Getting there and away
Bayan Lepas International Airport is 32km from Georgetown. The fastest way to get to Georgetown or Batu Feringgi is to catch an airport taxi, which should take 20 to 35 minutes. You'll find a small taxi counter on the right side of the arrival doors selling tickets at set prices: Georgetown is 38 ringgit and Batu Feringghi 60 ringgit. The U410 and E410 Rapid Penang buses stop at Jalan Bayan Lepas, but this is a good 10-minute walk from the airport.
Butterworth train station is best reached by ferry from Penang. Take the first right leaving the ferry once you are on the mainland. There is a train ticket office at the ferry terminal in Georgetown which will save you some hassle. Like the train station, tickets are sold 08:30-13:00 and 14:00-16:00.
Butterworth -- Kuala Lumpur: departs 21:00
Butterworth -- Singapore: departs 07:00
Butterworth -- Hatyai: departs 05:20
Butterworth -- Bangkok: departs 14:20
If you're arriving by bus, you'll come via the 13km bridge that spans the channel between Butterworth and Georgetown. Most big bus and travel companies that operate regular services here will transfer travellers to the inner city after the bus terminates at Sungai Nibong terminal, which is 15 minutes away from the centre.
Taking an immediate right after alighting from the ferry will land you smack in the middle of the Rapid Penang bus station, where most buses depart every 30 minutes from 06:00 to 23:30. If you are just going into the city most buses will pass by a major street and the bus driver will let you know where to get off. For those catching a flight on a tight budget, U410 or E410 Rapid Penang bus will take you close enough to the airport -- but it is still a bit of a walk.
Unfortunately the sheer number of cars on the roads and the frequent jams mean that the buses are often less than rapid and leave people wondering whether the name is a cruel joke, or perhaps just hopeless optimism. Nevertheless, at the end of the day they will get you to your destination – eventually – and with their extensive number of routes and eminent affordability, you can get to most of Penang’s main tourist destinations for less than a US dollar.
There are two main hubs for the buses in Georgetown. The principal one is the bus station at Weld Quay Jetty, where almost all of the routes originate and terminate, and many services also stop at the Komtar complex, on the other side of the town centre. The free CAT (Central Area Transit) bus does a loop of Georgetown and links many of the major streets, so you shouldn’t have to walk too far from your accommodation to get onto the bus network. A list of bus routes to common destinations is at the bottom of this post, and for further details, check the route map on the Rapid Penang website.
Prices for single tickets start at 1.40 ringgit for journeys under seven kilometres, up to a maximum of four ringgit for journeys over 28 kilometres. In practice, most destinations outside Georgetown cost two to three ringgit, unless you are going further afield to places like the airport or to the Penang National Park. You can also buy a Rapid Penang Tourist Passport, allowing a week’s unlimited travel on the buses, for 20 ringgit. This is available from the main Jetty bus station or, if you arrive on the island by air, from the Rapid Penang information counter at the airport.
The vehicles are well air-conditioned and comfortable and some, including route 401E to the airport, have free WiFi. On the downside, the buses aren’t all that reliable and the frequency of services is sometimes not as generous as the published timetables would have you believe. You may find yourself waiting a long time for one to show up, which could be frustrating if you have limited time on the island. However, using the bus network is a cost-effective way of getting around, and if it’s not as rapid as you might like, at least it gives you more time to take in the sights of Penang along the way.
Bus routes in and around Penang:
10: Jetty to Botanic Gardens
101: Jetty to Teluk Bahang (for National Park, Butterfly Farm, Escape), via Batu Ferringhi (for beaches and Tropical Spice Garden)
102: Airport to Teluk Bahang (as above), via Georgetown and Batu Ferringhi (as above)
201: Jetty to Paya Terubong, via Air Itam (for Kek Lok Si Temple and Penang Hill)
203: Jetty to Air Itam (for Kek Lok Si Temple and Penang Hill)
204: Jetty to Penang Hill Railway Station (for Penang Hill funicular railway)
304: Jetty to Gurney Drive (for Gurney Plaza shopping centre)
401E: Jetty to Airport
This is not a complete list of services. Please consult Rapid Penang website for details of interim stops and further information.
As you exit the ferry rampart at Butterworth, the Butterworth Bus Station is straight ahead and down an escalator. Since the old bus terminal was demolished some years ago and a new facility not yet been finished, ticket offices and buses leave from the car park at the base of the escalator. You'll see a raised causeway for cars to the ferry at the far side of the car park. Underneath the causeway are ticket booths clustered together along with small cafes and shops selling drinks and snacks.
Transnational is a good choice for reliable short and long transfers. Other bus operators include Konsortium and Mara Liner. If you're going to Cameron Highlands then Kurnia Bestari has the most regular departures, with tickets 36 ringgit. Konsortium Mutiara goes to the eastern coastal town of Terengganu for 42.40 ringgit twice a day, stopping in Kota Bharu and Jerteh, the latter being the nearest town to Kuala Besut, from where you take the boat to Perhentian Islands.
The long distance bus terminal Sungai Nibong is 15 minutes outside Georgetown. Instead of spending the money going out there to get a ticket and back to Georgetown again, most buy a ticket with a bus agent around Komtar. Grasslands is a good and cheap agent using a long list of bus companies and will come to pick you up at your hotel.
You can reach Penang by ferry from Butterworth. The fare for the 15-minute trip is 1.20 ringgit and the service runs every 10 minutes from 05:30 to 23:30. In Georgetown the boat docks at Weld Quay. Coming down from the ferry ramparts taxi drivers will offer rides but unless you are going to Batu Feringgi or somewhere else outside Georgetown it is cheaper to take the bus or walk.
Taxis, most of which are red and white, can be flagged down on the street. Despite the taxis having meters, most destinations have a set price that may only vary by a couple of ringgit from driver to driver.
Travel agents can be used to arrange sightseeing around the island, going to Langkawi or the Perhentians, or getting a visa for Thailand or Indonesia, among other servies. You'll find the greatest number of affordable agents on Lebuh Chulia. Banana Travel and Tours gets good reports. Around Komtar Tower at the base of Prangin Mall is a row of agents specialising in VIP coach services. They'll pick up at your hotel if you buy a ticket in advance. Grassland Agency (33-G-10 Prangin Mall. T: (04) 261 8351) and LKS Bus & Tours (33-G-11 Prangin Mall. T: (04) 261 3707) come recommended too. Down at the harbour near Fort Cornwallis is the terminal for ferries to Langkawi, and at the old clock tower next to Lebuh Light you'll find agents selling tickets. Langkawi Ferry Services is well regarded, but ticket prices are the same at all agencies.
Across Southeast Asia, bargaining with taxi drivers is often a necessary part of the travelling experience, and can range from being mildly annoying to severely inconvenient. So imagine your relief when you arrive in Penang and find ‘THIS IS A METERED TAXI. HAGGLING IS PROHIBITED’ plastered all over the sides of the red-and-white taxis. Easy, right? ... Read more.
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