Without a doubt, the best thing about travel is finding out some awesome tips from a lovely local. Tom and I were sat in our dorm room in Penang chatting to an incredibly friendly Malaysian lady when we mentioned that we were about to book the horribly long boat over to Langkawi. The horrified look on her face soon told us that this boat journey really was as awful as we’d heard (think 3 hours of choppy waves and a lot of vomit). Fortunately, she did give us tonnes of information about how to travel from Penang to Langkawi that avoids 3 hours on a boat.
After trying this alternative route, I can honestly recommend it, especially if you’re like me and a bit prone to feeling nauseous on boats. It’s a little bit more work but I actually found it to be fairly straightforward and it actually worked out a little bit cheaper for the 2 of us than buying 2 boat tickets. Here are the steps we took to travel from Penang to Langkawi, mostly overland.
Get to Butterworth train station
You will have most probably caught the ferry from Butterworth over to Penang, so the first step is to get back to there. The ferry runs every 20-30 minutes and only takes about 15 minutes to get back to Butterworth. It’s also completely free! When you get off the ferry at Butterworth, jump on the free shuttle bus that takes you to the train station.
Buy a train ticket to Arau
At the time of writing this, the train runs from Butterworth to Arau once per hour so it’s a good idea to time your ferry to align with the trains. I would advice getting to the train station in plenty of time though as they can sometimes get very busy, especially on weekends and tickets can’t be bought in advance online, only at the ticket office. You will be taking a KTM Komuter train and the journey takes about 1.5 hours and costs just 9.50 MYR each. The train was pretty similar to UK trains but be sure to have a jumper to hand as the air conditioning was freezing on there! The train line goes through some pretty stunning scenery too which is a nice bonus.
Get to Kuala Perlis
Once you arrive in Arau, you will need to get to the ferry terminal called Kuala Perlis. This is about 20km and by far, the easiest way to get there is to order a Grab. Grab is Asia’s equivalent to Uber and is super cheap and reliable. We had no problem finding a driver and the 20-minute journey cost us 20 MYR.
Ferry over to Langkawi
The ferry from Kuala Perlis comes into Langkawi at the Kuah port and takes just 1 hour as opposed to the 3 hours from Penang and cost just 18 MYR. It was also a really smooth journey they even put a film on to help pass the time. Ferries run roughly every hour between 7am-7pm, 7 days a week.
Taxi to Pentai Cenang
Ok, this bit is not necessarily what you’ll need to do as it depends on where you’re staying in Langkawi. Tom and I chose to stay in the popular backpacking area of Pantai Cenang which is about 30 minutes drive away from Kuah. From Kuah, we ordered a Grab which costs us 26 MYR and dropped us right where we were staying.
Total cost for 2 people: 101 MYR
After learning how to travel from Penang to Langkawi and trying for ourselves, I can honestly say that this route was a great alternative. The journey took us 5 hours in total as we mistimed the train from Butterworth to Arau but, personally, I feel it is still better than spending 3 hours on the ferry. The train was clean and the views we got to see on it were amazing too! I would definitely recommend this route if you’re looking to avoid a long ferry journey but don’t want to miss out on Langkawi, which by the way, is beautiful!
Travel Penang Malaysia – This website lists the times of the trains from Butterworth to Arau and the ferry times from Kuala Perlis to Kuah. I would definitely try and time things to fit with these parts of the journey as best as you can to avoid waiting around.
Grab – This taxi service has been a life saver and money saver in Asia and is hands down the cheapest way to get around. Be sure to download the app before you travel to make your journey as smooth as possible.