Exploring Malaysia: Road-tripping to Penang, all you need to know about getting there

Published by on . Updated on 6 Feb 2024

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The school holidays are around the corner and some of you are perhaps planning for a road trip to Penang Island for a foodie vacay. Here are some Motorist tips and need-to-know, if you are driving there. 

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Exiting Singapore

As most of you already know, there are 2 exit/ entry checkpoints to choose from, Woodlands and Tuas, and I am pretty sure you have heard of the horrible queue times there. Here's the first hack, download the Motorist App to check the traffic condition at these checkpoints to plan ahead. If there is a Fuel Check, it will also be indicated on our app. 

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Photo Credit: Touch n Go

Going North

From the checkpoint, it's a straight 698 km journey through the PLUS North-South Expressway (NSE) to reach Penang. To use the NSE, you will need a Touch n Go card as cash is no longer accepted. You can get one from any Malaysian petrol station and top it up there. Toll rates are subject to your entry and exit tolls. 

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Photo Credit: Piston.my

Rest stops and lay-bys 

If you are using the NSE for the first time and you want to take a break from driving, there are many rest stops and lay-bys along the way. 

The Rest and Service Area (RSA), located every 80 to 100 kilometres, provides facilities such as food stalls, rest huts, highway motels (selected locations only), prayer rooms, petrol stations, public restrooms, convenience shops, ATMs, public telephones, parking bays, and children's playgrounds. 

The lay-by or mini RSA is located every 25 to 50 kilometres along the highways. These lay-bys offer basic facilities such as public restrooms, public telephones, parking bays, and rest huts. However, some upgraded lay-bys offer additional facilities such as food stalls, petrol stations, and prayer rooms. 

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Photo Credit: iStock

EV charging stations

If you are planning to drive an EV there, we know that “range anxiety” is real. Fret not, as there are many DC chargers along the NSE. These chargers are located at various PLUS rest stops and petrol stations. However, there are usually only one or two charging bays at each location, so these are subject to availability.

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Photo Credit: PLUS

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The Penang Bridges

There are now two bridges to enter the island of Penang. The closest bridge is the new Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge, commonly known as “the second bridge”. To take this bridge, you will need to turn off at Exit 2801 to Bandar Cassia and Batu Kawan. This new bridge is 24 km long.

The older of the two bridges is known as the Penang Bridge and it spans 13.5 km long. This has been the main bridge connecting the Penang mainland to the island since 1985. 

There is a third option to cross the Penang Straits – via the Penang Ferry, connecting the city of George Town on Penang Island and Butterworth on the mainland. But sadly, it is only for pedestrians and two-wheeled vehicles only. 

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Getting around in Penang

As the island city usually gets heavy traffic around the holiday seasons, apps like Waze or Google Maps may surprise you with “alternate” routes. The old city has many small alleys and back roads that help you get to your intended destination, a little faster.  

Be sure to use a proper phone holder and not hold your phone in your hands, while driving. Someone has been fined for this. 

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Photo Credit: Penang Smart Parking

Parking in Penang 

The parking fee on Penang Island is 40 sen for every half an hour on Penang Island, and 40 sen for every hour on Seberang Perai. Parking fees are chargeable from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, Mondays to Saturdays. 

Parking is free on Sundays and on public holidays. But this does not include private parking areas or malls. To pay for parking, you will need to download the Penang Smart Parking App. Top it up and it’s ready for use. 

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General driving tips

Road rules in Penang are generally the same as what you know on the mainland, but it is good to note that motorcycles are a common mode of transport in Penang. So, be mindful of motorcycle riders, especially at the narrower roads of the downtown Georgetown area. 

Also, Penang is a city built upon an older city that has roads meant for traffic from 100 years ago. So, the mix of old and new roads may be a little confusing for tourists. 

Additional tip

Upon checking in, Motorist would advise you to leave your car at the hotel and take Grab to move around (if your party is not that big).  

Besides Grab, you can try these e-hailing apps: MyCar, Airasia Ride, Mula, InDrive, EzCab, Maxim, and Ryde. 

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