There’s always this dilemma of how to travel on almost every trip I go. This one came down to which way I wanted to travel from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur… by train or simply catch a flight.It was a little more complicated than that, fly to the capital of Malaysia and spend an extra few days visiting Kuala Lumpur and its surroundings or take a train and have a proper overland experience traveling in Thailand.
How long does it take from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok by train? A flight is only 1,5 hours, but the journey by train is around 36 hours! You will first take a train from Bangkok to Hat Yai and then cross the border into Malaysia by direct bus towards Kuala Lumpur.
I had just finished an epic overland trip in Asia but I wanted my trip to finish on an even more epic high so I thought I would do something that hundreds of local people do every day and take the train from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur. God damn it was a long few days on the track but it was incredible!
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Where to book?
To start off the overland experience, you’ll need to book your ticket through 12go.asia which is a tour company responsible for the tickets. You can best book online, simple, reliable and convenient. There is also an office opposite Hua Lamphong in Bangkok.
3rd, 2nd or 1st class train?
There are three classes to choose from when booking:
- first class with AC, bed and linen
- second class with AC, bed and linen
- second class with a fan, bed and linen
- third class being the cheapest option gives you a basic seat that doesn’t recline and a fan.
Packing list for Thailand? Check my article with a list of 40 things to bring to Thailand.
Lower bed or upper bed?
If you decide to book either first or second class, be sure to book a lower berth not an upper berth as a lower berth gives you your own window which might not seem much but I can assure you it is!
Route train from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur
The train route from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur is somewhat surprising as nowadays the train from the border of Thailand to Kuala Lumpur is mostly substituted for a ultra modern luxury coach. The first stretch from Bangkok to Hat Yai, one of the Southernmost cities in Thailand, will take 16-18 hours. Thai Railways train #171 leaves at 1.00 pm from Bangkok Hua Lamphong station towards Hat Yai.
In Hat Yai you will have between 3 to 5 hours transit time before your direct luxury bus leaves towards Kuala Lumpur. The bus station in Hat Yai is 500 meters away from the train station and easily walkable within 5-10 minutes.
Costs/price train from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur
Although there are two stretches you will buy just 1 ticket, a so called joint ticket. In your mail you will then receive both tickets in 1 document.
The costs for the joint ticket train from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur is between $50 and $90 depending on your class you book. Here are the up to date prices:
The bus from Hat Yai Station to Kuala lumpur has a fixed price of $21. Click on the links above to get the exact details of the trip of do a search in the 12GO Asia search engine.
Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur by train blog
Right, all the boring stuff is now done so it’s time for my experiences traveling across Thailand by train into Malaysia.
The Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur train ride starts at Hua Lamphong in Bangkok, which is the biggest station in Thailand serving places such as Chaing Mai, Kachanaburi and Nakon Sawan to almost every destination in Thailand.
Train from Bangkok to Hat Yai
The train to Hat Yai usually is an afternoon train, 1.00 pm to be precise and leaves from one of the tracks on the main concourse. When booking your ticket through 12go.asia they will ask you to be there 1 hour before departure but honestly that’s a bit silly, 20 to 30 minutes will suit you just fine. Just be sure to know which carriage and seat number is on your ticket and navigating the train station will be very easy.
Remember that the train ride from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur is a long trip so stock up on food and snacks but don’t worry if you forget to, you are guaranteed to be pestered on the train until you buy something. Vendors are constantly walking from carriage to carriage selling everything from cold drinks, hot meals and things that I have no idea what they actually are.
Buying food on the train from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur is also a lot cheaper than buying from a shop like Tesco. Expect to pay 20 THB ($0,60) for rice, basil mince and an egg.
For the first part of the journey, things are super slow going as the train makes its way out of Bangkok. This can take 2 or 3 hours so don’t expect the train to get to top speed yet. The first few hours are the most boring however traveling through the back parts of Bangkok is interesting as it gives an insight into life around Thailand’s train tracks.
Once the train gets to Nakhon Pathom, things get a little bit more interesting as the train rolls out of the city towards Ratcha Buri, the point at which the train starts heading south towards Hat Yai. If you don’t already know, Thailand’s country side consists of rice paddy fields stretching as far as the eye can see often backed by limestone karst mountains jutting from the edge of the horizon as rivers flow from the Kaeng Krachan National Park into the picturesque Gulf of Thailand.
Back on board the train, it’s very limited on what you can do to pass the time as there is NO WIFI onboard. Here are some tips for the first stretch on the train from Bangkok to Hat Yai:
- Buy a Thailand sim card to stay connected with 4G. Click on the link to read my article about the best prepaid sim card for Thailand.
- Eat as much food as possible as there are always vendors walking back and forth with meals. There will also be vendors at train stations along the way so be prepared so have your THB ready to go! When you buy food at a station, the vendor will pass the meal through the window which is pretty cool and what is even better is that the meals are hot and come with utensils.
- Drink as little as possible! The toilets are nothing to be proud of so if you can I would advise holding it until the train arrives at Hat Yai.
- At the front and back of each carriage, doors are open allowing you to get a touch of fresh air however be careful you don’t lose your hat or your head. It can get windy!
If the train is running on time, expect to be in Hua Hin around 6:30 pm. If you’re lucky you catch the sunset in the train, quite a treat as this part of Thailand is pretty spectacular. Hua Hin is a coastal town backed onto stunning National Parks and this is another reason why you’ll want a lower berth when booking your train ticket from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur.
As the train heads on into the night, the cabin starts to transform into a sleeping area but don’t expect to have your bed made straight away as there are a damn lot to make on the train. Once the beds are made, you’ll finally get some privacy with your own curtain and your own window!
I must say the beds are quite comfortable and warm but there’s a good chance you will not need blankets as it’s warm all year round in Thailand and for the pillows, don’t expect too much as they are thin and hard. With the curtains closed, keep the window open and watch the world go by. If you’re lucky it will be a clear night, sky dazzling with stars as a distant thunderstorm flashes away.
Quick tip: make sure you close the train window overnight as grass seeds, spiders and insects can land on you whilst sleeping. I woke up the following morning covered from head to toe because I wanted to cool down throughout the night… bad idea!
Around sunrise the train ride from Bangkok to Hat Yai is almost over. At the dawn of day it is only around 1-2 hours until Hat Yai. One of the good things about sleeping in first or second class is you can stay in bed right up until the train arrives at the train station which will be around 7.00 am in the morning.
On disembarking from the overnight train from Bangkok to Hat Yai, it’s simple to exit the station as you can follow the crowd to the large building on the left hand side of the train or exit through the unused carpark.
Layover in Hat Yai
I am not a fan of layovers as I just want to get to my destination so I had to hold my horses and chill out for almost 5 hours in Hat Yai before catching the second part of the train journey from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur.
Hat Yai is a strange city with its oddly designed buildings, run-down shop fronts and one way streets however the city has done wonders to zap some life into the place with vast amounts of effort gone into painting buildings in an assortment of colours.
Hat Yai is perched on the U-Ta Phao River fed by the Songkhla Lake to the north-east making it an ideal place to sit by the cooling river to pass the time or opt for the Toei River. Hat Yai is only a small city however one thing in common with places like Bangkok is the amount of shopping malls it has but there is a downside, most malls in Hat Yai will not open till 10.00 am, leaving you to walk the streets of the city with no real place to go.
I passed quite a bit of time here by having breakfast and lunch while watching a few episodes of The Grand Tour and there will be a few of you saying “why are you on your phone when you could be out exploring the city”, but you will find out yourself… there aren’t many things to do in Hat Yai.
The Bus from Hat Yai to Kuala Lumpur
The 2nd part of the overland journey begins in Hat Yai and depending on which company you are travelling with, buses will depart from different locations in Hat Yai but mostly around 12.00 pm or 1.00 pm.
Buses that travel interstate or to another country or any long distant are generally super comfortable when traveling in Thailand or Malaysia. I got a VIP bus with reclining seats, air conditioning, USB outlets and onboard WIFI. The only thing that wasn’t on board the bus was a toilet, which apparently is illegal in Malaysia.
The first part of the bus drive from Hat Yai to Kuala Lumpur is quite slow and boring as the bus makes its way past border towns. Remember to have your passport on you at all times as the bus will be crossing the Thai-Malaysian border within the first hour of the journey so don’t get too settled in as you’ll have to get off the bus to clear immigration and security before boarding once again.
Crossing the border into Malaysia is super easy and for most passport holders you do not require a visa however in some instances, requirements state that you need to have a booked flight or mode of transport out of Malaysia before entering the country. Check before your trip.
Malaysian roads are mostly in great conditions and really well maintained so the ride will be basically bump free which is a plus compared to the train from Bangkok to Hat Yai. From the border town of Bukit Kayu Hitam the bus travels on the AH2 highway all the way to Penang, a largely popular seaside destination which is definitely a place I will be visiting when traveling to Malaysia next time.
One of the things that you will notice while on the 9 hour bus from Hat Yai to Kuala Lumpur is the amount of Palm Oil Plantations and how far they stretch. Palm oil trees require vast amounts of space to grow therefore to do so, intensive logging of rainforests all over Malaysia and Borneo has taken place to the point where the Orangutang is now critically endangered and rainforests now lie on the brink of total destruction. Palm oil is used in most foods like crisps, chocolates, beverages as an additive.
The bus continues south along the AH2 to Perak past Mount Yong Belar, a spectacular 2,183 metre mountain and one of the highest in Malaysia. You don’t want to fall asleep as there are sections of trip where vast limestone karst mountains extrude from the lush valley floors.
On dark, some 9 hours into the bus drive from Hat Yai the lights of Kuala Lumpur become visible for the first time. One of the buildings you will see will be the iconic Petronas Towers piercing its way into the lowly clouds of Kuala Lumpur. The Petronas Towers rise some 451 metres above the city floor and seeing it at night is one of the most incredible things to do in Kuala Lumpur.
Arriving in Kuala Lumpur
After a solid 10 hours on the bus and thank god the seats are comfortable and the roads are smooth, the bus arrives at Terminal Bersepadu Selatan or TBS for short. I was the only passenger to disembark from the bus that night as the rest of the passengers stayed a board and headed to Singapore so be sure to get all of your belongings as there’s a very slim chance that you will never see that bus again.
Once at TBS get an Uber into the city which is still about 20 minutes away. You can get a train which is vastly cheaper but by the time the bus gets into the city, most trains stop operating. If you don’t have any currency, there are a few ATM’s located inside the TBS building. Unfortunately the currency exchange desk closes a few hours prior to the bus arriving at the terminal, one of the downsides arriving late at night.
The whole 36 hours of being stuck on a bus and train from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur has its ups and downs but it really isn’t that bad. If you were to catch a plane from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur it would be super boing as you would spend most of the time in a terminal, sitting on the plane possibly the aisle seat then arriving in a new country with no real story to tell.
It cost me $55 USD for the bus and train combined as for the plane ticket it would have cost me $75 USD and that would have allowed me to only have a 5 KG carryon bag! So taking the plane is surely more expensive than getting a train from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur.
Prices for the train from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur or vice versa are pretty fixed, but click the search button below to get up to date prices.
By far the best part of this journey is the train section and if you can afford a few extra dollars I highly recommend booking a lower berth in 2nd class even better, a first class lower berth. If you are on a super strict budget, the overnighter in 3rd class will be rough but you can make up for lost sleep on the reclining seats on the bus to Kuala Lumpur.
I hope the above tips for taking the train from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur were helpful for your upcoming Thailand trip. This blog was written with the help of my friend Calumn Hockey an avid travel photographer who also took all the photos for this article. Check out more of his work on Instagram @calumnhockey. Calumn and I met on our trip to Nepal where we did the Langtang Valley trek together.
In case you have any questions don't hesitate to send me a message on my Instagram account @traveltomtom. In total I have been to Thailand 17 times as of end of 2019, so Im sure I can help you out. I also wrote an island hopping Thailand guide, island hopping itineraries, a Koh Tao travel guide, top things to do in Bangkok and almost 50 more Thailand travel blogs.
Enjoy the pictures and wanderlust vibes on my Instagram as Im trying to travel to every country in the world as of 2020!
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Enjoy your trip to Bangkok!
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