Malaysia blog

Transportation in Penang for visitors and tourists

another blue ferry, but with a different car/passenger configuration

Penang is quite small and there are also many transport options.

This recently written site gives you some information to which I’ll add my opinions.

On foot:  The attitude used to be that if you walked you’re too poor even to buy a bicycle. If you cycled, you’re too poor to buy a motorbike… You get the idea.  The attitude is changing, but pedestrian facilities are poor, but being improved.  I do have a blog series on walking in Penang for the non-suicidal which you could browse.  So it’s practical and interesting to walk sometimes.  But pedestrian crossings are ignored by all vehicles, so wait until there are none around to cross.  A motorcyclist or driver could be smoking and texting and driving at the same time, so may not notice you.  If there are traffic lights, most vehicles will stop on red – but some cars and particularly motorbikes will ignore them – so cross cautiously looking always to ensure nothing is moving towards you, particularly between cars for motorbikes that might zoom through. But be careful and don’t overdo walking during the middle of the day. preferably wear a hat, keep your walks to under 30 or 45 minutes at a time, drink plenty of beer – sorry, water – to keep yourself hydrated.  If you feel overheated, quickly find a 7-11 convenience store or a bank, a mall etc.  that has air-con and cool yourself down. And drink more water.  Mild heat exhaustion can wipe you out for an afternoon – you might need to sleep.  Worse and it could take days to recover.

Public Buses: Rapid Buses are slow. As a solo traveller you could use one if you have plenty of time.  If you want the experience of riding one you could.  Unless you board at the terminals mentioned in the above site, Komtar or the ferry terminal, you can wait a very long time for the bus to come. I am not anti-bus. I just think that buses should either have a timetable posted which they more or less stick to, or be so frequent that you don’t need a timetable as there is virtually no waiting time. If you do ride one: Beware of pickpockets.

Hop on – Hop off tourist bus:  As run in many tourist cities around the world. So the concept would be familiar. The price if you are Malaysian is reasonable, and perhaps it’s worth using if you are a solo Malaysian traveller. Or even a Malaysian couple.  But for foreigners the price is crazy.  I see the buses often when I am out, and they are almost always almost empty.  It’s a pity as if foreigners weren’t discriminated against they’d probably have many more passengers as it’s otherwise a useful service. Naturally I have never caught it.

Bicycle Rental:  Personally, although I love cycling, I believe it’s too dangerous as the drivers are too erratic to risk cycling in Penang, except for the recently constructed cycle path from George Town to the airport.  Thus I have never rented one.  There are rental cycle stands in various places around Penang, where you can pick up or leave bicycles. Ask at your accommodation or look online for information if you wish. ( However, to use these bicycles involves installing an app on your phone which requires permissions to spy on your data and manage your phone calls etc., and if you read this company’s privacy and other policies on their website you’ll see how they are trying to amass personal data and share it.  I would recommend against using this company if you have any concept of protecting yourself from identity theft, as all it takes is a slip up, a rogue employee, or of course, a hacker, etc.  Renting a car or even possibly taking out a bank loan is less invasive. ) In the future this aforementioned path will be extended to Tanjung Bungah, on the north coast.  Once completed this will be an option – just beware of heat exhaustion.  Don’t overdo it.  But I am looking forward to this path, and I’ll finally be able to bring out my bike.  So the future looks good.

Car and motorbike rental: Both are possible but I know nothing about this.

Penang Airport: If you want the public bus turn left coming out of the terminal and walk a little to find it.  To be honest I’ve never caught it as it’s not worth the trouble. The above site explained the taxi system. They are the white airport taxis. The price is reasonable. I used them for years until I was kidnapped. (It was kidnapping-lite, so we got away quite easily after a while.  But since all of the “authorities ignored my emails with number plate and driver photos, including SPAD which is supposed to regulate taxis, I gave up.) Technically you can’t get picked up by ordinary taxis at the airport, but you can call Grab, which I’ll discuss later) and get them to pick you up. It’s safer and cheaper.  Last time from the airport to Gurney Drive cost me RM23.  White taxi is RM40+.

Train: There is no train on Penang island.  To get to Butterworth station I always get the ferry across to Butterworth from the Penang ferry terminal and walk a few minutes to the station.  When I checked earlier this year there were no longer any sleeper trains to KL. You can see another blog about my last train trip to KL.

Taxis: Apart from getting kidnapped by a white airport taxi I haven’t had any problems with taxis.  Find out what the fare generally is from your accommodation, and then you’ll be able to ensure you don’t pay a driver too much more. Because yes, despite the sign on the side of the cars saying the meter must be used, it rarely will be.  The taxi fleet is improving, but there are still many old cars in bad condition.  Maybe the seat belt is unusable.  The option below is better.

Grab taxi:  This is an e-hailing service.  Unless you are a solo traveller on a very tight budget, this is almost always the best option for getting around.  Install the app on your Android or iPhone (but not Windows Phone) and you can pay cash, so no need to register a card. But you can register a card if you wish to use it. You get a price on your app as soon as you put in the route, and if you tap the button to book, then that is the price you pay. I usually tip a ringitt or two. Gurney Drive to George Town is usually RM6 (less than USD2) when I use it. The cars are much newer than taxis, the drivers are usually much friendlier than taxi drivers, and it’s much cheaper. Uber is also here, but you get a quote not a fixed price. However, from last week the government started regulating e-hailing services.  I don’t know if that will raise prices or change what up until now has been very good. I mostly leave my car at home and walk or use Grab. (Full disclosure – I have no connection at all to Grab – I just think it’s great.)

To summarise:

Penang is not the best for pedestrians, cyclists, bus riders etc.  But it’s better than it was 10 years ago (when I arrived) and improving in many ways.

Solo travellers: On a low budget you could use a bus for longer distances, and Grab for shorter distances that you can’t walk. To circle the island it’s probably better by bus. If you’re going to Butterworth use the ferry.
Couples, families and groups: Use Grab, but the ferry to get to Butterworth. But still, if you can walk safely and the distance is not too great, you’ll see a lot more.  To circle the island you could get the price from Grab, consider the bus if you have time, or maybe a one day car rental would be a good idea.  Some younger tourists rent motorcycles, which is risky, but no doubt, fun.

Note: I won’t really bother with many links as you can find the sites yourself easily enough. But if you want any other details feel free to ask and if I know I’ll tell you and update the site.

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Penang to Kuala Lumpur by plane, train, bus and car – March 2017

You have a few choices travelling between Penang and Kuala Lumpur.

Plane

The main carriers from Penang to Kuala Lumpur are Malaysian Airlines and Air Asia.  Kuala Lumpur has two main terminals at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).  KLIA, which is where the full service airlines fly to and from, and KLIA2, which the low cost airlines use.  (There is another airport, Subang, which Firefly and Berjaya Air operate from, which is likely to be useful only if you wish to go to that area.)  Prices vary, but can be very cheap – as cheap as bus or train fares.

Air Asia web site

Malaysian Airlines web site

Air Asia

A flight takes only about 45 minutes, and in that time on Malaysian Airlines they serve a drink in a plastic container and a packet of peanuts, and then come around to collect the rubbish.  Those two activities take up the cabin crews’ time while at crusing height.

the cabin in economy

peanuts and juice

the seat back – screen not activated for use on this short flight

On Air Asia you would not normally be served anything, but of course the flight time is similar.

Train

KTM – train company web site – note that for purposes of the web site your point of origin is Butterworth, and destination is Sentral Kuala Lumpur.

For more information and links please see http://www.travel-penang-malaysia.com/ktmb-ets-schedule.html

Penang now has the ETS – Electric Train Service – meaning that the journey to KL from Penang-Butterworth can take as little as just over four hours. This  provides more comfort and safety than buses, in a similar travel time, and for a similar price as the better bus companies.

For my blog about a recent train ride from Penang to KL see here

Bus

Penang to KL by bus

KL to Penang by bus

Aeroline bus company

Transnasional bus company

Nice bus company

Konsortium bus company

There are many more bus companies.

Car

Driving from Penang to Kuala Lumpur

Heading south – typical landscape

And which is best?  Of course, this is hard to say.  Let’s compare them in terms of travelling time, cost, scenery and enjoyment.

Plane:

If your destination is KL, then let’s look at the time it will take.  You should be at the airport perhaps 1.5 hours before departure. Flight time is about 45 minutes, and then once you have landed it will take at least 45 minutes to collect your luggage if you have any, and to get into central KL, and more likely one hour or more. Thus total time from Penang airport to KL hotel is at least 3.5 hours.  That is faster than any other mode.  It can also be quite cheap if you catch one of the Air Asia specials. Catching a taxi to and from Penang airport, or parking charges there can add considerably to the cost, however.  There is no airport bus in Penang, just a local bus, which is not very frequent or reliable.  Using the Grabcar app from Gurney Plaza to the airport is about RM26. Uber may be similar. Apart from shortly after take off, the scenery you will see from the plane is not very interesting. It is more stressful flying, but if you are also flying out of KL, it can often be the easiest mode of transport.

If you are flying out of KLIA then flying is probably the best option.  The airline you choose usually depends on which terminal in KL you fly out from. In Penang, there is only one terminal, so there is no issue with convenience for any airline.  But in Kuala Lumpur there is KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) and KLIA2.  Air Asia flies to KLIA2, so if you are flying from KL on Air Asia, it makes sense to fly from Penang also on Air Asia. And if you are flying from KLIA, then you will probably want to choose a full service airline to fly on from Penang, as it will fly into KLIA.  Of course, you can transfer between KLIA and KLIA2, but it takes some time, and is less fun if you have luggage.

Train:

The train takes a similar time to the bus. It takes about four hours, or up to four and a half, depending on the schedule.  Occasionally incidents on the E1 motorway block or slow traffic,   which obviously won’t affect the train, but will the bus. You will also have the travelling time to the station at Butterworth, so add on at least an hour for the trip to the ferry terminal, and ferry to Butterworth.  It is very relaxing, though, and the scenery is better than travelling by air or road.

Bus:

Travelling time by bus can be from four and a half hours to more, depending on traffic. But you will probably leave home an hour before the bus departs, so this must be added to the total travelling time. Bus fares vary quite a bit depending on which company you choose to travel with. But the more expensive bus companies tend to be safer, and more comfortable. Aeroline, the most expensive company,   quotes on its web site a price of RM60 one way in March 2017. Of course, by bus or car the scenery will be the same, as either way you will be travelling on the E1 north-south motorway. Mostly, the scenery is not very exciting. However, around Ipoh, which is about half way, the scenery improves for a while. The bus can also be quite relaxing, depending on the skills of the driver – the cheaper the bus company, the worse the drivers, generally. Many people find the bus the most enjoyable way to travel this route. I would avoid any very late night / overnight bus journeys if at all possible, as bus drivers and other vehicle drivers have been known to fall asleep at the wheel.

Car:

When I drive, with three very short stops on the way, it takes about 4.5 hours in light traffic. By car you will presumably be driving directly from home to your destination, so it takes only about an hour more than flying. The road charges are about RM45, and I suppose you will use about RM70 for petrol, although this will vary quite a bit according to your car and driving style. Of course, there are other costs, but for me, as I don’t drive much anyway, it is really only these costs that count. RM115. Double the bus fare for one person, but if two or more people,competitive. Naturally you will be able to carry much more luggage, be able to visit other places en-route if you wish, and have use of the car in KL. You will have to pay for parking, however, which at many hotels is RM10 per day.

Is it fun to drive? Not particularly. It’s frustrating as the speed limit is pathetically low, and for the section of the road which is three lanes each way, the left lane is mostly empty, while most drivers drive in the middle lane, making overtaking in the left lane necessary when the right lane is also blocked by a slower vehicle. This is hardly ideal.

My conclusion:

The disadvantage of the train is that Butterworth station is a bit far from George Town, and you need to catch the ferry.  But the bus station has the same disadvantage, being next to the train station.  The other terminals for the bus are from Sungai Nibong or Queensbay Mall – also a bit far.  Then, you find the same disadvantages for the bus and train in KL, where the terminals are not central.  But the airport in Penang is further away, and the airport in KL is even further out, so really, unless you are flying out of KLIA, I find the train offers the best combination of safety, comfort and convenience to central Kuala Lumpur.

For historical interest you can see a much older blog on this topic

law in Malaysia

This will be very short as I have picked this up, and I can’t guarantee that I am correct.  But basically:

There is common law, as adopted from Britain, as with most countries that Britain colonised.

Then there is statutory law, legislation made by parliaments.

And in addition to the above, Muslims also come under Sharia law.  At present, Sharia law is not applied to non-Muslims.

Malaysia has a constitution which you can find online in English. It is reasonably short and quite easy to read.

Penang-Perhentian Peregrination – a few tips on driving to the Perhentian Islands

at the beach

at the beach

Kuala Besut, the harbour from which you catch a boat to the Perhentian islands, is about 350  KM by road from Penang.  That’s a little over five hours drive, plus whatever time you stop for breaks – so I allowed six hours total.  You can also go by bus, organised by talking to a travel agent or to bus companies at Butterworth or Sungai Nibong terminals.  Finally, you can fly.

On our first trip to the Perhentians we drove: https://tropicalexpat.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/road-trip-penang-to-the-east-coast-of-malaysia-by-car-2/

For last year’s trip we flew: https://tropicalexpat.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/penang-to-perhentian-islands-on-firefly-planes-automobiles-and-boats/

This year we decided to drive again.  The time taken is only slightly more than flying, but we can align our schedule to the hotel check-in time, and luggage handling is simply loading it into the car, and then dropping it off at the jetty.  With a flight you load the luggage into the taxi at home, unload at the airport, load onto a trolley, load onto the airline conveyor belt, offload the luggage on arrival, load into the taxi, and then unload at the jetty. Three or four times more handling.

Boats to the islands leave quite frequently, although the return trips have a more restricted set schedule – 8AM, 12 noon, 4PM in the case of our resort.

Check in time at our resort was 2PM, so we aimed to be at the Kuala Besut jetty around 1PM at the latest, which would have us leaving home about 7AM at the latest.

Another parameter to bear in mind is that it gets light around 7.05 (on the equinox), and I believe it is better to either drive when it is light, or at least not hit the end of the dual carriageway until it is light. As it is about 35 minutes drive (45KM) to the end of the dual carriageway, then the earliest to leave home would be about 6.30AM. The reason for not driving in the dark is that some vehicles have no working rear lights, and it is possible to drive almost into their rear before you see them – especially if they are driving very slowly. So, the earliest to leave is 6.30AM, and the latest 7AM.

just after sunrise

just after sunrise

  • I worked out all these timings as a result of the trip, and we actually left slightly earlier, at 6.10AM.
  •  But actually on Sunday there is quite a lot of traffic.  Any other day would be better, but these were the only days we could get the hotel booking.
  • We reached the bridge at 6.20, and were across it at 6.30.
  • At about 6.45 we reached the end of the dual carriageway.
  • At about 7.05 it became light, and we stopped a little later for coffee by the side of the road – from our thermos – our coffee is better than anything you can buy on the way
  • We later stopped at a petrol station for a break
  • And then we stopped at the summit hawker centre for more coffee and sandwiches.
  • We arrived at Kuala Besut at 12.05PM – 360 KM later
  • We parked at back of the hotel and walked to agent, who gave us boat tickets
  • Their agent rode his bike to our car
  • We drove to the jetty and unloaded luggage
  • We left luggage with Mrs Tropical Expat and I followed the bike to parking and parked
  • Then I rode on the back of the bike to the jetty and we boarded the boat

And a few other comments:

  • Some bad drivers will not wait their turn. You wait until it is safe to overtake the slower vehicle in front, and just when you judge it is safe, one or more vehicles from behind overtake you and cut you off  – in the end you miss the chance to overtake
  • At traffic lights many cars will take the right turn lane and overtake you.  If they are driving faster than you this isn’t a problem, but if it’s a slow car you have already overtaken once you might want to ensure they don’t succeed.
  • The road marking engineers largely have little idea of their craft.
  • Local traffic in the east may drive very slowly – about half the speed of through traffic.
  • At least once every trip an oncoming car overtakes despite the fact there isn’t space, and forces you off the road
  • Still, driving is easier and more relaxing  than flying

Three years, 600 blogs – and what have I got? Lots of statistics…

In the three years this month that I have been blogging, I have written just over 600 blogs.  And in the last few days I published a few incomplete drafts that may have been of interest, and deleted a great many more. Now my Drafts folder is gloriously empty.

Last year I read:

http://remarkabletravels.com/2014/09/04/what-ive-learnt-in-5-years-of-blogging/

and I figure it’s about time I got around to this topic myself.

The aim of the blog largely was to write about topics to make it easier for others living in Penang / Malaysia, or those travelling here.  With blogs of other travels I do thrown in.

If other bloggers have covered a topic and I have nothing unique to say, then I don’t bother to write anything, as there is no point.  A great many bloggers in Penang write solely on food, so I don’t so much.

The most popular posts I have written are on travelling to or visiting Langkawi, of which I have written several, the most viewed being  this.    Next are blogs on train travel in Malaysia, for example.  Other top posts are on learning to drive in Penang, and on the cost of living in Penang. And a blog on a restaurant I visited a couple of years ago in Queensbay Mall.  The restaurant is still there, is hopefully still good, but I haven’t eaten there in a while.

The Perhentian Islands are my favourite destination here, but not so many people want to read my blogs about them.

I attempt to update some blogs where I think this is important, and put a link in the old blog, but nevertheless the  old blogs still seem more popular.

Most viewers by far are from Malaysia, with the second place varying widely depending on the day, but more or less tied between the US, Australia and Singapore, with the UK in fifth place, and from 159 countries in total. But let’s just say that in Mali and Rwanda, inter-alia, I keep a very low profile. Only one view each.

I mostly don’t write anything controversial, so almost no one writes any nasty comments.  However, the automatic filter does a good job at keeping out the automatically generated replies. They are usually along the lines of how wonderful I write, and that perhaps I would like to visit their online portal selling whatever…

The most popular searches are for the aforementioned restaurant, for another nearby restaurant, for train trips and for other transport in Malaysia.

The average number of views per day is about 350 at the moment, the highest ever being 879 one day.  And all time views as I write is 225,000.

Detoxing your food with ozone

I am a sucker for health products. This one we saw demonstrated at a show in PISA in Penang, and just bought it.

It is used to clean food of toxins. It comes with two tubes, one for vegetables and fruit, and one for fish and meat etc. The former products are ozoned for 15 minutes, and the latter for 30 minutes.

The fruit and vegetables don’t give off so many visible toxins, but meat and chicken can be quite bad. A chicken bought at Tesco gives off a lot more of the nasty white foamy stuff than a chicken bought at Sam’s Groceria, for example.

The downside of this procedure is, of course, that it takes time. When we return with shopping we are busy.

Ozone machine

Ozone machine

meat in filtered water

meat in filtered water

just turned machine on

just turned machine on

after 30 minutes of ozoning

after 30 minutes of ozoning

the gunk extracted in front

the gunk extracted and the clean meat

A moving experience. (When I moved to Malaysia I wish I had brought…)

WHAT TO BRING:

Short answer – everything you can.

It is quite cheap moving from the UK to Asia, probably because many goods are being shipped in the other direction, and there is plenty of space on the ships when they return.

Especially, bring kitchen items, oven, dishwasher (very expensive here), mattress and bedclothes, furniture, DIY items. Electronic goods tend to be cheaper here than the UK, but furniture, crockery, glassware, etc. may well cost far more here, if you can even find what you want.  If you have possessions you like, it can make a lot of sense to bring them.

So bring as much as you can, and as long it is used, if you have an MM2H visa, it should be free of duty. Don’t leave any unused space in your container.

Of course, it makes a lot of sense to come here with the minimum, and not ship your goods until you have  decided both you do want to live here, and where you want to live.  This will take at least six months, and perhaps a year or two.

SHIPPING AND DELIVERY OF YOUR POSSESSIONS:

If you ship your goods before you settle here, be aware that if you use a reputable  international company, and have paid for a door to door packing, delivery, and unpacking service, it should go quite smoothly, although you will still need to supervise the packing, and especially the delivery and unpacking on the Malaysian side.

Pick up for Malaysian delivery, in London

Pick up in London for storage in the UK

They take care of the paperwork, so there is nothing you need do about that, and once the delivery date is set, be at home, with at least two of you – one to watch the unloading from the lorry, and one to watch the delivery into your house or apartment.

On delivery in Malaysia, I watched in shock as six delivery men formed a line spaced about six feet from each other, and started to throw boxes marked “fragile” from the truck along the line to the last man, who was to load the trolley with them. I soon put a stop to that. So these men need supervising.

If you decide to ship your goods before you have chosen your home, you will find that there are no storage facilities here.  So you will either have to keep your goods where you are living – fine if you have the space – or rent an apartment for your goods.

Moving locally is a whole other matter.  It seems impossible to rent a lorry so that you can do it yourself.  But finding good local removalists is very difficult, at least for a reasonable price. You can book a lorry and the number of men you think you need for the job, but you do need to supervise closely.

moving locally

This will cost upwards of a few hundred ringgit. But for many of my things I didn’t trust anyone else, so I made multiple trips by car, in addition to using the lorry.  As I have moved around a bit I have also found that the lorry drivers seem to have very little idea of the roads in Penang, despite them living here, so I have had to have them follow me.

Some lorries have no roof, so if there is any possibility of rain on your moving day, ensure the one you hire does.

hope it doesn’t rain

Your estate agent can help with organising the utilities, post etc. If you are using TM for your phone and or Internet, they can take weeks to transfer the connection, and they will still charge you even though you had no connection.  When you complain you’ll get a refund. So, go into their office and stress it is urgent. When we did this in their main, Burma Road, office,  it took two days – and they gave us a free new phone, even.

If you live in a condo you’ll need to inform management, and security, about your moving, and probably the number plate of the lorry.

So, there are a few tips.  If I recall others I will add them, but it has been a while now since we last moved.