Always enjoying TV series’ that combine travel and cooking in Southeast Asia, Diane and I recently watched an episode of Gordon’s Great Escape, a show featuring famed chef and TV star Gordon Ramsay. Specifically, the episode traveling through Malaysia caught our eye. Compared to the other ASEAN nations he visits in the series, it’s obvious from his comments that Malaysia’s lack of “developing world atmosphere” surprised and even disappointed him. Relative to neighboring countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, it’s true that Malaysia ranks higher in the economic scale and modern western conveniences are more likely to be spotted than small villages still using traditional fishing or farming methods. One of the primary reasons we chose Malaysia, this sometimes creates a good news/bad news situation like the other day when we traveled an hour on the bus intending to buy train tickets to Bangkok for our upcoming Hari Raya Escape Trip.
Having traveled on one of Asia’s most convenient overnight sleeper trains that departed Butterworth at 2 PM and arrived in Hua HIn, Thailand at 7 AM the next morning, we looked forward to an inexpensive and not so uncomfortable journey. (Butterworth is across the channel from Penang Island on the mainland). Unfortunately, Malaysia’s economic advantage changed our plans unexpectedly. Bringing the nation closer to Europe’s modern and fast train network, they’ve been upgrading the tracks of Malaysia’s rail system to facilitate new high-speed trains. Originally constructed by colonialists decades ago, all of Southeast Asia’s railway tracks are different from those used for high-speed trains in Europe, China and Japan. Having just completed the last stretch of tracks, KTM (Malaysia’s national rail system) announced revisions to the national trains system last month and began using all high-speed trains throughout the network. While this is great news for commuters, budget minded travelers and Malaysian families visiting relatives during Hari Raya, it also means the end of the one train direct connection to Bangkok that combined the services of the Malaysian Network with the Thai National Railway utilizing a quick 30 minute border stop with no transfers. Crap. On to Plan B.