Getting around Penang takes you to some of the most impressive locations in this part of Asia. Quite clearly, the most popular destination is Georgetown, the capital of Penang. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its amazing 19th-century colonial buildings, churches, mosques and temples, as well as old houses and shop-houses that were constructed before World War II. Other must-see tourist destinations are Balik Pulau for its fruit orchards, rice fields and traditional villages; the tranquil Teluk Bahang fishing village; Tanjung Bungah resort area: and the sandy beaches of Batu Ferringhi.
Penang is Malaysia’s second smallest state and so getting around Penang by plane is not an option. Penang is a bustling Malaysian state with congested streets and highly populated regions. The morning and afternoon traffic rush are both impossible; typical in most major Asian cities. The roads are narrow since early developers didn’t expect this island to be highly developed and urbanized. Getting around on the ubiquitous Penang bus means fighting through congested traffic. For this reason, make sure to make time allowances if you don’t wish to be late for an appointment. Short-distance rides seem to be much farther due to traffic congestion.
Taking the Penang bus is the cheapest and most readily available form of transport. The state’s intra-city bus system, Rapid Penang bus line, has brand new buses that follow reliable on-the-dot schedules. The main stops are the ferry terminal at Georgetown and KOMTAR building, the tallest building in Penang.
Meanwhile, free rides are available on board a shuttle bus from the ferry terminal to several points around Georgetown. Free shuttle buses pass by every 12 minutes every day, except on Sundays and public holidays.
For a faster and more convenient ride, one may take a Penang taxi, which is widely available at a number of points within the city. There’s one important difference here, though. Penang taxis don’t use a meter. Prices are negotiated, so it is important for passengers to agree to a price before hopping in. Taxi drivers are very reasonable in negotiating, but bargaining is always expected. The best way to decide on a price is to ask people how much they might have paid before going to where you want to go.
The third form of transport and perhaps the most flexible option of getting around Penang on land is on a car rental. Everybody knows how convenient it is to be behind your own wheel, but the traffic in Penang is unlike regular traffic flow in most Western countries. Local drivers notoriously disregard traffic rules, as well as the safety of other drivers and of themselves. It is not unusual to see cars leaving their lanes in a whim. Penang traffic is very confusing to locals, much more to Western tourists who may be visiting here for the first time. Some roads are One-Way but without warning signs. Also, traffic is on the left, similar to that in Europe and strange to Americans. Car rentals are not difficult to find around the city and may be arranged with hotel personnel.
Getting around Penang by sea is not possible, although most tourists come in on board a ferry from Butterworth in the mainland.
Finally, there are the traditional three-wheeled trishaws. Tourists love riding them, but they are now mostly and primarily used for tourism and cultural exposure. Still, getting around Penang on a trishaw or simply on foot may be practical in order to avoid the rush hour traffic.