure you are wondering how to get around once you are there? The truth is,  transportation in Malaysia is pretty easy to use and there are plenty of options.

In this guide, I’ll help you figure out how to get around in Malaysia.

I will cover all of the major modes of transportation, how you can book or buy tickets, and which modes we think are the best. Hint: it depends!

If you are also heading to Borneo, check out our article about getting around in Borneo.

Contents

Modes of Transportation in Malaysia

As I mentioned above, getting around in Malaysia is pretty easy. One of the great things about navigating Malaysia is that most people speak english well and are happy to help. Additionally, Malaysia uses a phonetic alphabet that utilizes Roman characters, so it’s not hard to figure out what a sign means or how to pronounce something. Let’s get to the types of transportation in Malaysia.

Malaysia has a pretty well developed and modern transportation infrastructure. Major forms of transport in Malaysia include:

  • Planes
  • Buses
  • Trains
  • Ferries
  • Rental vehicles

In the next sections, I’ll go into detail about each kind of transportation.

Note: Malaysian Borneo’s transportation infrastructure is quite a bit different, that’s why we’ve made getting around in Borneo it’s own article.

Traveling by Plane in Malaysia

Traveling by commercial airlines in Malaysia is fast, cheap, and really easy. Most importantly, it’s safe. Last but not least, there are enough airports and flights spread throughout the country to get you to where you want to go. Or at least pretty close.

Flying is my top recommendation for getting around in Malaysia. I especially recommend traveling by plane if you don’t have lots of time to burn.

Flying domestically in Malaysia is really convenient. The prices tend to be pretty darn cheap and sometimes they are jaw droppingly cheap.

With all that in mind, I’ll describe, the domestic airlines in Malaysia, the airports, what you can expect when flying in Malaysia, and share some tips and information.

What to Expect When Traveling by Plane in Malaysia

Flying domestically in Malaysia isn’t much different than flying domestically elsewhere, with a few exceptions.

Flying in Malaysia is safe. The planes are modern and maintenance is up to international standards.

Seating on domestic flights here won’t be any different than what you are used to at home. This means if you’re in economy class, don’t expect to have much legroom and don’t expect much in the way of in-flight entertainment or food. However, domestic flights are pretty darn short, so you won’t starve or die of boredom. The longest domestic flights are from mainland Malaysia to Borneo, and those clock in at around 2 hours.

What is Check-in Like for Domestic Flights in Malaysia?

Checking in for a domestic flight in Malaysia and making your way to the gate is a pretty quick process. There is no need to get to the airport way ahead of time. Arriving between 1 to 1.5 hours ahead of your departure time is plenty.

What is Security Like for Domestic Flights in Malaysia?

Going through security for a domestic flight in Malaysia is pretty easy. Typically, the process is quick and if there is a line, it moves quickly. Just like home, you will have to send your carry on luggage through the scanner and pass through a metal detector. Unlike at home, there is rarely a hassle and airport security personnel are usually jolly.

What are the Airports Like in Malaysia?

The airports in Malaysia are pretty much what you would expect from an airport.

In bigger cities, the airports are modern, full of conveniences, and comfortable. The Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) is a spectacle in itself. Both of the main terminals are like giant shopping malls.

The bigger airports usually offer a decent selection of shops and restaurants. Additionally, free wifi is available at most airports other than the small ones.

The smaller airports can be interesting and quirky. The quirkiest one I have seen is the tiny Lahad Datu Airport in Malaysian Borneo. Usually, they will have at least one place to grab food and restrooms. Otherwise, don’t expect too much if you are flying into or out of a tiny airport.

In the next section, I’ll talk about where you can fly within Malaysia

Where Can You Fly in Malaysia?

The good news is that many of the most popular destinations to visit in Malaysia have an airport. If they don’t have an airport, there is a good chance that there is one nearby. This means there is a good chance that you can fly from wherever you are to the next destination on your itinerary.

Below, I have provided you with a list of the most popular travel destinations in Malaysia and the nearest airport.

City Airport Name
(Click to see map)
Domestic Airlines Nearby Attractions Domestic
Connections
Kuala Lumpur Kuala Lumpur International Airport
  • AirAsia
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Malindo
  • Kuala Lumpur
  • Putrajaya
  • Cameron Highlands
Peninsula

  • Penang
  • Langkawi
  • Alor Setar
  • Johor Bahru
  • Kota Bharu
  • Kuala Terengganu
  • Kuantan
  • Kerteh
Borneo

  • Kota Kinabalu
  • Kuching
  • Sandakan
  • Bintulu
  • Miri
  • Sibu
  • Tawau
  • Labuan
Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport (Only propeller planes fly from this airport.)
  • Firefly
  • Malindo
  • Kuala Lumpur
  • Putrajaya
  • Cameron Highlands
  • Alor Setar
  • Johor Bahru
  • Kota Bharu
  • Kuala Terengganu
  • Penang
  • Kerteh
Melaka Malacca Airport
  • AirAsia
  • Malindo
Historic City of Melaka
  • Penang
Penang & Georgetown Penang International Airport
  • AirAsia
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Malindo
  • Firefly
Georgetown
  • Kuala Lumpur International Airport
  • Johor Bahru
  • Langkawi
  • Melaka
  • Kuala Lumpur – Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport
  • Kota Bahru
  • Kuantan
  • Kota Kinabalu (Borneo)
Langkawi Langkawi International Airport
  • AirAsia
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Malindo
  • Firefly
Langkawi
  • Kuala Lumpur International Airport
  • Johor Bahru
  • Penang
  • Kuala Lumpur – Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport
Kota Bharu Sultan Ismail Petra Airport
  • AirAsia
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Malindo
  • Firefly
  • Perhentian Islands
  • Thailand Border
  • Kuala Lumpur International Airport
  • Johor Bahru
  • Penang
  • Kuching (Borneo)
  • Kuala Lumpur – Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport
  • Kota Kinabalu (Borneo)
Johor Bahru Senai International Airport
  • AirAsia
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Malindo
  • Firefly
  • Johor Bahru
  • Tioman Islands
  • Singapore
Peninsula

  • Kuala Lumpur International Airport
  • Kuala Lumpur – Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport
  • Penang
  • Langkawi
  • Alor Setar
  • Ipoh
  • Kota Bharu
Borneo

  • Kota Kinabalu
  • Kuching
  • Miri
  • Sibu
  • Tawau
Ipoh Sultan Azlan Shah Airport
  • AirAsia
  • Malindo
  • Ipoh
  • Cameron Highlands
  • Johor Bahru
Alor Setar Sultan Abdul Halim Airport
  • AirAsia
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Malindo
  • Firefly
  • Langkawi
  • Thai Border
  • Kuala Lumpur International Airport
  • Johor Bahru
  • Kuala Lumpur – Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport
Kuantan Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Airport
  • AirAsia
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Malindo
  • Firefly
  • Tioman Islands
  • Kuala Lumpur International Airport
  • Johor Bahru
  • Kuala Lumpur – Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport
Kuala Terengganu Sultan Mahmud Airport
  • AirAsia
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Malindo
  • Firefly
  • Redang Island
  • Perhentian Islands
  • Kota Bharu
  • Kuala Lumpur International Airport
  • Kuala Lumpur – Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport
For Airports in Borneo, Click Here.

Airlines That Provide Domestic Flights in Malaysia

There are three primary airlines providing domestic flights within Malaysia. The one you choose will be based on a combination of availability, price, and baggage (this is important).

There are also two other domestic carriers serving limited locations. I list all of these airlines below.

AirAsia

AirAsia is the largest airline in Malaysia. Also, AirAsia is quite often the cheapest airline for domestic flights.

Website
Cost

AirAsia is a budget airline. The base price for the tickets is usually cheap. In fact, they are often the cheapest, however, there is an exception. If you have baggage to check, it might work out that the other two are cheaper. More on that below.

Carry on Baggage

AirAsia’s carry on baggage policy is standard. They allow a carry on bag and a personal item (laptop bag, purse, etc.). The carry on bag weight limit is 7kg or about 15 lbs.

The cabin luggage weight limit is strictly enforced in Kuala Lumpur. I have been forced to check my bag due to this.
At other airports, I have found that AirAsia’s carry on baggage weight limit is rarely enforced. However, if you check in at the counter with AirAsia, they may ask to weigh your carry on.

From personal experience, I have carried on bags that were well over the limit. The enforcement seems to be getting a bit tighter these days, so I feel it is something you should be aware of.

Checked Baggage

Airasia charges for any checked baggage. When you buy your ticket, checked baggage is not included, but you do have the option to add baggage when you book.

The rates for checked baggage are reasonable if you book the baggage at the same time you book your tickets. If you wait to book until you get to the airport to check in, I have found that the price is higher.

In-flight Amenities

AirAsia does not provide any complimentary in-flight amenities such as food, entertainment, or wifi. All of these are available but you will have to pay.

As far as food goes, if you want to buy a snack, a meal, or a drink on the plane, the price is reasonable. You also have the option to book a meal ahead of time when you purchase your ticket, which is usually a bit cheaper than buying during the flight.

I mentioned above that domestic flights in Malaysia are pretty short. In-flight entertainment doesn’t really come into play. It is important to note that AirAsia’s planes don’t have personal televisions for passengers. With that in mind, if you are flying with restless kids, it’s good to have something planned ahead of time to occupy them.

Many of AirAsia’s planes offer wifi for a fee. I have not personally used their wifi so I can’t really say much about it.

Upgrades

Domestic Airasia flights offer upgrades to what they refer to as “hot seats”. Hot seats are typically the first few rows of seats on the plane and the exit rows.

In my opinion, there isn’t anything too special about the “hot seats” on AirAsia flights. The one nice thing about hot seats is that you get to board the plane first.

Malaysia Airlines

As you can tell by the name, Malaysia Airlines is Malaysia’s flagship airline. Malaysia Airlines is usually more costly and operates fewer flights; however, their normal ticket price includes checked baggage.

Website
Cost

Malaysia Airlines tends to be the priciest option for domestic flights. That being said, sometimes the price will be the same as AirAsia and Malindo. And on a few occasions Malaysia Airlines will have cheaper rates.

Despite being slightly more expensive, Malaysia Airlines does offer some perks. One of the major perks is free checked baggage. As I mentioned above, make sure you factor baggage into your equation when you are comparing prices.

Carry on Baggage

Malaysia Airlines limits their carry on luggage to 7kg as well as the standard one carry on bag plus one personal item. Unlike AirAsia, I have not witnessed Malaysia Airlines frivolously weighing everyone’s carry on bags, so if your carry on is a bit heavy, it’s likely that no one will care.

Checked Baggage

Malaysia Airlines standard domestic ticket, “Economy Basic”, comes with a 20kg checked baggage allowance. Business class passengers are allowed 40kg of checked baggage.

As of February 20, 2020, Malaysia Airlines updated their baggage policy with an economy pricing tier called “Economy Lite” which includes no checked baggage. Make sure to keep an eye out for that if you want checked baggage.

In-flight Amenities

Malaysia Airlines offers free in-flight beverages and refreshments on their domestic flights. The fare is usually quite simple. Sometimes, it’s as simple as peanuts and juice. I have been on Malaysia Airlines domestic flights that only served peanuts, but I have also been on domestic flights that served some Malaysian pastries.

In-flight entertainment is pretty hit or miss. I believe it just depends on the plane that you get. I have been on 45 minute long domestic flights that had personal televisions in the seats and I have been on 2 hour flights that didn’t have TV’s.

In-flight wifi is a rarity with Malaysia airlines. In fact, I have not been on a domestic flight with Malaysia Airlines that offered wifi.

Upgrades

Malaysia Airlines offers upgrades to business class for their domestic flights. Malaysia airlines business class comes with the perks you would expect. This includes, comfier seats, priority boarding, more generous baggage allowance, and fancier in-flight foods and beverages.

Malindo Air

Malindo Air is a subsidiary of Lion Air, which is an Indonesian based airline. Malindo Air doesn’t offer quite as many routes as Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia. In my experience with Malindo, the perks are pretty good for the price and the planes tend to be newer.

Website
Cost

Malindo’s ticket prices usually fall somewhere in between AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines. However, I have occasionally found Malindo to be the cheapest option.

Carry on Baggage

Malindo allows one cabin bag and one personal item for carry on. The weight limit for these items is 7kg.

It is important to note that Malindo strictly enforces their carry on bag weight limit to the point of absurdity. Be ready for the check-in staff to tell you your carry on luggage is too heavy even if it is a fraction over 7kg.

Checked Baggage

Malindo offers several price tiers with varying luggage allowances:

  • Super Saver – No checked baggage
  • Economy Value – 20kg checked baggage
  • Economy Flexi – 30kg checked baggage
  • Business Promo – 30kg checked baggage
  • Business Flexi – 40kg checked baggage
In-flight Amenities

One of the great perks of Malindo Air is that they offer personal in-flight entertainment systems on all of their domestic flights. In my opinion, it’s not a huge perk for the short domestic flights in Malaysia, but it is certainly nice to have that option.

For economy class tickets, Malindo offers free drinking water. Other snacks and beverages are available for purchase. For business class tickets, Malindo offers complimentary snacks and beverages.

In-flight wifi is available on select Malindo Air flights. After doing some looking on their website, I could not find anywhere that mentions which flights have wifi and which do not. If your Malindo flight has wifi, expect to pay to use it.

Business class seats are equipped with charging plugs.

Upgrades

Malindo Air offers upgrades to business class for their domestic flights. Similar to Malaysia Airlines, business class comes with comfier seats, priority boarding, and a more generous baggage allowance.

Firefly

Firefly is a budget airline serving a number of domestic routes in Malaysia. Firefly is a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines. Subsequently, Firefly flights can also be booked through Malaysia Airlines website.

Firefly’s fleet consists only of propeller aircraft. Depending on the route you book with Firefly, you may find yourself on a jet, but it will be a Malaysia Airlines flight.

Note that Firefly’s Kuala Lumpur hub is Subang (Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport) airport which is in a different location than Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The options for getting to and from Subang airport are more limited than Kuala Lumpur International.

You can book firefly flights to and from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, but those flights will be Malaysia Airlines flights.

I have not personally flown with Firefly, so I can’t speak to how they compare to the other domestic carriers.

Website
Cost

The cost of flying with Firefly is comparable to AirAsia and Malindo for similar routes.

Carry on Baggage

Firefly offers the same carry on baggage limits as Malaysia Airlines, which is 7kg.

Checked Baggage

All tickets purchased with firefly include 20kg of checked baggage.  Additional checked baggage can be booked if you need it.

In-flight Amenities

Firefly flights include basic refreshments, which consists of a snack and a beverage.

Firefly is a budget carrier, so there is no in-flight entertainment or wifi on board their flights.

Upgrades

The only upgrades you will find with firefly are for flexible booking. There is no business class on Firefly.

MASWings

MASWings is a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines and they act as a regional airline for Malaysian Borneo and Labuan.  For more details on MASWings, refer to the MASWings section our article about getting around in Borneo

How to Buy Plane Tickets in Malaysia

The best method for buying plane tickets is to buy online. All of the airlines in Malaysia offer online ticket buying through their websites. It is also possible to find domestic tickets through travel search sites such as Skyscanner.

If you plan to buy online, I recommend buying directly from the airline. The reason for this is that it makes it much easier if there is a cancellation or delay. That being said, the airlines are pretty reliable and timely.

If there is some reason you cannot buy online, both Malaysia airlines and Airasia have some ticketing offices located around Malaysia. You can search for those offices using the links below:

Conclusions on Getting Around in Malaysia by Flying

As I mentioned above, flying is my preferred method of getting around in Malaysia. Other forms of transportation can offer a bit more adventure, but flying is cheap and easy.

These days, I don’t have all the time in the world so flying makes sense. The best part is that it’s not prohibitively expensive like it can be in other parts of the world.

Traveling by Bus in Malaysia

Traveling by bus is one of the cheaper ways to get around in Malaysia. Additionally, it’s one of the favorite ways for Malaysians to get around.

One of the cool things about traveling by bus is the fact that you just might end up meeting a friendly local. I’ve made some great connections traveling by bus. I’ve been invited to meet people’s families, treated to meals, and even had beers bought for me.

If you have plenty of time, getting around by bus is a good option. Depending on where you are headed, the journey can be a long one. That being said, it’s great for most trips.

What to Expect When Traveling by Bus in Malaysia

Typically, buses in Malaysia are modern and fairly nice. Depending on the route you are taking, some are much nicer than others and that will usually be reflected in the price. If you are looking for something nicer, I would recommend walking around the bus terminal and looking at the quality of the buses from each company.

Oftentimes the bus you have booked might claim to offer wifi onboard or have TV’s. Don’t expect these to be functional. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. If you are counting on that on-board wifi, you might find yourself disappointed. That being said, if you go in expecting that it might not work, you will be pleasantly surprised when it does.

What to Bring on a Bus Ride in Malaysia

It’s always a good idea to bring water and some snacks with you when you hop on the bus. For longer bus journeys, there will usually be a pit stop or two. Usually the bus will stop long enough for you to go to the bathroom and buy some snacks. Depending on the company or the duration of your journey, they might stop long enough for you to grab a hot meal.

Are There Bathrooms on the Buses?

Well…it depends. I can’t answer this question with any authority because I have seen it both ways. If a bathroom on the bus is important to you, make sure to ask when you buy the ticket. And when you board the bus, make sure to check. If there is no bathroom, be sure you’ve done all your business before the bus departs.

How is the Ride?

The highway system in Malaysia is robust and well maintained. So if you are traveling between most cities, the ride will be smooth and the bus will make good time. This is true most of the time, however, it’s not always the case.

If you are traveling from the lowland areas up into the highlands, you might find that the road is smooth, but there will be a lot of twists and turns. If you easily get motion sickness, consider booking a seat in the front and purchasing some motion sickness medicine from a local pharmacy.

Where to Catch the Bus in Malaysia

Figuring out where to catch the bus in Malaysia isn’t usually difficult. Most towns have a central bus terminal. Buses that travel between towns and cities usually depart from the central terminal. Tickets can be purchased at the terminal as well (we’ll discuss this further down)

Sometimes, the central bus terminals aren’t exactly in the easiest places to get to. What I mean is that the terminals can be located on the outskirts of town and not reached by foot. If that’s the case you can take a taxi there or catch the city bus (if there is one).

Occasionally, a bus company will operate their own terminal in a location different from the central bus terminal. Usually a quick google maps search for “bus terminal near me” or “bus near me” will show you if there are any around.

And finally, if you are in a small town, you might have to wait by the side of the road to catch the bus. Either that or there may be a shop that acts as the designated bus stop. In these shops you can buy your ticket and also meet the bus out front. Chances are you won’t need to do this, but you never know.

Bus Terminal Locations

To make things easier for you, I’ve assembled two lists of bus terminal locations. The first list is for popular destinations in Malaysia that are directly accessed by buses. Please note, this is not a comprehensive list, rather it is a quick reference for where you might catch a bus in the touristic destinations you may be visiting.

City Terminal Name (Click to see location) Notes
Kuala Lumpur TBS – Terminal Bersepadu Selatan TBS is Kuala Lumpur’s main overland bus station. This will be the primary station you will leave from if you are taking the bus to another city or town.
Pudu Sentral Pudu Sentral is an alternate bus terminal in Kuala Lumpur. There are far fewer buses departing from here than from TBS, above.
KL Sentral KL Sentral contains a small underground bus terminal which provides bus services to Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Melaka Melaka Sentral Melaka Sentral is the primary bus terminal for Melaka.
The Terminal is located out of the historic city center area, however there is an express bus that takes passengers from Melaka Sentral to downtown.
Penang/Georgetown Penang Sentral (also known as Butterworth Bus Terminal) Penang Sentral is the main bus terminal for Penang. Most overland buses leave from here.
This terminal is located on the mainland. It is easily accessed from Georgetown by ferry as it is adjacent to the ferry terminal. The station is also adjacent to the KTM ETS train station.
Cameron Highlands Tanah Rata Bus Terminal Tanah Rata is Cameron Highland’s small bus terminal. Depending on where you are staying, you may need a taxi to your accommodation since things are pretty spread out.
Johor Bahru Terminal Sentral Larkin (Larkin Bus Terminal) Larkin is Johor Bahru’s centrally located bus terminal and serves most overland destinations in Malaysia.
Ipoh Terminal Amanjaya Large bus terminal. Located outside of the city center, you will have to take a taxi to get there.  There are many buses heading each direction.
For bus stations in Borneo, Click Here.

This second list is meant to give you the closest bus station to places that aren’t directly accessed by bus, such as islands. These stations represent the easiest option to get to your final destination.

Destination Closest Bus Station (Click to see location) How to get from Station to Destination
Georgetown Penang Sentral To get to Georgetown, you will make your way to the ferry, which is adjacent to the station. The walk will take 5-10 minutes.
The ferry will cross the water and drop you in Georgetown.
Langkawi Kuala Perlis – Kuala Perlis Bus Terminal The Kuala Perlis ferry terminal is 450 meters from the bus terminal. This is a short walk. Taxis are also available.
At the Kuala Perlis ferry terminal, you can catch the ferry to Langkawi. There is a ferry every hour and a half from 7:00AM to 4:00PM
Kuala Kedah – Alor Setar Bus Station From the bus station, you will head to the Kuala Kedah Jetty. It is about 13km, so you will have to take a taxi from the bus station to the jetty.
At the Kuala Kedah Jetty, you can catch the ferry to Langkawi. There is a ferry every hour and a half from 7:00AM to 4:00PM
Taman Negara Jerantut Bus Terminal, Jerantut, Pahang According to tamannegara.asia the closest public bus terminal is in the town of Jerantut.
You will ride the bus to Jerantut and then catch a bus to Kuala Tahan inside Taman Negara. NKS Hotel and Travel are currently the provider of the bus service from Jerantut to Taman Negara. They offer two shuttles leaving from the Jerantut Bus Station at 7:00AM and 4:30PM
Perhentian Islands Terminal Bas dan Teksi Kuala Besut When you arrive at the Kuala Besut bus terminal, it is just under 1km to the Kuala Besut Jetty. The bus terminal is also a taxi terminal so you can either brave the walk or grab a quick taxi ride.
If you plan to just turn up and get a ferry ride to Perhentian Islands, don’t be surprised if they are sold out for the day. The ferry services between the mainland and the perhentian islands are quite busy sometimes.
Tioman Islands Bus Terminal Mersing, Mersing, Johor From the bus terminal, it is about a 1km walk along the Mersing River to reach the Mersing Ferry Terminal. You will also be able to catch a taxi from the bus station.
There are several ferries departing daily to Tioman. The departure times are dependent on tide and sea conditions.
Special Note: There are some specialized transportation providers who offer trips from Kuala Lumpur direct to some of these locations. With these operators, you can purchase a package that will take you directly to the location.

How to Buy Bus Tickets in Malaysia

There are several ways to buy bus tickets in Malaysia. I’ve listed those below with some tips.

Buy Your Bus Ticket From the Sales Counter at the Bus Terminal

In my experience, this is the most reliable and cheapest method for getting a bus ticket. It is also the method I recommend. Let me explain how it works.

Most bus terminals have a host of bus companies that operate there. Each of these companies will have their own booth or sales counter. At these booths, the bus companies will display the routes they serve, departure times, and usually, ticket prices.

Buying from these booths means you are buying directly from the company.

Buy Your Bus Ticket Online

One option is to buy your bus tickets online. Over the past few years, several websites have popped up that offer online sales of bus tickets for journeys within Malaysia as well as to Singapore and Thailand.

I have tried this once using a foreign credit card and was unable to purchase a ticket. That being said, it must be working for locals because there is a fair amount of competition.

Here is a list of websites offering online bus ticket sales for Malaysia:

It’s important to note that you need to check the departure station and arrival station, particularly for Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Some cities have multiple bus terminals and it would really suck to miss your bus because you are at the wrong station, or to be dropped off in a suburb, far from where you thought you would be.

Even if you don’t plan on buying your ticket online, these sites serve as a great place to check prices and schedules.

If you successfully book your bus ticket online, I would love to hear about your experience.

Book Your Bus Ticket by Calling the Bus Company

If you’re not a local, this might prove difficult. There is no guarantee that the person on the other end of the phone will be proficient in English, so you could have difficulty.

Perhaps you are asking why I would even mention this method? Well, although you may not be able to get the ticket booked yourself, the staff at you accommodation can probably call and get you booked on the bus.

This brings up a good point. The front desk staff at your hotel are usually great resources for things like bus tickets and getting around in general. Don’t be afraid to ask!

For now, we will file directly calling the bus company under“advanced methods”, but it is a viable option, so I’ve included it.

Traveling by Train in Malaysia

Traveling by train is a great way to get around in Malaysia. The trains are comfortable, occasionally scenic, and reasonably priced.

There are two main long distance train routes in Malaysia. These two routes can take you all the way from the southern tip of Malaysia to the border of Thailand. I’ve included a useful route map here.

These two routes are served by two different train systems. One is an electric rail train system, aptly named the Electric Train Service (ETS) and the other is a diesel locomotive system called the KTM Intercity. I get into more detail about these two lines later on.

Finally, there is the North Borneo Railway in Malaysian Borneo, you can find information about that train in our article about getting around in Borneo.

All of these train systems are owned and operated by the Malaysian Government owned KTM or Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad , which roughly translated means Malaysia Land Train Limited.

I have tried to be as detailed as possible here, but if you want to read further about train travel in Malaysia, the Man in Seat 61 blog is a great resource for train travel in Malaysia, particularly for traveling from Singapore to Bangkok, through Malaysia.

What to Expect When Traveling by Train in Malaysia

Trains in Malaysia are roomy, comfortable, and have the necessary amenities to make for an enjoyable trip. The trains are air conditioned and they have food available for sale.

What to Expect on the ETS

The ETS trains are newer, more modern, and faster than their Intercity counterparts, described below. Trains are air conditioned and equipped with restrooms. There is a food and beverage bistro on the train that serves snack foods and drinks.

ETS trains operate three services: Platinum, Gold, and Silver. These services simply denote how many stops that particular train makes. Platinum service makes a limited amount of stops and Silver stops at all stations. Gold is somewhere in between.

Malaysia’s ETS trains offer two seating classes: standard and business. The business class runs once daily in each direction.

Standard class train cars are equipped with luggage racks and LED TV’s. It is, by all means, pretty standard.

Business class is a slight bump in price, however for that price bump you get quite a few perks. Business class seating includes meal service, free wifi, power plugs, comfier seats, and your own in seat entertainment system.

What to Expect on the KTM Intercity

The KTM Intercity trains are older and slower than the ETS trains. That being said, they are still comfortable. Intercity trains are air conditioned, equipped with restrooms, and offer food service.

The intercity trains offer several seating classes. The classes that are available will be dependent on which route you are booking. The classes are:

  • Superior Night Class: Air conditioned sleeper car with double decker sleeping berths.
  • Premier Class: Air conditioned car with double seats on one side and single seats on the other. Premier class offers the most space of the three non-sleeper options.
  • Superior Class: Air conditioned car with 2 by 2 seating. 60 total seats in each car.
  • Economy Class: Air conditioned car with 2 by 2 seating. 74 total seats in each car.

What to Bring on a Train Ride in Malaysia

You don’t need to worry about bringing too much on your train ride in Malaysia since there is food and beverage available. It is advisable to bring something to entertain yourself such as a book, kindle, or your computer. Bear in mind that charging options will be limited or non-existent with the exception of the ETS business class.

What are the Train Stations Like in Malaysia?

With the exception of KL Sentral and Johor Baru Sentral, the train stations in Malaysia are fairly basic. Usually, the stations will have a ticket counter, restrooms, and a place to buy food and drinks. The food and drink options might be a small convenience store or a restaurant. It just depends on which station you are at.

KL Sentral and Johor Baru Sentral are large stations that offer much more in the way of dining and more importantly, connections to other transportation options such as buses or, in the case of Kuala Lumpur, connections to the city transit system.

Train Routes in Malaysia

There are two main train routes in Malaysia. To make the routes as clear as possible, I have created the graphic below to illustrate the routes of the two train systems.

Train Station For Going To:
ETS
Padang Besar Thailand
Alor Setar Ferry to Langkawi. Alor Setar Train Station is about 13km from the Kuala Kedah Ferry Terminal, which has daily departures for Langkawi every hour and a half from 7:00AM to 4:00PM.
Butterworth/Penang Georgetown
Kuala Lumpur KL Sentral Station for all of Kuala Lumpur.
Batang Melaka Melaka. Note, the train station is about 45km from downtown Melaka.
Gemas Change between Intercity line and ETS.
Intercity
Tumpat Kota Bharu and Thailand.
Tanah Merah Ferry to Perhentian Islands. Note, Tanah Merah station is about 60km from the Kuala Besut Jetty where you will catch the ferry to Perhentian Islands.
Jerantut Taman Negara National Park.
Gemas Change between Intercity line and ETS.
Johor Bahru For getting to Singapore
For the train route in Borneo, Click Here.

In the most basic terms, the ETS serves the west side of peninsular Malaysia and the KTM Intercity serves the east side of peninsular Malaysia. However, it is a bit more complicated than that.

The KTM Intercity runs from Johor Baru in the south to Tumpat near the border of Thailand. The ETS runs from Gemas to Padang Besar at the border of Thailand.

How to Buy Train Tickets in Malaysia

Unfortunately, KTM has not made the ticket buying process very straightforward. What I mean by this is that if the journey you are planning includes switching from the ETS to Intercity or vice versa, it means that you will have to buy separate tickets for each train. This is complicated, I know.

Despite the complications, as long as you know the routes, it shouldn’t be an issue, just an extra step. With that in mind, let’s talk about how to buy tickets.

Buy Your Ticket at the Station

Buying your train ticket at the station is probably the easiest way to get your ticket. The ticketing counters are operated by KTM, so there is no funny business.

One thing to note about buying your ticket at the counter is that I have walked up to the ticketing counter on the day I wanted to travel and found that there were no seats available. So, if you don’t have all the time in the world, it’s better to book a day or two ahead.  If you are looking to book the sleeper car on the Intercity line, it’s a good idea to book well ahead of time.

Buy Your Train Ticket Online

There are many online sellers where you can purchase train tickets. I have not used this method, so I cannot speak to how well they work. A quick google search will bring up many retailers. Additionally, the Seat 61 website recommends a few sellers as well.

If you want to buy directly from KTM, I have provided that link here:
KTM Booking Site.

Buy Your Train Ticket Through a Local Travel Agent

Malaysia has plenty of great local travel agents. If you need help booking a train ticket, you can contact us, search for a reputable local travel agent with Tripadvisor, or if you are in a touristic area, you can likely find an agent’s office nearby.

Traveling by Ferry in Malaysia

There are a few popular domestic ferry routes used for getting around in Malaysia. Domestic ferries in Malaysia are primarily used for getting to islands like Penang, Langkawi, and the Perhentian Islands.

Other than getting to the islands, domestic ferry travel in Malaysia isn’t a widely used form of transport. Much of the peninsula has a well connected road and air travel network. With that being the case, ferry travel isn’t always necessary to get to where you are going.

In this section, I’ll discuss the domestic ferry routes, what to expect, and how to book.

For ferries in Borneo, check out our article about getting around in Borneo.

What to Expect When Traveling by Ferry in Malaysia

Domestic ferries in Malaysia are nothing special and the boats are usually fairly basic. The majority of domestic ferry lines in Malaysia are operated by private companies, therefore, the quality of the boat and the amenities available is dependent on the route and company.

All in all, expect only the basics when you travel domestically in Malaysia on a ferry. This shouldn’t be a problem since the travel times are usually short.

What to Bring on the Ferry in Malaysia

Make sure to bring some snacks and drinks with you when you ride the ferry in Malaysia. Additionally, if you suffer from motion sickness, make sure to bring motion sickness medicine along.

Occasionally, the domestic ferries operating in Malaysia offer food and beverages for sale. If the ferry you are on offers this service, expect snacks, instant noodles, canned drinks, coffee and tea.

Are There Bathrooms on the Ferry?

Depending on the length of the trip, there may or may not be bathroom facilities on board. For longer duration trips such as Penang to Langkawi, the ferries are equipped with bathrooms.

How is the Ride?

Ferry travel in Malaysia is usually pretty smooth, but it is completely dependent on the weather. In monsoon season, your likelihood of having a rough ride on the ferry increases pretty significantly.

What are the Ferry Terminals Like in Malaysia?

Domestic ferry terminals in Malaysia are usually pretty basic. There are a few exceptions such as the terminals in Georgetown and Langkawi, however, don’t expect much in the way of creature comforts at domestic ferry terminals in Malaysia.

Ferry Routes in Malaysia

Below, I have put together a map of many of the common and popular domestic ferry routes in Malaysia.

Destination Departing From Info
Langkawi Georgetown (Langkawi Ferry Terminal) Typical schedule is two ferries daily:

  • 8:30AM
  • 2:00PM
Kuala Kedah Jetty Daily departures for Langkawi are every hour and a half from 7:00AM to 4:00PM
Kuala Perlis Jetty Daily departures for Langkawi are every hour and a half from 7:00AM to 4:00PM
Perhentian Islands Kuala Besut Jetty (Jeti Kuala Besut) Typically ferries depart every hour from 8:00AM to 5:00PM. There are a host of companies offering ferry services.
Redang Island Merang Several companies offer ferry service to Redang Island
Georgetown Langkawi (Kuah Ferry Terminal) Typical schedule is two ferries daily:

  • 10:30AM
  • 3:00PM
Butterworth Ferries from Butterworth to Georgetown operate from 5:20AM until 12:10AM
Ferries from Georgetown to Butterworth operate from 5:40AM until 12:40AM
Tioman Islands Mersing (Mersing Jetty) There are several ferries departing daily to Tioman. The departure times are dependent on tide and sea conditions.

How to Buy Ferry Tickets in Malaysia

There is no “one stop shop” for buying ferry tickets in Malaysia. I have highlighted some ways to buy tickets below, however, I encourage you to do a bit of research on the ferry route you plan to take beforehand to determine the best method.

Buy Your Ferry Ticket at the Ferry Terminal

This method works for more heavily traveled lines such as Penang-Langkawi, Langkawi-Kuala Kedah, and Georgetown-Butterworth. For these places, there are usually enough ferries and enough seats that you can just walk up, buy a ticket, and get on the next ferry.

For places like the Perhentian islands or Tioman Islands, it might be a good idea to book in advance, particularly during high season.

Buy Your Ferry Ticket From a Travel Agent or Your Accommodation

For ferry tickets, buying from a local travel agency may be your best option, particularly if you wish to buy ahead. Additionally, your accommodation may be able to help you arrange ferry tickets. This is particularly true if you are staying at an island resort.

Buy Your Ferry Ticket Online

There are some websites online that offer ferry tickets for sale. From my searching, there is no single website that offers all of the routes. Rather, there are a host of websites and each one offers a select few of the routes. In my opinion, the online option may not be the best for ferry tickets; however, it is an option.

I don’t want to recommend websites to purchase from, since I can’t verify their reliability and whether or not foreign credit cards will work with their sites. But, a quick google search of the ferry route you wish to take should reveal whether or not you can buy online.

Traveling by Rental Car in Malaysia

Of all the ways to get around in Malaysia, traveling by rental car certainly gives you the most freedom. Peninsular Malaysia enjoys a modern and well maintained road system. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the roads are up to European or American standards, but they are pretty good.

In this section, I’ll discuss the rental process, where to rent cars, and what to expect in terms of traffic. By the way, Top Peak Travel offers a special self-drive package tour of Malaysia. Check it out.

What to Expect When Traveling by Rental Car in Malaysia

Here in Malaysia, we drive on the left side of the road. The majority of cars you will see as well as the cheapest cars to rent will be Malaysia made brands. The two Malaysian car brands are Perodua and Proton. They are nothing special.

Depending on who you rent from you will have the option of cars which are of better quality than the Malaysian brands. With some companies you can even rent luxury brands, but the price will be quite high.

Finally, some companies offer alternate pick-up and drop off locations in case you would like to go cross country and not have to drive back to your starting point.

How are the Roads in Malaysia?

The roads in Malaysia are well maintained and a generally good quality. There are highways between the bigger cities. When you get off of the main highways and on to the byways, the quality can vary.

If you are traveling off the beaten path, there is a possibility the roads may not be in great shape. The roads in Borneo are a completely different story.

What is the Traffic Like in Malaysia?

As you would expect, the traffic in the cities, particularly Kuala Lumpur can be quite heavy, particularly during rush hour. Aside from that, traffic moves pretty well in most towns and villages.

Although the traffic tends to move well, don’t always expect to go flying down the road. There is inevitably a lorry clogging up the flow somewhere.

Finally, the layout of the roads doesn’t always make sense in Malaysia. Is it poor planning or something else? I don’t know. However, by using google maps or waze, you should be just fine to find your way around.

Renting a Car in Malaysia

Where to Rent a Car

Most cities and large towns in Malaysia have some sort of car rental. There are plenty of car rental companies at the major airports. There are also some major car rental companies such as Avis, Hertz, Thrifty, and Europcar.

Final Thoughts on Getting Around in Malaysia

You certainly won’t have any trouble getting around in Malaysia. As you have read above, the options are robust, affordable, and convenient.

My top choice for transportation in Malaysia is by airplane.  Going by train is a great way to take in the countryside in relative comfort.  Bus travel can sometimes be the most convenient if the journey is short.  Finally, ferry travel will get you to the islands, but it’s probably not a method you will use for most of your domestic travel in Malaysia.

Thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed this article, please share and leave us a comment.

 

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