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Travelling: Driving Up North to Malaysia and Thailand: the North-South Expressway PDF Print E-mail
Driving Up North: the North-South Expressway

The NSE was declared open by the Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Sri Mahathir Mohamad in September 1994, although it had been operational since February, 15 months ahead of schedule. Built at a cost of MYR$6 billion, the 848-km expressway cuts across eight Malaysian states along the entire West Coast of the Peninsular. The southern track cuts through paddy fields, oil palm estates and pineapple plantations, while the northern one goes through dramatic granite hills, with massive rocks lining both sides of the expressway.

To get on the expressway, head east from the Causeway check-point and follow the coastal road, looking for signs pointing to the Expressway. Alternatively, using the Tuas link you will be joined onto the expressway seamlessly, this may be an easier route as you avoid Johor Bahru traffic.

The Kuala Lumpur bypass
Until this was completed the NSE used to drop its traffic into downtown KL. If you are not staying in KL the bypass will save a significant amount of time. The bypass takes traffic out towards Port Klang and the international Airport – look for signs directing you onto Ipoh the next major stop.

Going into KL the NSE makes a loop into downtown KL before moving up north, which means that you could be caught in a jam along the 13-km stretch for about an hour.

Tapah to Ipoh
Further north the 30.3 km stretch between Tapah and Ipoh is the most expensive (MYR$20 million), the most scenic, and the most dangerous, with climbing roads and horse-shoe bends. Good for the keen drivers but be wary of your fellow motorists and trucks.

Rest Areas
There are 18 rest and service areas (RSAs), located every 50 to 100 kms, with facilities like food stalls, toilets, parking and telephones. Some even have souvenir shops and produce markets. There are plans to build motels at the RSAs along the scenic northern track.

If your car should breakdown, do not panic. There are emergency phones located every 2 km. Because there have been instances of motorists on the old trunk road being taken for an expensive ride by freelance mechanics, the highway company (PLUS) runs a 24-hour emergency service. Only they are allowed to do repairs on the highway. These mechanics in yellow PLUS vehicles do free minor repairs, recharge batteries, and can tow your car to the nearest RSA if major repairs are needed. Off the freeway the Automobile Association of Singapore (see Links) has reciprocal arrangements with its Malaysian cousin.


Exits to the main towns are generally on the left, watch out for signs placed 1 km and 500 m prior to the turn-off.

Safety on the Freeway
Watch out for stray buffaloes & chickens that spill over onto the expressway. Don't stop at the fruit stalls with big umbrellas, however tempting the durians are - it is a traffic offence to stop along the expressway shoulders.

Slow down as you approach slow moving traffic. Drivers rarely use their indicators when they change lanes, and cars do wander. Buses and trucks will also sometimes pull abruptly into the outer lane particularly when overtaking each other. It is easy to underestimate the difference in speed between your car and these prehistoric leviathans.

Speeding is a popular recreation on the NSE for both repressed Singaporean motorists and Malaysian drivers with big engined or exotic machinery. When overtaking keep a good eye on the rear view mirror – many of these kings of the road use all the common Euro driving techniques so look for flashing lights and indicators. Make sure you indicate also – better to forget about kiasu and start thinking about getting to your destination in one piece.

Watch out for rainstorms, which can be sudden and heavy, both visibility and traction can be severely impaired.

Road Rage
Relax-lah! Would you believe road rage is alive and well on the Freeway? Not at the level of Los Angeles or the UK but nevertheless present. The worst incidences I have seen are where a speeding driver meets a self-righteous motorist – pulling into or staying in the overtaking lane at exactly the speed limit as faster cars approach is dangerous and foolish. The speed differences can be great. Other drivers are then put at risk as the two opponents joust and typically no one really comes off a winner. In some countries the righteous driver would be booked for dangerous driving.

Your speed should reflect the road conditions (which includes other motorists) and you should keep left unless overtaking.

Next: Thai highways

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