And equally, How To Get From Penang to Kuala Lumpur. I am going to mostly say "Kuala Lumpur to Penang" but this advice works equally well if you are going in the other direction.
Penang is one of Malaysia's major tourist sites. After all, Penang is famed as one of the world's foremost food destinations. Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia's capital and a major airline hub. If you are visiting Malaysia sooner or later you are going to need to get from Penang to Kuala Lumpur or from Kuala Lumpur to Penang.
There are a range of options available to transport you between Penang and KL. It does not especially matter which direction you are heading as the options are the same.
Ferry Kuala Lumpur to Penang
Penang is an island. It has ferries connecting it with various other places. What about KL?
Sadly I do not believe that there is any set of ferries that will get you from Penang or nearby Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur (or from KL to Penang) in any sort of reasonable time frame. Kuala Lumpur is quite a distance from the coast and Kuala Lumpur's Port Klang does not see much passenger traffic that I know of aside from the occasional cruise ship.
That just leaves flying, the train and the bus.
Flying from Kuala Lumpur to Penang
Air Asia is the most obvious choice here what with it being a Malaysian airline with a well founded reputation for being affordable. Penang international airport and KLIA2 in Kuala Lumpur have multiple Air Asia flights a day connecting them.
Other airlines like Jetstar and Tiger Air operate in the region but they do not seem to have direct Kuala Lumpur to Penang flights. They are Singapore based and seem to go via Singapore for just about all of their flights which turns a half hour flight into a bigger deal than it needs to be.
Even factoring in getting to the airport and then waiting around flying is still likely to be the fastest way to get there. If you just need to get there fast, you probably want to fly.
However flying involves you physically getting to the airport and neither Penang airport nor Kuala Lumpur's KLIA2 are in particularly convenient locations so you are looking at some combination of local trains, bus and taxi to get from your accommodation to the airport and then from the airport to your accommodation at the other end.
Plus there is always a fair amount of waiting around, queuing etc. And of course sitting in an airport then sitting on a plane is not exactly an interesting experience once you have done it once or twice so what other options are there that will let you see more of Malaysia along the way?
Catch The Train
Trains around Malaysia are generally a very comfortable way to travel. More spacious than a bus with the added bonus that you can get up and wander around as much as you like. Boarding a train is a much more relaxed process compared to boarding a plane with the added bonus that the train stations in question, Kuala Lumpur Sentral and Butterworth train station, are quite conveniently located.
Here are the details on the available trains.
Train from Kuala Lumpur to Penang
There are two trains a day that will take you from Kuala Lumpur to Penang.
A train leaves Kuala Lumpur Sentral Station at 09:30am and arrives at Butterworth train station at 13:13 (1:13pm). This train neatly lines up with another train that heads north into Thailand in case you are wanting to continue on to Thailand.
A train also leaves KL Sentral at 15:55 (3:55pm) and arrives at Butterworth train station at 21:20 (9:20pm).
KL Sentral is, as the name suggests, fairly central. If you have been moving around the city for any time chances are you have already passed through there once or twice already. It is very easy to get to.
You will note that I said that these trains arrive at Butterworth train station, not Penang. Butterworth is on the mainland immediately across from the island of Penang. From the Butterworth train station it is an extremely short walk to the ferry terminal, maybe 3 minutes. 1.20 ringgit for the ferry and 15 minutes later you will be in Georgetown, Penang. Click here for a full guide to catching the Butterworth to Georgetown ferry.
The ferry to Georgetown deposits you right at the historic old town portion of Georgetown. Depending on where you are staying this may well be very near your accommodation. If not there are buses and taxis available. Penang's local buses are excellent. Air-conditioned, most even have free wifi on board.
Train from Penang to Kuala Lumpur
As mentioned in the KL to Penang section, the nearest train station to Penang is Butterworth over on the mainland. Getting there is simply a matter of taking the ferry from Georgetown to Butterworth. It takes about 15 minutes with the added bonus that it is actually free if you are going from Penang to Butterworth. Click here for a full guide to catching the Georgetown to Butterworth ferry
There are two trains a day headed south from Butterworth train station to KL Sentral. One train to Kuala Lumpur departs Butterworth at 17:23 (5:23pm) that arrives at 21:15 (9:15pm). The other leaves at 8am and gets in at 1:15pm.
The 8am train from Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur actually goes past KL all the way to Johor Bahru where you can catch a shuttle over into Singapore. The border crossing point is only a few minutes walk from the Johor Bahru train station.
Trains in Kuala Lumpur arrive at "Kuala Lumpur Sentral" which is a very centrally located train station with excellent connections to local trains within the city.
The trains are not necessarily super fancy but they are very comfortable. The seats are much roomier than you get on an airplane, you can wander around, best of all you often have a very pretty view out the window.
It is not a bad way to spend a few hours. Chances are there will even be power sockets available so you can happily use your electronic devices without running your batteries down.
We have always purchased our tickets in person at a station. I strongly recommend doing this at least a day in advance to avoid any issues. We are usually stopping in places for at least a few days so it is not a big deal for us to wander into the local station to get tickets.
If you are wanting to lock things down in advance you may want to book online. We have not actually done this ourselves but it seems handy. If you try this do let us know how it goes via our contact page.
The most popular way to book both train and bus tickets online seems to be Easybook.com
Frankly, the train really is the best transport option in our opinion. It is however possible to take a bus so here is a description of how you do that.
Bus from KL to Penang
And going the other way of course, the bus from Penang to Kuala Lumpur.
Numerous bus companies can take you just about anywhere in Malaysia. Although they vary the buses are usually pretty comfortable as far as buses go. And this really is not a long journey so Kuala Lumpur to Penang by bus or vice versa is not too bad.
As with train tickets, we have always bought our tickets in person. If you are planning on taking a bus from Kuala Lumpur to Penang head to a major hub like Pudu Sentral (AKA Puduraya and not to be confused with KL Sentral) or Bandar Tasik Selatan where you will be greeted by a wall of ticket windows. Wander around, pick one more or less at random then ask a few questions about their next bus to your desired destination. If you say the words "bus to KL" or "bus to Penang" at a reasonable volume you may well find that offers of bus tickets come to you.
If you are in Penang looking for a bus to KL the process is much the same but your best option is probably the Butterworth bus station. Regardless of where you buy your ticket if you are catching a bus from Penang to Kuala Lumpur check if it is possible to board at Butterworth. You take the very pleasant ferry over, stroll over to the adjacent Butterworth bus station and board your bus to Kuala Lumpur having shaved as much as an hour off your bus journey depending on how bad the traffic was.
Buying bus tickets in advance is less important than train tickets especially if you are after something super common like a bus to KL or a bus to Penang. Getting tickets in advance certainly would not hurt but there are so many companies that you are unlikely to have trouble just showing up unless it is a national holiday or similar.
Similar to train tickets you can now buy tickets for your KL to Penang bus online via Easybook.com. If you do want your tickets in advance getting them online will at least save you the trouble of physically going in somewhere and being hassled by the many ticket vendors. You are looking at 30 to 40 MYR.
When booking tickets online be very careful about selecting your pickup and destination points. They provide a giant list of options. In particular if you are taking the bus from KL to Penang the list of possible departure points is massive. Look for any locations you recognize the name of, put a few names into google maps and figure out what is closest to your accommodation. One advantage of going and getting your tickets in person is you find out where you need to go in advance.
And of course it is quite possible that your accommodation will be able to arrange your tickets, particularly if you are staying at a large hotel. This option is extremely convenient but they will add on various fees for arranging your tickets, transferring you from the hotel and so on.
Barring some pricier options like renting a car or hiring a driver those are your options for getting from Kuala Lumpur to Penang or from Penang to Kuala Lumpur. Flying is probably going to be fastest. The train is probably going to be the most enjoyable. The bus will get you there too.
Whatever you do, have fun 🙂