Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bus From Kuala Lumpur to Penang

Beware: The Alisan bus!

The train from Kuala Lumpur to Penang was sold out for the day I wanted to leave, so I decided to make the journey by bus. The bus had many advantages. Unlike the train, which would leave at 3:00 pm and arrive in Butterworth station at 10:00 pm, the bus leaves nearly every hour. I could ride it in the morning and check into the hotel at a reasonable hour. It also takes less time, only 4.5 hours, as opposed to the train, which takes 7 hours. I heard that the bus rides were comfortable with AC and even wifi. It was also possible to book them a day in advance, or even right before travel (though I don’t like to leave things to the last minute). Unfortunately, my bus ride with Alisan Buses was not what we expected.

The night before I went to Puduraya Bus Terminal and bought my ticket from the Alisan counter. There were many scalpers trying to sell tickets at the elevators but I ignored them and proceeded straight to the ticket counter on the top floor. I booked directly at the Alisa counter. At 38 ringits, it was less than I expected.The bus was scheduled to leave at 10:45 the next morning.

Inside the bus 

I arrived at the platform at 10:30. The bus rolled up right at 10:45 and by 11:04 we departed. Things seem to go smoothly, until the AC kicked out and it because miserably hot. The windows couldn’t be opened, so after only a few minutes, I was literally dripping sweat onto the seat cushion. I didn’t even want to lean back into my seat because my back was so wet with sweat. At 11:45 we stopped at the Batu Caves, not the touristy side, but an unremarkable dirt road with nothing around. The bus driver said we would take “a 15 minute break.” I wondered why we needed a break when we weren’t even an hour outside of KL, but I was hoping they would fix the AC. We disembarked the bus, hoping to find a bathroom or a drink stand, but there was nothing but car lots and temples. When I circled the block, I saw the bus turned around and was driving away!

I ran behind the bus, it was moving slowly so I could catch up with it. After 10 minutes of following the bus, it stopped near a gas station. I used the bathroom and got back on. The AC still didn’t work and it was even hotter in the afternoon sun. 20 minutes passed. More people got on. The bus then drove back to the point where it dropped us off, and more people got on. All but one. We were missing someone. The bus started circling the block, looking for the missing person. And the AC was still out. After nearly an hour of this slow painful drive, the bus pulled in front of a McDonalds and the driver told everyone to get out “for 30 minutes.” He offered no explanation but I figured they were going to look for the missing guy and fix the AC. That was 12:45, two hours after we departed the bus terminal in Kuala Lumpur.

I should have been mad. I should been worried. But somehow I focused on the positive: At McDonalds, we are indoors, shielded from sunlight, mosquitos, and smog. We have AC and I was able to dry my sweaty body. We are sitting at a table with chairs. There are free bathrooms with toilet paper and soap and working hand drivers (that’s more than I can say for the vast majority of bathroom in KL). There’s food (and it’s sanitary at that). There’s even wifi. At least we are not squatting on the dirty ground outside in the heat.
We are at a McDonalds.
That’s the positive.
The negatives is that  we were at that McDonald’s for 4  hours.
Eventually we got back on the now freezing cold bus and made it to Penang. Just after 10:00 pm. Cruelly, it was the same time I would have arrived by train. 

My view for 4 hours

My other view for 4 hours

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