Getting around Malaysia by bus is generally pretty straightforward with many different companies offering services to all different destinations. Journeys to quiet beach or mountain resorts may require a change in a major transport hub, and undertaking the second leg of the journey by taxi or local bus. The number of different companies offering transport to various destinations can appear confusing at first, but there is very little to choose between them and most use the same bus terminals.
Be aware that when numerous long distance services are put on during the day, these are usually congregated at early morning and late evening rather than spread out evenly throughout the 24 hours. Seats get booked up extremely quickly at the weekends and during national holidays so be sure to reserve a seat early if planning to travel at these times. If travelling overnight then it is much more comfortable to choose a first class bus which has comfortable reclining seats and a blanket and pillow provided. Air conditioning on these buses is normally turned up to the maximum so remember to bring a thick pair of socks and fleece to keep warm.
Entertainment on buses normally consists of Thai pop videos or Hollywood films dubbed into Malay. Whilst this can be beneficial if you are attempting to master the local dialect, the loud volume can get frustrating if you’re feeling tired and just want a little shut-eye. Requesting a seat at the back can help minimise any disturbances if you’re sure you don’t want to see the TV, although anything past the rear axle of the vehicle will jump around more than sitting in the middle.
Suitcases and large items of luggage are normally stored in the baggage hold under the bus. Although rare, there are occasional reports of thefts from these during long-distance journeys so always kept cash and valuables with you in a moneybelt or locked bag. Padlocking items is a proven method of preventing opportunistic thefts and puts your mind at rest as well.
Because of rising fuel prices and legislation that dictates fare must be kept low, a large number of bus companies have been cutting back on unprofitable services in order to save costs. It’s important to check that buses are running and to be specific about what day and time you require. Unscrupulous ticket touts may try and sell you departures that do not leave for many hours and then refuse to change your ticket when you realise there is a bus leaving sooner. This means you’re either left hanging around or must buy a second ticket for the earlier bus, and they double their takings for nothing.
Bus travel from Kuala Lumpur
There are four main bus terminals in KL, the largest of which is Pudu Raya Station which is just a short walk from Chinatown. This is the main station which visitors need for Langkawi, Penang, Pangkor, Cameron Highlands, Taman Negara, Melaka and Singapore.
There are a variety of cheap guesthouses nearby if you have an extremely early departure, but the area around the station is also home to petty thieves and con artists so it pays to keep your wits about you.
Other KL terminals include Pekeliling Bus Station which serves eastern areas such as Jerantut, Kuantan, Kuala Lipis and Mentakab. Putra Bus Station also handles east coast destinations including Kuantan, Temerloh and Kuala Terengganu.
Duta Bus Station has Transnasional Coaches travelling to the north of Malaysia, but Pudu Raya generally has more choice and is much more convenient.
Taking a taxi in Malaysia can be a frustrating experience as the drivers, charming as they usually are, are steadfast in flouting the law and refusing to use meters. This can mean endless arguments or simply higher fares, depending on how forgiving your mood. Of course, the correct course of action is to take down the details of any offender and report them to the appropriate authorities.
In practice, however, not many people want to take time out of their holiday to visit the local police station; but always agree on a price before setting off on a journey. Women travelling alone should always sit in the back seat and never up front with the driver as this can, bizzarely, sometimes be interpreted as some sort of romantic advance.
Most town in Malaysia have a long distance taxi rank which charge fixed price fares depending on where you want to go. This normally means waiting around until you’ve got four people all heading in a similar direction, but this does not usually take too long in large population centres.
Prices are around one-and-a-half to twice as much as the equivalent bus fare, but journeys are always quicker and will take you directly to your final destination. Foreigners are sometimes treated as a soft touch, however, and pressured to commender an entire taxi for themselves, paying four times the per-person price. Be polite but firm and insist on waiting for companions.