Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok by Bus and vice versa

I had just finished an interesting and exciting 4 days 3 nights trip in Bangkok from 12 April - 15 April; however, I did not reach my office in Kuala Lumpur until April 16, 2110 hours. I had decided to take a bus ride all the way from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur on the return trip. If you are traveling on a shoestring budget as I did, I hope this post may be of some help to you.

My initial plan was to take a bus ride from Kuala Lumpur Pudu Sentral all the way to Hat Yai and then from Hat Yai to Bangkok. As much as I have planned to do that, it was well planned.

Before going on, please note that there are two main bus stations, Bandar Tasik Seletan (for all buses going South Bound to Melaka, Johor Bahru, Singapore etc), and Pudu Sentral (for buses doing North Bound to Ipoh, Penang and even to Thailand Hat Yai).

I have planned to travel to Bangkok by Bus from Kuala Lumpur, Pudu Sentral Bus Station, on 11 April to Hat Yai and then to transfer to another bus from Hat Yai to Bangkok. However, when I reached Pudu Sentral station on 11 April, I was informed that most buses going to Hat Yai leaving 2200 hours or 2230 hours was fully booked; there were only 1-2 bus companies left with trip to Hat Yai on that day.

Yes, it was crazy ... many are traveling to Hat Yai for the Thailand's Songkran festival for a very good reason. If you like to be a child again to indulge in some decent wet fun, the Songkran festival is definitely not to be missed.

Traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Hat Yai to Bangkok on Bus

As I have booked my hotel from 12 April - 15 April, so I was hopping to reach in time to check in. However, it was only a day before departed that it dawned upon me that the trip alone to Hat Yai from Kuala Lumpur would already take about 7 hours and onward to Bangkok would need another 12-14 hours; there is no way I can reach in time, without late checking-in to the hotel. Earliest I could reach Bangkok in the hotel was around at least 2000 hours in the evening on 12 April. That was provided that I traveled non-stop, meaning once I reach Hat Yai, the bus was ready to take me to Bangkok immediately. That was of cos not the case.

After realising that I couldn't possibly make it in time, I booked an air ticket with Airasia instead and flew in on 12 April first flight at 0645 hours. It was a mistake I made and a few points to note if you want to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok:

1. Take note of the time duration, Kuala Lumpur to Hat Yai (~ 7 hours) and Hat Yai  to Bangkok (~ 12-14 hours). Do give yourself some traveling time as you may not end up in the exact bus station in Hat Yai that is also providing buses to Bangkok. Make sure you check with the counter staff in Pudu Sentral bus station before buying the bus ticket. If you want need to reach bangkok on a specific date, you may have to give yourself an allowance of 36-48 hours of travel; taking into the commuting time between transfer as well as point 2.

2. Check the bus schedules for the trip to Hat Yai from Pudu Sentral bus station first. Apparently, they do not have regular trip. On the day I reached Pudu Sentral at around 1200+ hours and I had missed the morning bus at 0930 hours which I saw in one of the bus companies. Thus, the only option left was 2200 hours or 2230 hours in most of the bus companies.

3. If possible, check the bus schedule from Hat Yai to Bangkok so that you can better plan your trip. Unless you are not traveling on tight timing or that you do not mind spending some time in Hat Yai before catching your bus to Bangkok. Of cos the latter would be better and you can have a little time to move around Hat Yai.

The cost of the ticket from Kuala Lumpur Pudu Sentral varies from Malaysia Ringgits 55 (offered to my friend from another bus company just about a week ago) to 80 (offered to me by one of the bus companies on 11 April) 

Traveling from Bangkok to Hat Yai to Kuala Lumpur Pudu Sentral on Bus

I was pretty lucky to get myself a hotel which has a direct bus service to Sai Tai Mai, the Southern Bus Terminal for south bound bus to Hat Yai. I boarded the bus number 511 on Sukhumvit Road which is just below the Thong Lo BTS. Please make sure you boarded the bus in the right direction towards Sai Tai Mai. The bus stop is just in front of 7-11 store. Just double confirm the direction with the bus driver or the ticket seller in the bus.

The ride took about an hour plus and which would only cost you 21 Baht compare to taking the cab which may set you back by as much as 180 Baht. But of cos you save time traveling on cab, provided there are no traffic.

I have checked the timing for buses to Hat Yai at earliest 1700 hours on 1st Class VIP and latest 1930 hours on 2nd Class. What's the difference between the two? Besides the cost, of cos is the legs space; you would appreciate the more leg space with 1st class. Even for first class, there are two types, one cost around 1200 Baht (24 seats) and the one I bought was 724 Baht (if my memory did not fail me and may be 32 seats).

I reached Sai Tai Mai bus stations around 1340+ and scouted around for bus ticket first. As soon as I bought my ticket for 1930 hours I walked around. There are quite of number of eateries where you can choose from; from the familiar KFC, to Chester's Grill (fast food concept, tried once from recommendation by a friend and I must say that I was pretty impressed by the cheap but aroy food).
Black Canyon Hot chocolate
I ended up with a hot chocolate at Black Canyon at 50 Baht and occupied my time reading alibaba, the book on Jack Ma. This lasted me till around 1700 hours. With another two hours to go, I decided to have a walk again to look for a place to charge my phone. It was then I realised there was another floor and decided to take a look.

Basically, the is nothing much on the second floor except a small food court with more local food as well as some small store and arcade game centre. There was nothing that attracted me and decided to just find a place to sit down. After resting my leg, I decided to take a pee and guessed what I found (on the left)? Alright, I'm not a frequent traveler. I thought it is a brilliant idea.

After my interesting found, I headed to the first floor again to find a place to charge my phone which was totally flat by then and managed to find a baggage services which also provided phone charging. Thus, I settled down to get my phone charge for an hour before heading down to the platform to board the bus.

One thing I found very impressive was that the bus left on the dot - yes, exactly at 1930 hours. Thus, my journey from Bangkok to Hat Yai started. Along the way, while I was still awake, I observed that the bus picked up more passengers, probably at its agents' office until the bus was filled.

And the real journey towards Hat Yai started. I was switching between dozed off mode and half awoken mode and the bus stopped once around 0000 hours for food before it went on again.

By the time it reached Hat Yai, Phatthalung the next morning, it was already almost 0900 hours on 16 April. I went straight to the information counter and asked for where I could take bus to Kuala Lumpur and was guided by one agent towards an office just outside the station. Bought a bus ticket (~ 750 baht) for 0930 hours and waited for the bus. Shortly at 0930 hours, I was picked up by a bike which brought me to an agent office and that was where I boarded the bus at 1000 hours. The same thing happened, the bus picked up more passengers at a few location before it headed off to the Thailand-Malaysia border.

And at the border, more passengers were picked up. The bus made several stop for lunch and for toilet breaks before it reached Kuala Lumpur at around 2000 hours. I had lost track of the time as my phone was totally flat again.

Overall, it was still a pretty pleasant trip and I would add on safe too.
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