A Trip to Penang Island, Express Style!

 Comfortable, Budget Trip to Batu Feringgi.


The preferred means of travel to Penang Island from Kuala Lumpur is driving. However, there are other options, especially if you don’t like being behind the wheel, such as flying, taking a bus, or getting on a train. Recently, I took the Electric Train Service (ETS) train to Pulau Pinang (Penang) to feed my craving for a train ride. ETS, which started in 2015, is a relatively new intracity high-speed train service offered by Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB). I regard this as the fastest way to get to Penang Island, point to point.


ETS, Penang, ReachingDelphi, KTMB

In Hinduism and Buddhism, there is a belief in reincarnation. With this in mind, I would not be surprised if I had built railway tracks in my past lives because, in the present day, I just love being on trains as much as gazing at the sea and getting high on the aroma of coffee. So naturally, when there is a feasible train option, it’s my first choice.


First, GRAB a Ride to the Station.

GRAB is a popular e-hailing service in South East Asia. My GRAB driver that morning was a delightful chap who got me to my destination (KL Sentral train station) on time.


Next, on a Train

My exciting journey to the island started at Kuala Lumpur Sentral train station at 11:08 am. The destination was Butterworth, and my train ride would be a little over four hours.


ETS, Penang, ReachingDelphi, KTMB

Purchasing ETS tickets is no sweat. I got my return tickets to Butterworth and chose my seats through KTMB’s website a week in advance. There are essentially two ticket categories: economy and business. The tricky part for me was deciding which of the two to get, as both seats looked just as comfortable. For a higher price, the ones in business class provide slightly bigger seats and more legroom. Tickets can also be bought over the counter at any KTMB station. I chose to double my comfort for this trip, so I travelled by business.


ETS, Penang, ReachingDelphi, KTMB, business

Here are some things to note if you plan to use this service (or any other train services).


Tips for a Pleasant Train Ride

  • I made a silly assumption that Kuala Lumpur station is the central station and the last stop. Take note, it’s not either. The last stop is KL Sentral. These are two different stations (less than a mile apart), so make sure you book the correct destination points, as both cost the same. While I had no problem during the outbound trip, it felt awkward to be questioned and held aside by the station crew while inbound. This can happen to anyone, even in other parts of the world, so to avoid embarrassment, ensure you know where to get on and get off.
  • Tickets, especially during school and public holidays, get snapped up fast. Book them in advance if you are travelling around these times.
  • Look out for KTMB’s promotions for good deals. Every cent saved is helpful for another cup of coffee.
  • Be considerate of others while using the phone or watching videos on the train. See the backs of these two seated in front of me? They blasted the volume on their devices and ignored everyone’s stares. Geez!

ETS, Penang, ReachingDelphi, KTMB

  • While it’s always a good idea to bring some light snacks and coffee for any trip, food and drinks can be purchased on the ETS train, so there is no need to panic if you haven’t done so. Just make sure you don’t forget your wallet or e-wallet.
  • Complementary meals and snacks are served in ETS business class; by default, the meal is nonvegetarian. The crew serving the food told me I could write to KTMB directly next time if I had special needs for my trip. This preference selection was not available online at the point of purchase. Well, since it was too late then, the fried sweet potato balls I bought earlier came in handy. The meal served, by the way, comes with hot coffee or tea, which worked well for me.

ETS, Penang, ReachingDelphi, KTMB, coffee

  • Keep the area clean. Throw litter into the bags provided. Be kind to the crew cleaning up for the next batch of riders.
  • Ensure your tickets are printed clearly or are easily accessible on your mobile devices. These days, you need to scan a QR code to enter and exit the platforms and display it anytime for ticket verification.
  • Bring a light jacket or jumper because you can get cold on the train, especially when it rains. I carried along an extra pair of socks just in case. Laugh all you want, but I do not like the cold.
  • I like to look out, so the window seat works for me. If you are travelling alone or aren’t in a chatty mood, you might consider taking a single seat in a private aisle with a view.
  • Bring a book to read or something you’d like to do for the next four hours. I was too distracted by the beautiful sights outside (and loud noises from inside) that I managed to read only a few pages of Grisham.
  • If you are on vacation and won’t be working, don’t bother bringing your heavy laptop. I learnt this the hard way because the additional weight carried is wasted and can leave your back aching for days, as it did to mine.



Then, onto a Passenger Ferry

The final ETS station is Butterworth. Here is where I got off. The train does not go all the way to the island. From here you could take a bus or ferry to cross over.


ETS, Penang, ReachingDelphi, KTMB

After exiting the station, I headed to Penang Sentral (this is the bus, taxi, and ferry station), which is only about 200 meters by foot to the ferry. Currently, construction works to integrate the train, and Penang Sentral is progressing, so if you are unsure of the way, just follow the masses, as most usually head in the same direction. If in doubt, follow the directions or ask the staff on duty.


The current passenger ferry service only ferries passengers, unlike the retired ferry fleets (which were in use until January 1, 2021) that transported both passengers and vehicles. Below are some nostalgic pictures of the retired ones. I was also younger then (not inserted here yet, ops! 😅)


The ferry service runs every thirty minutes on business days and an hour once during holidays. Get to the jetty well ahead if you have a train to catch. Neither ferry nor train will wait!


The ferry service is between Butterworth and Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal (in Penang Island) and is a short ten-minute transfer. So, I grabbed the nearest available seat. This way, I didn’t have to wait too long to get off either.


Ferry, Reaching Delphi, Coffee


Tips for a Pleasant Ferry Ride

  1. Arrive at the pier early. I was informed there are two ferry shuttles for the hour on weekdays and one on weekends and holidays. If you have a train to catch in Butterworth on your way back, ensure you have sufficient time to cross the channel and get to the platform. As a rule of thumb, I usually get there an hour earlier.
  2. Grab the first seat available. It’s just a short ten-minute ride.
  3. Food or drink consumption is not encouraged.
  4. Seats are on a first-come basis, but I prefer to board late to get an aisle seat.
  5. The ticket does not cost much, so keep small change handy. Passengers are only charged when entering the island. The ride back to Butterworth is free.



Hop on a Rapid Penang Shuttle

Penang tourism provides free bus shuttles between Swettenham Pier to Terminal Jetty bus station, where visitors have access to more connections into the city. Passengers can drop on and off at stops in between. Depending on the traffic, this short trip will usually only take about ten minutes from point to point.


At Terminal Jetty station, I took a Rapid Penang bus (101) to my final destination – Batu Feringgi. This was an entertaining bus ride, passing through the historic Chulia Street, Beach Street, Komtar and the scenic Gurney Drive and Tanjong Bungah. I felt like a real tourist. After 90 minutes on the bus, I arrived at my hotel stop right in front of my hotel. What more could I ask for? After checking in, I still had enough time to freshen up and walk on the beach before sunset. ↓↓↓ 


ETS,  ReachingDelphi, KTMB, sunset

I enjoyed every bit of getting to Penang – the GRAB, train, ferry and bus rides. I’d do this again and again. Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi, doing the little things that give the most pleasure and enjoying the sunsets. 


Useful links (KTMB did not sponsor this article, though I wish they did 😊)

ETS Ticket purchase – https://online.ktmb.com.my/

KTMB - https://www.ktmb.com.my/ETS.html

ETS, Penang, beach, reaching Delphi, coffee


  1. Hi Uma, I just went to Penang by the ETS too, during the CNY week lately, what a coincident!

    1. Hey there Sun, what a coincidence! Happy CNY and Chap Goh Mei Festival.

  2. Thank you Uma ! I have been to Penang many times but seeing it through the eyes ( and experience) of 'Coffee Trail' brings in a sense that this destination can be enjoyed more through exploration !

  3. Hi Uma, was considering to gv kids an experience of train ride as well... thanks for this. Lots of points to be considered.. thx!!!

  4. Hi Uma, great to read about what to expect and very much looking forward to the experience. Thx!