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Getting there & away

Getting there

By plane

Recently refurbished Penang Bayan Lepas International Airport (IATA: PEN) is one of Malaysia's larger and better-equipped airports, operated by Malaysia Airports.

The airport is on the southeastern coast of the island, some 30 min from George Town. Take Rapid Penang bus number 401E from the terminal building to KOMTAR (first bus 05:30, last bus 23:35, every 30min; fare MYR2.70, exact change necessary), Tel.  +60 4 643-4411. Journey time on 401E to the airport can take as much as 90 minutes (September 2013). If you are going to the northern beaches bus 102 runs there directly from the airport approx. every 45 minutes, fare MYR4 to Batu Ferringhi (Dec 2014). This bus also goes via KOMTAR in Georgetown and will take 2 hours or more to reach it's terminus at Teluk Bahang in the north west of the island.

The airport is serviced by Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways, Dragonair, SilkAir AirAsia, Jetstar Airways, Tiger Airways, Firefly, China Airlines and China Southern.

Direct domestic flights are available to Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Kota Bharu, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Miri, Kuantan, and Langkawi. Direct international flights are available to Hong Kong, Taipei, Ho Chi Minh City, Guangzhou, Singapore, Bangkok, Yangon, Phuket, Krabi, Ko Samui, Jakarta, Surabaya, Medan and Banda Aceh.

From the airport, you can take a bus to Komtar bus terminal for onward journey to other parts of Penang. The bus stop is in front of the arrival hall before the car park. Rapid Penang operates 2 bus routes from airport to Komtar - No. 401 and 102, and it costs RM2.70 (Jul 2015). When coming in from Komtar to airport, it is possible to take 3 bus routes - No. 401, 401E and 102 from Lane 5 in Komtar bust terminal. Note that exact fare is to be paid as the bus drivers do not give changes.

There are two water refilling stations inside the international departure waiting areas. Do keep empty bottle to refill before boarding the plane (if necessary) after disposing of all water at the security check

By car

Penang is connected to the mainland and the North-South Expressway by the Penang Bridge. As traffic is usually congested in the morning and evening the Penang Second Bridge is being built. In nov 2013 it was unknown when the second bridge will be open for traffic. There is no toll for vehicles heading to the mainland, but vehicles headed to the island must pay a toll of RM1.40 for motorcycles, RM7 for cars, RM12 for vans and buses with two axles and four wheels.

By train

KTMB operates train service to Butterworth train station, within walking distance from the ferry terminal that connects to Penang Island. Tickets can be booked at the train station, the ferry terminal, or online. The journey to/from Kuala Lumpur takes 4 hours and cost RM40 one way.

An overnight train (#35) departs Bangkok Hualamphong daily at 2:45PM Thai time, scheduled to arrive in Butterworth at 1:45PM Malaysian time. Trains are second-class sleeper cars, air conditioned, and cost THB1,210, with a THB104 surcharge for bicycles. From Butterworth to Bangkok, Train #36 departs Butterworth daily 2:00pm arriving Bangkok 10:30am the next day. There are buses that head for Phuket from Hatyai, Ko Samui ferry terminal from Surat Thani, Ko Tao from Chumphon, and River Kwai from Nakhon Pathom.

By bus

Long distance buses in Georgetown arrive/depart at the new bus terminal at Sungai Nibong, 12km south of the city center (~30 minutes), and 7km from the Penang airport (~15 minutes). A taxi to the city centre costs RM20. Rapid Penang bus #401 connects the bus terminal with KOMTAR and Pengkalan Weld (Weld Quay), this us operates from approximately 0530 so there is not long to wait if arriving early morning on a night-bus, despite what waiting taxi drivers may tell you. Major coach operators include Fivestars, Konsortium, Plusliner / Nice, Transnasional, and Mutiara.

Aeroline provides a luxury service to Queensbay Mall from Kuala Lumpur (separate services from the Corus Hotel and Sunway Pyramid shopping centre) for RM60 (Dec 2014). On board facilities include sandwiches and drinks, superior seating and personal video screens with a choice of movies. Book and select seat online. From Queensbay Mall catch local buses 304, 307 or 401E into Georgetown from the bus stop nearby for RM2, it takes 20-30 minutes.

The trip from Kuala Lumpur's Pudu Raya bus station takes 4+ hours depending on traffic and cost around RM35. Kota Bharu, Perhentian Islands cost RM35 and take around 5-6 hours. Buses to/from Johor Bahru and Singapore take 10 hrs and cost RM 60 or SGD$45.

It's possible to travel by bus to and from Thailand. Tickets are available from travel shops in and around Penang Road. Krabi takes 8 hrs (RM59), Phuket 12-14 hrs (RM76), Bangkok 18 hrs (RM125). Given these travel times to Phuket and Bangkok, consider budget airlines such as Air Asia or Fireflyz.

By minivan

Minivan service is more expensive than bus service and is available between Georgetown and cities in Thailand such as Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta 1200Baht (nov 2013) is posible to have it for 1000Baht just ask around (dec 2014), Phuket, Trang, Surat Thani, Krabi, Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Bangkok and Hat Yai (RM30) on daily basis. Service is available to the Perhentian Islands for 130-150 RM, boat included. There are many agencies across from the bus depot in Hat Yai, so don't take the first price you are offered. It should be no more than 300 BHT even though they will try to tell you otherwise!

By boat

Penang Port operates ferries to/from Butterworth daily from 5:30AM till 1:00AM running every 15 minutes. Ferry rates are RM1.20 for adults, RM0.60 for children, RM1.40 for bicycles, RM2.00 for motorbikes, RM7.70 for cars, and additional fees for larger vehicles

Superfast Ferry Venture operates fast A/C boats to and from Penang (RM70, 180 min) (the ferry can be cold, so bring warm clothes), Bookings can be made online, but the ticket needs to be printed out. You are allowed on deck, overpriced drinks and snacks are served and there are toilets onboard.

Langkawi Ferry Services operates ferry service from Penang to Langkawi at 8:15am and 8:30am daily, and from Langkawi to Penang at 2:30pm and 5:15pm daily. The 8:15am ferry involves a stopover at Pulau Payar Marine Park; Tel.  +60 4 2642088 in Penang, Tel.  +60 4 9663779 in Langkawi. One-way trip costs RM70 for adult, RM51.3 for child (2-11 years old) and RM31.3 for infant (below 2 years old), when booking online (port handling charges included). Trip takes 2 hr and 45 min and leaves Penang from Swettenham Pier in Georgetown, and arrives in Kuah, the main town in Langkawi. Advance booking can be made via the web site and the ticket needs to be printed out. It can also be done at the terminal at the service desk for RM1 per ticket. Credit cards are not accepted at the terminal, although there are numerous ATMs in the attached shopping mall. The ferry in service is very old and offers no facilities other than simple air-conditioned seating. The ride can be bumpy depending on weather conditions and access to the deck is prohibited. There is proper locked storage for luggage at the rear of the ship upon boarding. There is no restaurant. Check-in is at least 30 minutes before scheduled departure time. The staff on board are famously rude, so be prepared to be yelled at and treated like a little child. Ignoring their mundane requests often works.

Langkawi Ferry Services operates ferries from the Belwan port in Medan to Penang on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, returning to Penang on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The boat leaves at 9:00am at the journey takes 6 hours. Tel: +604264-2088 in Penang; +62614521666 / +62614527555 in Medan. Adult: RM110 one-way, RM180 return; child: RM60 one-way, RM100 return.

NOTE: As of sometime mid 2010 this ferry and all other companies ferrying to Medan have stopped. There are ferries to other places such as Dumai in Sumatra.

 

Get out

  • Pulau Aman - A small island between the first Penang Bridge and the new bridge. The ferry is at Batu Kawan's Batu Musang Jetty (you need own transport to get there- 45 min drive from Georgetown). The 5 min boat trip costs RM6 for a return journey. From Mon-Fri the boat departs Batu Musang for Pulau Aman at 10am, 1pm, 4pm and 7pm. The trip from Pulau Aman for Bukit Tambun at 8am, 12noon, 3pm and 6pm. On weekends, the boats are always running. For enquiries, you can contact the Seberang Perai Fishermen Association at +604 397 9796 or +604 530 7185. Most locals come here to enjoy the live Mantis Prawn of your choice (relatively cheap vs price on Penang island) and bring to the restaurant for them to steam. The Mee Udang is popular too. There's also some hiking treks and it's a good place for fishing.
  • Alor Star - capital of Kedah state
  • Hat Yai - South Thailand
  • Ipoh - capital of Perak State
  • Kota Bharu - capital of Kelantan State
  • Perhentian Islands - Pulau Perhentian. Many agents, including guest houses, in Georgetown sell transfers to the islands which includes minibus transfer and a two-way ferry ticket (140RM August 2014), to travel indpendently requires a bus to Kota Bahru followed by a second bus to Kuals Besut for the boat jetty to the islands so this makes sense. You can leave Georgetown at 5am (hotel pickup) and be on the islands by midday.
  • Pulau Langkawi (Langkawi Island)
  • Taiping - a town in north Perak State
  • Phuket - South Thailand
  • Medan - on Sumatra, Indonesia. There is no longer a ferry to Medan, as the price of flights to Medan became cheaper than the ferry. You can fly to Medan with several airlines.
  • Bangkok - If planning going on into Thailand, your best bet is to hop on the Butterworth-Bangkok International Express. It's dirt cheap (RM112-lower berth), very comfortable, super clean sheets, and blankets laundered after each use) and wide cosy beds. Train leaves everyday at 14:20 from Butterworth Station and arrives in Bangkok just about time for lunch the next day. You can, of course, jump off at Surat Thani (if going to the islands of Ko Samui and Phang Nga), arriving in the wee hours of the night like 03:00 or 04:00, as well as Hua Hin around 07:00. It's not worth your while for short trips such as Hat Yai because all tickets are charged at sleeping berth prices and your berth is only made ready at the Hat Yai station stopover.

Read more Penang travel guide at here.