• Bangkok to Butterworth (Malaysia) by Train

  • Tell us where you were and what you saw!
Tell us where you were and what you saw!

Moderator: David Benton

  by NellieBly
On another thread, someone expressed interest in train travel in Thailand. I was last on a Thai train in 1989, but based on what I saw on a return visit, not much has changed since then. So here's a trip report on the "Expres Antarabangsa" (International Express) from Bangkok in Thailand to Butterworth in Malaysia (mainland port for Georgetown, on Penang Island).

Our train left Hualampong Station in late afternoon. Hualampong is the main station in Bangkok, and looks very French, with a big arched train shed. The International Express comprised a diesel, a baggage car, eight coaches, a diner, three brand-new stainless steel second-class sleepers built by Hitachi of Japan, and one rather tired-looking first class sleeper on the rear. My travel agent had booked me on the second class sleeper, which had 12 open sections and was fully air conditioned. The first class car had private rooms, but they seemed to be unoccupied.

The Thai and Malaysian rail network is meter-gauge, and equipment is interchanged (the entire train is Thai equipment, but runs through to Butterworth). Signals are in the British tradition, great big semaphores on lacework signal bridges. Speeds are moderate (100 kmh).

Leaving Bangkok, the train quickly reached the countryside, which was full of thatched farm houses on stilts with Japanese built pickup trucks parked underneath. Lots of rice fields, and the occasional karst hill (this landscape extends from southern China all the way down the Malay peninsula.) The very helpful sleeping car attendant brought me a bottle of water and the dining car menu, suggesting that I eat dinner at my seat (the diner was not A/C, apparently). He set up a table, and I ordered chili garlic prawns with rice and a vegetable, and a big bottle of Singha beer. The food, when it arrived, was delicious. Total tab was about $6. Try that on Amtrak! After dinner he made down the bed for me, and I turned in.

Ride was comfortable and quiet. I awoke somewhere in southern Thailand, dressed, and had our attendent make up the section and bring me some breakfast. In late morning, we arrived at the border point of Hat Yai. We had to detrain for border formalities, and so did the on-board crew -- taking all the bedding with them! The train ran unstaffed from that point to Butterworth, about three hours. Total trip time was about 24 hours for a total distance of about 850 miles.

A pleasant trip, all told, followed by two nights in Penang's Eastern & Oriental Hotel and a trip on Malaysian day trains to Kuala Lumpur (but that's another story).

  by Jishnu
A few observations.....

I did the trip from Singapore to Bangkok via Butterworth and Hat Yai in 2001. I took a daytime express from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, then the overnight Ekspres Langkawi from KL to Hat Yai via Butterworth in First Class Sleeper, and finally the International Express from Hat Yai to Bangkok by First Class Sleeper. Had an 8 hour layover in Hat Yai and an 8 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur.

The First Class Sleeper on the International Express the day I travelled was a brand spanking new Hyundai built self generating car, with its own diesel generator that kicks in when the train is not running fast enough to generate electricity using the alternator connected via a belt to one of the wheel axles.

BTW, the border checkpost between Thailand and Malaysia is at Padang Besar. Hat Yai is the last passenger stop in Thailand. I guess the first passenger stop in Malaysia is Alor Sattar.

And yes, the food was really excellent both on the Malaysian train and the Thai train.

Did you notice the odd station layout at Bukit Mertajam, the last stop before Butterworth? Trains going to and coming from Butterworth stop at the same platform irrespective of whether they are then going North to Padang Besar or South to Ipoh, Slim River and Kuala Lumpur.
Last edited by Jishnu on Thu Jun 22, 2006 8:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.

  by Gilbert B Norman
Before I ship this material over to Mr. Benton's Rail Travel Forum, allow me to not that I rode Chang Mai-Bangkok during December 1967. Here is a more detailed report I submitted to the (predecessor) forum several years ago.

Way Back When

  by David Benton
I wonder if the Hitachi coaches Ms. Bly refers to are from the south east Orient express . this luxury train ran between Singapore and Thailand . Im not sure if it still does . The Carriages were Originally used here in New Zealand , , and then abandoned for some years , when they were found to contain Blue Asbestos . Finally they were converted to metre gauge , blue asbestos removed , and shipped to Singapore for this service .
I have travelled this route twice , in 2nd class , and found it to be a great experience . The sleeper section is fine for me , though i quess some privacy would be nice .
  by hhswami
While this thread remains in the Amtrak forum, my thanks to those of you who have shared the experience by taking the time to post. I detect, however, a reluctance to compare the travel Thai experience with any from our own, be it equiptment, cost, freight delays, comfort, or other points usualy picked on like a buzzard here. (Except for $6)

On another thread, a current Asian resident(?) stated they thought the 800 mile overnight sleeper priced about USD $20 was a bit overpriced. Is that about what you guys paid, and were things timely?

  by David Benton
It's very hard ot make direct comparisons . The whole cost structure is cheaper in South east asia .Although the train is cheap ,so is accomadation , food and other forms of transport . (possibly excepting flying ) . Hence for the budget traveller , they can travel very cheaply , or they can travel first class sleeper , still paying less than they'd probably pay for a coach seat in the west . For the luxury traveller , they would probably find the accomodations abit sparse , unless they take the luxury cruise train .
You expect delays in asia , but i dont recall passing many frieght trains .

  by Gilbert B Norman

As promised earlier, "here you go'.


  by David Benton
according to lonley planet , it costs around $ 70 usd to fly form Bangkok to Penang . So $ 20 in a sleeper aint too bad at all .