Trains—The Malaysian train system can get you to KL, Singapore, even Bangkok, but the system is surprisingly old. It’s clean, air-conditioned & got everything you need, but seems to be 1970s in design. See more at: KTM
Beautiful air-conditioned busses travel between Singapore & multiple places in KL, & two locations on Penang island—one at Queensbay Mall, the other at the Sungai Nibong inter-city bus station. Complete with a downstairs living room for those who move there first. Note, you can urinate in the on-board bathroom, but if you need more, you must ask the driver to pull over at the next rest stop.
Similar to Aeroline.
Rapid Penang Buses—Penang has an excellent, modern, air conditioned bus service, starting right from the airport. In fact, you can ride the bus from just in front of the airport to Teluk Bahang—at the complete opposite end of the island—for a mere RM 4 ($1.30).
On most routes buses are normally supposed to come by about every 20 minutes, but when it is not rush-hour, it seems that they often come bumper-to-bumper, meaning that you may have to wait up to an hour at a stop. It seems that the routes from the Jetty to Batu Feringghi & Teluk Bahang stop about 11 PM.
Buses also host a WiFi hotspot, hosted by the DiGi mobile carrier. This can make longer commutes more tolerable.
Or follow on twitter @rapidpg
Penang International Airport is an increasingly busy hub served by over a dozen airlines. Here is a list of destinations served by direct flights as of late 2011. Airlines change their flights all the time so check directly with the airlines to confirm they are still flying that route.
- Hong Kong
- Johor Bahru
- Kota Kinabalu
- Kuala Lumpur
- Cathay Pacific
- Hong Kong
- China Airlines
- China Southern Airlines
- Banda Aceh
- Kota Bahru
- Kuala Terengganu
- Johor Bahru (seasonal)
- Malacca (seasonal)
- Indonesia AirAsia
- Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta
- Jetstar Asia Airways
- Lion Air
- Malaysia Airlines
- Kuala Lumpur
- Sriwijaya Air
- Thai AirAsia
- Bangkok Suvamabhum
- Thai AirAsia International
- Bangkok Suvamabhumi
- Tiger Airways
- Wings Air
To the Mainland/Peninsula
The Penang Bridge is currently the only physical connection between the island of Penang and the mainland crossing the Penang Straits. It is 13.5 km (8.4 miles) long and is the site of the annual Allianz Penang Bridge International Marathon. The bridge is free for driving to the mainland, RM 7 to return.
Currently, it is the longest bridge in Malaysia and the fourth longest in Southeast Asia, but it will soon be eclipsed by the Penang Second Bridge coming in at 24 km (15 miles). On the island, the second bridge starts nearer the airport at Batu Maung and crosses the strait to Batu Kawan on the mainland. The second bridge should be completed in 2013.
The Penang Ferry Service
The ferry, departing from the Jetty about 15 minutes drive north of the bridge, is likewise free to travel to the mainland, RM 7 to return when driving your own personal vehicle. There are other rates for pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles.
This ferry service is the oldest in Malaysia and captures a special place in the hearts of Penangites. Some liken it to the history and nostalgia that surround the San Francisco trolley.
Driving in Penang, Malaysia can be difficult. The drivers might be more aggressive than you are used to in your home country. The spaces are tighter. The gaps are smaller. There will probably come a time when you will get a ticket for a moving violation or a parking violation.
The first thing you should do is see if your ticket/summons comes from MPPP (Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang) or from the Police.
If it’s from MPPP you’ll go to the first floor in KOMTAR take a number and then pay there. It won’t cost much.
If it’s from the Police it will cost quite a bit more. Go to the big white and blue police HQ on the south side of Jalan Dato Keramat. Seek legal parking behind the station on Lorong Singgora, then walk to the front of the building. Facing the HQ, move all the way to the left end where there’s a sign reading “Cawangan Trafik Timur Laut”. Queue up, pay at one window and pick up your receipt at the next. If you don’t argue, you may be awarded with a discount.
Every year you’ll need to pay your road tax at the Post Office. Before doing that, you’ll need to pay your car insurance. The Post Office will check their computer to confirm that your insurance is paid before you can pay your road tax.
If all the slots for stamps showing that you’ve paid happen to be full, you’ll have to go to the Jabatan Pengangkutan Jalan (JPJ) at I-Avenue in Bukit Jambul to get a new pink card issued, so that you can renew.
Once you pay your road tax, you’ll need to apply your tax sticker to your windshield, very carefully following the instructions so that you don’t destroy the sticker when peeling it off it’s back. Study the old one before you take it off so you understand what’s supposed to be included on the sticker and what’s not. Do this when you’re not in a terrible hurry!
On our recent adventure to Kuala Lumpur, we tried to do some things that we can’t do because we’re living in Penang. One of those things is a trip to IKEA. It is located in Damansara, not terribly far from the highway, although if you are coming from the wrong direction, you will have to work your way around and under the highway just to get through the series of one way streets to get to the store.
Why do we want to go to IKEA?
For our older two children, they really enjoy going to Småland. This is a play area with a ball pit and some coloring stations and I don’t know what else that they can be watched for an hour, while parents shop. Kids must be between 4-10 years and 90-130 cm. I guess they need the height requirement because kids don’t carry ICs.
Another reason we wanted to go to IKEA was the food. There are days when my wife has dreams about the Swedish Meatballs and the Poached Salmon. I asked her which she was going to choose, and she answered both, we’re sharing. I guess I don’t need to try something new on the menu.
While we can find furniture in Penang, the comparable equivalents tended to be cheaper at IKEA, even if you figure in the price of shipping.
The final reason to enjoy a trip to IKEA Damansara is to learn Swedish. Ok, you won’t learn how to string together a whole sentence, but I asking my kids to get something off the Expedit, or to punish them by sending them to their Gulliver.
Avoid the crowds
One tip, don’t go on Sunday afternoon. It is crowded. We were in line to check our kids into Småland, for over 30 minutes.
Shop online before you get there
The store can be quite overwhelming. In fact, it can be quite maze-like. I have heard anecdotes of people in IKEA stores in the states that were so lost in a store, and could not find an exit, that they ended up going out an emergency exit and got in trouble.
One thing you can do to help yourself out is to shop online and know what you want to get when you get there. The IKEA website will not allow you to select and pay for items to be delivered to you. What it will do is allow you to create and print a shopping list. The shopping list will tell you whether or not a particular item is in stock (at the time you make the list) and where on the racks you can find your item.
IKEA will ship up to Penang, but you have to pay for a whole lorry, whether you buy one item or fill the whole truck. As of 2012, the price of the lorry to Penang is RM 690. In the past there have been groups who have shared the cost of delivery. You can comment below or check out the forum to ask if anyone else is interested in sharing a delivery.
If you live overseas full time, like we do, eventually you will have a situation where you will need to renew your passports. They only place to renew American passports in Malaysia is in Kuala Lumpur, at the American Embassy.
We had to do this a few weeks ago and it turned into quite the adventure.
First, before we left Penang, we got ourselves a Garmin GPS. I bought this Garmin nüvi 1350 on the third floor of Gurney Plaza, one of the shops in the middle, close to Popular bookstore. They charged me RM 499 and promised to update my software and maps every six months for free.
We got the GPS unit because, quite frankly, KL traffic scares me. I have been in cabs in KL and I was certain I would not be able to navigate the streets myself. And, as it turned out, even with the GPS unit, I got lost once. I will say that in terms of keeping my heart rate at a reasonable level and stress level reasonably low, the RM 499 paid for itself in future healthcare costs.
We checked into our guest house and prepared ourselves to go early the next morning to the Embassy. I had called before leaving Penang, and I found out that the Consular services section does not make appointments for American Citizen Services and that I just needed to be there between 9 and 11 in the morning to process my paperwork. We left our guesthouse in Subang Jaya at 9 and arrived at the Embassy at 10:30! Lesson learned.
Second lesson learned was about parking at the US Embassy. There isn’t any parking near by. Next time we go we’ll just take a cab. I ended up on a side road behind the Embassy in a space that was probably not a space. As I was parking, I wondered if I might return with the car towed or clamped.
Third lesson learned was about bringing a backpack into the Embassy. No backpacks and no electronics allowed. We had to put our cell phones in the backpack which they let us check in at the guard station.
Then the waiting began. We got a number from the ticket dispensing machine. Because we were American Citizens without an appointment we pushed the C button. Looked like there were 7 C’s before us. Our kids couldn’t sit still very well. We let them play in a little corner where the bathrooms were.
To prepare you for the process, be prepared to have to wait for your number three different times. After we were called we went to the little booth to submit the paperwork. Thankfully I had downloaded from the American embassy website, filled in the papers, and printed the paperwork in Penang before we left. Then we wait again. The second time we were called up to pay the fees. Then we wait again. Then the final time, we get the passport back with a claim receipt.
The website says that the passports are ready two weeks from when you submit the application. When you apply, you can give them an email address to notify you when it is ready. Ours were ready one week later.
Everyone needed to be at the Embassy to submit the application. For the minor child, both parents need to be there. The website also lists other documents you need for the minor. We had to bring her Consular Report of Birth Abroad and our original Marriage License. Bring originals because copies, even notarized copies, cause headaches.
We got the passports back with a yellow sticky note as a claim receipt. Anyone can go with the passport and claim receipt to pick it up, so that made things easier. I had a friend going to KL and was willing to take 2 hours out to run this errand for me.
All in all, I think the process was fine. Wish there was some thing for the kids to do while they were there, but we seemed to be able to keep them from annoying the crowded waiting room pretty well.
If you are going to be in Penang for a while, get a car and drive yourself around. There are many complexities around doing this but here are some of the things you need to know.
Driving licenses are honored in Malaysia, according to the law. You may want to get an International Driving Permit as well, but legally they’re not required here. Section 28 of Act 333, Road Transport Act of 1987 reads:
A driving licence issued under the corresponding provisions of law in force in any country which is a party to a treaty to which Malaysia is also a party and which purports to recognize domestic driving licences issued by the contracting countries shall, so long as such licence remains in force in that country, be deemed to be a driving license granted under this Part.
Traffic Signals–Often you’ll approach an intersection to see lots of red signal lights, but all the traffic speeding ahead through the intersection. Look again & you’ll probably see that there’s a single, less prominent green arrow pointing forward. The multiple red lights are for people who are turning, & they don’t display a red turning arrow, but rather a full red light. Don’t stop in the middle of the road unless you’re fairly certain that the straight on lanes are supposed to stop, otherwise you’ll likely be rear-ended.
Left hand turn on red after stop? Apparently the rule is this, if there’s a solid white line across the turn lane, then you must wait until the turn light turns green; if it’s a dotted line, then you can go once the traffic clears and it’s safe. Exception: one location we know of has a solid line, but also has a Yield (Beri Laluan) sign. Everyone there seems to follow the Yield sign & to proceed when the traffic clears whether or not the light is red.
In our short time in Penang, we have met and befriended a driver, Ismail. He has his own vehicle and he hires himself out to drive tourists around Penang and even out of the city. If he is unavailable he can recommend another driver for you. He speaks excellent English and Arabic.
He can be reached at +60 19 549 9960. He is based in Batu Ferringhi.