I had to make a day trip to Penang recently for a job interview. As this was a solo journey, I was hesitant to drive 4 hours each way on my own. I began looking up alternatives – buses, trains, planes and even Grab/Uber. The decision I made was finally based on cost, convenience, travel time and comfort.

In the end, I decided on the cheapest but slowest mode of transportation (the bus) and the fastest but not necessarily the most expensive mode of transportation (the plane).

KL – Penang (by bus, ferry & GrabCar)

It has been years since my last long-distance commute in a bus. A quick Google search made me realise how competitive the bus ticket booking industry has become. Among the apps that I found – easybook, busonlineticket, catchthatbus, malaysiabus – I eventually picked redbus because they had the cheapest, decently comfortable and early morning bus option out from the Duta bus terminal to the Butterworth station. The bus company was Konsortium Bas Ekspres Semenanjung (KBES) and for a 27 seater, I thought RM34.30 was a good deal. Plus, redbus was giving out a 20% cashback offer, which meant I could get RM6.86 off my next purchase (Hooray! I’m horridly drawn to ways I can stretch my dollars and cents).

My bus was scheduled to leave Duta at 8.10am and to arrive in Butterworth before 1.00pm. I figured that would give me sufficient time to catch the ferry into Georgetown, and Uber/GrabCar to my interview. I was so wrong! Little did I know, buses were notorious for delays – mine had a 1 hour delay!

My bus arrives an hour late at the platform in Duta station
Spacious seating position

I picked the individual seat and really enjoyed the privacy. Seats were comfortable, reclinable, and equipped with seatbelts and USB ports. There were TVs attached to the ceiling of the bus but they were not switched on during my journey. Although the bus was generally clean, some stains and worn out parts were visible (eg. front pockets were either gone or stretched beyond use). Antimacassars were also not used, a simple add-on that would have made the trip more comfortable.

Bus tips:

  • Print extra copies of your boarding ticket as you will have to surrender 1 copy to the conductor when boarding.
  • Upon arriving at the bus station (departure), please check-in with your respective bus company counter. For KBES, you can find their counters at K21 and K22 at the Duta station. This is important as they will inform you the platform number to wait at, and if the bus will be on time.
  • Be prepared for delays!
  • Facilities onboard: air-conditioning, reclining seat, wifi (slow), USB port, and seatbelt.
  • 1 toilet + snack break at petrol kiosk (15 mins). Same place where 2nd driver takes over the wheel.
  • Duration of journey: less than 5 hours.
  • Drop-off point in Butterworth: on the main road but beside the bus station.

Once in Butterworth, it is only a short 10 mins walk from the bus to the ferry terminal. Along the way, you will walk pass the train station, a somewhat construction site looking alleyway, and over the railway tracks. Just look out for red “Feri (Ferry)” signs.

Signs are clear and easy to follow
Ferry entrance! Meter only accepts coins so get your change at the counter

The ferry ticket costs RM1.20 (adult) and RM0.60 (child) per way.  According to Penang Port, operation times of the ferry everyday is 5.40am – 1.00am (island) and 5.20am – 12.40am (mainland). While it states that the waiting time between each ferry is approximately 20-30 mins, my wait was about 40 mins. Also, please be careful of your belongings as I spotted several dodgy characters at the waiting area.

Once in Georgetown, I  found it easy and cheap to go around the city centre. For a 10 mins ride, it cost me RM5 with GrabCar. And yes, I reached my interview place at 2.45pm – just in the nick of time!

Overall, it took me 8 hours to reach my destination from my home in KL (I left my house at 6.45am to avoid the morning traffic). I would definitely not advise anyone to take the bus if you have an appointment the same day. However, if you are not rushing and do enjoy some sightseeing, the bus can be a fun and very economical choice.

Penang – KL (by bus & plane)

For the budget conscious, the cheapest way to the Penang airport is by way of bus. It cost me only RM2.70 from Komtar with bus 401, and slightly over an hour to reach the airport. Easiest way to catch one of this is from one of the major bus terminals in Georgetown such as Komtar or the Weld Quay jetty. Buses 401 and 401E stops at both hubs, while bus 102 stops only at Komtar. Remember to prepare exact change!

Komtar to airport bus ticket

At the airport stop, it was an easy walk across the road and I was ready to check-in. Although I bought my Malindo flight only 2 days before my intended departure date, I was still able to pay only RM78.44 (including taxes and fees). If compared with the KTM ETS train, which takes just under 4 hours to KL Sentral railway station, this is the same price as the Platinum class or RM20 extra for the Gold class. This was another reason why I chose the plane over the train (for this trip at least). Also, as my house is near the Subang airport, taking Malindo or Firefly from Penang would mean further cutting down my traveling time.

My flight was the last one out that day and it was my first time sitting in a ATR72-600. In comparison to other commercial planes, it’s small and compact – felt like everything shrunk to cuteness!

Compact & small interior
Lean & comfortable seats, easy reclining lever & reasonable leg room 

Malindo flight (ATR72-600) tips:

  • Pick a seat at the back to avoid loud engine noises and to have convenient access to the entrance/exit door.
  • Flies around 15,000 feet so the view is lovely.
  • Only water is provided onboard.
  • Air-conditioning is effective and can get chilly.
  • Luggage handling is efficient – bags were already waiting on the conveyor belt for passengers by the time I was out.
  • Duration of journey: 45 mins.

The plane left on time and took only 45 mins to reach Subang airport – that’s a whole 15 mins earlier than scheduled! The flight was smooth, comfortable, and had a fast disembarkation. I was a happy camper. In total, from Komtar in Georgetown to my home in KL, it took about 3.5 hours.


So which would I pick again? The plane of course! But only because Subang airport is close to home, there are fewer flight delays and the entire journey duration is less than half of the time you would take with the bus. However, if I lived near to KL Sentral, I would probably go for the bus or train.