Sunday, August 30, 2015

Traveling on Hop On Hop Off Penang (HOHO) And Rapid Penang (CAT) Bus

Above: Ferringhi Beach
Traveling in Penang turns to be easier than I initially thought. A few of my colleague who visited Penang before me did not use any of the public transport because they either have a relative, or a friend who was able to drive them around. My search on the Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) buses also turned out to be a hopeless cause as it seemed that not many visitors used this form of transport.

Above: View from our hotel window
My main concern was locating where to buy the HOHO tickets, preferably at a place near a  hotel where I would be staying. After doing much research, I settled on Cititel Hotel which fit my budget and it is within walking distance to most tourist spot. Do not confuse it with Cititel Express Hotel. That is located in a different location. 

Above set: Cititel Hotel

Cititel Hotel also turned out to be pretty good in terms of services and amenities. The room given to us was not as small as I was expecting, even with an extra bed in it. They gave us room 1110 on the eleventh floor which was a corner unit so it was bigger and had a great sea view. It also came with a bathtub and a king-sized bed. The room slippers were a bonus. We called up for extra pillows and that came along without any fuss. My poor daughter however complained that the springs on the extra bed were poking her back. 


Right opposite the hotel, is the famous Red Garden food court. We were lucky it was nearby as on the first night, it rained heavily so it was not possible for us to venture far. The food court was huge, with food to satisfy any palate. It was clean and the pricing is reasonable. The first night we had the local favourite of Char Kuey Teow and Penang Prawn Mee. 

Chowrasta Market is about 400m walking distance from the hotel which was our first stop for the day. We gave the market a walk about. It was a typical local wet market. We picked out a corner restaurant to have our breakfast, near to the market. This turned out to be a bad idea, as I had to run to the toilet twice that day probably due to the mixture of Prawn Mee and Iced Milo.


Heading back to the bus stop located in front of Chowrasta, which faces the police station, we waited for the HOHO bus to appear at 9am. The first bus arrived carrying their staff, and was not ready for passenger boarding yet. The HOHO staff started setting up her stall to sell the HOHO tickets. She did not have any loose change so it would be wise to bring along the exact amount to purchase your tickets. 


We waited for another 10 minutes before the next bus came. By now it was already 9.30 in the morning. The top deck is divided into an open area and a closed up air conditioned area. We chose the air conditioned area because Penang has a hot tropical climate. You might experience sunburn from excess exposure to the sun or get wet from any of its sudden tropical rain. If you wish to sit at the open deck area, bring sun block, a poncho and sit on the right side. Anyone sitting on the left will get hit by tree branches as it drives along Ferringhi beach road. 
Left: Branches hitting the windows; Upper right: Inside the HOHO bus; Bottom right: HOHO bus

The HOHO buses does not stop at all stops. You must ring the bell if you want to get off at a particular drop-off point. There is a commentator on board that will announce the next stop and a short description of interesting things to do at that stop. A free comprehensive booklet of HOHO stops is provided on board. I found the booklet pretty useful.

Left: Gurney Drive Stop No.1; Upper right: Booklet of HOHO stops; Bottom right: HOHO bus ticket

At the end of our beach route, we decided to get off at Gurney Drive and take the town route from there. This was when the first case of bowel distress attacked. 


Above: Ferringhi Beach

I was pretty lucky Gurney Plaza Mall had one of the best toilets in the city. After relieving myself, we had a quick snack of Squido (a squid snack that originated from Taiwan) at the mall before heading back out to the bus stop to catch our bus to explore the town route. 


Above: a set meal of Squido
We did not have to wait long for the HOHO bus to arrive at Stop 1. The next stop that we wanted to get off at was Bendera Hill. When we arrived, there was a queue at the bottom of the hill, which took us 20 minutes to bypass and purchase our tickets. The ride up the hill was very fast, and the view of Georgetown from the hill was breathtaking. There were a few monkeys around the observatory hoping to get food from tourist. We took a couple of photographs then headed back down quickly as I was beginning to feel another bowel urge.

Left: The train; Upper right: Altitude sign; Bottom right: The train
Above: Monkey discovered a paper cup

We originally planned to continue the town route and get off at the Blue Mansion stop but with my stomach rumbling once again, we decided to get off at Chowrasta Market and quickly walk back to the hotel first. I then told myself, no more unhygienic coffeeshop meals during our stay here. 

After resting at the hotel, we went to find 'The Purrfect Cat', which was a cat cafe on Lebuh Murni by walking; instead of taking the bus. It turned out that to see the cats, you needed to make a minimum purchase of RM18 per person (either desserts or souvenirs) so we decided to skip the cat cafe and head down to Penang Museum instead. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped by at the Blue Mansion but we were too late for the tour. 
Above: Penang State Museum

We had our dinner at Red Garden that evening, and then we walked to Chulia Street to look at the famous hawker stall located there. 

Upper left: Fresh oysters on ice; Bottom left: Prawn Mee; Upper right: Char Kuey Teow (fried flat noodles); Bottom left: Dumplings stuffed with pork and scallions

Along the street you will also find some pubs that cater to the tourist market. We chose Reggae Mansion to have our drinks because it was the only place that had a live band blaring out loudly. The one piece guitarist was a good singer. We really enjoyed our time there. 


The next day we decided to take the Rapid Penang Bus for our last daytime tour of Penang. The free Hop CAT Rapid Bus comes every 20 minutes. There is one bus stop located right in front of Red Garden Food Court, opposite our Cititel hotel.

We hopped on one and rode it until it reached the Rapid Bus Main Terminal at Weld Quay. There are two terminal buildings next to each other. The bus will drop you in front of the first terminal. The free CAT buses are located at the other terminal on the first lane nearest to the information counter. 

The driver of our return route was kind enough to drop us near the immigration building so we were only a stone’s throw to the project 'Occupy Beach Street Weekend Market'. This market offers family-friendly activities such as music performances, free motor biking, souvenirs for sale and many more. It was not a very big market. It might be wise to couple this outing with visits to the surrounding area.


We walked north towards Fort Cornwallis along the esplanade to the next Rapid Bus stop (no.18). Originally we tried waiting at Rapid Bus Stop 1 but it was too hot there. The bus stop roof did not provide any cover from the blazing afternoon sun. From Stop 18, we went back to the hotel at Stop 7 to check out first.

If you are planning for walks around the heritage area, it is wise to bring along an umbrella or a hat and put on lots of sunblock. The shop houses will give you some temporary shade but their five foot pathways are very uneven, narrow and sometimes the passage way is blocked so you will end up walking on the street itself with no shade from the sun. 

Another way is to hire one of the trishaws, locally known as 'beca' to go around. I found out it costs around RM40 for one hour ride. These beca drivers know where all the unique street art are that sporadically fills the UNESCO heritage area. This will shorten your time of walking and looking for them yourself. The beca’s roof will also offer some shade from the hot sun.

With 3 hours before our hotel taxi pick up to the airport, we decided to have lunch at Komtar Mall. Komtar is not very far from our hotel either. It is also within walking distance as you can see from the photograph taken in front of our hotel. In the far distance with the tall tower is the famous landmark Komtar. 

However, we decided it was too hot to walk so we waited for the free bus again. The first bus only passed by because it was too jam-packed to pick up anyone else. So take note, the free buses do get crowded during weekend. The second bus was also full of passengers and everyone crammed in like sardines. Luckily the drive was not very far. We headed for stop 9 which was right in the middle of Komtar. 

We wanted to eat Nasi Kandar but there were none found at the mall. We ended up eating an Arabian meat dish instead and did a quick browse around the malls. Time seemed to fly as you are busy shopping. It wasn’t long before it was time to leave. For awhile we got a little confused with the directions to return back to stop 9. We must remember to snap a photo of the bus stop and the surrounding area next time.

Left: Komtar in the distance; Middle: Arabian dish; Right: Chicken-flavoured biscuits

From stop 9, we got off at Chowrasta and walked back to the hotel. On the way we passed by a famous Penang Souvenir Shop, 'Ban Heang' and bought a whole bag full of goodies. They have a branch outlet at the airport but the price difference is very big so best to get your goodies in town.

Painting at Penang Historical Museum


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