Driving Malaysian highways

Recently, my family made another road trip out of Penang heading south to Kuala Lumpur and then onward to Singapore.  Driving Malaysian highways can be quite an adventure for a family of five in a Toyota Avanza.  So with a bag full of snacks, RM100 on a Touch n Go card for zippier transition through the toll plazas, a dual screen DVD player for the kids, and a Garmin GPS to guide us, we were on our way.

The Ferry

We decided to cross to the mainland on the ferry, rather than the bridge.  It allowed us to give the kids an early break, a change of position, and something to look forward to.  We knew there was going to be a lot of screen time on the DVD players and this allowed us to limit that, if only for a little bit.

My kids love the ferry, and as we were pulling into the ferry terminal the middle one wished aloud that we could ride on the top deck, rather than the lower one.  She got her wish and we were directed up the spiral ramp to the upper deck.  Not every ferry is the same.  Some have bench seating on the top deck.  This particular ferry did not, just space for cars to pull in.  We got out of the car and headed for the starboard railing so we can watch the bridge go by in the distance.  As we got close to the other shore, we followed the example of the other passengers and reloaded up the car.

North-South expressway (E1)

The North-south expressway (Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan) is a toll road.  We had to drive from the ferry down to close to the Penang Bridge to be able to get onto it.  The toll plaza is expansive, but we found the Touch n’ Go lanes well marked with distinct blue signs.  Rolled up past a line of 10 cars in the cash line, and tap the card on the sensor and we’re off.

For the most part the highway is two lanes of traffic in each direction.  There are places where road work drops it down to one lay for a short stretch, but it isn’t like in the US where you have 20 miles of the Interstate closed down for 300 feet worth of work (which may or may not be happening that day).

The speed limit, unless otherwise marked, is 110 kph.  Driving Malaysian highways at the speed limit is quite difficult.  I was nervous to exceed the speed limit because I had recently read Penang Momma’s post about speed traps.  Not wanting to be stuck with a fine (or even a bribe to have to pay), I tried to drive between 100 and 110.

The outside lane (left lane) moves along at about 90 kph.  Trucks (lorries) and other service vehicles tend to occupy this lane.  They’ll have stickers on the backs saying that’s as fast as they go.

The right lane moves at 130.  This is what happened to me over and over again.  I’m driving the speed limit (110) in the left lane and I see a truck, up ahead, moving at 90.  I drift to the right lane.  While I am right next to the (probably overloaded) semi truck, a little black or red sedan, sometimes bright yellow, sedan pulls up right on my bumper and flashes his lights at me.  As soon as I can I jink back into the “safe” lane, and the sedan will roar past me.  Without exception the cars have a W or J license plate, meaning they are from KL or Johor.  In my mind, I imagine they left the iron on and need to get back home before their house burns down.

I’ll be sharing more about our experiences driving Malaysian highways in the coming weeks.