In Malaysia, the bus, minivan and train networks are very efficient, offer very reasonable prices and are reasonably comfortable. Air travel is also widely used to go from one big city to the next, but is more expensive.
You can buy your tickets on board (for buses) or at the station, but booking your ticket in advance for domestic transport is a smart move if you plan on going to Malaysia for a special event - such as a festival. This way, you won’t find yourself stuck at the train station.
Payment: Credit cards are not often accepted for buying public transportation tickets, which means you better have some cash on you. Be careful however, as pickpockets often operate in major transport hubs.
Fortunately, there are other ways to pay for public transport. Touch'n Go is a prepaid electronic cash card available in Kuala Lumpur that can be used to pay for many things, such as car parking, going to the movies or taking the train. This way you won’t have to carry much cash around. You can also reload your card pretty much everywhere, such as pharmacies, convenience stores and ATMs. Be aware that the card can sometimes break, and that you should carry a few coins in your pocket just in case.
Trains and buses
Be prepared for the air conditioning in public transport, as it can be 15°C inside and 35°C outside!
For trains, be aware that there are multiple networks covering the country. The main operators are:
KTM Komuter, KLIA Ekspres, KLIA Transit, LRT and Monorail systems are the rail-based transport companies in Kuala Lumpur. As they are all operated separately, you will need to buy different tickets every time, and connections can be tricky. Most buses in Kuala Lumpur are provided by Rapid KL and Metrobus. A ticket costs between RM1 and RM3 (if you travel to the outside of the city), and RM2 tickets work for an entire day.
Penang Buses are the most practical and affordable way to travel around the island. A ticket will cost you somewhere between RM1.40 and RM4. As opposed to some other areas in Malaysia, bus stops in Penang are clearly visible, but you might have to wait up to 40 minutes for the next bus.
Rapid Penang is the main bus provider on the island. To reach Penang Island, you can drive via the Penang Bridge or take a ferry from the mainland. Ferries are very efficient and run every 20 minutes.
The Johor Bahru buses cover a very large network in the city. A lot of trains and buses go from Johor Bahru to Singapore: Transborder Service and SBS. Buses also leave often for Kuala Lumpur (several per hour).
Although they are a good option, taxis in Malaysia don’t always use a meter, and some only go to airports or work with coupons. The best thing is to ask the taxi driver if he runs with a meter - or if the meter is working - before getting in. If it isn’t the case, look for another taxi, or you will probably be overcharged. You can also ask the driver to tell you the approximate fee to get to your destination so you can agree a price before you set off.
Tourists can also ask the hotel staff beforehand how much it should cost to get to a specific location. They can give you a rough idea, and therefore help you know if the rate is too high.
The Malaysian government is trying to tackle the problem of dishonest taxi drivers, so if you think a driver is taking advantage of you, you can call a special free hotline to file a complaint (1 800 88 9600). Just remember to write down the number of the taxi, and your pick up and drop off points.
Trishaws are three-wheeled vehicles which are pedalled by a driver and passengers sit in front, next to, or behind him. They are common across much of Southeast Asia, and Malaysia is no exception. They aren’t the fastest means of getting from A to B, but providing you agree a good price, they are cheap.
Trishaws are very common in every big city, and will get you where you need to go. This local means of transport may be fun and exotic, but be extra careful as you will regularly be overcharged because you look like a tourist. Don’t hesitate to discuss the price before you agree to take a trishaw, so there’s no surprises on arrival.