January 17, 2014

The Rakyat Express

Distance so far: 17 340 km. Distance at Singapore: 18 440 km. Weather: 32 degrees, sunny.

Train number 1 from Butterworth to Singapore is known as the “Rakyat Express”. Its a 14 hour daytime trip leaving Butterworth at 08.00 and arriving at Singapore Woodlands at 22.00 the same day, and my final train trip of this journey.

An early start by taxi to Georgetown to catch the ferry back to Butterworth, then a short walk to the new station platform. Almost every train station in Malaysia seems to be newly built. The train is shunted into the station at about 07.30 ready for an 08.00 departure.

I’m travelling first (premier) class and there is one carriage of this, a restaurant car and about seven 2nd class coaches, most newer than the first class one I’m in. I’m sure it was once nice (in the early 80’s) but now its knackered. Its Korean built, like the Thai train I was on last week – this time by Hyundai.

Anyway, this is my home for the day, so I need to make the best of what I have. It looks like most people are going to Ipoh or KL. The guard inspects my ticket and smiles as if to indicate he’s got another madman on his hands. He tells me I’m going to be here for the day and I nod and smile back.

Now with an engine hooked up, some flag waving, whistle blowing and tooting of the horn we trundle out of Butterworth’s rail head and onto the main southbound line.

Bored, so I open my packed lunch from the hotel to add a dimension of excitement to the morning. Have I lost my train mojo? I think its hard to settle in as its too a long journey for a day train, but too short to be a sleeper.. Maybe I should have just gone to KL today?

Arrive in Kuala Lumpur. Everyone gets off apart from me and a family at the other end of the carriage. They clean the train, wash the windows, then let embarking passengers board. The carriage quickly fills with a Taiwanese tour group, I’m assuming bound for Singapore. 14.15 and we are off again.

I opt for a late lunch from the trolley service – fried rice and sweet black coffee for RM 8 (£1.49). Time for a film – “You Only Live Twice”. It sounds like an Alan Partridge “Bondathon” doesn’t it?


We pull into Pulau Sebang and the population of Taiwan in my carriage gets off – not sure what the draw is of this place, but its quiet again.

Pretty chilly on board so I have raided my suitcase and togged up. Less than two hours to run. Time for another film – “Zulu”. Amazing no matter how many times I have seen it. Note to self – must find factual book about Rourke’s Drift.

Arrive at JB Central and have a Malaysian immigration check – the officer hand writes an exit note in red pen in my passport – very old school.

Cross causeway into Singapore and get off at Woodlands CIQ. Processed in a way you would expect in Singapore – quickly, efficiently, and with courtesy. As a visitor I love Singapore. Taxi to my hotel who could not be more prepared for my arrival if they had rehearsed it. More of this in another post.

Ice cold pint of San Miguel in tapas bar opposite Raffles. It’s another “Ice Cold in Alex” moment. I feel I should be celebrating my train achievement but I’m a bit tired. My train trip finished on a train that I didn’t love, but that’s life on the rails.. I’m sure I will be back in touch with the bigger picture tomorrow!

4 Comments on “The Rakyat Express

January 22, 2014 at 9:18 am

Note to Self-start at the beginning and read the lot! Thanks for keeping up a great standard of blogging Matthew-what an epic journey! Must have a pint sometime and hear more and get some travel tips!

Jack William
January 27, 2014 at 10:21 am

Simply Awesome!

May 6, 2017 at 4:23 pm

Now planning this trip for 2018 ( Bangkok to Singapore) so must get together sometime to get your advice before we start booking and making schoolboy errors! Rob

Matthew Woodward
May 7, 2017 at 11:07 am

Rob – happy to schedule time on the phone if I can help with any aspect of this journey. What time of the year are you going?


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