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The Jungle Railway was once known as the Golden Blowpipe thanks to its proximity to Taman Negara. That’s the national park where the orang asli — Malaysia’s nomadic aboriginal people— still use bamboo blowpipes to hunt. The line swings away from the nation’s heartlands and heads all the way up to the Thai border, along the east side of the forested, mountainous spine of Peninsular Malaysia. (For Taman Negara get off at Jerantut station.)
So it’s all wilderness then?
The west coast of the Malaysian peninsula is the densely populated home of the ‘tiger economy’. This is the economically thrusting Malaysia, a network of transport hubs and oil palm and rubber plantations. This economic tiger has left much of the centre and east coast untamed, so doing this journey is a bit like entering into a long, glorious tunnel of green.
Any big cities en route?
Nope. This train effectively does a tour of slow-paced kampong— Malaysian village — life. Despite its name, the East Coast Line doesn’t actually run along the sealine, meaning coastal cities such as Kuantan and Kuala Terengganu aren’t served. Instead, the line grazes Kota Bharu before terminating in Tumpat, up near the border with Thailand. There are only four trains a day back and forth along the main section, and only one that actually connects back with the rest of the network.
So what can you see?
In terms of fellow passengers, this has all the local colour of a village bus route, making it great for people watching. Scenery-wise, expect big limestone outcrops, broad ochre-coloured rivers, a few plantations, and a lot of forest.
How close do you get to the border with Thailand?
The track itself crosses the border, but the train stops at Tumpat. If you want to cross, you’ll need to take a bus or a taxi for the nine miles between Tumpat and the Thai town of Sungai Golok, from where there are trains to Bangkok.