>TRAIN rides come with a certain romance about them, so catching the KTM Komuter train to Kuala Lumpur seemed like an interesting prospect.
It promised a view of Malaysian life, which my colleagues several thousand feet up in the air or driving themselves to KL could not have.
I was to take about 7 1/2 hours for the trip, compared to what could be a 45-minute plane ride.
But taking a train is really about the journey, not the destination.
YOU WON'T SEE THIS ON A FLIGHT: The rustic view from the train makes the 7hr 35 min journey to Kuala Lumpur an experience.
And what a journey it was.
I opted for the 7.40am train, the first of the three daily ones to KL. The idea was to have the daylight hours to take in the passing scenery and still get shopping done upon arrival.
But it also meant being at the Tanjong Pagar railway station by 7am.
The clock outside the station's entrance read - erroneously - six o'clock. It had stopped many moons ago.
The rest of the station seemed stuck in time. Metal fans, rusted relics, sit on walls panelled with paintings of traditional Malaysian scenes.
Still-sleepy backpackers in slippers milled around. Others who seemed more used to travelling at this hour tucked into a breakfast of teh tarik and nasi lemak at M Hasan2 Railway Food Station.
Then the clank of metal gates being pushed open rang out. The smallish group - perhaps reflective of the falling popularity of train travel - fell into line to get their tickets punched by a man in the station's signature blues.
We cleared Immigration and Customs and got on board the old, silver train, largely ignoring an old man on the platform selling snacks and drinks.
Passengers had a choice of two classes of seats that Friday morning:
A one-way economy-class seat costs $34. For that price, the seats were smaller and closer together than in first class and did not have arm rests.
One-way seats in first class, at $68 apiece, were more spacious. So I opted for that. But although they reclined generously and offered lots of leg-room, they did not look like they had been reupholstered in the last decade.
The toilets were rudimentary. The ladies' room had a single wrapped bar of soap and cheap toilet paper; the gents' had no more than a hand rail. Both toilets emptied straight onto the tracks.
The train pulled out on time, sighing like an old man.
The Singapore scenery that passed outside my window offered pictures of contrasts - from the big houses in the Holland and Upper Bukit Timah areas to a shack in Jalan Kilang Barat, complete with a napping old man.
Soon, we were at the Woodlands checkpoint. After a 10-minute traipse through Customs and getting our passports stamped, we were chugging across the border to a symphony of beeps from our mobile phones, welcoming us to the rates of a foreign cellphone service provider.
My companions and I had skipped breakfast at the station, so we ventured to the promised 'buffet carriage'.
It wasn't much of a buffet - just packs of crisps, biscuits and canned drinks. A young man in a tattered green shirt and magenta vest said cooked food was some stations away, so I dug into some leftover pasta I had hurriedly shoved into my bag.
But the man came through shortly after with packets of orange juice, free with the price of the ticket.
The passengers were a mix of Westerners giving the train a try and Malaysians getting from one town to another.
A middle-aged woman who boarded at Paloh was going to Seremban. She told a man next to her in animated Mandarin that Seremban was the nearest place with a Tesco supermarket, where she was going to buy Chinese New Year goodies.
Sleep proved elusive because of the stream of announcements on upcoming stations.
The scenery provided some distraction: miles of coconut and banana plantations, patches of aloe vera, roosters, cranes and even a cow. Buildings became rare after we left Johor. Clear skies and a view of the hills stretched as far as the eye could see.
Workers on a rubber plantation on their late morning break turned to wave as we zipped by, and women stopped hanging up their washing to take note of the time.
The train stopped at a couple of ramshackle stations to disgorge and take on passengers. The stops were short, three minutes at most, before the station master would wave his bright green flag.
At 12.40pm, lunch was ready to be sold, either nasi goreng or mee goreng. Both looked unappetising, but we were famished by then. We settled for the nasi goreng at RM4 ($1.75) a pack, and a soft drink for RM2.
Another two hours of rolling plantations, buffalo herds and telephone lines went by.
I dozed off, only to be awoken by the young man collecting passengers' trash, a sign that we were nearing KL.
We pulled into the city at 3.15pm and disembarked at the Sentral Kuala Lumpur station, not far from our end-point, the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, to which place we took a cab.
After an exhausting 91/2 hours on the move, the prospect of a nap on an unmoving bed was more enticing than shopping in Bukit Bintang.
But I guess it was, after all, meant to be about the journey.
Top photo: Reporter Arti Mulchand with husband Peter Williams in the train's 'buffet carriage' which served biscuits and canned drinks for breakfast and nasi goreng or mee goreng for lunch.