This is a summary of all our travel expenses for the 28 nights we spent in Penang during July 2019. You should keep in mind that if one travels at a slower pace it's easier to make savings as especially transportation can eat into your budget quickly. In this case, we stayed in a single AirBnB apartment for 28 nights which gave us a substantial monthly rate cost saving. That being said, there are many great AirBnB apartments available in Penang at varying rates. Staying in an apartment meant that we were also able to cook for ourselves. We found that if one can contain accommodation costs and avoid specialised or fine-dine restaurants, Penang is a pretty affordable destination. That being said, you don’t need to cook for yourself, there are plenty of fantastic and cheap street foods and restaurants available all over the island. Although it was not our first time in Penang, we still visited many of the typical ‘tourist attractions’, but we did try to limit our spending on entrance fees for observation decks and the like.
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(Note that the following spending does not include flights to and from Penang.)
Georgetown, Penang 28 nights - Mansion One Airbnb Apartment
(Airbnb Studio Apartment)
The apartment is in the Mansion One building on the 20th floor. The apartment itself was very spacious with a lovely corner couch, TV, working desk space, dining table with 4 chairs and a moderately equipped kitchen (full fridge, microwave, 2-plate electric stove & kettle) as well as a laundry machine. The bedroom had a huge window which let in plenty of natural light and there was more than sufficient storage place for clothing. The bathroom has a separate shower, basin and toilet. There is a narrow “service” balcony where the air-conditioner units sit and this was a great space for drying our laundry. Overall, we found the apartment to be very comfortable for our needs and we enjoyed our month stay here. There is a Starbucks as well as a very small convenience store on the ground floor of the building. Location was perfectly suited to us as we were right at the bus stop which served both the free bus routes as well as all other local busses. We were within walking distance (1.5km) to a supermarket in both directions which we could also reach by free bus. The free bus routes went to Gurney Plaza, The Paragon Shopping Center and Gurney Drive Night Food Market in the one direction and to Komtar and from there to the centre of Old Georgetown in the other direction. We were just 5 minutes walk away from the Northam Beach Cafe Food Area and there are also a few other eateries along Gurney Drive, all within walking distance. Gurney drive has a pedestrian walkway all the way to the Night Food Market where we would run most mornings. Overall this apartment was great value for money.
We generally try to eat like and with the locals. In Penang, this is very easy with the exception of breakfast. We prefer a western-style breakfast so, for this reason, we choose to rather prepare our own breakfast at our accommodation. The most traditional local breakfast dish would be Nasi Lemak (rice cooked with coconut milk) with various accompaniments.
Traditional cuisine in Penang is incredibly diverse, mainly due to the diverse cultural history of Malaysia. You will find Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and Bornean cuisine with strong influences from Thai, Portuguese, Dutch, Arabian and even British cuisines. You can also find western food fairly easily available in the more touristy areas but at a slight price premium.
We ended up preparing our own dinners most of the time and eating out at night markets or small local eateries around twice a week. It can definitely be slightly cheaper to eat local dishes (particularly rice and noodle dishes) all the time, however, we prefer to be able to vary our diet with salads and vegetables where and when possible. The supermarkets have a great variety of fresh produce and we found it easy to cook for ourselves.
Being a predominantly Muslim country, although alcohol is available in and around most touristy areas, it remains relatively expensive. We did not make a habit of consuming alcohol and only enjoyed the occasional beer when eating at some hawker food centres.
We make use of local transportation as much as possible and only resort to taxis if there's a good reason or no alternative. Public transport is very easy and convenient to use in Penang. The local bus system extends across the entire reach of the island and is very affordable. There are even a few free bus routes in and around the George Town area which we found very useful. We made use of a local bus from and to the airport which cost a whole MYR3.5 per person all the way to George Town! You will need to have some small notes and coin change with you when using the busses as they do not give any change. The road traffic in Penang can be rather bad at times, but the island is so small that nowhere on the island really takes much longer than an hour to get to at the worst. Taxis and Grab are easily available, and if you don’t like waiting for the bus, these are definitely a much faster alternative, but also a lot more costly! Grab is the Malaysian equivalent of Uber and can even be used for food deliveries (GrabFood). The city areas are fairly pedestrian-friendly, and if you can bear the humidity, you can explore a large area by foot. The bus stations are within such close proximity of each other that it is really easy to find a station when you want to. There are also public shared bicycle rental facilities if you care to brave the traffic!
CELLPHONE & DATA
Being very dependent on data for getting around and rather heavy data user generally, this is one of the first things we investigate when staying in a country for a period of time. We already had local prepaid Tune Talk SIM Cards (which cost MYR 10 each but are not included in this expense report). We each purchased 1GB of high-speed data and unlimited calls between same network valid for a period of 30 days for an additional MYR 10 each for our month in Penang. There are generally plenty of free wifi spots all around Malaysia, although we never had the need to connect to many of them. All our accommodations also had free wifi included.
Our "General" category includes everyday expenses like toiletries, medical, laundry & small shopping items.
We generally try to stay away from very touristy places and prefer to explore independently. In Penang, there are many “tourist activities” which do not need to cost money. Walking around George Town, visiting most Temple Grounds and even the Penang National Park and Penang Botanical Gardens are free. It’s the entrance fees to observation decks which are expensive and can quickly add up. For this reason, we did not go to The Top Penang at Komtar. We climbed up Penang Hill so only paid for one-way tickets for the Funicular down (MYR15 per person one-way). At the Penang National Park, we took a scenic boat ride from Pantai Keracut Beach to Monkey Beach and back to the Park Entrance which cost MYR20 per person. Public toilet facilities are available at most tourist attractions, and although they may often be pay facilities, the fee is usually very low. Just keep in mind that the facilities are very seldom western-style toilets. They are usually the Asian style (hole in the ground) without any toilet paper provided.