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).
Visa information can be obtained directly from the Immigration Department.
E-visas for citizens of China, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Serbia, and Montenegro here.
Conference participants from Israel: you can apply for visas from a Malaysian consulate nearest to you. Please contact us to obtain letters of invitation and support after your papers are selected (late January onwards). You will be issued a single-entry visa for the purpose of conference participation. The processing period is one month. Visas for tourism-only purposes will not be approved.
Flying to Penang
For international travellers, probably the most economical routing is to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) or Singapore. From either of those, you can connect on a domestic carrier to Penang. The two major airlines flying to Penang are Malaysian Airlines (MAS) and AirAsia, multiple times a day. MAS flies from KLIA and AirAsia from KLIA2 (connected to KLIA via the KLIA Express train). 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.
You can bypass Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, but only from a limited number of departure points. Full list of international carriers with direct flights to Penang.
By train and bus
If you prefer, you can come to Penang by train or bus after landing at KLIA. The easiest (but not necessarily cheapest) way to get out of KLIA is to take KLIA Express trains.
For rail connections, take the KLIA Express to KL Sentral, the central terminus where all the city, commuter, and intercity lines converge.
For bus connections, take the KLIA Transit to Bandar Tasik Selatan, 10 KM south of Kuala Lumpur. The TBS (bus terminal) is next to the train station. More information here.
Warning: The train does not reach Penang. You would take the train to Butterworth then cross over by ferry—it's a short hop, lots of fun (not recommended to take taxis across the bridge).
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 KL Sentral and Butterworth (the train is punctual and comfortable; journey time 4 hours and a few minutes), 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 or here.
Once you get off the train at Butterworth, there's a free shuttle to the ferry terminal (a 5-minute ride that replaces a previously long, long walk); the bus will be waiting outside the train station. Buy a ferry ticket at the terminal gate; it costs MR1.20 (USD 0.29). The ride across is far too short. When you get off the ferry, there'll be buses and taxis at the "Jetty".
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 or here. Among all those bus companies, the most punctual and reliable are Plusliner and Nice.
Exiting Penang International 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.
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.