Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Singapore to Penang, 18 hours, approx 1,000km

Have spent the last two days travelling up the Malaysian Penninsula - 8 hours from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur where I spent the night then another 8 hours from KL to Butterworth, where I spent another night.

Singapore to KL wasn't so interesting for most of the way the jungle has been cleared to make room for mile after mile after mile of palm plantations. They're souless when compared to the natural environment they've replaced.

From KL on it gets better. The train runs along the foothills of the Cameron Highlands and the steep slopes are covered in tumultous jungle, a hundred shades of green. The mountain tops are shrouded in brused grey clouds and occasionally we drive into the edge of a monsoonal downpour and fat drops commit hara kiri on the window panes.

Brightly coloured houses and vivid temples are glimpsed for an instant then vanish again into the green. We cross green brown rivers and wet fields. Chickens scratch in front gardens and silky looking Brahman cows cool themselves in muddy pools. Small ponds sport water lilies the size of dinner plates with pale pink flowers waving above them.

The man sitting next to me is nearly 80 and is thin with old age. He snacks on poppadoms, breaking them daintily in his fingers. When he bends forward to pick the next one from his bag, I see the soft skin on the back of his neck and across his ears is a velvety soft mocha.

Despite the fact that the trains here are comfortable - air conditioned, lots of leg room - and it's been super easy making reservations (you just email the booking office, they confirm your seats and you pick up and pay for your ticket the day before you travel), I seem to be the only European tourist on the train.

The internet has really made trips like this a doddle to organise yourself. If you're planning a train journey anywhere take a look at Seat 61. It's an encyclopedic resource for booking train journeys anywhere in the world run by a guy called Mark Smith (the man in Seat 61). I like his advice: never travel without a good book and a corkscrew.

Today I'm off to Bangkok on the over night sleeper. Am feelig slightly apprehensive given all the Red Shirt protests. Clearly I'm no Kate Adie (a BBC war correspondent for non-Brits reading this). Wish me luck!


  1. I've just noticed that you're about a third of the way through the journey. I wonder if it feels like that yet? Take care in Thailand. V x

  2. Never mind all that, Stringer Bell is on the BBC tonight playing a 'troubled detective' It's post watershed so there's a possibility of action sans kit. If you hurry back you may get the last episode.

  3. Stringer Bell with no pants on...forget the trains, I'm catching the next flight home!!!!!! Any chance you could tape it for me hon? Xx