I was in southern Thailand and I was thinking about flying into Kuala Lumpur from Phuket, the closest airport to me. Then I realized that there was a cheaper way of doing this since I wasn’t terribly pressed for time.
If you are already in southern Thailand, you can make your way to Krabi. From Krabi bus terminal, you can catch a bus to Hat Yai for 180 baht. Obviously if you are not in southern Thailand or close to Krabi, you may be able to catch a bus directly to Hat Yai with varying prices depending on where you are. I suggest figuring out if there is a route and buying the bus ticket directly at the bus station whenever possible, regardless of where you are to avoid inflated travel agency or online website prices.
When you get to Hat Yai you can consider spending a little time exploring there. Hat Yai has a lot of Chinese and Malaysian influence, making it the perfect warm up city prior to starting your trip in Malaysia. Or if you are in a hurry to get to Malaysia, you can take a minibus directly from the Hat Yai bus station to Pedang Besar for only 50 baht. These minibuses to Pedang Besar leave regularly throughout the day, starting at 7 am and ending at 7 pm. From Hat Yai bus station to the Padang Besar border crossing takes around one hour (the minivan will drop you off right in front of the immigration area). After you exit Malaysian immigration, you will need to make your way over to the KML station in Padang Besar, for connections to other parts of Malaysia such as Butterworth (for Georgetown/Penang) or further places such as Kuala Lumpur.
If you are already in Hat Yai or if you don’t want to deal with getting to the KML station in Malaysia, another option would be to go to the Hat Yai Train Station and take also a roughly 50 baht train to the Pandang Besar stop in Malaysia. This way you will exit the train and go through immigration and after you are done, you can go upstairs and buy a train ticket for the KML. This is definitely a cleaner option however you should keep in mind that there are only 1 or 2 times and you will have to double check before going to the train station. If those times don’t work you will take the shuttle bus.
Once at the KML station, you will be able to purchase train tickets for other cities in Malaysia aside from Butterworth (to get to Georgetown).
Regardless of whether you take the bus or train to Padang Besar, remember that Malaysian time difference will kick in of one hour ahead of Thailand so factor in. My phone didn’t update automatically so it was a little confusing at the train station for a bit.
One note on the KML train, is that it is very modern and clean. The journey from Padang Besar to Butterworth, was surprisingly scenic with beautiful limestone formations, palm trees, and vast green fields.
So that’s it, this journey from Hat Yai cost me a grand total of about 150 baht. Factor in what you will spend to get to Hat Yai by bus and this will be your grand total. Definitely beats the 1200-1400 baht price tag for a flight from Phuket to Kuala Lumpur!
Another advantage is that if you are seeing different parts of Malaysia, starting in Kuala Lumpur, where you would be flying into may not be the best option depending on how you want to route your trip. Malaysia is not like Vietnam where you are either going from south to north or north to south, so you should put some thought into the route you will take between your desired locations.