Do you make these 10 mistakes when you travel to Penang for the first time?

We know well what first timers to Penang struggle with, and what they think they got right, but it's wrong. This post tries to address 10 of the most common rookie mistakes, giving you a few 'kicks in the butt' to help avoid initial disappointment and start your Penang exploration hitting the ground running.

10 Common Mistakes First Timers Make in Penang
Penang people welcome you... even more warmly if you avoid making these 10 silly mistakes! (Photo credit: Bertrand Linet)

Going to Penang for the first time can be confusing, and making a few mistakes as a first-timer is very normal. But we believe it’s always better to arrive and hit the ground running: we have already told you what to do with 48 hours in Penang. In this post, we continue the wealth of good advice helping you avoid basic nuisances in order to make your stay happier and save your ringgit. Read on.10 common penang mistakes

1You travel with a trolley bag/hard case luggage

Seriously? Have you seen the quality of the pavement, the potholes, the open drains and more than anything, the terrible traffic on Penang roads? How do you think those pathetic plastic wheels will cope with all of the above?
You don’t have to be a backpacker, but please, carry a bag that you can slung over your shoulder/back. It’s the best to lug into taxis/Uber cars, and walking down the road to your accommodation.

2You are a control freak and booked your accommodation ahead.

I am not a fan of planning every aspect of my trip, and especially, I like to see where I am going to stay with my very own eyes before I make a decision. Penang is particularly blessed with a smorgasbord of accommodation options to suit all and every budget. Just walk around, get a feel for your surroundings, and check in. Most of the times walk-in prices are cheaper than booking rooms using any of the online sites. Book only if you know that you are going to arrive late at night, or if you want to stay along the beach in Batu Ferringhi — remember that higher end hotels in that area often have online discounts.

3Taxis are overpriced and shady. Use Uber and Grabcar.

Do you like to be ripped off by criminally insane taxi drivers charging the most extortionate rates in Malaysia? You are welcome, jack. All the others, do yourself a favour, download one of those smartphone apps, and start saving.

4You learned some Malay. Great. But use it with caution.

In a multi-ethnic nation where the Malay Muslim majority is often misrepresented as the appendix of a corrupt and shortsighted racist central government, it’s best if you address Penang locals in English. This is especially true of ethnic Chinese and Indians. I am not saying that locals would not appreciate your efforts, but leave them for when you’ll travel to Malaysia’s interior, the East Coast, Sarawak and Sabah. In Penang, nobody cares. Speak English, mat salleh/kwai loh/ang moh… that’s what is expected to come out of your mouth.

5Street food is dirty and you won’t eat it.

So why have you come to Penang in the first place? Not enjoying its wealth of cheap, delicious and greasy street food is like having sex with three condoms: paranoid, and utterly tasteless. Have your head checked, jack.

“this is a wealth of good advice, helping you avoid basic nuisances in order to make your stay better and save your ringgit”

6You spend all your time in Chulia Street, Love Lane and Muntri Street

There is nothing wrong with getting together with other travellers for a beer, enjoying some comforts. But it shouldn’t be the focus of your Penang experience. Get out of the comfort zone and explore: Penang is an Island, not a (George) Town. Staying back makes you double a fool when transportation is so convenient, and buses whiz all over the island.

7You think you’ll be awakened by the call to prayers. Oh, those bad, bad Muslims.

You may occasionally hear the call to prayers in the early morning, yes, if your accommodation is nearby a mosque. That’s quite unlikely in George Town, unless you stay in Acheen Street. A visit to Penang will change one or two — or a hundred — of your preconceived stereotypes, so please come and see for yourself.

8You only drink coffee in those fancy cafes because everyone goes there, and there’s air conditioning

This is NOT the way to have a real Penang kopi, jack…

This is great and totally fine once in a while, but it’s not the real Penang experience. The coffee culture that’s so hip right now is an import of the West. Kopi in Penang has been consumed for centuries on simple plastic tables, with frothy bubbles at the top, and a plastic spoon sticking out of the cup. This local brew tastes better, costs ten times less, and (if you happen to sit too close to the roadside) gives you a humid and toxic insight into real Malaysian culture. I’ve learned by experience that the tattier the stall, the better the kopi: real Malaysians have no time for decor. They just concentrate on preparing heavenly brews.

9You want to rent a car

Unless you travel with your family, save your time. Why? Because you will spend more time sitting in the car and breathing air-conditioned air in constant traffic, rather than enjoying your time in Penang. Besides George Town, which can definitely be navigated on foot, buses and Uber are the best way to get around the island. Scooters are also cheaper, and a great option to get around Penang’s heavy daylight traffic. Ask around Chulia Street for one, expecting to pay about RM30 per day. And if you really must drive, don’t rent your car at the airport, as it tends to cost more than from other operators in the tourist enclave Chulia Street. Make your time and money worth, jack.

10You took a taxi from the airport

Didn’t we suggest that you avoid taxis? So, why you wanted to catch one from the airport, when there’s a convenient bus stop with departures to George Town and Balik Pulau just opposite the airport’s arrivals hall? Why you wanted to consider a taxi in the first place, when you can reach both ends of the island for a mere RM2.50? Buses drop you super-centrally at KOMTAR, so what’s the problem? If you really need your private vehicle, again, use Uber or Grab — they will save you a bunch, jacka%#.

Do you think we have forgotten other common mistakes that first-timers make when they visit Penang? Please write your suggestions in the comments below, and help us educate newcomers to have the best start on the island.


  1. […] Together with other important first-time visitor tips, please remember that, since the arrival of the ETS lines, Butterworth is no longer the “train hub” it used to be, and that most of the connections with ETS services from Kuala Lumpur and Padang Besar (the other end of the line, right next to the Thai border) now stop in nearby Bukit Mertajam, rather than Butterworth. […]

  2. ‘Ah hiah’, sometimes chinese people don’t speak chinese language. They speak hokkien. I encounter that at a shopping mall. I replied in Chinese but she continued to speak in hokkien. Fortunately for me, i am a hokkien person.

    And yes, i find it amusing when people call me ‘sis’ during an informal business phone call. I guess they just wanted to bring the relationship and hopefully seal the deal.

    And do you know that singaporeans associate penang with tao sa piah? They buy loads of them back as souvenirs. Haha. I am one of them. And nope, i am not one of those wealthy singaporeans you mentioned in your post.


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