Driving survival techniques in Penang

As you pull out from your garage in your car, are you spoiling for a fight? Are you looking to cut up as many cars as you can, then give rude hand signs if they complain. Are you ready to out-intimidate anyone in your path, send any cyclists or pedestrians scuttling for cover, and push in right at the head of any queue you find? Are you prepared to swerve all over the road to keep those pesky cars you’ve outmanoeuvred where they belong – behind you? Are you ready to get there FIRST?

If your answer is, “no”, then perhaps driving in Penang is not for you.

Unfortunately, the standard of driving in Malaysia is generally poor, but in Penang it is appalling. A quick search on the web found this article: Penang Drivers!!  It seems a bit silly for me to describe what others ( thank you masterwordsmith) have already written about driving here in Penang, and written better.  I will just offer some suggestions about how to drive more safely and with less stress.

But, do you really have to drive?  Let’s examine the options.

  • Staying at home.  So far you cannot do Internet grocery shopping and await delivery, so you will have to venture out sometimes.
  • Walking.  This is possible safely as some places have footpaths. For example, on the ocean side of Gurney Drive. However, if you need to cross a road there will be no pedestrian crossing, or if one exists, it will be ignored by drivers. On occasion, to cross the road I have had to go and get the car to drive across.  In many cases cars and motorbikes will park on the footpath, blocking it so you are forced onto the road.  If it rains, cars will drive through puddles and you’ll be splashed. And there are many holes in the ground and uneven surfaces, so you must look at your feet while walking. In most cases and for most routes, walking is just too dangerous. Further problems are the danger of handbag snatching by a passing motorcyclist, and heat stroke if you are not careful and are prone to it.
  • Cycling.  Unless you are suicidal I suggest waiting until the government fulfills its promise of a round island cycle path.  However, unless it is physically separated from cars, it will still be dangerous.
  • Motorcycle.  Probably safer than cycling, as you have better acceleration and brakes.  But hardly what you’d call safe.
  • Taxi.  Unless you go out a lot, a reasonable alternative, if you don’t mind taxis. Many taxis are old, the drivers not particularly skilled, there are no working seat belts, and some try to overcharge.  However, if you use a taxi firm you trust, you can always be picked up on time, in a new car in good condition, and be treated politely and honestly. The price is reasonable for most places you’d want to visit on the island.
  • Bus. (Rapid Penang).  If you are in no hurry, and not carrying a lot, they can be OK.  They are cheap, air-conditioned, and the drivers helpful if they can be (they usually don’t speak English).  There are usually shelters at the bus stops, but a bus will often stop to drop you off or pick you up anywhere on its route.  There are not so many seats on board, so you may have to stand, the routes can meander all over the place so that it can take a long time to reach your destination and there can be pick pockets.  While waiting for the bus you again must be aware of whether the heat is affecting you adversely. I had to wait one hour once for a bus in the sun and ended up with heat stroke.  If I had a hat and some water I may have avoided it. Rapid Penang have web site,but it is quite basic. http://www.rapidpg.com.my/

If you think that driving is your best alternative, here are some ideas on keeping safe, and your stress levels down:

  • Keep in mind that it is quite cheap to repair panel damage, as long as you don’t use your insurance.  This should reduce your stress a little.
  • Drive defensively, yes, but also aggressively enough so you are not continuously bluffed by rude drivers who will take advantage of any perceived weakness to push in.  Remember, it is the aim of the Malaysian driver to arrive before the car in front of him/her.
  • Pick the time of day to drive if at all possible.  The roads are quieter Monday to Friday 9:30 – noon; 2PM to 4PM; after 8PM.  On weekends, the earlier the better, generally.
  • If you are turning, use your indicators (even if many don’t), as at least motorbikes sometimes pay attention to them – but you still have to check before actually turning if a bike is over/undertaking you despite all this.
  • When turning right the car behind may turn right at the same time and then cut in front of you – so keep an eye out for that.
  • Do let in other drivers from side streets in jams sometimes – it helps them, which may mean they help others, and it makes you feel a bit virtuous, thus reducing stress.
  • Of course, the bigger the vehicle, the safer you are in an accident, but it is more difficult to squeeze a large car through gaps, and to park it.
  • A GPS can be handy if you don’t know the roads, but also buy a map, and learn the roads as you drive. The GPS will often just send you by the main roads, which can be jammed. Once you know the roads you can think of better routes.

I also use a few spiritual procedures:

  • Make a most benevolent outcome (MBO) request to your guardian angel as outlined in another of my blogs.  For example: “I request the most benevolent outcome for a rapid, safe, stress free drive home. Thank you.”
  • If you meditate, try this. Visualise your car completely inside a pyramid of white light, that will protect it and its occupants from all danger, and keep the car running well. If you don’t meditate, try it anyway – it will only take a very short while to do.
  • If you know anyone who does Reiki (to be covered in another blog) ask them to use it on your car.  If not; many consider everything has consciousness – including your car.  Talk to it nicely, and look after it.

If you are driving towards Penang on the North-South Motorway, when you get near to the turn off to the Penang bridge you notice the driving manners suddenly deteriorate.  Look at the number plates – yes, Penang drivers.  Welcome back.

Good Luck – it’s a jungle out there!!!



  1. I like this topic. It’s very challenging to overtake or switch lane in Penang traffic, there are very less drivers will give you way even after you switch on your signal to change your lane. For me, it won’t be a long gap by allowing another car to overtake. But in many scenarios, the drivers had hard time to switch lane because of the other driver is very defensive and not giving a chance to overtake. They will drive very close to the front queuing car so that another car will not be able to overtake or squeeze in between. This is very rude and lack of moral compare to European drivers. According to a friend of mine in Denmark, most of the drivers there are very polite and helpful whenever another driver needs help on the road. The worst scenario in Penang is even after you rise up your hand for a desperate lane switching but the other driver still be very defensive and pretend didn’t notice you. I think by allowing a car or two, the driver are not going to lose anything as it may cause additional couple of minutes delay only. Penang drivers have to renovate their mentality even though traffic jam is a national problem.

    1. Driving here requires a combination of agression and restraint, mixed with some courtesy, not getting too upset at rudeness, and some other factors too. It’s getting better, there are more courteous drivers now, and people use their indicators more. Even motorbike riders don’t seem as bad as when I first arrived here. Maybe the bad ones have already killed themselves. But I have heard it said that the aim of the Malaysian driver is to arrive before the car in front of them.

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