We weren’t expecting our trip from KL to Penang to be a blog post by itself but here it is, the joys of road travel….
Back on the 24th May we booked our travel from KL to the Penang region, with the ticket stating the route as ‘Kuala Lumpur – Butterworth’, a total cost of 141 MYR ($47 NZD) for the four of us. From this we were expecting, a bus trip of around 4-5 hours (350 kms) to Butterworth, with wi-fi available on the bus and a 20 minute ferry ride from Butterworth over to Penang Island and Georgetown – unfortunately for us, two out of the three of these weren’t correct. We had booked to travel (unbeknownst to us) on one of the busiest weekends of the year in Malaysia – the last day of Ramadan (Saturday 24th June) and the beginning of Hari Raya. This is the long weekend holiday to celebrate the end of Ramadan and a huge portion of the population were heading away or back to their home towns to celebrate. Just like any major city or popular destination on a long weekend, this can cause major traffic delays on the roads. We had also heard from our mates at Kiwis Fly The Coop, that their flight out of Penang the day before on the 23rd had seen chaos at the airport. They had allowed heaps of time but were stuck in customs for nearly an hour and there were people around them whose flights were boarding while they were still in line.
We were booked to leave KL at 9am, so we were up at 6.30am and in an Uber by 7am to head to the major transport hub, Terminal Bersepadu Selatan. On approach we could see the lines starting to form and inside there were people everywhere. We found a resonably short line for the bus company we were travelling on and waited in line for about 20 minutes only to reach the front and be told we didn’t need to be in that line after all to pick up tickets booked online. Logan moved to the very short, and quickly moving, line to collect our tickets and the boys and I went in search of some breakfast and snacks to take on the bus. Not long after, we all meet up again and headed to our departure gate.
While the bus left on time, we soon found out that the promised wi-fi service on the bus was non-existent – bugger. We had only travelled for about 15-20 minutes before we stopped at another smaller station to collect more passengers and when we left here just before 10am we had already been on the bus for an hour and we hadn’t even left KL yet. Shortly after our 2nd departure, we began to hit the slow, and often standstill, traffic even though we were on a 3 (and sometime 4) lane highway. Around midday we stopped at a very big, but very busy, rest area; the parking lot was being manned by men in hi-vis vests and with whistles to try to keep a little order to the place as there was every sort of vehicle imaginable vying for a spot. There were reasonably clean restrooms, although with very long lines, and a few little shops and stalls to stock up for lunch. We had barely travelled 100 kms in our first three hours on the bus and the traffic certainly didn’t ease after our lunch stop.
More traffic and trying more ways to keep ourselves and the boys entertained. No one could sleep, any time I closed my eyes all I could do was focus on how fast, but mostly how slowly, we were travelling. As the time neared that of when we were expecting to be arriving at the Butterworth station, we finally started to get some slightly longer periods travelling at a reasonable speed without slowing, but we still had over 150 kms to go!! This is where having the maps.me offline app is a burden; you try not to check it too often, but when you do, you realise you haven’t travelled very far in the last hour at all. Batteries on our devices were started to fade and our tummies were starting to rumble. At around 5pm we made another pit stop and although this site didn’t quite have as much of a food selection as the last, we were pleased to be off the bus for a bit and be able to replenish our supplies to get us through to a proper evening meal.
Not too much longer after we had resumed our bus trip, we turned off the main highway and headed west towards Penang Island. We were expecting to go right into Butterworth on the bus, take the ferry across to the island and then an Uber to our apartment; but this turned out to be a little win for us that day. We watched our movement on the map app with much anticipation as we approached the recently finished (in February 2014) second Penang bridge (Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge) over to the island. We travelled the 24 kms over the bridge (the longest in Malaysia & Southeast Asia), and reached Penang Island alot sooner than we were expecting – YAY!! We got off at the bus station and ordered an Uber to take us to our next home for our 6 weeks in Penang.
When looking back at the sign in the front of the bus, it did state “Penang Butterworth”, so luckily for us, the travel route was true to the order of the sign on this occasion. It probably saved us another solid hour or so before we would have made it to our apartment if we had had to have gone into Butterworth and then taken the ferry across.
After our extra long bus trip up from KL, we were very pleased to reach our apartment at the Marina Bay Residences complex a little after 6.30pm. This was our second Airbnb booking and a welcome sight after such a long day of travel, even if we had only travelled just over 350 kms from apartment to apartment. We dropped our bags and walked the 500m to the Gurney Drive Hawker Centre for a much an anticipated, proper meal. We were not disappointed and no doubt you will see and hear more about this hawker centre in the near future.