The state of Penang in Malaysia has become a hub of tourist activity in recent years. And why not? With its irresistible food and thriving art and culture scene, laced with a touch of heritage and history, Penang is what you call a traveler’s delight! If you are planning a trip to Penang and wondering how to get there, there’s no reason to worry. Travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Penang is fairly straightforward and simple. From our experience, we have noticed that most travelers land in Kuala Lumpur and then either take a flight or a bus to Penang. Both of these modes of transport are quite convenient and quick, so we understand why most people tend to choose either one of them. However, during our recent trip to Malaysia, we decided to get a little adventurous and travel from Kuala Lumpur to Penang by car! Yes, it was a self-driven road trip from KL to Penang and it currently tops our list of road trips we have taken so far. We rented a car for 4 days from GoCar Malaysia and had one of the most stress-free and smoothest road trips ever! If a Malaysia road trip like this piques your interest, strap on your seatbelt and join the ride because this article is all about why and how you can do it too!
In case you do not have time for a road trip outside Kuala Lumpur, check out these fun short day trips you can take from the city.
How to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Penang by car
“Road trips are the equivalent of human wings.” – Victoria Erickson
We couldn’t agree more! And this road trip from Kuala Lumpur to Penang further solidified our belief in this thought. But before we get into our experience of the drive itself, let’s get the hard numbers and logistics out of the way.
Kuala Lumpur to Penang distance by car is approximately 355 Km, which took us about 5 hours to complete, including 2 stops for refreshments. Without any stops, the drive would have taken us a little more than 4 hours. A very comfortable distance for a road trip we think. This drive takes you through tolled highways and you will have to pass 3 toll gates on your way. We paid a total of RM 55 (1 Malaysian Ringgit = Approx. USD 0.25) for the first leg of the journey and another RM 50 for the return journey. So, depending on your journey start and end point, you are going to need approximately RM 110 as highway toll charge for the entire drive from KL to Penang by car and back. The easiest way to pay these toll charges is by purchasing a Plus Miles Touch n Go smart card that can be reloaded as and when required. With this card, all you need to do is literally touch the card on the scanning machines at the toll gates and off you go! No need for cash transactions or waiting in long queues to pay the toll. You can buy and reload these cards at Shell petrol stations. We bought ours right at the start of the journey and it saw us smoothly through the entire trip.
Fuel is also fairly cheap in Malaysia (at least, compared to what we typically pay in India). At the time of our trip, we paid RM 2.3 per litre of petrol and our total fuel cost for the return road trip including sightseeing for 3 days in Penang, was approximately RM 140.
Now that the logistics are out of the way, let’s delve into our experience of the drive. Malaysia being a tropical country is endowed with rich natural resources. As you start driving out of urban Kuala Lumpur, this beautiful side of Malaysia starts coming to light, mostly overlooked by tourists. Lush rainforest-covered limestone hills, clear blue sky and roads meandering through hilly stretches, forming the perfect backdrop for our road trip! This spectacular drive took us through roads that sprang a beautiful surprise at us at every turn, leaving us gasping at just how beautiful the country is. Can you imagine what we would have missed out on had we simply flown down to Penang?
The travel from Kuala Lumpur to Penang by road takes you straight up north through very well-maintained highways. And if you are lucky to avoid any traffic congestion, it is a treat not only for the passengers in the car but the one driving too. Neil had an absolute ball and was so glad we chose to do a self-driven road trip.
Another highlight of road trips for us is the stops we get to make on the way. We stopped twice on our way to Penang and again on the way back to KL. Throughout the highway drive, there were several places where one can stop to use the washroom, which is very thoughtful. On top of that, there were many fuel stations on the way which also came equipped with clean washrooms as well as convenience stores to load up on snacks or drinks. We personally loved the Shell petrol stations for this reason. Each one of them had an accompanying Shell Select store that had small sections dedicated to Costa Coffee, a breakfast deli, and a convenience store, all packed into one. Mighty useful when you’re on the road!
Apart from that, we also stopped by a food court for lunch. It essentially had a variety of small food stalls selling all kinds of freshly cooked local food – Malay, Chinese and Indian. We stuck to our favourite, Chinese food, and had a sumptuous plate of chicken and rice. Happy tummies make for a happy road trip! 😀
Why GoCar for our first Malaysia road trip
If you have been itching to find out what exactly is GoCar since I first mentioned it at the beginning of this article, your wait was worth it because I’m going to spill all the beans here! GoCar Malaysia is a new generation on-demand car sharing platform that gives users an alternative to traditional car rental services. Gone are the days of unreliable car rental companies and cumbersome car pick up and drop processes. With GoCar, you can not only register and book a car at your chosen nearest location, you can also unlock and access the car with just a few taps on the mobile app. More importantly, the cars are in great condition, not more than a couple of years old. We drove a Nissan Almera for our road trip and had a very smooth ride. If that’s not enough, here are a few more reasons why GoCar was our first and only choice for our first Malaysia road trip from KL to Penang.
24/7 access & availability
GoCars are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at their listed locations all over Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Kuala Lumpur International airport, Putrajaya, Cyberjaya, Puchong as well as Langkawi island. So anytime you need a car, all you need to do is register on the GoCar mobile app (if not registered already), find a car nearest to you, choose your booking duration and voila, your car is booked! No need to wait for work hours to call your car rental company in order to reserve a car many days or weeks in advance. You can also book the car for any duration you like – a few hours or even a few months and you only pay for the exact booking duration.
Note: In order to register and use the GoCar app, you will need to enter a local Malaysian phone number. This is needed to validate and activate your account and also to connect with the driver if and when required.
We literally registered and booked our car 2 days before our Penang trip and picked up the car from a nearby Shell petrol station. GoCar has partnered with Shell Malaysia to bring their vehicles closer to your homes and easily accessible. Over 40 Shell petrol stations in Klang Valley are now home to GoCar and you also get a complimentary bottle of Select2go mineral water when you pick up the car, in order to kick off your journey.
No human interaction
Well, this may not sound important at first go, but remember those times you spent hours trying to email or call car rental companies trying to find a suitable vehicle to match your travel schedule? Yeah, time to forget all that drama! With a super efficient mobile app in hand that does everything for you, who needs the middlemen? Starting from finding and booking a car till car drop off, you can do everything at your own convenience without being at the mercy of customer care agents.
Oh, in case you are wondering where the car keys will magically appear from, they are already safely kept inside a locked box in the glove compartment. After the booking process is complete, you unlock the car by tapping on “Start Rental” in the GoCar app. Once that’s done, all you need to do is take out the locked box containing the car keys and use the unique pin shown in the app to unlock the box. This whole process didn’t take us more than 2 minutes and we loved how it completely eliminated the need to keep interacting back and forth with car rental agents.
Here’s a handy guide to help you quickly navigate through the app.
Using GoCar for our road trip proved to be such a great experience, we are already thinking of all the other places we could drive to from Kuala Lumpur. So think, Cameron Highlands, Ipoh, or even Singapore for that matter! Having a vehicle of your own is so much more convenient for those weekend getaways. Start your trip at your own sweet time, stop for a break wherever you want and not even worry about transportation within the destination city. Most people will tell you how easy it is to walk around in Georgetown, Penang, but what if you can’t walk all the time or what if it’s too hot to do so? The obvious answer is taking cabs. But imagine how many cabs you have to hop on and off all day if you want to really explore a place like Penang. GoCar cuts out that hassle completely!
Our total transportation cost for the 4-day Penang trip looked like this:
Fuel – RM 140
Highway toll charges – RM 110
GoCar rental fee – RM 396 for 4 days (RM 99/day)
Total cost – RM 646
If you are taking a family vacation in Malaysia (for example – a couple with 1 or 2 kids), you can probably already see how cost-effective it is to hire a rental car instead of flying or taking a bus between the two cities. You can expect the above cost to more or less remain constant except maybe the fuel which will vary depending on how much you drive within Penang (FYI, we drove around quite a lot!). On the contrary, without a car at your disposal, the local transportation expenses quickly add up alongside the flight/bus ticket cost. A simple cost-benefit analysis of the scenario later, we decided to opt for GoCar and I’m happy to say that it definitely worked in our favour in more ways than one!
No restriction on international drivers
The first thought that comes to mind when thinking of a road trip abroad is the validity of your domestic driving license. We kept wondering if we can use our Indian driving license in Malaysia. If you have an international driver’s license, the problem is already solved. But if you don’t have one, worry not. In Malaysia, Indian nationals are allowed to drive freely with their Indian driving license, without having to worry about legal implications. There are many other countries whose nationals are allowed to do the same in Malaysia as long as they hold a valid license in English. You can check all the regulations and the complete list of countries here.
So when we registered on the GoCar app, all we had to do was upload a scanned copy of Neil’s passport and Indian driving license. That’s all, and we were good to go! Now you have absolutely no reason to not embark on a Malaysia road trip, do you? 😀
Our experience of driving in Penang with GoCar Malaysia
We spent 3 nights and 3 days in Penang and I have to admit that having a car on us made it so much easier for us to move around town. We based ourselves in the heart of Georgetown and explored the rest of the town as and when we wanted, at our own pace. Here’s a quick list of things to do in Penang if you have around 3 days in hand:
- Explore all the street art Georgetown has come to be known for
2. Visit some of the beautiful Chinese temples of Georgetown, like the Khoo Kong Si Temple
3. Experience the train ride up to Penang Hill
4. Visit the largest Chinese temple in Malaysia – the Kek Lok Si Temple
5. Experience the plethora of street food of Penang
6. Take a walk through Penang’s history inside gorgeous Chinese mansions
Georgetown itself is quite walkable, to be honest, and there are lots of things to do and see within easy walking distance. But having said that, you also have to acknowledge that Malaysia is a hot and humid tropical country which means you’ll be sweating a lot and the sun is really hot during the day. In those conditions, it is fair to say that not everyone is comfortable walking all day. The other obvious alternative is to hire cabs. But like I said, Georgetown is fairly small, so hopping cabs multiple times to actually see/do everything in a day’s itinerary is neither convenient nor cost-effective. This is where our GoCar came to be of immense use! We did not have to think of accessibility of any restaurant, markets or sightseeing spots even once during our stay. We would just casually drive around, stopping wherever we wanted to, taking detours to find new street art, head out for dessert late at night and so on. You get the drift, right? I doubt we would have been able to see as much of Penang as we did with no car at our disposal. Driving in Penang was definitely a good decision for us and we have to admit, it made our Penang trip much more enjoyable.
If you are planning a trip to Malaysia, we suggest you definitely give this road trip from Kuala Lumpur to Penang a thought. GoCar has truly managed to make the process of car rentals in Malaysia a breeze and there has never been a better time to treat yourself to a road trip in Malaysia. Beautiful roads with a view to die for and the convenience of driving at our own leisure makes this trip one of our favourite experiences in Malaysia for couples as well as families. It is a road trip packed with fun that also gives you an opportunity to see a part of Malaysia that you may not otherwise have.
Do you enjoy road trips? Tell us about your favourite one in the comments below! You can also watch this video to get a glimpse of what we did during this epic road trip.
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