Transport in Kuala Lumpur

Transport in KL

Kuala Lumpur (KL) is a pretty small city, at least from what I was able to see.  You can easily walk between all of the major areas from Bukit Bintang to the KLCC area.  KL Sentral is another major area that is just outside of walking distance but in reality it is still being fixed up so most people won’t need to visit that area any time soon.  Getting around KL can be very difficult if you don’t know where you are going or how to get there.  I found the transportation systems and road systems to be quite difficult to navigate at first and I often got lost.  With the streets flowing from one place to another, it was difficult to keep track of where you are in the city.  Thankfully I had a good sense of direction when I saw the KL Monorail that ran through the heart of the tourist areas.

Jaywalking in KL

Walking is by far the easiest method of getting around in KL and any other city you visit.  While you can easily take a taxi or public transport, walking is my preferred method of transportation due to the fact that I can see more of the city.  Walking in KL is not terribly difficult but it isn’t natural either.  My guess is that most people hate to walk in KL.  They will either get in their car or ride the public transportation.  This is probably due to the high levels of heat and humidity in the city itself, but since I was just a visitor, it is only a guess on my part.  When walking around the city, I noticed that there were many locals walking around on the streets but not too many.  It is not like Japan where you can easily see people on the streets at almost all times of the day as people have to walk a lot.  In KL, walking on the sidewalk is relatively safe aside for the few times a motorcycle will ride up onto the sidewalk to park.  The major problem in KL is crossing the street.  It is not a pedestrian friendly area in terms of crossing major intersections.  The main intersection near my hotel was a disaster.  It would take two full light cycles before the pedestrian signal would go, and only long enough for you to cross one side of the street.  You would have to wait about 20 minutes to legally cross two sides of the street.  This is completely insane if you ask me, but that is just how that intersection worked.  In reality, almost everyone just walked across the street wherever and whenever they wanted to.  While they didn’t interrupt traffic when they did so, it was still like a game of Frogger trying to get from one side of the road to the other.  It is very nice to walk around the city but it can be very dangerous if you aren’t looking carefully.

Raja Chulan Monorail Station

In KL, there are several train lines and I used almost all of them.  The most important line for most people is the KL Monorail.  It is an old transportation link that goes from KL Sentral all the way to Titiwangsa.  The KL Monorail is the only train line that goes into the heart of KLs hotel district, Bukit Bintang.  Bukit Bintang is where most people will enjoy their shopping as it has a high concentration of shopping malls.  While there are malls all over KL, Bukit Bintang appears to have the most.  I travelled along the KL Monorail a lot and while it was a good way to get from A to B, it was also one of the worst.  It was slow and the trains didn’t come often.  The stations were overly large compared to the number of cars each train had.  The platforms could easily accommodate 6 cars for each train but each train had only 2 cars.  The cars also stopped in the worst places that encouraged everyone to head down the same stairwell.  It felt ghetto when I was travelling on the monorail and it was expensive too.  A trip from KL Sentral to Bukit Nanas was about RM2.10, but a trip from KL Sentral to Dang Wangi, about 150 metres from Bukit Nanas was only RM1.60.  While the stations and trains feel a bit ghetto, they also did their best to make money through sponsorships.  All of the monorail stations were sponsored by different companies.  They were allowed to plaster their company logo all over the station and on the route map.  Each station could easily be renamed to the actual company that sponsored the station but most of the names didn’t change, just the advertising.

LRT Station

My favourite mode of transport was the Light Rail Transit (LRT).  While I only travelled on one line, it is still my favourite.  It was clean and efficient and the rolling stock was built by Bombardier.  The LRT was so clean that I felt like I was back in Tokyo.  The trains on the LRT seemed to be running smoothly at all times, contrary to all the other trains I took in KL.  While it may have been a bit of short sightedness on my part as I only travelled on the small section between KL Sentral and KLCC, I was thoroughly impressed by the system itself.  In fact, it actually reminded me a little of being back in Vancouver as the train was automated and built by Bombardier.  The only down side to everything was the turnstiles.  All of the turnstiles in KL are the same between most of the transit operators.  I found the system to be almost identical to the one in Taipei where you buy an IC token and use that to get in and out of the stations.  I found the system to be very slow and impeded my ability to enter and exit.  When touching the IC token on the reader to get in, it would take a few seconds before I could actually enter.  In Taipei, it was instantaneous to use it.  When exiting, the IC token would not go into the slot at first, but once it did, it would beep, flash red lights, and then let me out.  As a tourist who was not used to it at the beginning, this made me feel as if something was wrong.  In fact, every time I left the monorail station at KL Sentral, it was always jammed with tourists trying to get out as they didn’t know if they could or couldn’t or something else happened.  It was just chaos.

Bukit Nanas Station

The KTM Komuter is the other major rapid transit in KL.  I used the KTM Komuter to go from KL Sentral to the Batu Caves.  It was a nice trip in general.  Some of the trains are brand new or nearly new which adds to the feel of the trains.  These new trains were very modern and comfortable.  Other trains on the KTM Komuter were very old which made me feel less comfortable.  For a commuter train, the KTM Komuter felt very slow.  On both my trip to and from the Batu Caves, the trains barely picked up any speed.  I felt as if a bicycle could go faster than the trains we were on.  It was also confusing as the train to the Batu Caves actually stopped at Sentul forcing us to get out and switch trains.  There wasn’t a lot of good information as the sign on the platform said the train to the Batu Caves was cancelled.  It wasn’t until someone told us to change trains across the platform that we could resume our trip to the Batu Caves.  Coming back from the Batu Caves actually took twice as long as the train kept stopping at various points for whatever reasons.  For a train that was supposed to go to many places and should be convenient, I felt it was far from that.  It was slow and painful to get from one place to another.

Inside the KLIA Transit

The last mode of rail transportation that I used was the KLIA Transit.  It is a “local” train that went from KL Sentral all the way to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).  There is also the KLIA Ekspres which uses the same tracks and platforms but goes directly to the airport.  I spent most of my time on the KLIA Transit as it was the easiest way to and from Sepang for the F1 race.  I also used it on my last day in KL to get to the airport.  It is the nicest train I was on and felt like the Narita Express or the Skyliner in Tokyo.  While the KLIA Transit does stop at many stops along the way and it can be cheaper than the Ekspres if you know the local trick.  If you travel along the KLIA Transit, you just have to exit at certain of the stops along the way, buy another ticket and you save nearly 50% of your ticket price.  The price to KLIA is roughly RM35, but if you stop at either Putrajaya/Cyberjaya or Salak Tinggi and wait 30 minutes for the next train, you can save nearly 50% off of your fare.  In reality, for people from developed countries, this isn’t a lot of money and you’ll more than likely be willing to pay the extra money to save time.  However, if you are a penny pincher, you can easily save a little.

Bukit Bintang

The last mode of transportation that I had the luxury of dealing with is the taxi services.  I used a taxi to get from the airport all the way to my hotel.  It was a nice trip and very fast.  The taxi drivers that go to and from the airport tend to speed a lot.  I remember travelling in an old Proton that was going 140km/h down the highway and weaving in and out of traffic.  It was a little scary at times but generally I felt safe.  In the city, my driver was still weaving in and out of traffic but generally being safe.  I thought it was a decent mode of transportation and not too expensive either.  It was much easier than taking the train after a long flight and I enjoyed the ability to just sit down and not think about anything at all.  I do recommend buying tickets so you don’t have to barter with the driver and it is cheaper than returning to the airport by taxi.  In KL, you can also haggle with the taxi drivers to find out what prices they will offer you.  They will often offer you special rates to go to Sepang for the races or even for the airport.  My brother was in a little trouble trying to get to the airport in time for his flight and “haggled” to RM140 for a trip to the airport.  It was actually more than he should have paid if he went by the metre but at the speed he went, he considered it a tip.  While a taxi can be pretty good, within the city itself, you might have a little trouble as a lot of the time you will be stuck in traffic.

Typical Asian Mode of Transport

There are a lot of options when travelling in and around KL.  It is difficult to know what the best way to travel is, and when you are in a new city for the first time, it can be more difficult.  Locals tend to know the best ways to do things.  I would prefer to be more of a local and know how to get around easily, but it is next to impossible when you don’t live in a city or country.  KL is probably one of the more difficult areas for me to learn how to get around.  I usually travel to places that have decent transportation systems so it is easy to get around.  KL is improving and from what I read on the internet, things are improving all the time so that it is easier to use.  Hopefully in a few more years, the system will be much better and more convenient so that more and more people can enjoy getting around town a lot more.

Transport in Kuala Lumpur is part of a series of posts talking about Kuala Lumpur.  To read more, please continue reading: