Travel is now in full swing, with many of us having either gone on at least one trip this year or planning to go on one soon. And I’m no exception. By this time of the year, I was on my third overseas trip, the latest a relatively short one to Kuala Lumpur (KL) over the weekend to attend a wedding.
Considering the need to save money for my upcoming (longer) December travel plans, I opted for the most cost-efficient method to reach KL. Among my options were (1) a flight from Singapore to KL; or (2) taking a coach service – which is a common mode of travel among locals.
After some deliberation, I ruled out the flight option due to my last-minute travel plans, with single-way tickets costing around $80 to $100. Believing that I could travel for less by coach, which could also give me more time to work (i.e., write my articles) if I needed to, I found myself torn between taking the coach from either Singapore or Johor Bahru.
With my primary objective of travelling by the most cost-efficient (i.e., cheapest) option, I eventually decided on the coach service from Johor Bahru (JB) instead of Singapore, given that it is only one-third the price.
Booking Bus Tickets Online
I remember the old days when I used to travel to certain parts of Malaysia with my parents by coach from Johor Bahru (yes, this was not my first time). We went to the Larkin Sentral Bus Terminal and would see hardworking salesmen touting their bus company services to the various destinations.
However, that era has come to pass with digitalization. For the more digitally savvy among us, it brings more convenience as we can now easily book bus services, including train and ferry tickets, online at our choosing. One such platform that sells bus tickets in Malaysia and Singapore is Easybook, which I personally used.
Upon entering my travel details (i.e., date and intended time of travel), the platform presented a list of 30 bus operators offering trips at various timings (at short time intervals apart) throughout the day. The cost of the tickets ranged from RM28 to RM45, with consistent fares for both adults and children.
The platform also provides photos and reviews of each service operator, so we can make an informed decision (if we’re new) on what we are booking. As for me, I decided to choose an operator that had a high overall rating at the 8am timing slot. I wanted to get an early start on my 330km-long-journey, which had an average travel time of around 4hr30m so that I still had the rest of the day to enjoy.
My ticket cost RM34.10, compared to the average ticket cost of $35 that would have cost me had I booked the coach service from Singapore. Overall, the whole process was convenient, and we would receive an email confirmation of our order.
Remember to have the passport details on hand when booking the tickets.
Pro Tip 1: If you’re booking via Easybook, change the location from Singapore to Malaysia to see the prices in Ringgit instead of Singapore dollars.
You can use your multicurrency wallets like YouTrip or Revolut to pay and save on any exchange-related conversion fees. For example, my ticket costs RM34.10, and using YouTrip at a 3.482 conversion cost me $9.79. It would otherwise have cost me $9.99 if I kept my location unchanged on the platform as Singapore.
If you do not have a multi-currency account or wallet, you can register for one with YouTrip (and receive a S$5 welcome credit when you use the promo code “DNS5”). In addition to making payments in over 150 foreign currencies, it also allows you to exchange and store up to 10 currencies in your wallet.
Another great option is the Revolut Card, where you can receive a bonus S$15 top-up to your account when you sign up using our link. It offers a choice of three tiers of its card, with the free standard tier allowing you to hold and send money in more than 30 currencies.
If you want to hold more currencies in your wallet, then you could consider opening a Wise account. It enables you to choose from 50 currencies (the most among the other players in the market) that you can store and exchange in your wallet.
Crossing The Causeway Border
On the day of my travel, which happened to fall on a Saturday, I was fearful about the potential queue, especially since it’s the school holidays now. One of the issues with crossing the border is the unpredictability of the crowd and customs clearance.
Unfortunately, it’s hard (or rather impossible) to book a KTM train ticket over the weekend these days unless we pre-book months in advance. However, if we are able to secure a ticket, it could not only give us a better travelling experience but also better predict on our arrival time at JB.
Unable to secure a train ticket and not wanting to miss my early morning (8 am) coach departure, I decided to leave my house at 5.20 am (I hear you, an unearthly timing for many). At that time, I was only limited to taking a cab to the Woodlands Checkpoint – which is the nearest route to JB Larkin Sentral, which is my coach departure point. Half asleep and begrudgingly accepting the high cost of the taxi fare (which came about to $16.65 for a 5-km journey), I reached the Woodlands Checkpoint at 5.40 am.
A benefit of reaching the checkpoint this early was that there was no crowd, and I cleared the Singapore customs in a jiffy. This then led me to take a transfer bus service to cross the causeway. There was the Causeway Link (CW), which apparently operated 24hrs and the SBS Transit/SMRT cross-border service – that I took, costing a fare of $0.99. Given the priority bus lanes, the journey took less than 10 minutes to reach JB customs.
To my surprise, there was also not much of a crowd at the Malaysian immigration when I arrived at 6 am. In total, it took me less than 25 minutes to clear the two customs – which was considerably shorter than I had anticipated (a good problem to have).
Pro Tip 2: Purchase a train ticket to cross the causeway to have better control and predictability over your journey. Otherwise, cater at least three hours (or more during peak holiday seasons) to cross the borders.
Journey To Larkin Sentral
From the Sultan Iskandar CIQ Complex or JB checkpoint, we can take either a cab or the SBS Transit 170 bus service to reach JB Larkin Sentral.
On that day, the Grab platform quoted me RM8 for the ride from the Sultan Iskandar CIQ Complex to JB Larkin Sentral. However, given that I had ample time to kill before my departure time, I decided to take Bus 170 instead.
To board the bus to Larkin, simply head down straight after clearing the Malaysian custom and take the escalator down. Do not turn left to the CIQ Complex, which is what most travellers would do.
The 10-minutue bus journey to Larkin Sentral cost me just $0.57 or under RM2, which, as a solo traveller, was more cost-effective than taking the cab.
Bus Terminal at CIQ
Bus 170 to Larkin Sentral
Pro Tip 3: If you’re travelling in a group of 2 or more or have large luggage, it’s best to take a cab to Larkin Sentral, as Bus 170 can get crowded.
Boarding Coach From JB Larkin Sentral
The JB Larkin Sentral is a two-storey complex that houses the largest public transport terminal in Johor Bahru, operating services to all destinations in Malaysia as well as Singapore and Southern Thailand. It also has 225 fresh market lots, 700 shops, and 76 F&B outlets like MacDonald’s, KFC, and Dunkin’ Donuts.
Larkin Sentral – Bus Terminal
Larkin Sentral – Most shops were still not open at 6.30am
Larkin Sentral – Wet/Dry Market
Most of the shops were unfortunately closed when I reached around 6.30am, except for some mamak restaurants (coffeeshops that sold local food like roti prata and mixed rice) and MacDonald’s. Still wanting to be as thrifty as possible, I decided to grab breakfast at one of the mamak restaurants. I took a packet of nasi lemak (RM2.50) – containing just sambal and half a slice of egg – which was available at each table, and a glass of hot milo (RM3). A simple and affordable breakfast, to say the least.
Nasi Lemak for RM2.50
After breakfast, I queued for my boarding pass to enter the departure hall. Despite purchasing the bus ticket online, passengers still need to obtain a printed boarding pass in order to enter the departure hall. I felt this was a time-consuming process and was not helped by the long queue of people served by only two counters. There was also a RM2 handling fee charged for the printing of the boarding pass.
Pro Tip 4: Come at least 45 minutes before your departure to give ample time to get your boarding pass printed and enter the departure hall.
As the boarding pass has only details of the bus operator and my seat number, I had to intently look at the monitor screens to know the bus boarding time and berth details.
One issue that I noticed was that certain announcements on bus delays or bus boardings were made only in Bahasa Malay and were not clear at times. This led to some buzzing around the information counter seeking clarification, which could be difficult for anyone who isn’t able to speak the local language.
Fortunately, my bus operator displayed the berth information closer to the departure time on the monitor screen without any hiccups.
Departure Hall – Monitoring Screen
The bus was similar to the photo displayed on the website, which was somewhat of a relief. The seats in the bus were spacious, and the interior of the cabin was decently maintained with no major faults to speak of.
Coach That I Took
As the bus started moving 10 minutes into its stated departure time of 8 am, I reclined back for a comfortable ride. A 10-minute toilet stop-over came around 2 hours into the journey before it got on its way passing by fields of palm oil trees.
Pro Tip 5: Certain bus operators strictly prohibit food and drinks onboard the bus. Instead, you could pack a quick meal to consume during the short break given midway of the journey.
Reaching KL’s Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS)
About four hours and 15 minutes after leaving JB Sentral, the bus reached KL’s Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS) at around 12.25pm.
Opened in January 2011, it is the main bus terminal in KL for express buses. The six-storey terminal primarily serves travellers heading south of KL to places like Johor Bahru, Melaka, Singapore and Mersing. There are convenient shops at the concourse level (3rd floor), and restaurants and retail shops on the 4th floor that offer an option for a quick meal before or after a long trip.
The TBS, which connects to the Bandar Tasik Selatan LRT station, is a convenient point to get to the city centre, which is about 10 to 15 km away.
Reached TBS at 12.25pm
TBS – Connects To Bandar Tasik Selatan LRT station
Pro Tip 6: Travelling by the LRT might be a quicker way to travel to the city centre during peak hours, which start from 4.30pm – 7.30pm on weekdays.
Would I Travel To KL By Coach Via Larkin Again?
In total, I spent $28, which includes my coach, cab fare, and the cross-border transfer, to travel to Johor Bahru Larkin Sentral and onward to Kuala Lumpur. Though it met my objective of travelling in the most cost-efficient way, I was fortunate not to have met with any obstacles that may have potentially derailed my plans.
There are many coach services available from Singapore, with pick-up locations at different points around the island. While there are more coach timings available from Larkin Sentral, taking a coach service from Singapore can be more convenient, particularly when travelling solo.
One, it reduces some of the hassle of the transfers I had to go through, such as taking a cab, and the cross-border transfers, as we could rely on the local coach service. It would give us more certainty that the local coach will be waiting for us to clear the customs. However, if we were to clear the customs on our own, there’s a high risk of missing our coach timing in JB Larkin Sentral, especially if our customs clearance is delayed. But this is unlikely to happen if we were to take a coach from Singapore, and there is less likely to be a need to cross the borders at an unearthly time like I did.
Two, travellers less familiar with the local language – Malay, or who are new to taking the bus service at Larkin Sentral, may encounter difficulties if there are any bus delays or changes as announcements are made in Malay. Even some of the older Malaysian locals at the departure hall seemed perplexed as to when or where they should be boarding. While being proactive and asking around can help, do not anticipate a seamless process every time.
Hence, unless I’m accompanied by someone who can speak the local lingo, I would be less inclined to take my chances again by travelling via JB. Instead, I would prefer to pay a little more for the added convenience and safety of taking a coach from Singapore. But, for those who want to travel in the most cost-efficient way or want more travel options (bus timings) to KL, then travelling from JB is still the best bet.
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