Primer for Would Be Visitors

Penang Travel Blog

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The 1st thing you see on arrival ?
Traffic - It isn't like Saigon, it isn't like Bangkok, it isn't like Beijing. It's Penang traffic.
The island has a vast aging population and many drive like they are aging or already dead (maybe undead). You (as a newcomer) will find that motorcycles rule the streets, followed by trishaws (where available).

Motorcycles : Almost every kid by the age 17 has a motorcycle and knows how to ride it. Too bad about riding it in a considerate manner. Me ? I wasn't allowed one then but when did that ever stop a teenager ? I simply borrowed my friend's. These lovely motorcycles will weave between traffic, knock your side mirrors out of place and cut across your path as if the rider had taken the elixir of immortality. (someone should tell them that immortality with broken limbs & being in a brace is overrated) It takes a lot of patience and attention to drive through town if you are not used to them.
Remember the game, Frogger ? Try making it across the 6 lanes & divider.
Unless of course, if you behave like the other type of road user.. the

Zombie Car Driver : Special move is to cut in front of you like they couldn't die. (surprised?) and then drive like a tortoise for the rest of the way. (zombies move slowly don't they?) Occasional sudden braking to consider making turns then deciding not to. Average age of such denizens ? close to 70, maybe higher. Distinguishing marks of vehicles used ? something pre WWII or looking like it survived an ambush during the communist insurgency days. Occasionally will use offspring's new vehicle and cause you to plow into their rear, (or cause someone to plow into yours) with their brake tapping. (hint: try to find out the music they are listening to so you can predict their braking patterns)

Newbie Car Driver : Not common but very dangerous if encountered.
Weather is sometimes hazy. David Copperfield would have a harder time making the bridge appear than the opposite !
Owing to the narrow roads, traffic and pedestrians running about, these road users can stall their vehicle at the most inopportune times. Like when making a turn into traffic while you are behind them - and a big bus is closing in on both of you. Learn to spot them : they have a "P" sign at the back windscreen. In this wonderful idyllic island what is the problem ? The problem is that my driving instructor did tell me " just don't crash into anything when you are taking the driving test and you can pass". I followed his most prudent instruction and I passed. How hard can it be ? On that very same day, I overheard a few driving instructors & test staff describing some very exciting events.
" That &^%!@# girl tried to drive over the central road divider and totalled my undercarriage. How the *!&@^# am I going to pay for that ? "
"What ? You should have been with me ! This *!&@^!%# guy hit a a parked car just less than 200m from the starting point ! "
turns out 'that guy' was a schoolmate of mine.
Can you spot the billion dollar bridge next to the island ?

"Some idiot thought the car was a bowling ball, he knocked down both poles instead of driving between them."
and now, with automatic transmissions... do you think it will be less dangerous ? At least we had to be physically present to take the driving test. In another state, you could get your license sent to you without even being physically there. (I'm not saying which place but it's another tourist spot)

Buses : They are big, they have the right of way, so please give way. It's nice that the very old buses which used to lay smokescreens (that would make a tank commander envious), have been replaced with AC buses which run rather well. Minus point, you can't hear them coming a mile away and dash out of your house to the bus stop. The bus stop is incidentally right in front of my parents place.
Just before that motorbike crashed into the car & exploded !

Pedestrians : You must be willing to put yourself in the way of bodily harm before traffic stops for you. If you play this game of chicken with the wrong party (like the blind old coot, or fool with very slow reflexes), you will be roadkill. Pedestrians will gather in numbers to cross in safety at designated crossings. Otherwise, it's every man,woman or chicken for themselves - the traffic will ignore your existence (also the crossing lights) and happily trundle along. (even over your foot - hey, it happened before)

See previous blog entry for details.

More items to follow as schedule permits.
trippin_jen says:
that's scary! i plan to go on a bicycle tour around the heritage trail... now i'm getting worried of being knocked off road!
Posted on: Mar 04, 2012
fransglobal says:
Hilarious but true. One of my strongest memories of Penang in 1998 was all the motorbikes. Still, not nearly as bad as Vietnam is now!
Posted on: Jul 27, 2010
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The 1st thing you see on arrival ?
The 1st thing you see on arrival ?
Remember the game, Frogger ? Try m…
Remember the game, Frogger ? Try …
Weather is sometimes hazy. David C…
Weather is sometimes hazy. David …
Can you spot the billion dollar br…
Can you spot the billion dollar b…
Just before that motorbike crashed…
Just before that motorbike crashe…
photo by: Aurora78