Transportation - Get In
National carrier Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has extensive worldwide network coverage and regularly ranks high in airline quality assessments, while no-frills low-cost carrier AirAsia and her sister company, AirAsia X, now connects an ever-expanding set of countries including Australia, China, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Laos, Macau, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam. Emirates Airlines also flies from most cities to Kuala Lumpur via Dubai, flights to Perth, Australia, make a brief stop in KLIA.
- AirAsia, +60 3 8775-4000 (hotline within Malaysia: 1 300 88 9933)
- Malaysia Airlines, +60 3 7846-3000 (hotline within Malaysia: 1-300-88-3000)
- Emirates Airlines +60 36 207 4999
Most international flights land at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) (IATA: KUL). KLIA's predecessor, the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport (IATA: SZB) in Subang near Kuala Lumpur handles chartered and turboprop aircraft for regional operators Firefly and Berjaya , +60 3 7846 8228 (ticketing only);, +60 3 2145 2828.
Other airports which have significant numbers of flights to regional destinations are Kota Kinabalu (Sabah), Kuching (Sarawak), Penang, Langkawi and Johor Bahru. Many major Malaysian cities have services to Singapore-Changi via AirAsia or Firefly. Berjaya Air also operates routes from Singapore to the popular dive spots of Tioman and Redang.
- To/from Thailand: Direct sleeper train services operated by the State Railway of Thailand connect Bangkok (Thailand) and Butterworth near Penang (Malaysia), while Keretapi Tanah Melayu (Malaysian Railways) runs trains between Hat Yai (Thailand) and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). Both trains cross the border at Padang Besar where Thai and Malaysia immigration formalities are all conveniently done in the station. 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).
- To/from Singapore: There's a shuttle train service which runs seven times each way during the morning and evening periods from Woodlands Train Station (in the north of Singapore) to Johor Bahru, costing MYR5 from the Malaysian side and SGD5 on the Singapore side. Comfortable overnight sleeper and somewhat misnamed daytime "express" trains then connect Johor Bahru with Kuala Lumpur and Tumpat, near Kota Bharu. They don't always match up to the shuttle times, so be prepared for long waiting times or get a backup plan by bus should you miss the shuttle. Early morning trains to Singapore and late evening trains to Malaysia are usually packed on the weekdays and the traffic flow reverses on the weekends. Booking online at the KTMB website may reserve a precious seat without hassle. When travelling from Singapore into Malaysia, both Singaporean and Malaysian immigration checks are conducted at Woodlands Train Station before boarding the train for Malaysia. In the reverse direction, Malaysian immigration checks are conducted at JB Sentral before boarding, while Singaporean immigration checks are conducted on arrival in Woodlands.
Long-distances buses/coaches into Malaysia run from Brunei, Indonesian Borneo, Singapore and Thailand. Please see the relevant city pages for more details.
- Brunei - there are no direct buses into Brunei. However, there are buses from Miri and Limbang going to the border where there are connections to Bandar Seri Begawan.
- 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, East Coast cities and even the Kuala Lumpur suburbs of Petaling Jaya and Subang Jaya. Frequent buses make the short run between Singapore and Johor Bahru, and you can save a few bucks by changing at JB's Larkin terminal to a cheap domestic bus instead of taking a more expensive direct bus. If you are planning to take on arrival visa, you must enter Malaysia via link 2.
- 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 via the Pandaruan (Puni on the Brunei side) checkpoint and Lawas via Trusan (Labu on the Brunei side).
- 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 in 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) include Wang Kelian (Satun) and Padang Besar (Padang Besar) in Perlis, Bukit Kayu Hitam (Sadao) in Kedah, Pengkalan Hulu (Betong) in Perak, and Rantau Panjang (Sungai Kolok) in Kelantan.
Particularly if entering from Singapore, make sure that your passport has been stamped by Malaysia Immigration before you drive off from the checkpoint. There have been reports of immigration officers "forgetting" to stamp the passports of travellers upon arrival, and such travellers being subject to arrest, imprisonment and fines of several thousand ringgit when trying to depart Malaysia.
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 with Batu Pahat and Johor Bahru;Bintanwith Johor Bahru; Karimun with Batu Pahat and 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. Daily ferries also link Nunukan with Tawau in Sabah. There are also minor crossings like between Bengkalis in Riau and Batu Pahat; Sumatraand 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, between Tanah Merah and Sebana Cover Resort, as well as between Changi and Tanjung Belungkor, all in Johor.
- Thailand - four ferries daily (reduced to three during Ramadan) between Tammalang at Satun and Kuah on Langkawi, Malaysia. Vehicle ferries operate between Ban Taba near Tak Bai in Narathiwat province and Pengkalan Kubur in Kelantan, Malaysia, while passenger boats run between Ban Buketa in Narathiwat province and Bukit Bunga in Kelantan.
It is possible to enter Malaysia from Thailand by foot at Wang Kelian and Padang Besar(both in Perlis), Bukit Kayu Hitam (Kedah), Pengkalan Hulu (Perak) and Rantau Panjang(Kelantan). Crossing from Singapore into Malaysia on foot by crossing the Causeway or Second Link is now illegal.
Transportation - Get Around
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. State carrier Malaysia Airlines also has competitive fares which now offers equal or even lower priced tickets if booked in advance through the internet, with sustaining class of hospitality. And their offshoot Firefly has a handy network radiating out of Penang previously, has also began operating from the Subang (Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah) airport.
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.
In Sabah and Sarawak, MASWings, operates turboprop services linking interior communities, including those in the Kelabit Highlands, with coastal cities. MASWings took over the rural air services network from FlyAsian Express on 1 October 2007, which in turn took the service over from Malaysia Airlines 14 months before that.
Long-distance trains in Malaysia can rarely match road transport in terms of speed, but state operator Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (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 to Kota Bharu, near the Thai border and the Perhentian Islands.
The pride of KTMB's fleet is the ETS (Electric Train Service) from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh, running modern air-conditioned trains ten times daily at 140 km/h with a travel time of just over 2 hours. The rest of the network, though, is mostly single-track, with slow diesel locos and all too frequent breakdowns and delays. 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 Railway is the apt description for the eastern line between Tumpat (close to the Thai border) and Gemas, including stops at Gua Musang, Kuala Lipis, Jerantut (for Taman Negara) and Wakaf Bahru (for Kota Bharu and the Perhentian Islands). The original "Jungle Train" is the slow daytime service which stops at every station (every 15-20min or so). 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 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 at KTMB's site. Enquiries and reservations can be made by phone at KTMB's call centres, +60 3 2267-1200 (Malaysia) or, +65 6222-5165 (Singapore).
In East Malaysia, the only railway line is run by Jabatan Kereta Api Negeri Sabah (JKNS)(Web-site in Malay only), running from Tanjung Aru near Kota Kinabalu to the town of Tenom.
Malaysia has an excellent highway network, culminating in the North-South Expressway along the West Coast from Singapore all the way to the Thai border. Gasoline or locally known as Petrol is slightly cheaper than market prices at RM1.90/litre (Ron 95) (in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak). Tolls are payable on expressways, but these are priced at varying degrees, ranging from expensive to reasonable: driving the length of the country (734 km) from the Thai border to Singapore costs RM108 (~US$25). While you can drive from Singapore to Thailand within a day on the West Coast, the highway system is considerably less developed on the East Coast, with no expressways, and even less so in Sabah and Sarawak, so be sure to factor in additional travel time if travelling in those areas. Toll prices for highways and causeways inside major cities, especially Kuala Lumpur, is priced exorbitantly ranging from RM4.00 to RM7.00 for each exit.
For those thinking of using GPS (Garmin, Papago, Galactio and Mio-Polnav), the Malaysia maps can be downloaded for free from http://www.malfreemaps.com/index.php Garmin user lucky enough to have another choice from http://www.malsingmaps.com/portal/. Both party maps is contributed by the amazing non-profit group of people who share a common passion to make a gps maps of Malaysia.
While driving quality and habits in Malaysia are better than most of the rest of Southeast Asia, it is not necessarily great, especially if for travellers coming from a Western country. Traffic in Malaysia drives on the left, a legacy left by the British. Beware reckless motorcyclists, especially at night, and especially if you are a pedestrian: locals typically disregard a red light for left turns, putting pedastrians at risk. As a motorist, at traffic lights, motorcyclists will accumulate in front of you - let them drive away first to avoid accidents.
Care is needed when driving in larger cities, such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Problems include apparently suicidal motorcyclists, congested traffic lanes throughout the day, and bewildering roads especially in the older parts of the city where planning was virtually nonexistent by the then British colonial occupier. 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. As expected, most rental agencies will require a valid drivers licence to be presented upon rental. Fuel levels are often compared before and after rental, as well as for damage, so ensure everything is documented, and request a refund of any excess fuel if possible. The bigger car rental companies like Hertz and Avis may also require you to have a valid credit card where a deposit will be authorised but not deducted from (unless there is damage to the car).
Taxis are available in all cities and larger towns, although in smaller places you may have to call one (ask any shopkeeper or consult the yellow-pages). You will generally need to negotiate the fare in advance, although prepaid coupon taxis are usually available at airports. RM5 should suffice for a short cross-town trip, while RM100 is enough to hire a taxi for a full day.
In Kuala Lumpur, the budget taxis are usually coloured Red and White (City taxi - these taxis are not allowed to travel out of the city e.g. to another state) or Yellow. Taxis are usually small saloons such as Proton Wira and run on NGV (Natural Gas). The Blue taxis are larger saloons or MPVs (Multi Purpose Vehicles) and more luxurious. These cost typically 25-30% more than the budget taxis & are normally available at taxi stands all over Kuala Lumpur including the major malls & hotels. The Red & White taxis can be hailed off the roads & are metered. Ensure that the taxi driver is a Malaysian (all drivers must have a taxi permit & license with their photo on it) before you board, as unscrupulous taxi owners have been known to rent their taxi out to unlicensed stand-ins. Like in most other countries, a foreigner on a work visa are only allowed to work in the job/industry specified in the visa. All taxi drivers must be Malaysian or a PR holder as the Malaysian government does not issue work visa to foreigners to drive taxis.
Additionally, beware of unlicensed taxis (taxi sapu) at the airports. They can literally take you for a ride. There will be touts at the airports offering travellers their taxi service, even pretending to be legitimate. As unbelievable as it may sound, some have been known to rob first time visitors hundreds of ringgit for a single trip into the city, charging 100 times more than the correct fare. At the airports always get your taxi from the authorised operators' booths set up in the airport itself & never from anyone that solicits directly. They will always claim to be legitimate but are rarely licensed and may be unsafe. The taxi operator booths can provide you with receipts. Another tip is to book your taxis in advance. All good hotels' concierge will be able to assist you with this. If travelling in an unlicensed taxi you may not be covered by your travel insurance should that taxi be involved in a mishap.
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. Many bus companies allow for you to book online directly through their website. However, some only allow online booking for individuals with Malaysian credit cards, which is not really convenient for international visitors. Luckly, most bus operators have banded together into two booking portals and are particularly handy if you have specific destinations but are not sure which bus company to use. Both allow payment with any credit card and require a nominal fee for their service (usually RM1-2).
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!