Great Train Journeys- Singapore to Bangkok.
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Great Train Journeys- Singapore to Bangkok.

If travelling from Singapore to Bangkok you can simply jump on a plane and be at your destination in a few hours but in doing so you will have seen nothing of the scenery you will be flying over. Taking a train (or trains) is an amazingly cheap alternative although you will need to allow yourself more time for this mode of travel and believe me it is a journey to enjoy at a relaxed pace and not one to be rushed.

If travelling from Singapore to Bangkok you can simply jump on a plane and be at your destination in a few hours but in doing so you will have seen nothing of the scenery you will be flying over. Taking a train (or trains) is an amazingly cheap alternative although you will need to allow yourself more time for this mode of travel and believe me it is a journey to enjoy at a relaxed pace and not one to be rushed.

Train travel in this part of south east Asia is safe, on comfortable modern trains and cheap. The route from Singapore through Kuala Lumpur and on to Bangkok follows the traditional single track railway that was first built in colonial times when under British rule. The train will take you past plantations of palm trees and through tiny country stations and a far nicer way to see this part of the world than on a faster bus along the concrete or tarmac surface of a modern motorway or highway.

Until the 30th June 2011 the point for boarding the train in Singapore city was the 1932 colonial styled grand railway station. This has now sadly closed and although the entrance will be preserved the rest will become part of another modernisation for the centre of the city. Trains now leave from Woodlands Train Checkpoint, located at the north of Singapore’s main island. Passengers are checked by customs officials before they board the train eliminating this process that had to be conducted here leading to delays from the old station. Once leaving the checkpoint the train rumbles its way across the causeway dating from 1923 joining the island with its near neighbour of Malaysia across the Johor Strait. The train journey from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur takes just six hours on a day time train although there is an option for an overnight sleeper service and this takes eight hours. The cost of this leg of the journey starts from around US$10.

The second leg of the train journey is from KL to Butterworth, here you can again break your journey and take a ferry to visit Penang. KL to Butterworth is around the same time and cost as the first leg from Singapore. Trains from Butterworth up to Bangkok are on the daily ‘International Express’ and cost less than US$35 for the sleeper service, restaurant for dinner and breakfast, this leg takes less than 24 hours as you head ever closer to the Thai capital. In total the journey is 1,233 miles (1,920 kilometres) in length and it can be achieved in under 48 hours with short stops in each of the locations mentioned. It is far better to enjoy it at a more leisurely pace and stay for a few days or longer to discover each location before moving on.

All the trains run every day and there are a few options available. If you wanted to avoid Kuala Lumpur you could take a train direct from Singapore to Butterworth (morning train) but with so much to see in KL it would be a waste to only get a glimpse of this city from the train. Three trains daily leave Singapore for KL, one in the morning, another in the early afternoon and then there is the sleeper (evening departure) that arrives the next morning. Three trains each day are available from KL to Butterworth each spaced into the morning, afternoon and an overnight sleeping option. There is only one direct train each day from Butterworth to Bangkok and that leaves in the early afternoon with its arrival late the next morning. From KL it is possible to get trains to other resort locations but the information for getting further onward journeys is complicated and may require several modes of transport to find connecting trains, for these services it would be easier to return to KL and continue northwards from there.

There are up to six classes of travel or tickets available on these trains, 3 types of sleeper from Deluxe sleeper which is in 1 or 2 bed compartments that come equipped with a private shower and toilet as well as being fully air-conditioned. The next class is 1st class sleeper with is in 2 bed compartments and each contains a washbasin and air-conditioning with toilets at the end of the corridor. The remaining sleeping class is 2nd and this comprises upper and lower bunks with curtains for some privacy, again this class is air-conditioned.

Three classes of seat are also available 1st class premier which can be reclined, comfortable and with air-conditioning. Second class is similar to the above but without reclining seats. The 3rd class seating option is listed as economy and can be best described as fairly comfortable but basic.

After crossing into Thailand the trains are patrolled by armed guards on the overnight trains. The trains that run north from Butterworth are operated by Thai railways. Despite travel warnings against going to the south of Thailand there have been no problems in this region of southern Thailand for travellers. The terrorists reported to be operating in that part of the country are not targeting western travellers and the train runs along the western end of the border between the two countries, the areas of conflict are to the east.

There is however an alternative route along the east coast that is reported to traverse through some jungle scenery that has been reported by those that took this route as being superb. You can take a train from KL to Khota Bahru then a bus or taxi to the border, cross into Thailand then take a train onward to Bangkok. The train from KL has several stops during its first few hours, this is followed by four or five hours of jungle including seeing monkeys at play within the trees before the train leaves the rainforest and enters the mountains for two or three hours, the fare for this leg of the journey is around US$5. The train is not a modern luxury one however, it is somewhat old but the scenery makes up for the lack of comfort.

Travelling in Malaysia and Thailand by train is very cheap. However if you begin your journey in Singapore and buy all your tickets for each train you require at that point then it will cost you twice as much. If you buy your tickets in Singapore they must be paid for in Singapore dollars, but for some reason they charge double the price than if they were bought in Malaysia. The Singapore part of the journey is only a five minute ride before you cross the causeway and enter Malaysia. Even if you attempt to buy the tickets online through the Malaysian ticketing centre you will still be charged at the Singaporean rate. The difference is only a few pounds or dollars and hardly noticeable over the cost of travelling to Asia but if you wish to avoid this abnormality you can cross the border and join the train at the first stop inside Malaysia and pay the local rate. If you are making a return journey buy your tickets as two separate single journeys that way you will make the saving on your return leg.

All long distance trains in this region of south east Asia require a reservation, you cannot just turn up and get on a train. Although if seats are still available they can be bought up until the time of departure. Your booking will always reserve you a seat or sleeping space, reservations open 30 days in advance in Malaysia & Singapore, 60 days in Thailand. Tickets can be bought online, in person at the ticketing centre or by phoning the call centre. The International Express from Butterworth to Bangkok cannot be booked online except by email or in person at the ticketing centre. You cannot buy tickets for a journey originating in Thailand through the Malaysian ticketing centre. That must be done directly with the Thai railways.

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Comments (8)

Very handy stuff!

Truly interesting! Voted.

Excellent travel tips, John.

What an interesting train ride you have articulated very well. Totally enjoyed.

Educational article and very nicely executed, too. I learned something new today. Thanks much Voted


Sounds interesring, thanks for the info John. Your travel articles are always very useful!

Really this sounds like such an interesting journey from Singapore to Bangkok. I can almost visualize a movie about it - throw in a little romance, a little danger and add in some political drama and I think you've got a workable screenplay!