Asia Rail Experience: Journey #1 – Kuala Lumpur to the Malay/Thai Border

 

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KUL: Kuala Lumpur to Padang Besar (border of Thailand) KTMB ETS Class 93 Platinum
Scheduled Departure: 10:42  Scheduled Arrival: 15:57 5 hour 15 min 
Total distance: 260 miles / 417 km 

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The first part of my 1,500km 900 mile  journey from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok was on Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (Malaysian Railway system) ETS “Electric Train Service“. The journey took me from the heart of the Malaysian capital to Padang Besar, on the border with Thailand. There are now only two rail services that originate in Malaysia that cross the Thai border. One is the ultra-luxury Eastern and Oriental Service and the other starts at Padang Besar. The Burrerworth to Bangkok international trains no longer exist. The romance of going to sleep in Malaysia and waking I Thailand no longer exist -unlsss you pay for the decadence of the E and O!

Booking: 4/10

KTMB’s website is not a dream to use. First of all, I had to register on the site.  This includes providing Malaysian ID number or international passport number.  I then had to log in. This website has some valuable tips for booking.

Selecting the journey was a little tricky. The stations are arranged by Malaysian state. So you have to know which state your station is in or scan through the list! Not user-friendly for non-Malaysians!Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 1.40.08 am

Then it got complicated. Having identified the date and route, I chose my train. ETS Platinum offers the fastest service on KTM’s network with the fewest stops. ETS Gold have more stops.  Then I linked the train I wanted to me and chose a seat. On board, there is only one “class”.It is doable but it does not flow logically or easily.

Paying was a nightmare. I tried three different Visa and MasterCards before the system allowed payment. Each time the payment was unsuccessful for no apparent reason. Maddingly, I had to start the entire booking again.

On line bookings are doable but the website does not flow logically or easily. KTM should have got Air Asia to design the booking engine.

 

No Check In required: 10/10

Just stroll into Kuala Lumpur Sentral,  a magnificent, modern and busy station linked to a large shopping centre (of course).  The Long distance train section is easily found following signs.

 

Boarding: 8/10

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It took a few minutes to find the correct platform entrance which was not well signposted. I found the platform exit before I found the entrance thanks to the help of a security guard. Once I saw where the entrance was, then it all made sense!

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Staff were helpful at pointing which carriage to board. My seat was waiting for me. I was disappointed to find that my window seat only had a small amount of window.IMG_7166The Train guard who inspected my ticket allowed me to move one row so I could access a decent amount of window space. At Ipoh station, the new train guard who boarded was not impressed that I had moved and was grumpy with me at first. We sorted it out and we became friends from that point.

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Signage and announcements were made in Malay and English.

Departure

This was a no fuss affair. We left right on time.

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On Board: 10/10

The train was six carriages long with the middle carriage (Car C) hosting a small cafe. Next to the cafe is a small Musholla (prayer room).

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IMG_7265Coach D has areas set aside for people travelling in wheel chairs.My carriage remained over half full for most of the journey with people departing and boarding at intermediate stations.

In each carriage, the seats are arranged so that half the seats face the direction of travel and the other half are turned to the rear of the train.   If you get motion sickness from riding backwards, check the seating plans carefully and choose a seat facing the direction of travel.

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Seats are split 2/2 with a central aisle. Each seat has a small seat back table except for the seats in the first row of each carriage which have a more generous fixed table space.

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Seating capacity of the whole train is 320 people. My carriage (Car B) with 58 seats remained over half full for most of the journey with people departing and boarding at intermediate stations.

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The seat was very comfortable.

The train’s air conditioning worked very effectively. Unlike some places in Malaysia, it was not too cold to sit in for extended periods of time. There are also blinds next to each seat which can be pulled down against the sun.

There are only three lavatories on the whole train – one of which is a disability friendly toilet.

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They were all kept spotless for the whole journey.
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Luggage space is very generous with a large luggage rack at the end of the carriage, commodious luggage racks above our heads and a space in the middle of the train. There is a clothes hook next to every seat pair.

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Entertainment: 6/10

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The countryside was a never-ending source of fascination. Glancing up to see mountains, small towns, houses and farms zooming past was really relaxing and enjoyable. More pleasant than the motorway.

There was an excellent wi-fi signal which was easy to find and connect to but the internet did not actually work. This was very frustrating as I had planned to do my work along the way!  I had my own internet access so it was not a hardship. I do get a little annoyed by services that advertise free wifi that does not actually work!

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There are TV screens set up through the train with sound piped throgh the carriage. Annoyingly, KTMB chooses to use them to broadcast awful movies. On my trip, one film was a Bollywood special which seemed to be a complicated mystery romance combination. The other was a remake of Jules Verne’s Around the world which was appalling. Like all movies in Malaysia, it was censored, every time the main characters leaned in for a kiss, the movie skipped to the next part! The movie was interrupted with announcements before and after each station.

The screen showed location, upcoming stations and train speed which was much more interesting! Ditch the awful movies KTMB.

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Power outlets are hidden and by hidden I mean hidden between the seats. Manoeuvring my plug into one was not at all easy, a fact commented in by other passengers. IMG_7235

Then there was the old goodie, interacting with people. Trains often bring the best out in people, I find. I chatted to a retired surgeon from Kuala Lumpur and a Japanese guy who lives in Thailand and exchanged smiles and hellos with shy Malay kids, confident teenagers and older couples. It all felt very friendly.

I was surprised at how few foreign travellers there were on board. I am not sure tourists have discovered this journey.

Meals: 7/10

Like Air Asia, KTM say that you cannot bring outside food on board. I would say the whole carriage had brought some sort of food with them so I did not feel so bad with the snacks I had brought with me.

We were given a small free snack pack, soon after departure.

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IMG_7196The cafe on board sold a range of acceptable meals that were microwaved on the spot. I had a sweet and sour dish. It would not be raved about at a Hawker stand in KL.

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They also sold so-so sandwiches. Everything on board is Halal certified.

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Bizarrely the only cold drink they had on board was bottled water. No juices or sodas were available.

Arrival:

We pulled into Padang Besar right on time. Impressive.

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The Verdict

My Rating:  78%  (3.9 out of 5). If you can find a way to improve the booking system, then I would raise the score to 81%!

About KTMB: Known as Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTM)  or Malayan Railways Limited since, 1962, the organisation is government-owned but was corporatised in 1992. The rail network is 1,677 km.

Positives:  Spacious cabin, on time departure and arrival

Negatives: The so-so meals, lack of wifi, awful movie, booking system,

Would I travel with them again? Yes. Anyone travelling to Penang, should catch the ETS to Butterworth and take the ferry. A much more pleasant trip.

Next week: My report on Journey Two of my Asian Rail Odyssey across the border of Malaysia/ Thailand to Hat Yai on State Railways of Thailand 3rd Class.

 

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