Disappointing Malaysian train trip

I’m usually an enthusiastic rail traveller.  I normally love trains, and I particularly enjoy watching the countryside go by, but after this experience travelling from Butterworth near Penang to Kuala Lumpur I would be very wary of travelling by rail in Malaysia again.

We got to Butterworth station in plenty of time.  My wife sat in the air-conditioned waiting room whilst I wandered about taking photos.

The diesel loco arrived and the carriages hooked up to it.  They were four passenger carriages, and a power pack, which no doubt supplied the power for lights and air-conditioning.

We boarded the train and found our seats in one of the middle carriages in one of the middle carriages. I had requested tickets for the First Class carriage, but was told that carriage would not be on our chosen train, so we chose the next best class, which turned out to be a big mistake. We had been allocated seat numbers 1A and 1B, but neither seat had a window.  We were facing towards the back of the train, looking at a TV on the wall, with no way of seeing out.  The seats in the carriage were staggered on either side of the aisle and four seats, two at either end of the carriage, had no view at all!  I went back to the booking office and tried to change the seats, but was told that the carriage was full and it couldn’t be done.  I complained to the conductor, who said we could sit seats in the middle of the carriage, which would give us a good view, until the train reached the town of Ipoh, when the train would fill up.

Ipoh was just over half way into the trip.  I agreed to this as the conductor wasn’t responsible for our ticket debacle. Memo to KTM, the Malaysian Railways Authority:  It is very poor practice to allocate seats without a view to tourists who specifically asked for seats with a view when they bought the tickets, and explained at the time that the reason they wanted to travel by train was to see and enjoy Malaysia.

The train was very slow during the first half of the journey, but the low speed gave us ample time to observer the countryside.   Their seats aren’t really built for big western bums, but that was our problem, not theirs.

The catering on board is quite shocking.  There was a man who was there ostensibly to sell uncooled sandwiches, snacks and drinks, but he actually makes no attempt to inform you of his wares. It was only by wandering around investigating the train myself that I found his stuff, even though the bloke was sharing our carriage, lounging on an empty seat instead of remaining in his cubicle.  KTM, the Malaysian Railways, really do need to do something about the catering service, or lack of it, if they wish to encourage tourists to use their services.

The view to Ipoh did hold my interest.  It’s a given that you get plenty of industry beside a railway track, so that is to be expected when entering and leaving towns.  Malaysia has a population of 27 million people, so it has a relatively large population that is squashed into a relatively small area.  Whilst there is a lot of human activity, it is by no means overwhelming, nor does it seem that people live a cheek-by-jowl existence, although people mostly seem to live in kampongs. These kampongs are villages which have groups of housing, some high rise, plus other facilities such as schools, government offices, sporting facilities, stores and restaurants.

There are parts of the countryside, particularly the mountainous regions, which are simply fascinating.  Malaysia’s hot, humid climate and plentiful rainfall give rise to very lush and bountiful rainforests with an abundance of plants and stately trees.  Plants flourish here, and there are vines and creepers everywhere.

Upon reaching Ipoh the train did indeed fill up and we had to going back to our rotten seats, which made the last half of the trip very dull indeed.  The trip from Butterworth to KL Sentral took eight hours to complete.

Next time, I would travel by coach as they are more comfortable, quicker, and you can actually get a good view from them.

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