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Travel in/to Penang


There is a lot of information on the web about travelling to or in Penang. What follows below are snippets of local knowledge based on our most recent experiences (and a little bit of field research).

Useful reading

Whilst getting ready for your trip, here are some books you can dip into:

Cameron, John. 1865. Our tropical possessions in Malayan India: Being a descriptive account of Singapore, Penang, Province Wellesley, and Malacca; their peoples, products, commerce, and government. London: Smith, Elder and Co.

Carsten, Janet. 1997. The heat of the hearth: The process of kinship in a Malay fishing community. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

DeBernardi, Jean. 2004. Rites of belonging: Memory, modernity, and identity in a Malaysian Chinese community. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

DeBernardi, Jean. 2006. The way that lives in the heart: Chinese popular religion and spirit mediums in Penang, Malaysia. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Goh Beng Lan. 2002. Modern dreams: A inquiry into power, cultural production, and the cityscape in contemporary urban Penang, Malaysia. Ithaca, NY: Southeast Asia Program Publications, Cornell University.

Jenkins, Gwynn. 2008. Contested space: Cultural heritage and identity constructions: Conservation strategies within a developing Asian city. Zurich: Lit Verlag GmbH & Co. KG Wien and Berlin: Lit Verlag Dr. w. Hopf.

Khoo Su Nin. 1993. Streets of George Town Penang. Penang: Areca Books.

Nagata, Judith. 1980. Malaysian mosaic: Perspectives from a polyethnic society. University of British Columbia Press.

Ong, Aihwa. 1987. Spirits of resistance: Factory women in Malaysia. New York: SUNY Press.

Yeoh Seng Guan, Loh Wei Leng, Salma Nasution Khoo, and Neil Khor, eds. 2008. Penang and its neighbours. Singapore: Singapore University Press.

From this list, Khoo Su Nin's Streets of George Town is probably the most useful for a short-term visitor. It's jam-packed full of information about the streets and placenames. A little bit outdated now, but still a fun read. Jenkins' urban anthropology of heritage debates in George Town provides valuable insight into the 2008 UNESCO listing and anticipates problems that are still unresolved.

For the filmically inclined, Anna and the King (1999) and the recent British Channel 4 TV series Indian Summers were shot partially in Penang.


Visa information can be obtained directly from the Immigration Department here

Flying to Penang

Probably the most economical way to get here is to fly to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). From there, you can take a domestic flight to Penang. The two major airlines flying to Penang from Kuala Lumpur are Malaysian Airlines (MAS) and AirAsia, multiple times a day. MAS flies from KLIA; AirAsia from KLIA2. If you land in KLIA, you can take the KLIA Express (train) to KLIA2. Domestic airfares can fluctuate greatly with little notice, so check these airlines frequently before buying your ticket. However, as CHAGS will occur just before the tourist influx in August, you should buy your tickets in advance. 

There are other carriers plying the Kuala Lumpur-Penang route. Find them here

You can also bypass Kuala Lumpur, but only from a limited number of departure points. The full list of international carriers with direct flights to Penang is here.


Penang Bridge: one night in 2011, and a more familiar view from a bus, 2015


By train and bus

If you prefer, you can come to Penang by train or bus after landing at KLIA. First you need to get out of the airport—the KLIA Express (train) will take you to KL Sentral, the central terminus where all the city, commuter, and intercity lines converge. 



Warning (1): The train does not reach Penang. You would take the train to Butterworth then cross over by ferry—it's a short hop (not recommended to take taxis across the bridge).

View of Butterworth from the ferry, 2008
approaching on ferry
Approaching Penang by ferry, 2008
Commuter train, Rawang (near Kuala Lumpur), 2008

Warning (2): there's a long walk between Butterworth train station and the ferry terminal. It's not that far. . .if you're luggage-free. You have to cover the distance on your two feet, and haul luggage using relevant parts of your own body. On the other hand, the ferry is a fun ride.

The rail system in the Peninsula is in a state of transition, with the faster KTM Komuter trains and Electric Train Service (ETS) trains gradually replacing the old diesel-powered Intercity trains. There's an ETS link between Butterworth and KL Sentral (journey time 4 hours), and there's a Komuter link between Butterworth and Padang Besar on the Malaysia-Thailand border (journey time allegedly 105 minutes). All very confusing, but you can get some clarity from this article. To purchase tickets online (way ahead of time), go here.

Kedah ricefields
Kedah ricefields viewed from the Bangkok-Butterworth train, 2007

Adventurous travellers may wish to take the international express train from Bangkok. It used to be that you stayed on the same train right through to Butterworth (took about 20 or so hours). Time of departure from Bangkok is still the same: 3 pm or so. And you still have to pass the night on the train. But the train now terminates at Haatyai, so you'll need to change trains for the short trip to Padang Besar on the Malaysian side of the border. From there, you can take a Komuter train to Butterworth. Details and ticket purchase options here.

Taking the train from Singapore: you probably should just google for information. Our local knowledge is out of date on this issue. 



There are plenty of buses serving every corner of the Peninsula; there are also buses from Singapore and Thailand. In Tuck-Po's fieldwork experience, it takes anywhere from 3.5 to 5 hours to reach Penang from Kuala Lumpur, depending on time of travel. The best bet is to buy your ticket online. For example, here. Among all those bus companies, the most punctual and reliable are Plusliner and Nice. Kuala Lumpur-Penang bus fares range from MYR38 to MYR44 (US$8.91 to US$10.32 at current exchange rates).

Getting out of the airport

Rapid Penang's bus 102 connects the airport to the tourist hub of Batu Feringghi on the northern coast of the island, passing Sungai Nibong bus terminal (termination point for intercity buses), USM campus, and George Town (the "town" part of this island) along the way. Other buses running from the airport are also convenient if you're intending to get off at George Town; look for information here

The most expensive way out of the airport is to take a taxi. Buy a coupon and queue. 

The taxi booth, queueing point, and bus stop are directly in front of you when you emerge from the arrivals gate. This is not a huge airport.

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Moving around Penang

Once arrived in Penang, you can get a 7-day unlimited travel bus pass, the Rapid Passport; find out how here. Another way of getting around: flag a taxi. Taxis are expensive. Their rates are by zonation and they don't use the meter. Around the core zone of George Town, the World Heritage Site, everything is within walking distance. For longer distances, buses and taxis are your best bet. Buses 102 or 301 offer the best routes to USM from George Town; the 301 is more frequent. Board at Komtar bus station, and get off at the Batu Uban gate (see map below). Useful site here on moving around Penang.

From your hotel to the conference site

A shuttle bus from George Town to USM will be available for those who need it. Seats will be sold as add-ons to the conference fee. Details will be announced in due course.

USM map