Monday, October 05, 2009

Malaysia: Bus trip from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, Malaysia

Penang, Malaysia is a cultural gem. Exploring its narrow streets, one can feel the diversity of Malaysia.

The most convenient way to reach Penang by bus from Kuala Lumpur is to catch a bus to Butterworth. While there are buses to Penang, the Penang Bus Terminal is very far from the historic center of Georgetown. So it's best to take a bus to Butterworth, walk to the ferry terminal next door, and take the ferry to Penang which docks right in the historic center of Georgetown.

Right beside the Quan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) Temple in historic George Town is a small Hindu shrine dedicated to Ganesh and stalls selling beautiful and intricate garlands to honor the gods. Beside the stalls are shops of joss stick makers. Further down the street from the temple is the Anglican St. George's Church. As I walked towards the church, a nearby mosque echoed its call to prayer from loudspeakers atop its minarets.

Such is the intricate fabric of Penang, a melting pot of Asian cultures, a city where centuries-old structures remain intact, standing as colorful testaments to the rich history of this trading city.

George Town, the historical core of Penang, is the other city inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the Cities of the Straits of Malacca. Since I mentioned Melaka already, I felt it would be best to jump back two months and write about a recent trip to Penang.

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur on an evening flight from Bali. Since I didn’t want to waste time in transit, I decided to go straight to the Puduraya Bus Station to catch the first bus to Penang. By the time I arrived, the main terminal was closed and the only way to get on a bus was through agents moving around the area. Don’t worry, they’re not difficult to find since they would immediately approach you to sell bus tickets. I was worried at first since I wasn’t sure if they were for real. But when other locals got tickets, I felt a bit safer.

It was 12 midnight and the earliest bus was at 2 a.m. So I stayed in KFC while waiting. By 1:45 a.m., I decided to wait outside. At 2 a.m., no bus. To make the long story short, a bus finally passed by at 3 a.m. and we were ushered in by the agents. Bus schedules are non-existent in the wee hours of the morning since the agents simply rely on buses passing through KL (communicating with drivers by mobile) with space to take passengers in. The important thing is I arrived in Penang.

I was in Penang way back in 2003 and I remembered that the last stop of the buses was the KOMTAR Building in the center of town. Unfortunately, they moved the terminal several kilometers outside George Town. When you arrive, the only means of transportation that will greet you are taxis. But if you’re on a tight budget, you simply have to cross the street and get on a public bus that will take you to KOMTAR.

The better option, I would later learn, was to get off at Butterworth, the stop before Penang. The Butterworth Bus Station is right beside the ferry terminal. And the good thing about the ferry from Butterworth to George Town is that the terminal on the other side is right smack in the heritage area. So no need for costly taxis or long bus rides to get into town.

Part 2: Exploring the Penang heritage trail on foot

Related article
Following the heritage trail in Penang
Melaka, Malaysia is a historic city of the Straits of Malacca
More Straits Settlements history in Malacca
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