How to survive a local bus ride in Penang, Malaysia!!

Want to know how to survive a local bus ride in Penang, Malaysia?

The most important tip would be to have both hands empty so you can HANG ON!!!!

Our kids take public transport back in Australia all the time.  They ride the bus to and from school, the older ones catch the train to the city to meet with their friends or see a movie.  About the only time Gert and I experience travelling with the masses is on New Year’s Eve when we sometimes get the train into the city to watch fireworks.  More often than not we drive.

All that has changed for our life changing year!!  We are being very cheap (not to mention being terrified that we will kill a scooter driver in Malaysian traffic) so we’ve opted to either walk or catch the bus.  And aren’t we paying the price here in Penang?!?!?!

The first rule in Penang is that there are no rules!!  The signs at the bus stop say that the 101 bus comes every 5 minutes.  What we’ve found is that the every-5-minute-bus is pretty much akin to a mythical creature……i.e. it doesn’t exist!!  They either arrive 3 together or 20 minutes apart!  About the only time we noticed them arriving every 5 minutes was when we were having lunch at a cafe across the road from the bus stop!  There they were – every 5 minutes – like clockwork.  Until we wanted to catch one – then they mysteriously dried up!!  We can’t seem to get a printed timetable but we have managed to find one on the RAPIDKL site – that has saved us a little bit of misery!

The second rule is to have your money ready (exact change please!).  There’s no change on the bus so if you don’t have the right money, you’ll be coughing up extra to ride!  When you get on the bus, GET ON THE BUS!!  There’s 5 of us so I dutifully got on the first bus to pay for the rest of us and the driver freaked out – loudly demanding we all get on the bus and then I pay once the bus was moving!  Paying while the bus is moving is fraught with danger!  They drive those things like racing cars (who knew a bus could move at those speeds) so you have to hang on while trying to explain which tickets you want!  At least 1/2 of the bus drivers appear to have difficulty with basic math so we then have the dance as follows….he hands me the tickets, adds up the amounts out loud, ANSWERS HIS MOBILE (!) and then forgets what he was adding up – all whilst STILL DRIVING THE BUS!!  By this stage we’ve reached the curviest road in the country and all bets are off if you haven’t taken up a defensive position!  Which brings me to the third rule…

The third rule is hang on as if your life depends on it – as it probably does!!  Our first trip around the winding curves of death was our initial trip from the ferry.  It was at breakneck speed, super early in the morning and we were all excited to be there and assumed that particular driver was insane!!

Turns out they are all insane!  The curves as you leave Batu Ferringghi, heading towards Georgetown, are crazy hairpin curves.  In several instances you have no chance of seeing what oncoming traffic is lurking just around the corner (of course the fix for this is just beep your horn a bit and hope anyone coming gets out of the way!!).  At home in Australia, these curves are the stuff of a leisurely Sunday drive, slowly and carefully negotiating the corners to make sure everyone in your car and any others lives!  Here, they are an invitation to see just how fast you can get around the bend and how far into the oncoming lane you can cross before someone beeps THEIR horn at you!  It’s insane and I’m convinced the drivers have a bet going to see who gets around the twists and turns the fastest.

If you are not hanging on and not sitting down, you will find yourself thrown around the bus!!  Face pressed to the glass on one side, suddenly skidding towards the door on the other in the next instant!  Don’t ask me how I know this……….!!

We have taken to travelling slightly further to the end of the bus line at The Jetty.  This means when the next bus starts we are right there at the beginning of the line and we all get a seat!  This is the first time ever that I have not given up my seat for little old men.  I’m claiming my almost 40 status and sitting firmly in my seat – I really am too young to die!!

The buses only seat 26 and the rest of the poor suckers have to stand.  Bus is full – no problem, we just keep jamming them on and collecting the fare!   Bus is due to leave the depot – bad luck, the driver needs a cancer-stick.  It’s pouring rain and everyone at the (imaginary) stop is getting wet – oh dear, the driver has decided not to stop there this time!!!  You get the picture of the adventure this is!!

Several days ago we caught the bus to the Spice Gardens for a little outing.  We hadn’t caught the bus in that direction before – and we never will again!   Little did we know that there is another winding road in that direction.  I do not exaggerate for a second when I say I have never been more scared on a bus in my life!  I don’t know how the damn thing stayed upright – it should have been on its side, lying at the bottom of the cliff in the sand!!  Round and round it went…left…right…left…beep the horn a bit….right….talk on the mobile…slam on the breaks to pick up new passengers…while the current passengers pick themselves up off the floor!!

When we got to the Spice Gardens we spilled out the doors away from the death trap and I could have kissed the ground!  I had to stand for a minute or two doubled over to catch my breathe!  And the worst part was knowing I had to get back on for the return journey!!  I made sure I had a seat on the way back!!

So there you have it – My tips for surviving a bus ride in Penang.  Get your money ready, get on the bus when ordered, get a seat at any cost or brace yourself for the fun ahead!

Oh and stay tuned for my story about Jono’s recent bus disaster – I’m pretty sure it will be titled “When your kid says he HAS TO GO on the bus – LISTEN TO HIM or get wet feet!!

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