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As it is a former British colony, most people can speak English.
The locals are friendly and it is the country’s number one tourist destination.
Its capital ‘George Town’ is walk-able and is also a UNESCO-listed historic site.
Today, Penang is one of the most colourful and multi-ethnic communities in Asia nestled within one of the most modern and liberal Muslim countries in the world.
Prices are negotiable but, since prices generally start at a fairly reasonable level anyway, they are not as negotiable as elsewhere in S.E. Asia.
Usually, if the item is in a shop and has a price tag on it, this is a non negotiable price. In a market, a price tag means nothing – the price is negotiable.
Basically, if something was (say) MYR10, I would say to myself “would I happily pay NZ$10 for this back home in NZ”? If the answer was “yes”, then it was good value for money and I would feel OK about buying it.
My ‘Rule Of Thumb’ examples:
- A Large Bottle of Local Beer (not boutique) like Tiger is MYR17 in an everyday cafe; Would NZ$17 be a reasonable price for one in NZ? NO.
- A couple of pieces of Tandoori Chicken with a Plain Naan in a foodcourt is MYR10; Would NZ$10 be a reasonable price for one in NZ? YES.
- A clean backpacker double room with shared bathroom is MYR40-50; Would NZ$40-50 be a reasonable price for one in NZ? YES.
Once I got this mechanism going, it ‘triggered’ when I needed to negotiate harder on a price. If a taxi is asking for MYR30 at the airport to drive 6 kms to town… would NZ$30 be a reasonable price for this in NZ? NO… so, I offer him MYR15-20.
At the time of writing, the ‘effective exchange rate’ was NZ$1 equals MYR2.65. Simply put, this means that my ‘Rule Of Thumb’ says that LIVING in Malaysia costs only 40% of what it costs to LIVE in New Zealand.
There are Money Changers everywhere.
There are, also, many ATMs to choose from.
Free WiFi in Malaysia is normally of good quality and reliable. But you may still want the freedom of your own Mobile Data Plan (especially when you are relaxing on a remote beach or sitting in a local cafe).
Go into any shop with a Hotlink Logo and purchase a Hotlink package.
Prices range from RM38 to RM68 per month for their average user packages (500MB to 2GB of data). You can also download their free app from the Play Store.
For MYR60, I got a 2GB Mobile Data Plan top up for my Maxis HotLink at the airport. The top up lasts 1 month. I already had this card from when I visited Langkawi and, even though my previous 1 month plan had expired nearly a month earlier (whilst I was in Thailand), the card was able to be re-activated. The lady at Maxis at KL Airport sorted it all out for me.
However, people forget to add in the cost of the taxi to the airport (which can be 30-50% of the price of the airline ticket!).
Sod it… who cares… I’m GRANDPAcking… not Backpacking… I’m taking the plane… 🙂
The taxi to Melaka airport cost me MYR35 – expensive but I was too far from a taxi rank (and had to book it through my hotel).
At Penang airport it is easy to catch a Public Bus (with aircon) to where you want to go. Once in your ‘target area’ you can catch a short distance taxi to your hotel if you wish. This will save you a lot of money.
You can catch the 401 from the Airport to Old Town George Town (MYR2.70); it takes about 1 hour.
You can catch the 102 from the Airport to Batu Ferringhi (MYR4.00); it takes about 1 1/2 hours.
WHERE TO STAY:
Chinatown: Sprawling Chinatown is locally known as ‘Backpacker Alley’ and, as the name suggests, there are loads of cheap places to stay… but a few of the rooms can be on the ‘grubby’ side.
Lebuh Chulia: A bustling road, and one of the oldest in George Town, Lebuh Chulia has a few more upmarket options.
Batu Ferringhi (BF) іs а beach town іn Penang, Malaysia. BF, together wіth the nearby beach town оf Tanjung Bungah аnd the local fishing village оf Teluk Bahang, mаke up the Northern Beaches.
It’s a must-visit location for visitors to Penang.
The Northern Beaches are, probably, the single mоst heavily developed stretch оf tourist resorts іn the entire country.
Taxis trawl up аnd down the windy roads оf the north coast. Fares аre negotiable but tourists wіll hаve а hard tіme getting anywhere fоr less thаn MYR15. So, why not catch a bus?
WEST COAST / SOUTH COAST:
This is ‘local Penang’ with fishing villages like Teluk Kumbar.
There are few foreign residents and almost no tourists.
Accommodation options are few.
GEORGE TOWN OLD TOWN:
Guest Inn Muntri:
I booked 2 nights online for a ‘discounted’ price of MYR50 per night. I booked a single room with aircon and shared bathroom.
I reminder her that my booking site stated ‘inclusive of all taxes and fees’. In fairness to her, she backed off immediately but I wasn’t impressed.
This Tax has been around for several months now so should already be factored into the on-line prices… asking for it at check-in came across as a bit of a ‘scam’.
I found my room to be windowless and only a little bigger than the single bed within it. In such a room you needed the aircon on. However, the aircon went from silent to sounding like a gale was hitting the building and back to silent again. The cycle took about 5-10 minutes to complete and kept waking me in the night.
The hallway floorboards also resounded every footstep and heavy walkers sounded like they were stomping and made my bed shake. The free WiFi was not available in the rooms – only in the common area. The blanket that they give you is so small that it only covers 2/3rds of your body – you can either have cold legs or a cold chest. The free breakfast was toast and jam with tea or pre-mix Nescafe.
I was not impressed by Guest Inn Muntri. It was not worth the ‘discounted’ MYR50 per night that I paid. I had 2 bad nights sleep there.
On my second day I toured the Old Town for alternative accommodation. I did a lot of on-line research in advance… The best that I could negotiate ‘off the street’ was:
- Red Cabana: Double with Shared Bathroom MYR82
- Hutton Lodge: Double with Shared Bathroom MYR62
- Maribar: Double with En Suite MYR83 (but, it was on the ground floor facing the street)
These were the best value places that I found. There were many other places that were either too ‘basic’ for GRANDPAckers and / or too expensive.
I decided to jump on my rental scooter and check out Batu Ferringhi (BF) before making any final decisions. I was glad that I did.
But, there are some budget options still available but, again, not of GRANDPAcking standard.
For GRANDPAcking purposes, I usually get the nicest place that I can for about NZ$30 per night (MYR75).
I couldn’t find anywhere for this price where I looked in BF nor George Town (I couldn’t in Old Town Melaka either). Faced with this fact, I decided not to waste money unnecessarily and decided to just ‘go cheap’ and book into a Backpacker Guesthouse.
Victor’s Guest House:
I could have had a Double with Malaysian Channel TV for MYR40 (down from MYR50).
Turn towards the beach at the Yahong Art Gallery and you will enter a unique area of cheap Backpacker accommodation set around the Bayu Senja Kompleks.
This area is being ‘protected’ by the Malay Government so that there is somewhere on the beach that the locals can afford. This is real Backpacker territory and only the more adventurous GRANDPAckers would accept the accommodation standards. But, here, you can still get accommodation for MYR50-60 / night within metres of the beach.
In Penang, the bus network is so good, reliable, cheap, and modern that you should be able to get by on public transport (supported by your own feet and / or a bicycle).
You will find that most of the buses converge on Komtar and / or the Pier. These are the major junctions for changing buses.
The taxis are comparatively expensive.
The ‘published standard rate’ on the street for a reasonably new scooter is MYR35 / day. Your accommodation may also rent out scooters – sometimes they will do so at a discounted rate for their guests.
As always, deeper discounts are easily available for longer term rentals. You can rent scooters long term for as low as RM12-15 per day. For a 10 day hire I was able to negotiate MYR16 / day for an older scooter within only 2-3 minutes. Don’t ask them… tell them that this is what you want to pay for renting for this many days…
In the end, I rented a scooter that was less than 1 year old with 10,000 kms on the clock for MYR20 / day – sometimes it is worth spending that little bit extra for a newer bike because (if you plan to do a lot of miles – like I do) they are much more economical on the petrol.
WHERE TO EAT:
Lesson Learnt: In many local cafes (and at some side-of-the road hawkers) you will see little banana leaf ‘pyramids’. These contain a rice meal that usually costs MYR1.50-2.00. Don’t under-estimate them – they are a reasonably sized, tasty snack at lunchtime.
In BF there are still many Local Cafes and Hawker Stalls selling good food at reasonable prices.
Batu Ferringhi Waterfront Restaurants:
Mains typically range from MYR25 to MYR45 and a small bottle of beer will cost about MYR11.
I had an ‘on promotion’ BBQ Chicken spaghetti dish for MYR15 that included 1 free soft drink.
Jalan Sungai Emas:
At the beach end of Jalan Sungai Emas is Eden Plaza – a shopping centre where you will find McDonalds and KFC amongst other westernised restaurants.
At the far end of the Plaza you will find the popular Khaleel Indian where you can get good, cheap, authentic Indian cuisine. I only stopped for breakfast: a Roti Chanai with a Fried Egg and Black Coffee for MYR4 (I can get it for MYR2.60 at my favourite place, see below).
There you can choose a set lunch (from about 5-6 choices) for MYR6. I had chilli chicken with rice and, as an extra, an Iced Coconut for MYR5.
There are few places on the beach that play any music in the evenings but the popular Bora Bora is one that does.
It is near the main entrance. I was there for sunset on a Saturday night and the place was full. It was about 8:30pm before it started to clear.
Most mains were more expensive than that. Their soft drinks were MYR3 and small water MYR2.60.
However, you get hit by a 10% service fee as well. They play EPL Soccer live on Saturday and Sunday nights.
OK, yes, you pay a little more in these Hawker Centres than you would elsewhere BUT they are still the places where you can get a good priced feed…
I had Popadoms, Tandoori Chicken, and Plain Naan for MYR12 with a can of Diet Coke for MYR2.30.
Whereas, in other Hawker Centres that I have been to, you can get a good feed for about MYR5 +- MYR1… On the beachfront in BF you pay MYR8 +- MYR2. So, you’re talking NZ$3.75 vs NZ$2.50 for your evening meal.
Jalan Sungai Satu:
Keep going another 50 metres and you will find a Local Cafe that does Indian. This is where I had many of my breakfasts: 2x Roti Chanai, 2x Fried Eggs, and Kafi-O (instant black coffee) for MYR4.40.
Backpacker Area / Bayu Senja Kompleks:
This is the only ‘affordable’ place (that I found) where you can eat on the beach.
At the Batu Ferringhi Bistro, I had Red Curry Prawns with White Rice for MYR10 with a Diet Coke (MYR2.50), a Small Water (MYR1.50) and a Large Tiger (MYR16). Fresh Juice was MYR3.
At the Chinese next door, I had Chili Chicken (MYR10) with White Rice (MYR2).
WHERE TO DRINK:
The Antarabangsa Enterprises Shop (AES) in Little India is THE PLACE TO GO for cheap beer. It is located (approx) where Lorong Moda meets Lorong Stewart.
It looks pretty “low-life” at first (sorry…I don’t mean to sound like a ‘snob’… but, when you get there, you’ll understand exactly what I mean) but you get used to it… especially when you are paying almost duty free prices and up to 50% less than you would pay for beer elsewhere.
At AES a can of Skol is MYR3.50. A can of 12.3% beer (I can’t remember the name – because I had a couple) is MYR6!
Many people ‘pre-load’ at the AES before going elsewhere but many just stay for the night and get ‘on a roll’… for many, it’s the CHEAPEST BEER that they’ve seen for WEEKS or MONTHS!
A large Tiger beer costs MYR17 in the beachfront Hawker Centres.
If you walk up Jalan Sungai Satu for about 50 metres you will find the open air Daya Pub which is sometimes frequented by expats on a Friday and Saturday night.
Other than for Duty free items, costs are the same as in Langkawi. Other cost examples include:
LOCAL CAFES: Fruit Juices MYR4-5. Roti Chanai MYR0.80-1.50. Tea or Coffee MYR2.
BATU FERRINGHI RESTAURANTS: Main Meals MYR25-45. Large Beer MYR19-20.
SHOPPING MALLS: Cheap Flip-Flops / Jandals (not in shops) MYR15-20. Branded Flip-Flops / Jandals (not in shops) MYR45-60. Leather shoes in shoe shops MYR200 plus.
SUPERMARKETS: 750ml Budget Rum MYR27.99. 120gm tube of Colgate Toothpaste MYR10. Modern Toothbrush MYR13-20.
OTHER: Laundry MYR5 / Kg.
There are 3 things on a S.E. Asian car that don’t seem to work properly… in Malaysia it is no different:
- Indicators: Sometimes they don’t work at all
- Breaks: Work – but not well enough to bring a vehicle (car or scooter) to an actual stop
- Steering Wheels: Are over-responsive causing cars to cut corners
I would NOT recommend scooters to GRANDPAckers – only cars. You should be using the excellent bus system anyway.
If you do dare to rent a scooter be 100% aware of what is going on around you 100% of the time. Any lapse in concentration could result in you having an accident.
People under-take you, over-take you when they should not, cut you up, park anywhere they like (even on a main road at traffic lights), run red lights, and even drive the wrong way down the street on your side of the road (if it’s a shorter distance to where they want to go).
You need eyes in the back of your head. You need to expect the unexpected. You, also, need to be used to city driving (somewhere like London) – there is no room for any indecision.
I rent scooters all the time in these places and have learnt how to drive very defensively. Having said that, I almost got wiped out in Penang… I am on the road to BF in rush hour… one lane of traffic bumper to bumper going my way and the same going in the opposite direction… I am doing 30-40kph along with the rest of the traffic… I am riding the white line on the shoulder of the road… there is a ‘feeder’ lane to my left… at the end of the feeder lane is a parked car blocking the lane… I have a car tight on my right so I cannot move right… I could JUST get through the gap between the parked car and the moving traffic… alarms went off in my head… what if the driver opened the door?… just in case, I decided to slow down and indicated right to let the next car behind me know that I was going to FORCE myself into the main traffic flow… just as well I did because GUESS WHAT! The driver in the parked car OPENED their door and got out!… The words “F******G IDIOT” involuntarily left my lips in the direction of the driver as I drove past… I missed the car door by 1-2 inches and the car on my right by the same as I forced my way into the gap.
ALL YOU NEED IS ONE IDIOT – THAT IDIOT ISN’T ALWAYS GOING TO BE YOU.
You don’t get harassed by trinket sellers. You can relax on the beach without being asked if you want a massage every 5 minutes. The only time that you get approached is at night when they try and tempt you into their restaurant.
As with Langkawi (and other islands in this region – including those to the north in Thailand), Jellyfish have become an increasing hazard for a large part of the year. There are warning signs on the beach.
In the High Season, uninformed visitors are stung every day and the lifeguards on the beaches and the hospital treat cases of jellyfish stings most days.
In some cases, these are severe.
The seasons and tides determine the most dangerous times for swimming.
You are advised not to swim at night – the worst time for Jellyfish is said to be about 2-3am.
The best time for swimming is VERY EARLY am around sunrise.
The Night Market:
BF’s night market is BF’s main tourist attraction. Best of all, you can still bargain for the best prices.
The nightlife in BF is centered on this ‘Pasar Malam’ or night market.
Besides the night market, there are also a few pubs and restaurants scattered around BF, inside hotels and along the streets.
The night market Hawker Centres have flat screen TVs and show sports including EPL games. Don’t expect to be able to hear any commentary though.
The beaches are average. The water is not as clear as, say, those of Langkawi or Koh Phayam.
On some beach areas (such as the one at Pulau Balik on the West Coast), swimming is ‘prohibited’ and has been for a year or two; I didn’t find out the real reason why… but I thought one guard said something about ‘chemicals’.
It must be noted that you see very few people in the water in Penang. Surprisingly few.
Taman Negara Palau Penang is the smallest National Park in the world and sits in the top north west corner of Penang Island.
From the park entrance you begin a 3.5km walk through the jungle to Monkey Beach. The beach is a good one and you can catch a MYR40 boat back to the park entrance if you are feeling lazy.
Alternatively, you can walk to turtle beach to visit the Turtle Farm (when the Turtles are ‘in season’).
With no effective ‘Cafe Culture’ and no ‘Pub Culture’ in Penang, it is surprisingly hard to meet people.
If you like to meet people, like I do, then I strongly suggest that you choose your accommodation wisely: make sure that it has a ‘common area’, or a restaurant, or a bar, etc where you can naturally meet other travelers.
Hawker Centres tend to dominate your meal times but these places ARE NOT places where you meet people. If you spend a bit of time ‘people watching’ you will notice that many of the tourists in these foodcourts look around a lot… you can almost read their minds… they are saying to themselves ‘how do I get to talk to anyone else?’… You don’t. Instead you all eat and move on. To meet someone you really need to ‘manufacture’ an event.
WHEN TO GO:
The dry season is mid November to mid May. January, February and March are the best months (and High Season).
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