Monday, 19th August – Woodlands to Butterworth
Ticket: bought at the ticket office on the day for SG$60
Scheduled departure/arrival times: 08:30 to 22:00
Actual departure/arrival time: 08:30 to 23:00
Monday morning and the start of my journey, I spring out of bed eager for some adventure. This is tempered by the fact that I have done the first part of my trip before on a previous overland journey from Singapore to Chiang Mai and have pretty low expectations of the day ahead. Finally hailing a taxi, I make my way up to the North of Singapore to the international railway station. The taxi driver is fairly surprised when I respond to his question of where are you going with ‘London by rail’. He follows with some questions and incredulous chuckling. I think I have provided some conversation for his next coffee shop break.
The train ride begins at the Colditz styled Woodlands Train Checkpoint. A depressing place of high concrete walls, razor wire and floodlights all in a lovely shade of grey. However it is efficient and I shoot through immigration into Malaysia and onto the train.
The train itself is not the best, very run-down with a slight smell of stale smoke and decay. Empty carriages greet the few of us who have chosen the train over the quicker and generally cheaper buses or planes. I have a carriage to myself. An overzealous air-conditioning unit on board has people shivering and wrapped in any available clothing. Oh well, only 14 hours of it…
We start by crossing the causeway. Not that I can see anything out of the window, as the condensation hasn’t evaporated yet. We continue North towards Kuala Lumpur, occasionally stopping at quaint little stations to pick up a few more people travelling up Malaysia. The scenery is very green; I’m sure it was once all jungle but now it is mainly palm oil plantations dotted with the corrugated iron roofs of colourful little houses.
If you do find yourself travelling by train in Malaysia, preparation seems to be key. Do as the locals do and bring plenty of food and drink, and perhaps a beanie in case you’re sitting below an a/c vent. The on-board facilities are best avoided, with some shameful sandwiches, greasy noodles and limited drinks. Also, they are the only country on my route that don’t serve booze on-board. (Which can help on a long train ride.) Unfortunately, I haven’t done any such prep and am really hoping that the train isn’t too late so I can get some late night dinner in the foodie hub that is George Town.
People I’ve met today include Razi an undercover train cop (there is quite a lot of trouble on the trains, he tells me) and Stephen, a very loud little lad.
Next stop Bangkok!