Since I am graduating from college soon, I decided that it is time to do something crazy while I still can. As I am an avid train enthusiast too (and airplanes!), it is time for me to take a ride on East Coast Line of the Malaysian railway system. Compared to the modern and electrified west coast main line, the east coast line is still pretty much stuck in the olden days, without any sign of electrification and double tracking. The reports online also stated that the views are quite phenomenal. I bought a ticket of a sleeper berth on the Eastern Express 26 (Ekspress Rakyat Timuran) from JB Sentral to Tumpat, near Kota Bharu, riding the whole distance traveled by the train. This also brings be from the southernmost tip of the Malayan Peninsula to the northeastern tip. All in all the journey will take a whopping 18 hours to cover just 724 km, which is honestly too long. To get to Johor Bahru, I booked an economy ticket on Malaysia Airlines. Meanwhile, a promotional Business class ticket is booked for the return trip from Kota Bharu (note the confusing spelling of Bahru and Bharu). Sure, it seems that I have only write about Malaysia Airlines but it is the most interesting product available for travel within Malaysia. I would like to give Malindo a chance again but their schedule just did not suit me.
I took a bus from the local express bus station (Terminal Bersepadu Selatan) to KLIA at 1200 for my 1445 flight. To be honest, the bus journey from TBS to KLIA is best avoided since the driver tends to drive at very high speeds.
The Bus Staion (TBS)
The bus pulled into KLIA bus station around one hour after the departure. Note that the bus drops off passenger at KLIA2 first before proceeding to the older KLIA.
MH KUL Check in Area
KLIA Terminal Departure Hall
The (indoor) Viewing Deck
I proceeded to obtain my boarding pass before entering the secure airside area. I have selected seat 5A during OLCI. It is the best seat in economy in Malaysia's 738 since it is a bulkhead window, and there are only 2 of these seats. The pitch in the other rows are quite sad for such a gorgeous cabin whereas the exit rows have legroom but no recline. Since I do not have lounge access, lunch is consumed at Marrybrown, a local fast food chain. Their Nasi Lemak is not bad, it has to be said.
Marrybrown Fast Food Restaurant
Nasi Lemak with Fried Chicken (MYR 12.50) with a View
I then proceeded to gate B5 to wait for my flight. 737-8H6 9M-MLQ promtly pulled into the gate a short while later. Boarding is called according to seat position, Window seat passenger are called first but I am not sure is the rule properly enforced. Nevertheless, the boarding process of the relatively lightly loaded 738 is quite fast.
9M-MLQ Arriving from BKI
Nose of 9M-MLQMalaysia Airlines
4th May 2017
My Seat on the Return Flight
Boarding in Progress
9M-LNU Going to LGK
Legroom on Bulkhead Row
Rather Tight Legroom of Other Rows
The takeoff roll is leisurely as the runway at KUL is overkill for a lightly fueled and loaded 738.
Scenery after Takeoff (KLIA Interchange Toll Plaza)
Lax Job by Cleaning Crew
Scenery after Takeoff (KLIA and KLIA 2)
Refreshments are served shortly after takeoff, with a compulsory choice of orange juice and salted peanuts. I distinctly remember having a choice of juice when I last flew MH in short haul economy.
Peanuts and Orange Juice
Views During Cruise (Malacca Town)
The IFE system is turned on but several promotional videos about ASEAN and oneworld are played as the flight neared its end. The flight did encounter some interesting weather due to the thick clouds which resulted in "exciting" turbulence during descend.
Thick Clouds during Descent
Scenery During Descent
Arrival at JHB
After a long detour, the flight arrived at Senai Airport (JHB) 20 minutes late. All in all, the flight is a typical MH domestic hop, which is what I expected.
9M-MLQ at JHB (The Tinting on the Glass is Very Blue)
JHB Airport is rather modern and has a tonne of shops and restaurants. Interestingly, it is not opertated by MAHB (Malaysia Airports) but by a private entity.
JHB Departure/Arrival Hall
JHB Terminal Shops
I then took a bus to Johor Bahru, which has proven to be an adventure. The bus terminates at the Johor Bahru express bus terminal at Larkin instead of the city center itself, meaning a bus transfer is necessary. I then the wrong bus that is heading for Malaysia/Singapore CIQ complex instead of the train station. In the end, I reached Johor Baru city almost 90 minutes after I departed the airport. The airport is quite some distance away from the city itself (20+ km) so it is rather inconvenient for people that are relying on public transport. In actual fact, it would be faster for me to take a express bus to Johor Bahru instead of the flight but where is the fun in that?
JB Sentral Train Station
Old Johor Bahru Station (Yellow Building in the Background)
After eating an early dinner at a shopping mall nearby, I stocked up on supplies that will hopefully last throughout the train journey. My plan to explore the city is thwarted by the long travel time between the airport and the city itself. The train station (JB Sentral) is conveneiently located beside two modern shopping malls that contains a myriad of shops and eateries, and the CIQ checkpoint to Singapore. Singapore itself is like 1 km away from the JB Sentral station. During peak hours, the CIQ complex and the causeway linking Johor Bahru and Singapore are packed with commuters that stay in Johor and work in Singapore and vice versa. I boarded my sleeper train around 15 minutes before its departure.KTM Intercity
Train 26: Ekspress Rakyat Timuran (trans: Eastern People Express)
JB Sentral - Tumpat
KTM Class 24 (24104)
ADNS (Aircon Day/Night Second)
4th May 2017
STA: 1300 +1
Train 26 hauled by 24104
Exterior of Sleeper Coaches
The train coach (or carriage?) consist of 40 berths, divided equally between upper and lower berths. The beds are quite wide and is just long enough for me (183 cm tall). However, the low ceilings are very claustrophobic. There is also a lack of storage as I am a bit paranoid of leaving my belongings on the aisle, which is what the locals do. The pillows are too flat and the duvet is more akin to a bed sheet. 2 lavatories are attached at one end of the carriage. The lavatories are cleaned constantly. Since this is an old sleeper train, no entertainment system and even power ports are available. The coaches have seen better days. The lax maintenance is clear since many functions such as the reading light and the automatic doors are non functioning.
Interior of ADNS
It is a stark paradox to modern airliners such as the 738 that I have stepped out of just few hours ago. However, it is also extremely nostalgic, harking back to the old days to travelling. To prevent getting stuck in the stone age with nothing to do, bribing along an external battery pack is a must to allow for the use of the mobile phone throughout the journey.
The train set off at 1900 sharp, with the coaches still quite empty. They slowly fill up along the various stations dotted along the route. Passengers are mostly local, with a small smattering of adventurous western travelers mixed in. After leaving JB Sentral, it seems like everything has gone back a few decades. The stations are simple structures unlike the mammoth JB Sentral with its 6 platforms that is criminally underutilised, awaiting the modernization of the railway line.
Route Map (courtesty of railtravelstation.com, which is an excellent source of information about train travel in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand)
Leaving JB Sentral
Stopping at Kempas Baru
Stopping at Labis Station
Crossing over with Another Southbound Train at Labis
Approaching Gemas Station
The Modern and Electrified Gemas Station
The train however is painfully slow. The tracks in the rural regions of Malaysia are very curvy and bumpy. Due to the constant flood during the rainy season, the several sections are undergoing some serious maintenance works. The train takes 13 hours to navigate 520 km through the dense jungle.
The Route of the Train
I woke up near Gua Musang just as the sun came out. since the train stop for minutes at the major stations, I bought breakfast at the station cafeteria. The Nasi Lemak is cheap and taste really good. The food sold onboard the unairconditioned cafe car is not that good though.
View from Berth after Waking Up
Train Travelling at Speed
View towards Gua Musang
Train Stopping at Gua Musang Station
Limestone Hills at Gua Musang
Nasi Lemak bought from Gua Musang Station
The views throughout the jungle railway are great too, living up to its name. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. They however did get repetitive after a while. A word of caution, some of the pictures I took are quite dangerous, requiring the opening of the train doors when it is travelling at speed (which is technically illegal but the conductors will usually take no action). The stretch between Dabong and Kuala Krai is espcially scenic, with the train winding through the deep jungle, crossing several bridges and tunnels.
Views of Jungle
More Jungle Scenery
Even More Jungle Scenery
Passing One of the Numerous Bridges
Stopping at Dabong Station
A Nearby Town in the Middle of the Jungle
Major Track Maintainance Works near Kemubu
Passing Kula Krai
The berth did get uncomfortably hot in the day due to a lack of ventilation. The curtains are great in providing privacy but they are also great in blocking cool air from entering the berth. The glass windows doesn't help in this aspect too. A recommendation that I can make is to book a seat instead of a sleeper berth for the daylight hours of the journey as a seat will be more comfortable for sightseeing and lounging purposes.
Old Wakaf Bharu Station
Rice Fields near Tumpat
The diesel hauled Intercity trains are slowly disappearing from Malaysia, being replaced by modern electrical alternatives. They used to be available for travel between Kuala Lumpur, Penang and singapore. The section north of Gemas (where the Jungle Railway branches out from the mainline) is completely electrified. The stretched between Gemas and JB Sentral will be modernized within the next few years too. As a result, the jungle railway will be the only section that will remain modernized in the foreseeable future. In the end, I can only recommend the train ride through the Jungle Railway for railway enthusiast. It is certainly not for everyone.
I took the train to the end of the line at Tumpat instead of the preceding station closer to Kota Bharu to claim that I have travelled through the whole length of the jungle railway. The train arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule. There are several memorabilia scattered around the Tumpat station that might be of interest to the railway buffs (I have no idea on what they are). A local shuttle train going back towards Kota Bharu was leaving in an hour anyway so I decided to spend some time around Tumpat station. However, there isn't much to see in the vicinity of the station.
Arrival at Tumpat
The ADNS coach upon Arrival
Exterior of Tumpat Station
End of the East Coast LineKTM Intercity
Train 51/53: Shuttle
Tumpat - Wakaf Bharu
KTM Class 25 (25204)
AEC (Aircon Economy Class)
5th May 2017
The Shuttle Train
The shuttle train, consisting of 4 passenger cars pulled into the station platform 30 minutes ahead of schedule. The refrigerated interior of the train is a welcome respite from the scorching heat outside the train. The shuttle trains are intended for locals commuting between the small towns and villages within the jungle. It used to be the only way for them to travel until a road connecting the small towns are completed in 1981. With an entire coach to myself, the train set off on time.
The AEC Coach
Train Breaking Down
However, the short 25 minutes hop between Tumpat and Wakaf Bharu soon turned disastrous as the locomotive broke down several km south of Tumpat in the middle of nowhere. Attempts to fix the locomotive by the crew on board are unsuccessful as the train is stranded for almost 2 hours. Since the power for the air conditioning are generated by another car instead of the locomotive, the air conditioning is still functioning. A 4G phone signal is available too, so I just surfed the web while waiting for the train to move. Finally, another locomotive (24104 again) hauled us back to Tumpat. The train will only set off after the original broken locomotive is removed. In the end, the delay is of a total of 3 hours. This meant I will have no time to do sightseeing in and around the city before leaving for the airport to catch my 2015 flight back to KUL.
Train Reversing Across a Bridge
Broken Locomotive Being Shunted Away
Passing Yet Another Rice Field
Arrival at Wakaf Bharu
Train 56 Crossing Over with 51/53
My head was feeling a little dizzy as I finally stand on flat land after the constant pitch and sideways movements of the past 20 hours.
Grab (ASEAN's alternative to Uber) is available in Kota Bharu so it is quite convenient for visitors to go around the city. Since I only reached the city at 1750, I only have enough time for a meal before leaving again. I had dinner at Hayaki Cafe, a modern cafe selling traditional Kelantan food (which also have several branches back in Kuala Lumpur, by the way) in a comfortable environment. The Nasi Kerabu Ayam Percik is good but I guess better versions can be found around town. Still, I don't have the time to do any exploration so the pricey alternative will suffice.
Nasi Kerabu Ayam Percik (MYR 9.90)
I booked a Grab to the airport at 1830. The drive to the airport from the city center takes around 20-30 minutes depending on traffic.
The architecture of KBR is interesting to say the least. The colors will not make it make it look out place in a theme park. The check in counters for MH is deserted and I was promptly give my boarding pass. No MH lounge is available at this rather small airport with only 3 aerobridge. I did enquire before I left KUL for JHB about the possibility of using the lounge at KUL after arrival but the answer was a big no.
Exterior of KBR (Sultan Ismail Petra Airport)
Check In Counters
Interior of KBR Terminal
I did find a decent cafe operated by the local university (Universiti Malaysia Kelantan) that feature comfortable seats. The cappuccino made from an espresso machine is good too.
Spacious Departure Hall
9M-MXV Arriving from KUL
Boarding was called around 10 minutes before departure. Priority boarding is enforced but there is no separate line for J/status passengers. A walk around the long line is required before showing the agent my BP and being admitted to board. Malaysia Airlines
5th May 2017
This flight is again operated by a 738 with the modern sky interior. There are a total of 16 seats laid out in 2-2 arrangement. I have always thought the MH 738 J cabin was overly large for domestic sectors and this time is no exception. Only 5 seats are taken. Many people have written about the seat, which is more than good enough for short flights of around an hour. I always find the MH 738's cabin beautiful and this is no exception. The IFE screen is noticeably larger than in economy. I tend to avoid the first row in the 737 due to its lack of legroom and lack of underseat storage.
Pillow and Blanket
A cold towel and pre departure drink is served while boarding is still underway. I selected the guava juice which is good. Meal orders are taken before departure too. There is a choice of Nasi Kerabu Ayam Percik and Tuna Sandwich. Naturally, I chose the Nasi Kerabu because I just had it earlier in the city and it should be an interesting comparison. Teh tarik is chosen to accompany the meal. The choice of meal is new to me since no options are available the last time I took a flight of similar stature (PEN-KUL) during July 2016, which I have also written about in a report comparing Malaysia and Malindo. I was addressed by name by the stewardess throughout the drinks and food ordering process. The stewardess serving J on the flight of a higher seniority but she was excellent. The ISM however is nowhere to be seen throughout the flight, preferring to hide behind the curtain instead.
I can smell the meal being heated before the plane has even took-off. Due to the arrangement of the taxiway, the plane is required to backtrack down the runway before making a 180 degree turn to take off. The crew also played the arrival video about Oneworld and ASEAN way too early. It was quite amusing to hear advertisement playing from the PA system during the takeoff roll.
Cabin During Cruise
The meals were promptly served as the seatbelt sign was switched off. The Nasi Kerabu is served with a pack of MH signature peanuts, a Beryl's chocolate and my choice of Teh Tarik. The cabin lights were turned orange for some reason. The chocolate has been enhanced, so to speak. It used to be a Lindt Lindor instead of a local brand.
Nasi Kerabu Ayam Percik with Teh Tarik
If you have seen what a proper Nasi Kerabu Ayam Percik looks like (hint: scroll slightly up), this is kind of disappointing because it is plainly not Nasi Kerabu. It is actually steamed rice with sambal and spicy steamed chicken. Admittedly, the meal is impressive for a 300 mile flight but it is pure false advertising by the catering crew. It is not the fault of the crew as I spotted a piece of paper pinned up in the galley showing the menu of the flight that clearly states "Nasi Kerabu Ayam Percik" when I visited the lavatory.
The Tuna Croissant option seems to be extremely unpopular since only one of the 5 passengers chose that option. The tray was cleared as flight started to descend but I am still not finished with the chocolate and peanuts. I also ordered an additional cup of water to wash down the teh tarik. I also distinctly remember a hot towel being provided after meal but that may be my memory playing tricks.
Second Glass of Water
Cabin During Cruise
Cabin Druing Descent
Landing at KUL
The flight took an extended route down south towards Seremban before turning back north to approach KUL. This meant the flight arrived 10 minutes after the allocated block time. I bid farewell to the crew and walked to the bus station to catch a bus back to TBS. The airport express train also have a stop at TBS but I am not in a rush so I took the slower and much cheaper alternative. At 2300, the bus arrived at TBS, the same place that I started off 35 hours ago.
Back at Terminal Bersepadu Selatan
The whole journey was tiring (especially the sleeper train) but it was very interesting. Ideally, more time should be spent to explore both cities (Johor Bahru and Kota Bharu) but then it is not always the destination that matters, but the journey too. Malaysia Airlines is solid as always but I think I will avoid such a long train ride in the future.