From Bangkok we travelled by train from Singapore to Bangkok. The first and second class air-conditioned wagons are very comfortable compared with those in Thailand. The saloons are furnished with airplane seats. Travelling by train is safer than going by bus, specially if you travel by night. Singapore is a very modern city and when you travel north things become more different along the way. The train stops in Kuala Lumpur where you can look at the city for one or two days if you like. They have a nice park and the old Chinese quarters are interesting, specially the night market. Here are also several cheap hostels. There are direct trains going to Butterworth. If you stop at a station a few hours before Butterworth you can take a bus up in the mountain area where it is cooler, the tea is growing and it is possible to make walks in the jungle. There are hotels in Butterworth but there is not much to see. I think it is better to take the ferry across to Penang. This takes about half an hour, is very cheap, and Georgetown on the Penang island is more interesting. There are ferries leaving every 15 minutes or so. There are also plans to built a bridge across but I do not know if it is built yet. There are plenty of hostels in Georgetown. If you have time you can take a small mountain train up the hill up on the mountain on the middle of the island from where you have a good view of the island. There are monkeys in the forest. It is possible to walk down from the mountain, it takes about 2 hours, or take the mountain train back again. There are many city buses in Georgetown going here. When you continue north you have to change trains near the Thailand border. These trains continue to Bangkok. They are less comfortable but OK. Bangkok has very heavy traffic with cars, tuc-tucs (motorrichas) but the long tail boats are very fast and cheap. There are long tail boats leaving from a channel just beside the main railway station in Bangkok. They stop at the big river north of the grand palace. Nearby is an area with many cheap hostels. I have visited Tioman island and there are plenty of cheap and quite simple hotels and lodges on the island. The cheapest way to get an accommodation on the island is to look around when you arrive. There is also a more expensive and luxury hotel near the airstrip on the island. This is also where the most boats arrive and here are also several cheap lodges at the sea. There is a boat going around the island a couple of times every day, to the different beaches. Otherwise you have to walk. There are no car roads on the island. The vegetation is very dense and there is only one walking way across the island throng the jungle which takes about 3 hours by foot. There are monkeys and other animals around. Snorkelling and swimming looking at the water life is also nice. When I visited the Tioman island in east Malaysia during august we didn't book any hotels in advance. We just looked around and choosed a hut we liked. During august it was easy to find a room. But there is some advise about hotels in the Lonely Planet guidebook. When you travel with a big family you might want to book your hotel in advance but I think it might be cheaper to look around by yourself and choose a place when you arrive, if you have the time. The most famous hotel (with several stars) is located at the airstrip (have forgotten the name at this moment). They also have air conditioning. Many hotels and huts don't have air-conditioning but they often have a fan in the room. Own toilet and shower is also common. Most of the lodges are build at or nearby the sea. There are no villages in the centre of the island, there is only dense jungle. There are several ferry companies departing for Tioman from Mersing in Malaysia. Almost all boats depart in the morning and the tour takes about 3 hours. Most of them go to the main small harbour at the airstrip but you can also continue to any of the other beaches on the island. When you go by boat you have to decide which beach you want to get off. The most northern beach was difficult to reach by other means than by boat as the jungle was to dense and there was no walkway. Attractions on the island is mostly snorkelling looking at the fishes (and turtles) at the corrals and walking on the only walking way across the island (from the airstrip) through the jungle looking at monkeys, snakes and other wild animals. The walk takes about 3 hours across the mountainous island. It was two years ago since I travelled the Bangkok-Singapore railway so I do not know the present fares. It was not expensive. I remember that it was possible to make the travel for about $100 all the way by train. Second class air conditioned wagons were more expensive than non air conditioned wagons (almost twice the price). It is more expensive to buy the train tickets in Singapore than in Malaysia for the same route. If you want to save money you can take a local train (or bus) from Singapore across the Malaysian border and buy your tickets there. Hotels are also cheaper here than In Singapore (about half the price). I think it will be enough to book tickets only one or a couple of days before departure. If there is no big holiday you can get tickets just before the trains departure. The trains in Thailand might sometimes be more full but also here it will be enough to book tickets one or a few days in advance. I know there was a ferry connection to Indonesia from Malaysia and Singapore but they were not running daily. The ferry from Singapore was running ones a week.
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