Going Around Penang Island is a fun excursion for many visitors to Penang. I would certainly recommend it to you if you are coming for a visit. A trip around Penang Island provides such a kaleidoscope of vistas, and show you what a compact place this is.
A trip around Penang Island can be made by self-driving, by taxi and by bus. If you are taking the bus, I would suggest that you go anti-clockwise. Should you be sitting on the left or right side of the bus? Well, if you want nice seaside sceneries, take the right side. Then you'd get very nice views when the bus go along the Batu Ferringhi belt.
The northern coast of Penang Island, from Gurney Drive to Batu Ferringhi, is lined with high-rise condominiums (16 September 2010)
What most visitors notice, as they go around the island, is that Penang Island is so compact, and most of the people stay on the east side. The central and western part of Penang Island is quite hilly. Due to the geography, you will find skyscrapers on only one side of the island, from Bayan Lepas in the south to Batu Ferringhi to the north.
The beach at Teluk Bahang, near the bus station (19 May, 2012)
The other half of the island has mostly low-rise buildings. It is quite idyllic, until a decade or so ago, when housing development began to encroach on the western side of Penang Island. But unlike the skyscrapers and towering condominiums characteristic of George Town and its environs, the residential properties on the Balik Pulau side of Penang Island comprise mostly landed properties. (If you are from another state in Malaysia, you will however notice that prices of landed property is still quite high, even in Balik Pulau).
The western side of Penang Island is a marked constrast from the eastern side (12 July 2008)
At time of writing (June 2012), the Balik Pulau-Teluk Kumbar stretch is being upgraded. When fully completed, the Balik Pulau Hill Road will cut smoothly through the terrain, its many sharp corners reduced to gentle curves by a number of high bridges.
In addition to Teluk Bahang and Balik Pulau, where you have to change buses, you can of course alight from the bus at anywhere along the route, and continue your journey afterwards on the next bus. Places to visit include Batu Ferringhi, Teluk Kumbar and Bayan Lepas. Batu Ferringhi is the heart of the tourist belt. You may want to stop here to get a closer look at the beach.
Teluk Kumbar provides a more quiet version of the beach from Batu Ferringhi, without all the hotels. From there, you can also detour by taking another bus (the 308) to Gertak Sanggul. If you stay on the bus, you are taken back to Teluk Kumbar again, where you can continue your journey on the 401 or 401E.
You probably have heard of Bayan Lepas, as the international airport is there. The village or "pekan" of Bayan Lepas comprises one narrow road with shophouses on both sides. You may want to stop here also, to take another bus (the 307) to Batu Maung. Again, stay on the bus and it will take you back to Bayan Lepas.
Batu Maung develops in anticipation of the Second Bridge (30 April 2010)
The journey to Batu Maung shows how much and how fast Penang Island is transforming itself. The bus goes through a country road with village houses on both sides. At one point, the road cuts across the airport itself. You can see the airport terminal and even planes landing or taking off. The village houses are replaced replaced in rapid succession by medium-scale factories, and then by residential estates and even gated communities. Batu Maung is the site where the Second Penang Bridge will connect the island with the mainland. Much of the development here is in anticipation of the completion of the bridge.
From Bayan Lepas, you continue on the 401 or 401E to return to Weld Quay. You pass through the industrial heart of Penang Island. The main road is lined with factories representing some of the biggest brands in the world. This is the area that once gave Penang Island the nickname of "Silicon Island". But that was in the late 70's and early 80's, when technology centred on the semiconductor. Today, the newer factories such as Intel are located further away near the coast - you may see it if you take the 401E.
The nearer you approach George Town, the older the buildings get. Indeed you are going in the opposite direction from the growth of George Town itself. The city was just a very small area in 1800 (when Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and other major cities of Malaysia haven't been born yet). Since then, it has grown in phases until covering much of the east coast of Penang Island.
There is a lot to see and a lot to discover, but I will let you do the discovering on your own. That would be more fun. You will probably arrive back at the Weld Quay Ferry & Bus Terminal (it's known colloquially as "Jetty", as it's next to the ferry terminal) a bit worn out, but I'm sure you would have enjoyed the journey.
The map below shows you the journey should you go by bus (101, 501 and 401E)
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