Pulau Penang, Malaysia
Penang, also known as the pearl of the orient, is one of the most touristic locations of Malaysia. The island (285 square meters) is situated on the northwest side of the Peninsular Malaysia. There are loads of activities and sights on the island. Hanging around on the beach is also considered a fine option. About 700.000 people inhabit Penang Island, of which 59% are Chinese, 32% are Malay and 7% are Indian (2% are of other origin). The state of Penang has a population of 1,5 million (of which 43% are Malay and 41% Chinese). Penang has an eventful history; the diversity of the inhabitants clearly indicates this. Penang is especially known as the best place to enjoy wonderful local dishes; it is seen as the food capital of Malaysia. There are many hotels and resorts on the island, most are located in and around the city of Georgetown and around the towns Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah.
Penang Island is probably one of the easiest tourist destinations to reach within Malaysia. You can use every form of transport imaginable; plane, train, bus, car and even a taxi (though this doesn't make sense compared to the other options due to the high price). From Kuala Lumpur it generally takes around 5/6 hours to get to Penang, no matter which form of transport you use. Though it is only a 55 minute flight away from Kuala Lumpur, if you add traveling to the airport and waiting at the airport even this method takes many hours. Cheapest solution is the bus, followed by taking a train (followed by the Butterworth/Penang ferry). If you're into road trips, then renting a car is probably the most fun way to travel to Penang; there are quite a few nice attractions along the way where you can stop and explore the area before reaching Penang (like Taiping, Ipoh and even Cameron Highlands).
It is easy to drive to Penang yourself by rental car. There are numerous car rental companies in Kuala Lumpur and also at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Costs of renting a car are usually around RM150 per day (including insurance and administrative costs). If you are planning a one-way road trip to Penang, it is best to find a rental company with an office at Penang. Hawk Malaysia is one of the most popular local car rental companies; here you can rent a car from RM120 onwards (cheaper if you rent multiple days). Hawk has multiple offices in and around Kuala Lumpur, and also two offices in Penang (Batu Ferringhi and Penang International Airport). The road from Kuala Lumpur to Penang is in very good shape; it is a relatively new highway that goes from Johor Bharu to the Thai border (North-South Expressway or NSE). For some driving in Malaysia can be a bit stressful at first. After you get used to the way things work over here it is actually not that bad. However, driving around in (unfamiliar) parts of Kuala Lumpur city center or Georgetown can be quite the hassle. Here a GPS would be great, which you can rent at many car rental companies. A very popular website to check and compare car rental prices is Rentalcars.com.
An adventurous way to travel from Kuala Lumpur (or Johor Bharu/Singapore) to Penang is by train. Train services are provided by Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB). The North south line starts in Singapore and goes all the way to Bangkok in Thailand. The train from KL departs in the morning and in the early afternoon; the total trip takes approximately 6 hours. One-way ticket prices roughly range from RM20 to RM100. Passengers that travel to Penang need to disembark at Butterworth station. From there you can take the connecting ferry to the island (walking distance). You can also take a taxi at Butterworth train station, but this often is quite an expensive trip.
Most tourists travel to Penang by air. There are many daily flights from numerous airports within and outside of Malaysia to Penang International Airport. Prices are often very cheap, mainly because of the competition due to alternative ways to travel to the island. If you manage to get a bargain by advance booking, then one-way ticket prices sometimes are only a couple of ringgits. When AirAsia started giving away free tickets (you only pay taxes) Malaysia Airlines and FireFly followed prompt with their own promotions. Nowadays there are almost always promotions to Penang. Regular AirAsia prices are around RM75 (one-way excluding tax); Malaysia Airlines offers similar tickets for around RM100.
The cheapest and often quickest way to get from Kuala Lumpur to Penang is by taking the bus. Busses depart at the main terminal in Kuala Lumpur, Puduraya bus station, to Sungai Nibong; the central bus station in Penang. The trip by bus usually takes around 5,5 hours. Tickets are sold for around RM30/RM40, depending on the operator. The most popular coach operators are Plusliner/Nice, Transnasional, Konsortium and Mutiara. The most luxurious operator is Aeroline; tickets cost RM60 but you will travel in a very comfortable manner to Penang (Kuala Lumpur departure location is at Corus Hotel, arrival at Queensbay Mall or Sungai Nibong). You can also take the bus from numerous other locations within Peninsular Malaysia to Penang Island. For example there are daily busses from Kota Bharu, Johor Bahru (Singapore) and even Bangkok.
There are minivans/minibuses that drive between many places in Thailand to Penang, same goes for the trip between Penang and Kuala Besut (Perhentian Island). Minibuses are more expensive than regular busses, but offer a direct route to many destinations.