Penang On The CAT [PW1]

December 27, 2010 at 10:00 am

“The last time I walked on this street was ten years ago!”

My Japanese friend Yasuyo is bubbling with excitement as we walk towards the KOMTAR (Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak) bus terminal to catch a CAT…and no, we were not looking for the furry ones with four legs but rather the big metallic ones with four wheels – the Central Area Transit (CAT) shuttle buses, also simply known as the MPPP (Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang or Penang Municipal Council) shuttle bus.

Watch out for these signs

First started to ease traffic congestion in the inner city, the CAT buses are free round-trip shuttle buses provided by the Penang government for people to get around the central city area from KOMTAR to the jetty, and has become popular with the locals to get around, not to mention a novel way for tourists to get around and to get to know Penang.

The seats are all taken when Yasuyo and I got on the bus at KOMTAR and we stand at the front, near the bus captain (driver). He discovers that Yasuyo is Japanese and he readily tells her about the bus service, that there is a bus every 15 – 20 minutes except during peak hours when the a round trip might take 30 minutes. Ever mindful of the traffic and the passengers in his bus and under his care, he drives carefully and tells us the many popular tourist attractions as we pass on the way to the Jetty, all the while with his eye on the road.

He humbly says he does not know everything about all the attractions, but he happily shares what he does know, including which spots tourists usually get down at, namely Chinatown near KOMTAR and Lebuh Carnavon, Little India on Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling, the restored colonial buildings which house the High Court along Lebuh Farquhar, the stately Bank Negara (National Bank), the Dewan Undangan Negeri with its beautiful columns and the Esplanade where the famed Fort Cornwallis is, along Light Street.

As we near the Jetty, he points out the Swettenham Pier where travellers board the ferry to Langkawi as he thinks Yasuyo might be interested to visit the island. He gets a pleasant surprise when Yasuyo tells him yes, she does know Swettenham Pier, as she had sailed in on the Star Cruise liner ten years ago when she came to Penang for her honeymoon.

CAT bus

Yasuyo and her husband Kazuma had been here before, and they have wonderful memories of Penang. At that time, Yasuyo had asked Kazuma if he’d like to come to Penang to work if he got the chance to, and Kazuma had replied he didn’t think he would ever have the chance to get an overseas posting, much less specifically in Penang. So, Kazuma and Yasuyo are very happy to be here, ten years and two children later, and this is the reason Yasuyo was so excited at the start of our little jaunt.

The bus captain smiles broadly as he listens to Yasuyo’s tale, and we reach the jetty. Since we want to take a KOMTAR – Jetty round trip to see the exact bus route and then take another ride around the CAT when we decide on our destination, we have to get down as this particular bus will take a 20-minute break, but not to worry, another bus is about to leave, so Yasuyo and I hop onto the other bus.

Taking 'notes' of the stops

This time, we had seats so we settle down, comfortably cool in the air-conditioned bus, as it makes its way back to KOMTAR retracing some of the earlier route, Lebuh Pantai – Lebuh Light – Lebuh Farquhar, before ending up on Lebuh Penang (Penang Street), through Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah.

We are on Lebuh Penang, with KOMTAR straight ahead, and Yasuyo and I make a spur-of-the-moment decision – you know…the kind that turns a planned trip into an adventure. Yasuyo and I get off the bus at Penang Road and go into Muntri Street where we start our little Heritage jaunt, leaving our friendly bus captains to wend their merry way around the streets of inner city Georgetown, from 6am until 12 midnight, every day.

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