Penang is so small and developed that it is sometimes hard to tell where the urban sprawl of Georgetown stops. City buses also double as long-haul buses and make runs all over the island, even as far as the Penang National Park. The two primary bus hubs are the KOMTAR complex—just look for the tallest building in Georgetown—and the Weld Quay jetty where ferries from Butterworth arrive.
Penang's new RapidPenang buses are clean, modern, and work well. The system can still seem confusing at first despite the clear markings and large, electronic signboards showing the current location of each bus. Many routes overlap; it may be possible to have a bus labeled for somewhere else stop close to your destination—check the colorful route map or ask your driver.
Times: With only a few exceptions, most Rapid Penang buses stop running around 11 p.m. nightly. If you miss the last bus back to Georgetown, expect to pay an exponentially higher fare when taking a taxi.
Fares: Bus fares vary depending on your destination; you must tell the driver where you wish to go when boarding. Typical fares for a one-way trip are usually between 33 cents and $1.66.
Free Buses: Full-sized buses known as the Central Area Transport (CAT) circulate through the major stops in Georgetown, including Fort Cornwallis for free; look for buses labeled with "MPPP" on the electronic sign. On every day but Sunday, free buses leave every 20 minutes from the Weld Quay jetty until 11:40 p.m.
Rapid Passport: If you intend to spend at least a week in Georgetown and plan to do a lot of sightseeing, you might purchase a Rapid Passport card. The card allows you to take unlimited bus rides for seven days. Rapid Passport cards can be purchased at the airport, Weld Quay terminal, and the KOMTAR bus terminal.
More Information: The Rapid Penang headquarters is located on Rapid Penang Sdn Bhd, Lorong Kulit, 10460 Penang; Route maps, fares, and schedules can be found on their website.
Taxis in Georgetown
As in Kuala Lumpur, taxis in Georgetown are metered and labeled with a "no haggling" sign. However, local authorities rarely enforce meter use; you should agree on the fare before you enter the taxi. Taxi rates are much higher at night—in some cases even as much as double.
Trishaws in Georgetown
Although not a good idea during the afternoon heat and traffic, the aging, bicycle-powered trishaws provide a distinctive, open-air vehicle for moving around the city.
As with taxis, always negotiate the price before getting into a trishaw. A typical rate should be around $10 for one hour of sightseeing.
Renting Your Own Vehicle
Rental cars are available at the airport or you can hire a motorbike for less than $10 a day. Numerous signs along Jalan Chulia—the main tourist road through Chinatown—advertise rental services. Be aware that the police routinely stop foreigners on motorbikes to check for an international driver's license. Not wearing a helmet is a sure way to get fined.
Walking is the best way to appreciate the old colonial buildings and take in the smells of food and burning incense at local shrines. Georgetown is easy to navigate on foot, but many of the sidewalks are broken, blocked by hawker carts, or closed altogether for construction.
Some streets can confusingly appear to have the same name, differentiated only by the Malay words below:
- Jalan: road
- Lorong: lane
- Lebuh: street
Remain safety conscious and aware of your surroundings when walking at night - particularly around the tourist streets of Jalan Chulia and Love Lane.
Getting To and From Georgetown
Sunny, congested Georgetown is the throbbing heart of Penang. The core of the city is located on the northeastern tip of Penang, but suburbs and developments sprawl out across much of the island.
From Butterworth: The 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland to Penang costs less than 50 cents. Boats run from 5:30 a.m. until 12:30 a.m. daily. The return journey to Butterworth via the ferry is free. Ferries arrive at the Weld Quay jetty on the eastern edge of town. You'll find buses and taxis waiting on your arrival.
From the Airport: The Penang International Airport (PEN) is located about 12 miles south of Georgetown. Fixed-rate taxis to the city take around 45 minutes, or you can take bus #401 for around $1. Buses going to the airport are labeled with "Bayan Lepas."
By Driving: Penang Bridge just south of Georgetown connects Penang with the mainland at Butterworth. Cars and motorbikes are charged a $2.33 toll to cross. There is no toll on the return back to Butterworth.
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