Travelling from Bangkok to George Town (May 2019)

Now that nobody is travelling because of the stupid Covid-19 virus pandemic, I decided to finally deliver on my promise and write about travelling from Bangkok to George Town. So, here we go…

For those of you who don’t feel like reading the whole blog post, here’s the summary:

There is a comfortable and relatively inexpensive overnight sleeper train service from Bangkok to Padang Besar. At Padang Besar station you cross the Thailand – Malaysia border and catch the regular KTM commuter service to Butterworth on the Malaysian side. From there, board the ferry to George Town on the Penang Island and Bob’s your uncle. It’s really as easy as it gets.

And here’s the whole story…

From major travel forums across the Internet I understood that getting from Bangkok to George Town was relatively easy and not very expensive altogether. In all these forums you can also read how you don’t have to go crazy planing in advance and purchasing the train ticket online because this train service is rarely booked out. And I totally relied on this information…

I landed in Bangkok on May 15th, intending to to stay until May 20th. And the very first thing I did after checking in and leaving my backpack in the hostel was heading to the train station to purchase the ticket for that overnight train service for Monday, May 20th.

Hua Lamphong Direction Sign
Finding Hua Lamphong train station is easy. Just follow the signs…

Quickly reached Hua Lumphong train station, found the ticket booth, asked for the ticket and…

“Sorry sir, all booked out”. WTF? Why do such things always happen to me?
“Ok, ma’am, if 2nd class is booked out, I’ll take the 1st class ticket”. Me, a smartass. 😀
“Sir, this train service is fully booked”, she repeated. Duh…
“Ok, and how about one day earlier, May 19th?”
“You’re lucky, there is one last bed in the lower berth available on this train. Please enter your name” She turned the computer keyboard my way, so that I can type in my name.

After paying 960 baht (ca. 26 euro) I got a printed ticket with my name on it. Whoooha! Mission accomplished. But… this experience proved once again that we should never believe everything we read in Internet forums. 😀 So… while it is apparently true that you don’t have to plan too far ahead, buying a ticket for a specific date only five days in advance could be risky…

A short video of the Hua Lamphong train station main hall

On the day of the departure I arrived at the station almost one hour before departure (which was scheduled for 15:10 h). Honestly, the whole experience doesn’t differ much from taking a train in Germany or any other European country. The station itself is very orderly and clean.

My “Special Express Train No. 45” departs from platform 4.

Found the platform and boarded the train, which departed exactly on time. Shortly after departure, the steward came to ask me if I wanted to order anything from the on-board restaurant. I haven’t ordered anything as I was on my “one meal a day” diet and I had already eaten.

During the day, the cabin features regular seats:

Regular seats during the day…

Towards the evening, these seats are then converted into beds by the cabin attendant:

…turn into beds for the night.

I slept really good and in the morning when we reached Padang Besar Station (Thai), the cabin attendant came to ask me where I was travelling to. I said: “Butterworth”. He then said: “Please stay. Next stop. Padang Besar”.

Don’t get off at Padang Besar (Thai) if you’re going to Butteworth!

As in every station so far, all kinds of street vendors boarded the train and offered food, cold beverages, souvenirs, etc. Suddenly an older, apparently local guy, sat on the seat across me. He had no food, no drinks and no souvenirs to offer. “Change money?” he asked. And I thought: “Yeah, I should exchange a few euros to Malaysian ringit because I didn’t have any at all, but I’ll probably be able to get a better exchange rate on Padang Besar train station, when I get off the train.” He wasn’t pushy or anything but never the less I thanked him and didn’t exchange any money with him.

Salamat Datang to Malaysia.

When we arrived at the last stop – Malaysian side of Padang Besar, all the passengers hurried across the train platform and through the main hall, towards the immigration checkpoints. And I followed. First we queued up at the Thai border crossing to get an exit stamp and then queued again at the Malaysian checkpoint to get an entry stamp in our passports. And that went rather quickly.

After clearing the immigration everybody again hurried upstairs to get the train ticket for the KTM commuter train to Butterworth. I reached the ticket counter in no time, but surprise, surprise: cash only. Oh, man. The lady at the ticket counter was really nice and immediately told me that I can exchange money downstairs, in the immigration area.

So I ran downstairs to exchange money in order to buy the train ticket to Butterworth (11,40 RM / 2,6 euro). What I found there was not an official exchange office, but rather some woman who seemed to be just sitting there and doing business. The exchange rate was a bit worse than the exchange rate which the guy in the train offered, and when I pulled out a 10 euro note, she said: “20 euros minimum”. But that was ok. Because I didn’t have any alternative, anyway… 😀

By the way, KTM trains are super modern ‘bullet-type’ commuter trains. If I remember correctly, we reached Butterworth in less than two hours. Ferry terminal to George Town / Penang is located just across the train station and it’s really easy to find.

Just look for Terminal Feri…

It takes ca. 30 minutes to get from Butterworth to George Town by ferry and it costs only 1,20 RM (0,25 euro). And that’s it.

After 24 hours on the road finally I was at the destination: George Town, Penang Island. Yes, I hear you saying: “I would never…” but believe me – this was a very nice travel experience and I met some really nice people along the way (some of whom I even met again in Kuala Lumpur a few days later).

And in the end – what matters is the journey, not the destination. 😀

The (most) famous mural in George Town: “Little Children On A Bicycle”

Leave a Reply