Breaksian Travel Blog Career break traveling in Asia

Bangkok to Penang by overnight train.

I have been writing this blog in chronological order, but I would like to make an exception today because I have a fresh blogpost I that want to publish as soon as possible. Consider this as a small parenthesis from Cambodia to jump to Thailand.

Yesterday I finished a trip from Bangkok to Penang by train and ferry. I thought it would be interesting to write a blogpost with my phone on a diary format or rather "hourly" format documenting the travel. Here is the result.

Tuesday 27th January.

14:22: I just boarded the train to start the long trip by train from Bangkok to Butterworth, in the northern coast of Malaysia. As you can see above in theory the trip is going to last 22 hours. I'm takin the train 35k leaving at 14:45 and arriving tomorrow at 12:55.

I had to buy the train ticket a couple of days in advance to get a lower berth. Now I see it was worth it, there is definitively more space. Actually the upper berth looks a bit claustrophobic.

14:45: I was wondering if the train was going to leave the station on time and indeed it left sharp at quarter to three. I feel lucky because I don't have anyone in front, therefore I will be able to stretch my legs comfortably. yey!

15:45: We are just leaving the city limits of Bangkok. There are many crossings within the city so the train had to go really slow. Additionally, it had to go northbound until it reached Bang Sue. It took us almost half an hour to get to there. As soon as we left the Bangkok station they started checking the tickets.

We just passed Nonthaburi and the train is beginning to pick up speed. 86 km/h seems to the max. speed.

16:21: We just arrived to Nakhon Pathom. I came here briefly last time I came to Bangkok. This city has one of the biggest and oldest Chedis. I felt it was closer last time, but it's true I left from the Thomburi station on that opportunity.

17:15: Now we are heading south. We just arrived to Ratchaburi. Apparently this city has a nice floating market. Maybe next time.

18:12: We just left the Phetshaburi station. Now it's getting dark. I just noticed that there is a security guard on each wagon (police?)

19:14: I just finished my dinner. They sell meals on the train but I bought in Bangkok some rice, a Thai spicy tuna salad and bananas, so that was my dinner. I was checking the map and we are riding along the sea in the gulf of Thailand.

19:55: The employee of the Thailand Railways came here and in 30 seconds converted my seat in a comfortable bed where I will sleep tonight (hopefully). I think today I'm going to get a good use case to tryout the earplugs.

20:15: We are about to pass through Prachuap Khiri Khan. Based on what I can see on the map this is one of the narrowest parts of the country, just in the border between Thailand and Myanmar.

10:45: I think we are in the middle of nowhere. The map shows a town called Chumphon but nothing else really.

11:59: It's almost midnight and I don't feel very sleepy. I'm listening coldplay and reading the Wikitravel guide of Penang and Georgetown. The lights are on but with all the curtains are down so it is not too bright. I was thinking that I have been in this train for almost 10 hours. Here is sneak peek on how the train looks now:

Wednesday 28th January.

3:00: it's pretty noisy over here. I think the constant pffffff of the pneumatic door wake me up. I think a good advice would be to get a Berth further down the hall. I'm going to try to sleep a bit more.

5:00: I think I dozed off a couple of times but I didn't really get any deep sleep. Part of the problem was to be so close to the door. Nevertheless it was nice to lay down and rest.

I will try to catch up more sleep once I'm in Malaysia. We left Phattalung. I think this is the last stop before we arrive to Hat Yai. That is the last city on the Thai side of the border.

6:15: We are very close to Hat Yai and I just opened the curtain to enjoy the sunrise. The Sky is beginning to get a nice orangish hue.

6:44: We just left Hat Yai. I don't know if they had to change something in the train for the Malaysian gauge. The train moved back and forth for a couple of times and now it stopped completely. Meanwhile I dude just passed by selling Malayan currency. clearly we are close to the border.

7:00: We are moving again I think the next stop is going to be Padang Besar in the border between the 2 countries.

7:49: My bed was converted back into a seat. Again it took the employee not more than 30 seconds to do it.

8:15: we arrived to the Padangbesar immigration check point. We descended the train and now we are queuing on the Thai side.

8:48 -> 9:48: I'm switching to GMT+8 since we are in Malaysia now. I crossed the Thai emigration point and the Malaysian immigration and customs point. It was straightforward and I even had the time to quickly pass by the cafeteria upstairs and get a Sandwich for breakfast. They even accept Thai baths

10:00: We start our trip again leaving behind the checking point. There was an English guy in front of me who overstayed in the country. He had to pay a fine and he had to wait aside. I'm wondering if he made it back to the train.

10:21: We arrived to the Arau and this is clearly Malaysia. The train station architecture had an in distinguishable Muslim influence.

11:31: we just left Sungai Persnickety so we are about to enter the state of Penang.

12:15: We just arrived to Butterworth. This is the end of the train ride from Bangkok. We arrived a little bit earlier than expected! Great!

12:20: Now I understand why there was this guy selling currency on the train. There are no ATMs or Money Exchange stalls in the station. I will have to go to the town and get money there.

13:00: I'm went to town got some money from an ATM machine, came back to the train station and I walked through a pathway to get to the ferry station I paid 1.20 MYR and I'm in on my final way to Georgetown in Penang:

Ciao Malaysia. See you later.

I finished my shot Malaysian trip today. Even if it was very short I had a great time and I will definitively try to come back in the coming months. This morning I took an early KLIA Ekspress train to the KLIA2 airport (I was flying with Airasia and its flights depart from KLIA2).

The train works perfect even if it's expensive compared with the Kommuter train. For example when I visited the Batu Caves, I paid 2 MYR each way, while this airport express costs 35! In any case very convenient.

I arrived this afternoon to Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam, but before I start blogging about my time here, I wanted to share with you a mix of pictures I took this week in Malaysia:

Batu Caves

Today I decided to visit the Batu Caves located in the north part of the city. I'm staying in a guesthouse very close to the Kuala Lumpur station, so getting there is very easy taking the kommuter train: You get a ticket for 2 MYR, take the line in platform 2 and you go all the way to the terminus station, arriving there 20 minutes later. The main cave and temple are located 2 minutes walking from here and they can be visited without any cost.



At the entrance there is a huge golden statue of Lord Murugan, the Indian deity this temple is dedicated to. On the left there is a steep staircase with more than 250 steps leading to the main cave. The huge rugged ceiling covered with stalagmites can be observed and this cave contains inside more statues of Lord Murugan and some other Indian deities.




Now the place is plagued with pigeons so you have to be careful with the bird droppings. Funnily enough, you can also see chickens and roosters wandering around.


Also on my way out I noticed there were a lot macaques wandering around and even if they are cute, based on my experience in South Bali, they can be masters at stealing bags and glasses, so I hold them tight.


The whole place can be visited in a couple of hours and it's worth it, being so close to the city center.

Panoramic view of Kuala Lumpur


Yesterday evening I arrived to Kuala Lumpur after an almost 3 hours bus ride from Malacca. I don't know if it was because I traveled on a Sunday but the traffic near Senawagan was pretty bad. We rode at 5 - 10 km for almost an hour so the trip was longer than expected.

Luckily I found a guesthouse close to the Kuala Lumpur train station so once I got into the Kommuter train from the Terminal Bersepadu Selatan I was here rather quickly. The first impression I have from the city while I was riding the train was that it is a huge city!.

When I woke up this morning I decided to visit the landmark that appears everywhere in the Malaysian travel guides: The Petronas Twin towers. I used the wiki from the guesthouse to find out the easiest way to get there and there was a cool budget finding: The city offers free buses between the old town and the Kuala Lumpur City Center (KLCC) where the towers are located. I got there, I admired the huge structures and took a couple of pictures before entering the complex:




They are impressive!. But when I went to buy the tickets to get in … sad trombone … the towers are closed on Monday, so of course there was not queue to get in. It was a pity because I really wanted to get an aerial view from the city. When I got out of the ticketing kiosk I saw in the distance another very tall tower, so I made the decision to walk there and give it a try:


It turned out to be "Menara Kuala Lumpur" or "Kuala Lumpur Tower". A 421 meters high communications tower built in 1995. It's possible to visit the observation deck and the roof of the tower (where once a year they hold a BASE jump event). I visited both and you get an amazing view of the city:





Before I visited KL I read it as was a huge sprawling city with "its residential suburbs seem to go on forever" and when you see it from the air you see it's indeed massive. The observation deck has signals with the different districts and wherever you look north, south, east and west, the city goes as far as you can see.

I like that the observation deck offers free field glass panels that you can use to spot different landmarks of the city. I was able to identify:

1. Petronas Towers Pinnacles:



2. Sultan Abdul Samad Clock Tower


3. Huge Malaysian Flag in the Independence Square


In the afternoon I visited this square and chinatown (I will post some pictures later on) and I think tomorrow I will head to the Batu caves.

2 days in historic Malacca

Yesterday I finished my second day in Malacca and I was thinking that I'm really glad I had the opportunity to visit this city. I have to confess my original idea was to take the train directly from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur but “unfortunately” there were no tickets available for the 5th of September so I had to chose a plan B: Go to Malacca first and then continue the trip to KL, all by bus.

Do you want to know if it was worth the detour? 100% yes! Malacca is city with an amazing rich history so it’s a must if you enjoy that type of tourism. I wasn't aware but I was just reading that the city centre is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Let me summarize what I learned I the last two days and share some pictures about it:

1. Location:


Malacca has a strategic location at the Malacca strait very close to Sumatra, so it was an important port and from the 15th century it became one of the most important ones in the region. And of course everybody wanted a piece of it, so the Portuguese conquered it, then it fell on the hands of the Dutch and finally based on the Anglo-Dutch treaty, the British got a hold on it as part of the Straits Settlements, until it became part of the Malaysia Federation. It’s interesting how you can see the influence of all these rulers in the landmarks around the city center.

2. Portuguese fortress:

The news of Malacca’s wealth attracted the Portuguese and in 1511 the sultanate fell to Alfonso de Albuquerque who sailed from their Indian Goa stronghold. Once they controlled the city they decided to create a fortress to defend it from any counter attack mounted by the Sultan or any other foreign invader.

The fortress did his work for many years and even if unfortunately most of it is gone now, it is still possible to visit the “Port of Santiago”, the last remaining part of this former construction:

It’s also possible to see the influence of the Portuguese era by visiting the St. Paul’s Church in the hill with the same name. There was an original chapel built in 1521 that was further enlarged and even if today the church is in ruins, you can visit the place and even see the tomb where St. Francis Xavier was buried temporarily.

3. Dutch take over:

In the 17th century the Dutch started to challenge the Portuguese power in the southeast Asia, because the Fortaleza de Malaca had become strategic in controlling access to the sea in the Straits of Malacca and therefore on the trade of that region. They decided to make an alliance with the Sultanate of Johor and finally in 1641 the city fell on Dutch hands. They hold the city for more than 150 years and their influence can be found in some of the landmarks of Malacca such as the Stadthuys and the Christchurch:

And also in the Dutch tombstones displayed in St. Pauls church:

4. British administration and Independent Malaysia:

During the Napoleonic wars the British got a temporary hold of the city (1795–1818), but it was based on the terms of the Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1824 that the Netherlands permanently ceded the city and fort of Malacca to the United Kingdom. Malacca became part of the Straits Settlements, a group of colonial territories governed under direct British control as a Crown colony.

Malacca is also important on the history of the current Malaysia, because when the country gained its independence on August 31, 1957, the Declaration was proclaimed here. There is a very interesting Memorial building that displays records and photographs on the different historic events that led to the present Malaysian country:

In conclusion Malacca is a very interesting city and I understand now why it's recommended in many travel guides of Malaysia.