Trip Report by Rainy February 2002
Since this summary is quite long, I have decided to submit it in 5 parts: Part 1 = General Info, Part 2 = Getting around, Part 3 = Shopping & eating, Part 4 = Island sightseeing & excursions, Part 5 = Mainland & offshore excursions. As you read these summaries, please keep in mind that I'm an early retiree, was traveling alone, was in Penang for 2 months so did not stay at a hotel, rented a condo at the Eden Fairway condo complex at Batu Ferringhi (BF), that I was there on a limited budget, & got around by using local buses & walking, & didn't use any taxis at all.
Maps: Being an independent traveler, a good set of detailed maps is a must for me to help me get around. The best Penang map package I found was the 'Penang Bus Map & Motoring Guide' by Compass, red, costs RM8, available at Popular Book stores, but alas, sadly outdated (1996). One glaring error on the map, especially for those stationed in BF & using the local buses headed into the city, is that the eastbound bus routes toward Komtar do not come in on Burmah road as shown on the map. Burmah Road is a one-way west-bound street, so the buses come in on Jln MacAlister at Jln Perak. If I wanted to shop on Burmah Road on my way into the city, I had to get off the bus on MacAlister & then walk to Burmah Road from there. Going back to BF was fine as the west-bound buses do use Burmah Road.
Public bathrooms: Many are squat toilets, often very dirty & smelly, including the one at MacDonald's in Komtar, so limit your liquid intake when you're out & about!
Money matters: I found that the ATM exchange rates were just as good as the rates at the money changers, especially for Canadian travelers checks. Many won't take Canadian travelers checks. The preferred currency seems to be US dollars, as usual. Warning - if using money changers, be sure you confirm the exchange rate before you endorse your travelers checks as I heard of an incident where a money changer changed the rate after the checks were endorsed. There is only one bank & ATM in BF, the Southern Bank in the Mutiara Arcade one block south of the Golden Sands hotel. Note that ATMs often runs out of cash on local paydays so get your cash before then! You may want to have a small supply of US cash to exchange at money changers for emergencies.
Local language: Try memorizing & using these few basic local language phrases, you'll likely be rewarded with a big smile by the locals! Useful Malay phrases - terimah kasih (thank you, note that the 'e' is often silent in Malay so this is pronounced t'rimah..), jumpa lagi (see you later), selamat (s'lamat) pagi/malam (good morning/good evening. Thank you in Mandarin = si sieh, & thank you in Tamil = nandri (roll your 'r'). (Not sure if I spelled these correctly.)
Used pocket books - BF: There's a guy who has a night market stall in front of the Holiday Inn who has a fair selection of used English pocket books in that he sells for about half the new price. He will also do 2 for 1 trades if you ask him, ie 2 of your old books for one of his. Only problem is there's some nights he's not there. Just keep going back until he is.
Massage - BF: I had a good 'body' (only) massage at the reflexology/massage place in the Mutiara arcade, lower level, cost RM50 for about 50 mins.
Internet Cafes - BF: The only one at the Golden Sands end of the strip is east of the hotel & across the road at the end of the strip of restaurants there. He charges RM8/hour. There's a cheaper one (RM6/hour) at the Holiday Inn end of the strip in a small strip mall behind the Moghul Arch restaurant.
Laundry - BF: The best/cheapest place to take your laundry in BF is to Kim Kim's laundry on the strip past the Holiday Inn & Park Royal, right across the street from the art gallery. It's set back from the sidewalk so easy to miss. If you don't need things ironed, they charge RM5/kilo for wash, dry & fold. If you need things ironed, they charge by the piece, ie T shirts & shorts = RM1.50 each. They offer next day service & their daily hours are 9am to 2pm, & 7pm to midnight, closed in the afternoon. Recommend you avoid the many laundry 'depots' in the various shops in BF. Their prices are higher & will usually only take laundry by the piece, not by the kilo. If they do take laundry by the kilo they generally don't have a scale, so not a good idea to leave your clothes there. Some of them are also 'home' laundries where the clothes are dried outside in the sun. Not a good idea, stiff & wrinkled.
Beauty salons: Hair cut prices were fairly high in BF, therefore went to a great/cheaper beauty salon at 213-B Burmah Road in the city called Camee. Ran across it on one of my city walks. The friendly/experienced owner (Andy) did a great job of cutting my hair for only RM18 (without shampoo).
Festivals & events: Thaipusam Hindu festival - pierced bodies rather gory if you have a weak stomach, temple site very crowded but very colorful, beautiful saris to be seen & colorful Indian goods & foodstuffs for sale. I didn't have the courage to go to the flea market in the city to actually see the piercing before the procession started! Also didn't go to into the temple because of the crowds (I'm clausterphobic).
Nightlife: if you like great traditional country & western songs or evergreens (oldies) by a live band & you like dancing the country two-step or line dancing , you'll love Rozells, a great little place popular with locals right on the beach in Tanjung Bungah. They had the country music on Friday & Saturday night for sure, not sure about other nights.
Local buses: Using local buses was often a frustrating experience, especially at first, as there are no printed bus schedules available, several companies are operating including minibuses, most fares confusing & not posted (by zone/distance), time schedules often erratic & unpredictable, bus drivers were generally surly & unhelpful, drove like maniacs, some like to add 10-30 sens as a 'tourist' fare if you didn't know what it should be, & not all bus stops are obvious or well placed (ie at the major malls). A positive note - the 'dispatcher' (a middle-aged man with a clipboard) at the big Komtar bus terminal was quite helpful when I was confused about which bus to take.
The only 2 bus companies serve BF = Hin bus #93 (fare to/from Komtar RM1.40, schedule about 20 mins), & Transit Link (TL) #202 (a/c, fare to/from Komtar RM1.70, schedule about 1/2 hour). Both of these buses go on to Teluk Bahang. No minibuses serve BF. They charge a flat rate of 80 sens, regardless of distance.
GT free shuttle bus: These free/modern a/c Georgetown shuttle buses go near all the major sites & shopping areas in the historic downtown area. They're supposed to run every 12 minutes but I occasionally waited 20 minutes for one at the end of my stay. A bus schedule is invaluable but the drivers don't always have some. I had to convince the driver to give me his personal schedule the first day I rode. There is a shuttle bus map/schedule in the monthly Penang Tourist newspaper but it's not as detailed. There are 20 stops, nos 1 -10 = Jeti to Komtar, nos 10 - 20 = Komtar to Jeti on a different reverse route.
Taxis: I never used any while I was here & I rarely do when the drivers refuse to use their meters, as is the case here. Apparently, the day fare between Komtar & BF is RM20, more for night trips. One must bargain the fare with each driver. Recommend if you find a good/fair driver, get his hand phone number & keep using him!
Walking woes: Pedestrians definitely do not have the right of way in Penang so walking & crossing streets is a dangerous & scary experience because there is so much traffic with many drivers speeding. Since there aren't always sidewalks, pedestrians are forced to walk along the curb or edge of the road, which is very dangerous as the many speeding/maniacal motorbike drivers tend to 'own' the curb lane & road shoulders. Even when there are sidewalks, pedestrians are still often forced to walk on the street because motorbikes are parked on the sidewalk, especially in the city. There are few controlled crossings for pedestrians so one has to make a frantic dash across the road/street when there's a break in traffic, all the while praying that a speeding motorbike won't appear out of nowhere to pick you off! This is especially bad for the elderly & handicapped people who are not fleet of foot. Tip - when walking along the curb or road shoulder, always carry your shopping bags & wear your shoulder bag across tour body on the side away from passing traffic to deter motorcycle bag snatchers.
Komtar - don't miss the Komtar Bazaar for discounted merchandise. Upmarket malls with name brands, imports = Midland One-stop (aka Looking Good, Pulau Tikus), Gurney Plaza, Prangin mall (close to Komtar), Island Plaza (Tanjung Tokong). The closest supermarket to BF is in Island Plaza, not a bad supermarket, has a basic bakery, great cakes you can buy by the slice. Komplex Bukit Jambul - near Sunshine Square in Bayan Baru, not bad, mostly locals place.
Sunshine Square - Bayan Baru: My favorite, local goods at local prices, popular locals shopping place, excellent prices, clerks friendly/curious,.good supermarket on the lower level with a great produce dept. (the best in my opinion), beer & soft drink prices cheaper than Komtar & BF. There's a well-stocked liquor/tobacco shop across from the supermarket. I bought a large bottle of Bacardi lemon rum there for RM76, considerably lower than the RM96 I paid at a minimart in BF. They have a large selection of wine for you wine lovers! They also have a good selection of cigarettes, paid RM49 for a carton of Marlboros. There is also a pretty good bakery next door to the liquor shop. How to get there by bus - take TL 303 (RM1 from Komtar) or minibus 25a (80 sens). There might be others. Any bus that goes to the airport likely passes by this mall.
Gama: Near Komtar, not bad, mostly a locals place. Has a supermarket. Cigarette, beer, liquor & soft drink prices are as good as the prices I found at Sunshine square. So if any of you are staying in BF & happen to be in the city, you may want to stock up here & avoid the inflated prices at the minimarts in BF.
Kamdar Dept store: If you sew, go to this department store on the east end of Burmah Road in the city. It's the best place for fabrics, in my opinion. Large selection on several floors including decorator fabrics, great prices, especially in the bargain center on the ground floor. I bought 22 meters of fabric in the bargain center for total RM74! They sell clothing for the whole family as well.
MARKETS ETC: The main ones in the city are Penang Bazaar & the Chowrasta markets, both on Penang Road & near each other, close to free shuttle bus stop # 12. Note that many stalls on the upper level at Chowrasta don't open until noon. Penang Bazaar is very crowded, has lots of clothing & fabrics. Check out Sam's Batik shop while you're in the area, it's on the corner of Penang Road & Chulia. Lots of neat stuff in there.
OTHER SHOPPING: In the city = Little India for fabrics & Indian clothing (I found the shop owners quite pushy here), & Chulia Street for 'hippie' clothing etc, especially the west end near Penang Road. Campbell street has many shops selling everything from household goods, plastics, shoes, to fabrics (but not as cheap as Kamdar). Free shuttle bus stop #8 is near there.
BAKERIES: Agree with Kayes, the best one by far is the Continental Bakery on Jln Nagore, just off Burmah Road in the city. Jln Nagore is one block east of the big Giant supermarket on the corner of Burmah Road & Jln Anson. Turn north at the big orange sporting goods store on the corner. It's a clean a/c place & they also have a lunch counter with tables & chairs if you want to have a bite to eat (great place for lunch). My next favorite bakery was the one in the Adventist Hospital which is across the street from the Midland/One Stop shopping center is Pulau Tikus. It's just inside the entrance which is to the left of the main entrance to the hospital. They have great muffins & cinnamon buns. There are bakeries in all the supermarkets as well.
EATING: Food & eating out isn't a big factor for me on my trips so I haven't much to offer here! Some of the places where I did eat out in the city = Mandarin Cafe (food court) at Komtar (lower level) - good, cheap; Kek Seng Cafe across the street from Komtar, apparently popular place for Ais Kacang (sorry folks, I didn't care for it, tried it twice); New Lane Hawker center in the city - a busy/noisy place, great 'cultural' experience. In BF, I only ate at 3 restaurants - Happy Garden (lunch twice, great mee goreng with a slight taste of ginger in the sauce), Last Drop (several times, friendly staff, mostly had mee & nasi goreng which were fine), & Eden Seafood (great upmarket place for a special event). The rest of the time I ate at the Long Beach hawker center or the Matahari hawker center next door in BF. At the Long beach, my favorite stall was the satay stall. At the Matahari it was the Pure Vegetarian stall & the nearby spring roll stall.
ISLAND SIGHTSEEING & LOCAL BUS EXCURSIONS
Penang Hill: Took minibus 80 from Komtar (80 sen), could have also taken minibus 21 or TL 101 (RM1). Got off at the bus stop just before the traffic circle in Air Itam Then walked forward through the traffic circle & up the gentle hill for about 4 blocks to the Penang hill rail station, easy walking, good sidewalks most of the way. You can also take the bus a little further to the main bus stop in town, then take the TL #8 bus to the station, but it only runs every 1/2 hour & costs RM1.50 for the short distance. If you walk up the hill you'll see a large/pretty Chinese temple on the left. The funicular train seems to leave about every 1/2 hour, return ticket to the top is RM4 for adults. Recommend riding in the last car facing backwards on the way up, & in the 1st car facing forward on the way down for the best views. Trip to the top took about 30 mins including a stop half way up to change trains. I walked to the back of the old Bellevue hotel, had a coke (RM4) & sat & admired the view from there. The hotel was selling trail maps for RM2 & Penang Hill brochures for RM6. Did not see any anywhere else, free or otherwise. Then I walked back down the hill & through the traffic circle to the bus stop about 1/2 block past the circle & took minibus 21 back to Komtar. (any bus that comes by this bus stop is likely going to Komtar).
Kek Lok Si temple: It's just on the outskirts of Air Itam. Took the TL 101 bus from Komtar (RM1) which runs fairly often, & got off at the main bus stop on main street in Air Itam. (There are a couple small bakeries near the bus stop if you want a treat). Then I walked ahead to the next corner, turned right & walked about 2 blocks to the T intersection at the end of that one-way street, then turned left & followed the narrow path lined with vendor stalls all the way up to the temple. Some climbing of stairs involved but not too bad. I just went to the main landing & took pics from there, too lazy to do more climbing as it was a very hot/humid day. Then I shopped in some stalls on the way back down (most of the stall vendors are quite aggressive). Walked back to the bus stop on main street & took TL 101 bus back to Komtar via Farlim, a modern bedroom community. You will also see the pretty state mosque up close on the way there & back.
Botanical Garden: Only bus that goes there is TL #7 bus from Komtar & it runs hourly only, so be sure to keep an eye on your watch for your return departure time. Bus goes via McAlister, Jl Utawa & Western Road, nice large homes & properties along the way. Recommend you visit the garden in the early morning or early evening, too hot during the day. Gardens very nice but mostly trees, not many flowers.
Teluk Bahang: West of BF at the end of the Hin 93 & TL 202 bus routes. Old batik factory that was south of here burned down. The new one is across the street from the high-end Mutiara Hotel where there's a major east-bound bus stop. The batik shop has high quality items at very high prices. (I did all my batik shopping at the BF night market, much better prices.) Be sure to catch the Monday night flea market in Teluk Bahang where locals buy their groceries including produce & fish etc, but they also sell clothing, watches and lots of other stuff. There are excellent/cheap hawker food carts here, so come in time for supper. Very few tourists here (hope it stays that way). Recommend you take the bus & arrive late afternoon, go to the end of the route just in front of the End of the World Seafood Restaurant, get off there & have a refreshment or two. You will note that their menus don't have prices. The place is rather seedy looking but has a great setting at the fishing boat piers. Then walk 3 - 4 block back along the main road to the market site which is before the traffic circle by a block or two, have something to eat from the food carts, do some shopping, then leave when it starts to get dark as many of the stalls don't have lights. You may have to walk to the Mutiara to catch a bus from the stop in front of that hotel. Don't know if there is one closer to the market site.
Batu Maung bus excursion: Took TL bus # 303 bus from Komtar which goes all the way to Batu Maung. The trip took one hour. I stayed on the bus until the end of the route which is in the middle of nowhere across the fence from one of the runways at the airport (you may want to get off in town before that). I stayed on the bus, paid another fare, & took it back to Komtar. The route goes through the modern suburbs of Jelutong & Gelugor, past the university with its beautiful mosque, through Bayan Baru & Sunshine Square, & past the snake temple & airport. Also saw 2 large/pretty cemeteries on the way, one Chinese, the other Moslem with its unusual headstones that look like small cement minarets, & some 'brown' Malay kampungs (compounds). Twas a great trip!
Gertak Sanggul fishing village bus excursion: this village is on the far southwest corner of the island west of the airport. Only yellow bus # 67 seems to go there from Komtar & it doesn't go very often (I waited over an hour for the bus that day), bus driver was grumpy, had to convince him that I really wanted to go there, suspect very few tourists do! The trip took 1:15 mins & cost me only RM2! We went through Bukit Jambul, Relau & then Teluk Kumbar where the road closely follows the coast, a very scenic drive. I didn't trust the grumpy driver to pick me up again in town someplace, so I stayed on the bus at the end of the route, paid another RM2 & went right back to the city on the same bus. All in all, t'was a great scenic/cultural trip.
Circle local bus excursion to Balik Pulau & Teluk Bahang: Took bus from BF to Komtar, then yellow bus # 85 inland through Air Itam to Balik Pulau, then took yellow bus #76 from there to Teluk Bahang, then one of the regular buses from there back to BF, total time 3 hours. Another great sightseeing route, mountain scenery, forests, cool/fresh air.
Free city shuttle bus tour: If you don't have time to walk the heritage trails, you can at least take a free shuttle bus tour which gives you a bird's eye view of the downtown area. It's also a good idea to take this tour before you do walk the trials to orient yourself. The easiest way to do the entire 2 routes at once would be to catch the free shuttle bus at stop #1 (the start of the red route) at the Weld Quay near the Jeti & ride it to the end of the route in front of Komtar, stay on the bus & continue on the green route to the end at stop #20 back at the Weld Quay. (Most local buses stop at the Jeti.) If you take the free shuttle bus in front of Komtar at stop #10, you'll have to get off at the Jeti stop #1 & board another bus to finish the route & go back to Komtar.
CITY WALKING TOURS:
Heritage Trails 1 & 2: Best done on foot & in the morning (cooler), takes about 1.5 hours each, you really need the 2 trail brochures to find your way around. I got mine from Mai Loon, not sure where else they're available, suspect brochure racks in hotel lobbies would have them? The free shuttle bus can be used to get close to the starting points but you will also need a shuttle bus schedule to do this or the map/schedule from the monthly Penang tourist newspaper which isn't quite as detailed..
7 Streets Precinct: This is a small triangular area just south of Komtar between JL Magazine & Lb Cecil, west boundary = Jl Gurdwara. I went on a Sunday morning, good time to go, very little traffic. Leisurely walked the entire area in about 1 hour, tookalmost a roll of pics. I first walked down JL Gurdwara to the end of the area LB Cecil, saw the pretty Sikh temple on the way, then walked up & down all the 7 streets back to Jl Magazine, taking pictures of the many shop houses & terrace houses in various states of repair & disrepair in the area. Very interesting area, highly recommend it!
Gurney Drive/Burmah Road - mansion & temples trail: I walked the entire length of Gurney Drive along the waterfront starting at Gurney Plaza, then continued onto Jl Sultan Ahmad Shah, then turned right on Jl Larut to Burmah Road , then turned right on Burmah Road & walked back on Burmah Road to Jl Cantonment in Pulau Tikus, the end of my walking trail. This was done in the daytime when Gurney Drive is very quiet & it took me about 2 hours to leisurely walk the entire route, excluding a stop for lunch along the way. On Gurney Drive & Jln Sultan Ahmad Shah I saw many beautiful mansions & villas in various states of repair or disrepair. Towards the end of my trail on Burmah Road I took a short detour left on Jln Perak to see a pretty temple (Buddhist I think) across the street from the Agora Hotel, then walked back to Burmah Road & turned right on Lorong Burma to see the 2 beautiful temples that are across the streets from one another, about 1/2 block down - the fantastic Buddhist temple with the upright Buddha ( my favorite), & the popular reclining Buddha one across the street. These 2 temples are not to be missed!
Butterworth by ferry & the Bird Park: Took the ferry from the Jeti to/from the mainland, 10 minute trip each way, runs frequently 24 hours/day, free to go, cost 60 sens to return. Took TL bus 501 (90 sens) at the ferry terminal on the mainland to go to the Megamall to shop, it dropped us off before the pedestrian overpass about 4 block from the mall, had to walk the rest of the way. Have no idea where the bus stop is to leave the mall as we got picked up by a local friend who took us to the bird park. The mall is very nice & modern with a great food court in the supermarket on the lower level, & there's a 2 Ringgit store (dollar store to us north Americans) in the mall too! We got conflicting information about whether or not there is a bus that goes from the ferry terminal to the bird park. Still don't know. A local friend picked us up after we were done at the bird park. Excellent bird park, huge selection of birds of all sizes from Malaysia & all over the world, cages fairly large & clean, birds in good condition, park nicely landscaped with pondoks (gazebos) for a shady picnic or a rest, adult entry = RM10 + RM1 if you have a camera. The only negative thing is that there are few if any park attendants around, so I can see where there might be incidents of unruly children harassing or molesting the birds as there would have been no-one to stop them, but I would have!
Pulau Payar/Langkawi Coral snorkel/dive tour: Fairly expensive, RM230/adult for snorkel tour when I was there. You may be able to bargain a lower price if there's several of you going. Their brochures are available everywhere in BF. You may want to check more than one tour vendor for the best discounted price? We went on the snorkel tour. The boat has life jackets, & the fins & snorkel equipment were in pretty good shape. You snorkel off a low platform attached to the boat. The fish are right there swimming over your feet! No need to go into the water if you don't want to! The small glass-bottom boat leaves every 10 minutes or so to view the coral (dead), then it later shuttles back & forth to the nearby beach so you can swim with & feed the small 'vegetarian' sharks.
KL: I was able to make a quick trip there & back with landlord Khoo by car. He used the scenic old highway between Taiping & Ipoh. We did a quick tour of the Lake Gardens in Taiping (very nice). Also saw lots of orchards in the area & Malay kampungs, many with stilt houses - neat! Then we stopped in the wonderful royal town of Kuala Kangsar, saw the striking Ubidiah mosque, the old palace (now museum) & the new royal palaces. In Ipoh we went to the big/fabulous buddhist cave temple there, saw the pretty railroad station & striking white town hall, also saw lots of pottery & many pretty chinese shophouses. We had lunch at a popular rice noodle place (apparently Ipoh is famous for its rice noodles). When we arrived in KL, Khoo gave me a quick drive-by tour of the major sights in the city - the majestic Twin Petronas towers, the KL tower, Chinatown, Jamek mosque, national mosque, wonderful/historic train station & the pretty supreme court complex. I stayed in an a/c room for RM70 at the Hotel Champtan on Jalan Masjid India, right in the heart of little India, only a couple blocks from the Indian Jame mosque. It was an ideal location for me, very central. Had supper that night with Gallie & a girlfriend at a nearby hawker complex on Jl Alor, then we strolled along popular/modern Bintang Walk. I did alot of great/cheap shopping/browsing on my street & the adjacent Little India streets, many fabric/sari shops. The next morning I walked along the river to the Central Market & back (without getting lost, had a good map!). Was not impressed with the prices at the market so didn't stay long. We headed back to BF at 3pm that day using the expressway.