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Penang, Malaysia

Take the bus in Penang

Philip Lee finds a cheap way to get around when he hops on the buses that go to interesting places on the island

Philip Lee

Many Singaporeans who visit Penang by air or bus are likely to move around the island in taxis during their holiday there.

Some may hop on the trishaw just for the novelty of it for a short tour of georgetown, a Unesco World Heritage City. But most of them will find the taxi the most convenient way to get around. It is cheap too.

But there is a snag.

Although most cabs on the island are metered and taxi drivers are required by law to use them, almost none do it.

In my many visits there in recent years, only one taxi out of the many I took used the meter. The rest charged flat fares — from RM10 (S$4.05) to RM100, depending on the destination and waiting time.

“We cannot survive if we use the meter,” a cabbie told me.

In my trip there last year, I decided to try the public buses operated by Rapid Penang (RP) (right), established on the island in July 2007.

This service is one of the best things to have happened to Penang, once notorious for its unreliable and clunky buses, many of which belched black smoke.

Today the buses are air-conditioned, clean, GPS-fitted and they ply more than 50 routes with impressive regularity and reliability.

Visitors can save a substantial sum in taxi fares by using these buses, especially if their visits last a week or more. They can also buy the Rapid Penang Passport, which allows unlimited bus travel for seven days at only RM30.

These passes are sold at RP kiosks along some bus routes as well as at the company’s office at Komtar, Georgetown’s landmark building in Penang Road.

Another travel boon is its Hop- On-Hop-Off service. Running on a round trip from the jetty in Weld Quay to Komtar, which is also the RP terminal, the service is free. Tourists will find it useful because it weaves around the city area and passes by many tourist spots and popular eating areas.

These spots include Fort Cornwallis and museum at the Esplanade, Queen Victoria Memorial Tower, the Kuan Yin Goddess of Mercy Temple, Little India and the Clan Jetties at Weld Quay, where the service ends.

One interesting stop must be made when the bus arrives at Pitt Street, now known as Jalan Masjid Kapitan Kling.Most locals still call it by its old name. Get off and ask for directions to nearby Little India and feast your eyes on the roadside food stalls and restaurants.

Taxi drivers tell me that Restoran Hussain and Restoran Kapitan are the most popular in the area for all kinds of Indian food, including the popular nasi kandar.

All passengers have to disembark at Weld Quay. Take a short walk to the seaside Clan Jetties. Trod the wooden walkways through the various villages built on stilts over the sea by Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. Members of the Lee, Yeoh, Tan, Chew and other clans still live there.

This bus service also traverses the entire length of Penang Road, where the historical Chowrasta Market is located. Here you can buy popular Penang produce like belacan, prawn paste, cincalok, nutmeg oil, preserved nutmeg and biscuits.

If you feel thirsty, walk to nearby Lebuh Keng Kwee for the island’s most famous chendol. The two stalls there are equally good.

The route also takes passengers near the junction of Penang Road and Lebuh Chulia where the famous 24-hour Nasi Kandar foodstall, Clear Line Heritage, is sited in an alley. Here you can see long lines of people all day buying this popular Indian Muslim curry meal.

The other public bus services head directly to destinations such as Ayer Itam, where Penang’s most popular laksa assam stall, sited by a wet market, does brisk business, and Penang Hill where the new funicular tram takes passengers to the hill top.

Service 101, which passes Penang Road, goes to the seaside, which ends in faraway Telok Bahang. The bus fare from Komtar to Telok Bahang is RM3.40.

This is a fun sight-seeing route as you pass the beaches of Tanjong Tokong, Tanjung Bungah, and Batu Ferringhi, as well as the night markets, which line parts of this stretch. It ends at Telok Bahang where, upon disembarking, you’ll see Tai
Tong Seafood Restaurant, which serves delicious Thai and Chinese food. Ask Gem, the friendly proprietress, to help you pick the best live seafood.

Try the restaurant’s famous local dish, which is sambal with three vegetables — petai, kacang botol and ladies finger.

From Komtar, you can travel to any major destination in Penang. What a welcome convenience. Be sure to have lots of one ringgit notes and coins. You pay the exact fare by pushing the money into slots on these one-man operated buses. The drivers do not have change for you.

The bus fare from Komtar to the airport in Bayan Lepas, an hour-long minute ride, is only RM2.70 compared to RM45 by taxi. The bus stops near the airport building, thus saving the passenger, laden with luggage, a long walk.

This is certainly the most inexpensive part of the journey home. So the next time you’re in Penang, try the buses as a travel option.

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Fabulous Food 1Malaysia — Asean Food Heritage Trail
When: Nov 1 to Nov 30
Where: Throughout Malaysia

Malaysia Year-End Sale (M-YES )
When: Nov 15, 2011 to Jan 1, 2012
Where: Throughout Malaysia

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When: Nov 22 to 27
Where: Pulau Duyong, Kuala Terengganu

Langkawi Birding & Fotofest 2011
When: Nov 25 to 27
Where: The Andaman Luxury Collection, Langkawi

The Piala Seri Endon Batik Design
When: Nov 26 to Dec 11
Where: Kuala Lumpur

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