JOHOR BARU, Feb 11, 2016:

Trains have served as the earliest form of public transportation in the country, but have lost their lustre as people increasingly opt for cars or airplanes when travelling.

Though not as fast as cars and airplanes, trains are special in their own way and offer an interesting ride for those who are not chasing time.

It is no wonder that more people are starting to opt for rail services to enjoy Malaysia’s amazing scenery, says Suhainie Mohd Khalid, in thisBernama report.

Recently, I had the chance to take Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad’s (KTMB) Peninsular Train for the Explore Johor Mission-Johor Media Tour to Hatyai and Songkhla, Thailand.

It reminded me of the 1990s, when my family and I would take the Sinaran Express Train from the Kluang Station to the Kuala Kangsar Station to return to our hometown in Perak.

The trip with 29 members from the Johor Media Club (KMJ), led by president Mohd Fauzi Ishak, not only took longer but also saw us travelling throughout the night.

Eighteen hours from Johor Baru to Hat Yai! Wow, that is a real long journey.

The trip began at 5pm from the JB Sentral Train Station and the group was joined by KTMB Southern Region manager Omar Nazari Othman.

The first two hours on board was accompanied by a beautiful sunset, as I sat in the Santai Coach, sipping a cup of hot coffee.

A friend started flipping through her novel while another tested the karaoke set on board. A few others were busy taking selfies.

A number of passengers could be seen boarding and disembarking the train. Changes in scenery were appreciated by us as the carriage pulled up at the Kempas Baru and Kulai stations.

A journalist friend from the Malay Mailreturned from the canteen carriage, with two packs of sardine sandwiches in hand.

The train passed secondary forests, shop lots and housing areas before it arrived at Kluang Station, famous for its coffee and toast, at about 7.20pm.

As night approached, there was nothing much to see outside. Hunger brought me and my friends back to the Santai Coach for dinner.

KTMB Intercity Marketing senior manager Mohd Noordin Kimi, who joined the entourage from the Gemas Station to KL Sentral, explained that the service was used by about 300 local and international passengers daily since it was introduced on Sept 1, last year.

He said the Peninsular Train offered services once daily from the JB Sentral Station to Hatyai, departing at 5pm and arriving at the Hatyai Station at 11.20am (Thailand time) the next day.

“From the Hatyai Station, the trip is also once daily at 4pm (local time) and is scheduled to arrive at JB Sentral at 11.55am the next day,” he said, adding that the train passes through 34 stations except Bukit Mertajam and Butterworth.

Regarding the Santai Coach, Mohd Noordin said passengers could rent the coach for as low as RM3,000. It comes equipped with an LCD television, mini library and karaoke system to allow passengers to carry out programmes for special events such as birthdays or weddings.

In between attempts to sleep and gazing out the window, I saw the train pass the Rawang, Tanjung Malim, Tapah Road, Ipoh and Kuala Kangsar stations before arriving in Parit Buntar, Perak at 7.15am.

As dawn approached, the train made its way through the rice bowl state of Kedah, offering passengers a verdant view of the paddy fields.

Occupants of the train were treated to picture perfect views of Mount Jerai Ibarat surrounded by lush green paddy fields and villages as the Peninsular Train headed towards the Sungai Petani, Gurun, Alor Star and Anak Bukit stations.

Upon clearing customs and immigration at the Padang Besar Station, the train moved on to the final station.

Forty minutes later, the group’s 18-hour journey ended when the Peninsular Train safely arrived at the Hatyai Station at 11.55am.

During my stay in Hatyai, the Malaysian group took rides on tuk-tuks, shopped at the Asean Night Market and savoured local delicacies such as sticky rice with mango and somtam (papaya salad) sold on sampans at the Klong Hae Floating Market. This writer also got to admire ice sculptures at the Hatyai Ice Dome where temperatures were as low as -15 degrees Celsius.

Meanwhile, in Songkhla, the group of media personnel snapped photos with the mermaid statue on Cape Samila Beach, mingled with a group of deer at the Songkhla Zoo and took in a panoramic view of the city from the Tan Kuan Hill.

Malaysia’s consul-general in Songkhla, Mohammad Shaharul Md Osman, when met, said tourist activities in Hatyai and Songkhla flourished each year with various events lined up year-round.

“Many do not realise that Songkhla is a state that manages 14 districts in the southern region of Thailand, while Hat Yai is a district of Songkhla,” he said, answering a question from the media group regarding the specialties found in Hatyai and Songkhla.

Mohammad Shaharul also commended KTMB’s efforts in introducing the Peninsular Train service which would help to promote Johor to the people of Thailand.

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