How to See Penang on a Budget - Under $20/day!

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Now we all couldn’t deny that Penang, Malaysia is rapidly becoming one of the top tourist spots in Southeast Asia. With an influx of millions of domestic and international tourists, it just makes sense that every merchant is trying to dig their way into tourists’ pockets. But there’s always a cheaper way to see a destination no matter how commercialized it is. And today, let’s talk about how we can see Penang on a budget under $20 per day!

Penang has been receiving more and more tourists for the past decade. I’d say it’s mainly due to the amazing hawker foods, friendly people, ease of transportation and the huge bunch of travel resources available. Pretty sure nobody loves the blazing hot weather though.

In this article, we’ll go through the most pocket-friendly ways of transportation, where to stay, money-saving tips and more. Interested? Read on!

Penang on a Budget

How Much Exactly Does Budget Traveling in Penang Cost?

First of all, I’ll briefly talk about how much it cost to travel Penang on a budget, without jumping into too many details. Because I want you to read the full article, ha.

It’s possible to get by in Penang under $20 a day, or even $15. But it’s just getting by, without including any fees for tours, entrance fees, and all the paying stuff.

At the time of writing, $1 = MYR4.20

In the case of food, one hawker meal with a kopi-peng (local iced coffee) will cost you around MYR6-7 (MYR5 + 1.50). Expect to pay an extra of MYR3-4 for side snacks, like fried oyster eggs, or things like that.

Three meals will cost you roughly MYR20 per day per person, which equals to $5.

Places to stay in Georgetown Penang can get really cheap if you use booking sites like Booking.com. For a bunk bed in backpacker hostels, you can find one as cheap as MYR20-25. But let’s take that at MYR25 per night, which equals to $6. 

The basic things total up to be just $11.

For getting around in Penang island on a budget, I would recommend using Rapid Penang buses, which can bring you to everywhere around the island, including Balik Pulau and Penang National Park.

The only problem with public transport in Penang is the waiting time, which is very inconsistent and inaccurate. On a bad day, you could literally waste an hour waiting for a bus to remote locations.

We’ll take a deeper look at the bus fares later on but assuming that you take buses a lot, be ready to spend MYR10-15 (around $3-4) on buses per day. It usually won’t be that high, unless you’re getting to multiple locations.

Adding all the miscellaneous expenses, I’m pretty positive that $20 a day is enough for seeing Penang on a budget.

By the way, you should definitely check out these 5 ways to get to Penang from Kuala Lumpur.

Do you need a visa to enter Malaysia? Check it and apply your Malaysia visa online here in just 5 minutes!

Penang Love Lane During The Day
Photo by Axel Drainville

Cheap Modes of Transportations

We’ll take a deeper look at Rapid Bus in Penang, the only public transport on the island. Then we’ll talk about GrabCar, the most used e-hailing system in Malaysia and most of the Southeast Asian countries.

Rapid Penang Bus

Rapid Penang Buses are the only public transport in Penang. There are plenty of them around George Town but there are routes bringing you to every location on the island.

This is the cheapest way of getting around in the city, but it’s definitely not the best choice for those who hate waiting for buses. To get a rough idea on the bus fares, here’s the fare table.

rapid bus penang bus fares
Source: Rapid Penang official website

Malaysian Nationals like Senior Citizen, OKU (Physically Disabled) and School Children with uniform are eligible for the concession fare.

For getting around inside George Town Penang on a budget, make sure to utilize the free Central Area Transit (CAT) buses! They are Rapid Penang buses, but the route number will be CAT instead of numbers.

CAT buses travel around Weld Quay and all major streets in the area. You can get to most of the attractions using this free bus service. For more details on the free CAT buses, visit here.

And for the list of all CAT buses and details of bus routes, check it out here. This will help you to get to attractions outside of Georgetown, like Kek Lok Si and Penang Hill too.

Do you know that you can get monthly passes from Rapid Penang? With the pass, you can get on and off the buses for unlimited times as you like. Check them out here.

Rapid Penang Bus
Photo by shankar s.

E-Hailing – GrabCar

If you’ve never heard of this service, it works exactly like Uber, but with a fixed fare. Being a GrabCar driver is a thing in Malaysia, so you probably won’t have a hard time hailing one right to your doorstep.

It’s the most convenient way to travel in Penang but it’s definitely not as cheap as buses. The fare could get many times more expensive depending on where you wanna go, but it saves you a lot of time.

I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re short on time or that you don’t mind spending.

Just download the app, register and you’re good to go.

Getting from Penang International Airport to Georgetown

The cheapest way to get from Penang International Airport to the city center is of course, by bus!

The main routes for those who arrive in Penang via flights are Route AT and Route 102. Route AT services between Weld Quay and Penang Internation Airport, while Route 102 services between the airport and Teluk Bahang, passing through Batu Ferringhi and Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal.

That being said, Route AT is perfect for those who booked their accommodation in Georgetown, and Route 102 works great for those who’re staying in Batu Ferringhi.

View from Penang Hill Top on Penang Island and Mainland Penang

Where to Stay in Penang for Budget Traveler?

Georgetown or Batu Ferringhi?

The two most popular places to stay in Penang are Georgetown and Batu Ferringhi. While both are great places to stay in, Georgetown is still the king for budget backpackers.

In Georgetown, you can easily find yourself a bed in a backpacker hostel for MYR15-25.

But that’s not always the case in Batu Ferringhi. In Batu Ferringhi, from what I found, there are no backpacker hostels with bunk bed dorms there. That means you can’t really save money on accommodation.

Most of the accommodation in Batu Ferringhi is private rooms, costing you at least MYR40. In this case, traveling as a couple might help you save some money as double rooms are usually much cheaper than single rooms.

My suggestion is to stay in Georgetown for most of your time in Penang. Then spend a couple of days in Batu Ferringhi to explore the attractions around there. For example, the night market, Penang National Park, and of course, the beaches and seaside restaurants.

ESCAPE Theme Park and Entopia Butterfly Farm are amazing destinations too, but they sure cost a lot for entrance. But those are one of the best attractions for families traveling with kids.

Why You Should Stay in Georgetown

  • Easy access to most of the attractions, street arts, heritage buildings, and clan jetties like Chew Jetty.
  • Close to the bus terminals (Weld Quay and Komtar), where you can catch buses to every corner of the island.
  • Cheaper accommodation and street foods, perfect for budget travelers.
  • See the authentic side of Penang through the architectures.

Why You Should Stay in Batu Ferringhi

  • Beaches and water activities.
  • Closer to Penang National Park, ESCAPE Theme Park, and Entopia Butterfly Farm.
  • Fancy seaside restaurants and bars.

View from The Bridge in Pantai Kerachut

Then What About Balik Pulau?

Balik Pulau is becoming more and more popular among backpackers as you’ll be able to see the pre-developed side of Penang there.

Balik Pulau can be translated into ‘the back of the island’, which made sense because it’s literally at the other side far away from all those tall buildings.

In Balik Pulau, you’ll also get to witness the golden paddy fields if you visit at the right time.

Do I recommend staying there? Well, it all comes down to what are your travel preferences. Are you looking for more outdoor activities with minimal tourists, or you prefer seeing the heritage attractions, or you simply love beaches and hiking?

If you’re into the first one, then Balik Pulau might be a great choice for you. Bear in mind that it’s located very far from the city, and the accommodation there might not be as cheap as those in Georgetown. Not so great for those traveling Penang on a budget.

There are hardly any hostels there, most of them are of private rooms. But you could still get a bunk bed for at least MYR40. 

You can learn more in my Balik Pulau post!

Balik Pulau Penang

Check out this article if you’re planning a Malaysia backpacking itinerary!

Saving Money on Hawker Foods

Almost every amazing food in Penang comes from the Penang street hawkers. While the Curry Noodle and Asam Laksa in Old Town Restaurant taste great too, they’ll never beat Hot Bowl White Curry Mee and Air Itam Bisu Laksa.

But it’s just a matter of personal preference.

Anyway, the point here is that I actually do not recommend having meals in restaurants if you really want to save money. There are way too many options of hawker foods all around the island.

You might argue that it’s hard to find a good one, or that you simply don’t enjoy the strong flavor of Penang foods. But if it’s the former one, here are my favorites in George Town area:

A hawker meal typically costs around MYR4-6, but it wouldn’t be complete without an ice-cold beverage. Totaling them up, it’ll be around MYR6-8.

Dining in air-conditioned restaurants will cost you around MYR10-25. It really depends on which restaurant you go to.

Street Art in Penang George Town Heritage Area

Wrapping It Up

Here’s my take on how to see Penang on a budget at under $20 a day. I hope that this travel guide article will give you an insight into the travel expenses before your visit. Let me know if these travel tips helped you in your trip planning in the comment section below. Looking forward to hearing from you! Have a pleasant time in Pulau Pinang! By the way, if you’re visiting Melaka soon, I’m sure this 2 Days Itinerary in Melaka will help you too.

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Written by

Yen is a university student from Malaysia and a huge fan of Blues music and photography. His passion for travel can be traced back to 2016 when he spent 6 months traveling New Zealand. By blending into the locals and traveling long-term, he shares all the comprehensive and detailed travel ideas and guides for the countries with his footprints.

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