The headache of a train journey – Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok by train

It all began with my boss and a work trip to Kuala Lumpur.
I had already set up a line of interviews in KL and in this context, my boss got the idea, that I should go on an adventure and explore the Southeast Asian scenery from the small seat of a train back to Bangkok. Since we couldn’t buy the tickets online, we agreed that I would wait until I was in Kuala Lumpur to purchase my ticket back.

I decided to walk to the station from my hotel in China Town. Though I followed Google map, I managed to get lost. After asking for direction, and being followed by a security guard through a mall, I managed to find the Central (Sentral) Station.

I was able to buy a ticket to Padang Besar – a Malaysian city at the border to Thailand. From there, I was told, that I would be able to purchase a ticket to Bangkok.

Thursday, June 15

The train leaves at 9.50am from the Sentral Station in Kuala Lumpur. Due to the many challenges, trying to find the station to buy the ticket, I decide to checkout early and get a grab cab. I manage to be at the train station at 8.30am. More than an hour before the train is set to depart.

This time I manage to find my way around the station effortlessly. I even succeed in finding a Starbucks coffee and get a latte to keep me company while I wait.

20 minutes before departure, people start to board the train. I enter the train and find my seat. In the train compartment there is only one place in the back to store luggage. I therefore stuff my trolley in between the other bags and go to sit down. As I get to my seat I realize, that I am seated next to this older woman, with a very discontent look on her face.

“I think that is my seat,” I say with a gentle voice. Still, she seems to be bothered by my request. She does move aside and let me get to my seat, while looking annoyed with me.

9.50 sharp, the train leaves the station and I’m on my way. Curled up on the small seat, I’m trying to take up as little space as possible.

12.20 – not as fast as expected

The train in Malaysia is supposed to be the fastest and most modern, but for the first hour, it feels like we barely move. The train stops three times due to problems with the signal, which delays the whole journey.

As I sit on the train, I think of my colleagues’ article back in February “The aesthetic of a train journey.” In the piece she describes the beauty of sitting on the train, observing the nature as you pass through the landscape.

2.5 hour in and all I feel is anxiety. The landscape is mostly the same. Either stretches of trees or stretches of fields with some old buildings.

My ass is hurting from sitting in the same position for so long. My head is hurting too after the same kid has been screaming for most of the trip. The angry looking woman on the seat next to me is either sleeping or eating. Either way, I’m too scared to disturb her to go to the restroom. At this point, I’ve had to pee for around an hour.

At the same time, someone on the train brought food onboard, that makes the whole compartment smell like beef soup. Bringing food onboard makes sense though, since there is no service on this train. Had I known there wouldn’t even be a snack cart, I would have brought something other than water as well. The only person passing through the train is the man collecting trash. Every time he passes by, he has the same resigned expression, which express how I’m slowly starting to feel.

Still three more hours to go before Padang Besar.

13.27 – On the edge of hallucinating

Suddenly the compartment starts to smell like pork which is strange, since we are still in a Muslim country. The whole compartment smells like a Danish Christmas dinner. If it weren’t for the fact, that I’ve never been a big fan of the traditional Scandinavian Christmas feast, I would think that the boredom has made me start to hallucinate.

Angry lady next to me gets up from her seat to use the restroom. I recognize that this is my chance to get up as well, but for some reason I cannot move. I just sit there. Paralyzed and in Pain. Having to pee for more than two hours at this point. Still, I cannot seem to get up from my cramped seat.

My phone is starting to run out of battery. I turn off the music that I’ve been using to block out the noise of the screaming child. The kid has stopped screaming, but a man one row back has fallen asleep and is now snoring loudly. My head is still aching and I dread the remaining two hours on this train.

15.23 (or 14.23 Thai-time)

Finally, I arrive in Padang Besar. I get up from my seat after I haven’t moved for almost six hours. I hurry to grab my bag and get off the train. Besides the train tracks, there is nothing in sight. The place looks completely deserted. I follow the crowd into what is supposed to be a station. As I walk in, a stink hits me in the face like a wall and I can barely breath. I try to hold my breath, but the smell continues as I follow the masses towards the exit. I try to figure out what the smell is, but I cannot put my finger on it. The closest I can get, is food mixed with grandma’s perfume and a sewer. Once again, this rules out asking for direction to the nearest restroom.

No more tickets

Even though it’s hidden away, I manage to find a ticket stand. One line for Malaysia and one for Thailand. I line up for a ticket to Thailand, more specifically Bangkok.

“Can I have a ticket to Bangkok, please,” I ask, while taking out my wallet from my shoulder bag.

“No tickets,” the man replies.

At first, I just stare. I’m unsure if I got it right, so I ask again. This time the man turns his screen towards me and points towards it.

“No more tickets to Bangkok,” he says clearly annoyed with me. Once again, I just keep standing there. Starring. Waiting for him to give me another option. Bring me a solution. What am I supposed to do from here if I cannot get a train ticket to Bangkok? How am I supposed to get back? The man doesn’t say a word. Instead, he just looks more and more annoyed with me, when the girl behind me tells me, that I should get a ticket to Hat Yai and take the train from there, so that is what I do.

16.50 – Still stuck at the smelly station in Padang Besar

The train for Hat Yai was supposed to leave at 15.50 (Thai time), but is delayed for more than an hour. You would think, that the smell would decrease after some time, but it is still as intense as when I first walked in. I still have to pee. It’s been almost five hours now, but I’d rather endure the pain than having to use the toilets here.

Finally, we start to board. Even though I have a visa, some people waiting in line makes me aware, that I should have filled in the visa-form that was handed out. I borrow a pen and manages to scratch something down before it is my turn at the counter.

At passport check, the man behind the glass cannot find my visa. After I show it to him, he then cannot find my re-entry stamp. This time I’m starting to panic a bit. I feverishly go through my passport looking for the latest stamp, while I’m painfully aware, that several people have been going through passport-control and gotten on the train, in the time I’ve been standing here. While I’m searching, the staff closes the doors leading to the train. The fear of missing the train makes me panic even more.

“I cannot find it, but I know it’s there” I almost scream at the controller. He takes back the passport and this time he manages to find it. The staff goes through my bag and let me through. The first train has left by this point, but there will be another train in 15 minutes.

17.07 – On the right track to Bangkok or?

I get in the train and I take a seat. In third class it apparently doesn’t matter where you sit. The train is old. The windows are wide open and doesn’t seem to be able to shut. Slowly the train starts to fill up. On 17.07 (Thai time) the train starts to move and I’m back in Thailand.

More than an hour later I’m in Hat Yai. As I stand on the so-called station I look around for a train to Bangkok, but there isn’t any. There isn’t any ticket office. I can’t see any other trains or tracks, except the one I just arrived on. How am I supposed to get to Bangkok from here?

Since I haven’t eaten all day, I grab something to eat, with this guy I met on the last train. While waiting for the food I do a quick Google-search. According to Google I have two options. I can take a flight back to Bangkok the next evening from Hat Yai, which is ridiculously overpriced, or I can take the bus to Krabi and fly back from there.

After only just a couple of hours in Hat Yai I decide, that having to wait almost 24 hours to leave this place, would be too long. Instead, I check in to a cheap hotel with a minor ant-problem and no soap. The next morning I go to the bus terminal and I get on the bus to Krabi.

To be continued!

About Miabell Mallikka

Miabell Mallikka is a journalist working with ScandAsia at the headquarters in Bangkok.

View all posts by Miabell Mallikka

44 Comments on “The headache of a train journey – Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok by train”

  1. A waste of time reading this rant from someone who does zero research before traveling and is too timid to ask an old lady permission to get out of her seat. Oh, she must be obese too to complain about the size of the seat!

  2. Wow, desperate for attention is it that you even exaggerating your experience? Seriously I have many times experience with ETS and it is NOT like what you said. You seriously intentionally make it sounds dramatic (aligned with your personality as well I guess, seeing how you make such a drama about the ‘angry face’ lady sitting beside you and how ‘paralyzed’ were you that you can’t go to toilet. LOL). What a load of bullshit. Whose fault that you hold your pee? What are you, 5 years old kid? You are an adult for God’s sake. Don’t you feel embarrassed writing about this and published it for public reading??

    Second, the view. The view is just fine. This is a train that takes you from point A to point B, not a scenic tour for your viewing pleasure. Third, there is food or canteen in Coach C. You just have to get your ass there (oops I forgot, you are too ‘paralysed in pain’). And complaining about the smell of food? What do you expect food supposed to smell? Lavender perfume?

    Next, again, all the drama of getting ‘lost’ and ‘unable to find where is KL Sentral is’. You must be joking right? First, do you know the existence of this thing called Google? Second, EVERYBODY knows where is KL Sentral if you could just ask. Third, KL Sentral is so well connected with LRT, MRT and Monorail. You making a drama out of this is all because of YOU didn’t do your own HOMEWORK before you travel.

    Seriously, typical entitled foreigner who likes to call themselves ‘journalist’ and this BS crap as ‘journalism’. Big LOL

  3. LOL… All The comments are superb…

    It’s all your fault, never do research properly…

  4. I have been taking the ETS train from KL Sentral to various locations, Butterworth, Alor Star, Ipoh,etc., including Padang Besar. Never had I encountered any delay in departing n arrivals.
    For the ETS from KL Sentral to Padang Besar:
    1. There is canteen selling hot/cold drinks, rice, sandwich, etc.
    2. There is 3 pins plug under ur seat to charge it phone.
    3. U stand walk around along coaches to stretch ur legs.
    4. If u want a bigger n comfortable seat can book the business class seat which includes lunch, tibbits, etc.
    5. Can book tickets online at KITS (Ktmb Integrated Ticketing System, download the app. from Play Store),ez, convenient n fast.
    The ways u complain n grumble from KL Sentral till Hatyai, seems u never travel on budget b4…☹️☹️☹️

  5. I have taken the same exact journey twice this year but nothing like what the writer said. I even brought along my 82 years old mum and my handicapped husband and none complained. Seems that no enough research was done. All KTM train tickets can be purchased online. Even Thai train ticket can be purchased online too.
    KL to Padang Besar was a nice journey, start and reach on time. Aircon was good. I can go pee anytime I want.
    Padang Besar to Hatyai was only 1 hour ride on a non aircon train but for 50Baht what to complain. Stay at hotel next to train station. Clean, comfortable and cheap.
    Hatyai to Bangkok train was there early and depart on time. Everything was clean and super cold. Locals even bought us food to try.
    Lost? Each time I ask there are always people willing to help.
    Hopefully you have better experience next time.
    I will be using the train again from KL to Kunming

  6. A very uptight person deserve nothing interesting in their journey. Seriously if so many person annoyed with you most probably there’s something wrong with you. Your lack of research and don’t even ask around politely can take you just a few steps forward.

  7. I think the author is mad with her boss who doesn’t want to pay for airtickets.

  8. Very poor “journalism” …if it can be called that. Nasty attitude of entitlement.

    The article and the writer seems equal to the trip that she describes.

  9. poor research leads to poor journalism.. obvious that the author are not well versed on alternative travelling mode

  10. Should hv booked Biz class on SIA if you look for comfort
    Try the Vietnam friendship train a real treat

  11. Recently Wego Bangkok by train. From kl to padang besar we ride ets train.very compostable. And fast. From padang besar to hat yai we go by van .and hat Jai to Bangkok by was so good and compostable .we choice 2nd class sleeping berth. Nothing I can complain about our train trip.all is good. We will travel again by train going to Bangkok.

  12. Not surprised with the services by KTMB! But there should be a mini “canteen” at coach C. Well, some time before they used to have the sleeper coach train that serves up to Padang Besar which used to be more comfortable, I suppose. I have only used the train service up to Ipoh and have always wanted to travel to Hat Yai via the sleeper train to Padang Besar but disappointed that its no longer available now.

  13. HaHa… this fellow didnt do ANY homework.. he expects that everything to his preferences..
    1) Train travel in SEA is not the same as in Europe or Japan, which is fast and efficient. There is a price to pay in terms of dollar and cents.
    2) He can always excuse himself and walk around the train using the toilet BUT he choose not to 🤷🏼‍♂️
    3) There is a canteen in the train that sells snacks, sandwiches, drinks, etc. Since he chose not to leave his seat obviously he is not aware of it
    4) Train tickets from Padang Besar / Hatyai to Bangkok sells out very fast. First class berths sells on within 15min once its open for booking 1month ahead. He should have did some reseach and pre-purchaced it online @
    5) As for toilet facility @ Padang Besar station its just like any another public toilet in Malaysia. Cleanliness had always been an issue.
    6) As for hotels in Hatyai, its definately NOT true unless he was sleeping at a budget hotel for backpackers at 30-50B. Good quality hotels in Haytai during low season is super affordable. Definately cheaper than in Malaysia

    Anyway, all I can say every individual would have their own preference of travelling. As for this guy he just need the fastest mode of transport to get to his destination. As a traveller, one would term the unexpected as an adventure.. 😜😜

  14. Hey Paul, this why Malaysia is in the shape it is in because of BS infrastructure and dirt worst service and most notably people like you accepting everything you get

  15. I never experienced any of your issues. Finding KL Sentral is as simple as finding probably your bathroom in your home.There is a LRT station just in the heart of the station. Then there is no issue to book on line a train ticket.As every detail of your trip seemed to be an issue -from cramped seat to smell to showing your passport, you shpuld maybe stay in the comfort of your home in Eirope…

  16. First of all, you’re not a fan of train adventure. All you do is just complain, complain and more complain.

    Train from KL Sentral to Padang Besar, obviously don’t have snack carts because there’s a café on coach 3. You can walk from coach to coach if you really wants to explore the facilities and enjoy the view. Calling the passenger next to you as the angry faced lady, I think that’s so rude of you.
    Commenting that even when she gets up and you can’t, is just another way to complain because you can but you won’t. Why hold your pee when there’s plenty of toilets in the train? (atleast 1 for every 1-2 coach).

    When they eat their food bought from cafeteria, you complain again about the smell. Next you complain about the pork smell!! Malaysia is a Muslim majority country but there’s other faiths and people from other races who are non-Muslim too.

    Then you do the same thing again, complaint and more complaints, when you’re in Hat Yai, Thailand.

    What is it with you actually? Degrading the train service, the passengers and even mocked their food? Disrespectful to both countries?

    What is wrong with you? If fast and no human interaction is what you’re looking for, don’t even board the train, any train. Let alone visit to other countries when all you do is complain about everything. And this is why, Asian people don’t like to welcome entitled white foreigners like you.

    If you work in any Asian countries with no respect for Asian people, religions and cultures, by all mean, please go and work somewhere else.

    It’s annoying reading your complaints here 😑 No respect whatsoever.

  17. Nothing unusual. Smelly, crowded and not so friendly people. Sorry you have to experience this, but me as a Malaysian get used to it. People don’t really care anymore.

  18. I had a trip recently to Hadyai via Padang Besar on an ETS train.
    Everything was fine on the journey and the train service.
    The awful thing was the crowded Padang Besar train Station and the surroundings.
    The transport services and the roads leading to the Immigration center into Thailand needs much upgrading.
    As a major tourist point and transportation center the authorities should seriously look into.

  19. The minor inconveniences that was experienced on your trip is what many would deem as part of an adventure. It pales in comparison to train travel through countries likes India and yet, many truly enjoy it.

  20. Blady nightmare, but then again we locals also consider abuse as a reward as long as we get to where we wanna go.Whats with Paul anyway?

  21. The poor English spoils the article. At the very least she should have gotten the names right. Padang Besar not Pandang Besar, Hat Yai not Hat Yia.

  22. don’t take it too seriously Paul, she’s obviously just writing for dramatic content. take it with a pinch of salt and lots of MSG

  23. What do you expect with that kind of money 💰 you are paying. V.I.P like the more then you’ll fill the difference.

  24. I am less sympathetic because you consistently misspell Padang Besar and Hat Yai. If its worth anything, Bangkok has also been renamed to Krugthep Maha Nakorn.

  25. First, there is power point under each seats of Malaysia ETS train. Secondly there is small canteen at 1 of the coach. Thirdly, very rare there’s delay in ETS train schedule. If don’t bother to check or ask, stop complaining.

  26. As already pointed out, this journey is fully bookable online, and tickets can also be bought in the stations. The article is amusing to read but has many inaccuracies. The form at That land immigration is not a visa form, it’s the old TM6 arrivals card that they stopped using at the airport. Flights from Hat Yai are usually cheap but I suppose if you fail to plan, that can cost you. Intolerance of sounds from children usually indicates a sad personality imho.

  27. Better get an AirAsia flight from KLIA2, it take about 2hr15min with comfortable seat and enjoy hospitality of AirAsia cabin crew.

  28. I am planning a train trip from Kuala Lumpur to Hat yai. BANGKOK, AYUTHYA and hopefully beyond that. I will definitely book my tickets in advance (thanks Paul) and prepare myself mentally for the trip!

  29. Seems to be bullshit article on many fronts. From Chinatown to KL sentral is one LRT stop away, it’s the easiest thing to do. A check via Google map will lead you there.

    Second, ETS trains all come with meal and there is a food service cabin at the middle of the train. Had you mustered enough courage to get up from your hold the pee self inflicted misery, you’d be able to see it.

    As for your plight in Thailand, it’s a well known fact and that’s why most tourists take a comfy coach.

    In this day and age, there is huge resource to aid your travels and countless YouTube recordings on how best to complete this trip. Quite frankly, they are all pleasant and enjoyable.

    You are by far the worst travel writer I’ve come across. You didn’t do your homework, don’t use Google map properly, hardly believable story regarding the ETS, and whatever happens on Thai border. It’s all negative coming from you. Clearly the problem is you.

  30. An insightful article. Thanks. thought this journey would have been fascinating. But no more. Tourism Malaysia & TAT wasted the opportunity to promote FIT tourism. Backpackers or a travel companion who has been through it can give useful tips.

  31. Do not continue your article, all it sounds like is poor research on your part, something a journalist should be good at.

  32. Maybe next time you should travel with your mummy, so she can hold your hand to take you to the toilet.

  33. What do you expect when you are travelling in a 3rd class train ?
    So many complaints surely can made a pleasant journey very unpleasant. Furthermore, you did not research enough to avoid all these problems. So whom to blame but yourself.

  34. Having just started an epic summer holiday train journey from Bangkok to Singapore (and return) with my family you have Zero sympathy. EVERY train ticket except the shuttle between Pandang Besar and Hat Yai can be booked well in advance. 5 minutes of Google research would have confirmed this. Stop complaining about the toilets on rural South East Asia!

  35. Nothing surprising. This is all about train ride with poor services from both sides of the border. I experienced the same difficulty long ago.

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