Crazy Bus Adventures in Malaysia (or, Why You Should Always Trust Local Advice)

When you’re in a foreign country, it’s always a good idea to listen a local’s advice, isn’t it? I subscribe to that philosophy, and that’s why I really love CouchSurfing, as it easily connects you with local people for just that purpose (and a free place to sleep!). But sometimes, I’m not so good at following my own philosophy… Case in point? busing from KL to Penang…

See, it started like any other day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (a city I really like, by the way). I’d spent the past wonderful week hanging out with fellow bloggers Talon (and his son Tigger) of 1 Dad 1 Kid and Juno of Runaway Juno and was finally moving along after 3 days of threatening to leave. Penang, with its UNESCO World Heritage Site of Georgetown seemed like a good bet. I was armed with information from my local friend who hosted me about how to get a bus there so what could possibly go wrong?

It was only in the wee hours of the night that I asked my friend if he could recommend any bus companies. “They’re all the same to me. Though Transnasional has a good reputation,” he told me. Oh, how I’d come to resent not listening to him…

The Bus Station Maze

Kulala Lumpur's Puduraya Bus Station

Buses outside KL’s Pudu Sentral

Juno accompanied me to the bus station to find a ticket. Puduraya Station (also known as Pudu Sentral), has to be one of the most confusing bus stations I’ve ever been to though. Immediately after walking in, you’re assaulted by touts and a ticket counter is nowhere to be seen. Turns out, the ticket counters are upstairs and across a parking lot. Weird, right?

As you peruse the counters of the various companies, they holler out to you, trying to get your business. We enquired with several different companies about time and price, though it seemed nearly everyone kept directing us back to their one competitor’s window (#42, which I would highly suggest you avoid). I did check with Transnasional but their next bus wasn’t until 4:00pm (and it was 12:30pm). But, alas, I settled for Window #42, which two other people had now directed me to. They had a 2:00pm bus.

My bus ticket from KL to Penang

My bus ticket from KL to Penang

The Waiting Game

After lunch, I bid adieu to Juno and headed for my assigned platform, #22. 2:00pm rolls around and, guess what? There’s no bus! 2:30 rolls around. Still nothing. Then another bus pulls in but it’s not mine. I’m not alone here as there are a few others also trying to go to Penang, but when they tried to ask for assistance from the guys running around with walkie-talkies, they just pushed us away.

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Platforms at KL’s Puduraya Station.
Photo Credit

Rumor has it the bus is leaving at 3. And soon thereafter, a man with a walkie-talkie motions for us to follow him. We’re led out of the terminal and up into the street to a bus that matched the ID number on the ticket. I had just gotten done putting my bag under the bus when a different guy asks, “Where you go?”

Our “Bus”

“Penang,” I replied. “Penang, no,” he shouts, “This bus to jetty! No Penang!” I assumed he meant the ferry, as Penang is an island, though when I bought my ticket I was very specific about going to Penang Island, not to Butterworth on the mainland. Not to mention the fact that I had no clue what time the last ferry left and I wasn’t the only one in this situation as another pair of locals looked just as confused as I did.

This was our bus…the one we had tickets for, yet it wasn’t going where we were going! Confused and bewildered, I followed one of my fellow passengers back to the ticket counter…through the whole building, up the stairs and across the parking lot.

A New Bus

When we finally reached the window, the woman glanced at our tickets and then shouted at a woman, handing off our tickets to her and motioning us to quickly follow her. Down the stairs and out a side door, she led us, thrusting our tickets back at us without missing a step. Now, we were back on the street. The woman pointed towards the driveway where buses were entering the station and said, “Penang.” She just left us there looking confused.

But we weren’t confused for long! A man with a walkie-talkie asked us where we were going and took our tickets. I couldn’t help but notice that everyone else there also had similar tickets. Then the man flagged down a passing bus that was virtually empty and had originated in Singapore. We boarded and watched him pay the driver to take us. I couldn’t help but wonder if the company was having an “Oh, shit!” moment in getting us on this seemingly random bus that was passing, now at 3:30pm.

Luxury…or not…

Sam on the bus to KL

My bus looked like this, but, alas, nothing worked…
Photo Credit

Onboard the seats were plush. They had these giant recliners that supposedly also gave you a massage (except it didn’t work). Outlets (that didn’t work). Internet (that didn’t work). Personal TVs (that didn’t work). And overhead lights for reading (that didn’t work). But, you know what? I got to Penang in one piece…on the same day, even! And I learned one very important lesson….

Always listen to local advice!

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6 Responses to Crazy Bus Adventures in Malaysia (or, Why You Should Always Trust Local Advice)

  1. Yafieda June 1, 2014 at 9:23 pm #

    You’re lucky that it wasn’t a fake ticket because some of those touts sell them to tourists. Glad you got there in one piece though and sorry to hear about the misadventure.

    • Aaron June 2, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

      That’s comforting… I knew it wasn’t a fake ticket as I was the only tourist waiting for this bus on a platform full of locals. So, I should count myself lucky, I suppose?

  2. Stephanie June 2, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    Haha, this sounds exactly like my two bus experiences in Malaysia (going from Puduraya to Penang and to Melaka), and how my English friend, who lives in KL, describes every trip he tries to take from there (including trips with Transnational). On one of the trips, we even got a shuttle to go to a random other “bus station” (that turned out to be a gas station, where we had to wait another hours). It’s just the normal KL bus experience 🙂 !

    • Aaron June 2, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

      Haha glad to hear my experience wasn’t unique… I think my bus stopped at that random other “bus station” after picking us up from the service entrance to Puduraya! Crazy!

  3. Nick June 3, 2014 at 2:07 am #

    Ah what a nightmare! I was actually on the lucky side (kind of) of a late bus a few nights ago. We missed our train for the first part of the journey and ended up getting a taxi instead, we turned up at the bus stop 2 hours late only to find out that the bus we had tickets for still hadn’t come, it was another 2 hours before it finally would.

    • Aaron June 3, 2014 at 11:59 pm #

      Hahaha…of COURSE the bus was 2 hours late! I’ve had that experience in quite a few countries in Southeast Asia, actually. That’s very lucky for you, though!

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