Penang is an island rich in well-preserved colonial architecture. You’ll find it located off the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia facing the Strait of Malacca. The capital of Penang is George Town and the whole town has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008.
Penang is also known as The Pearl of The Orient because it is a melting pot of cultures with Chinese, Malay, Indian, and European influences. This is evident in its festivals, traditions, and in its cuisine.
At the mention of food, did you know Penang is also known as the Food Capital of Malaysia?
I’ve visited the island of Penang on three separate occasions now and each time I stayed one week.
Each time I’ve had totally different experiences, in the respect of what we did, what we saw, and where we stayed. I want to share with you my experiences and my 10 best things to do in Penang, so I can not only inspire you to travel to Penang, but show you the kind of wonderful travel experiences you can have there.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- WHERE TO STAY IN PENANG MALAYSIA
- A BEACH RESORT AT BATU FERRINGHI PENANG
- A LUXURY STAY IN GEORGE TOWN PENANG
- A BUDGET STAY IN GEORGE TOWN PENANG
- MY 10 BEST THINGS TO DO IN PENANG MALAYSIA
- LITTLE INDIA
- GEORGE TOWN STREET ART
- FORT CORNWALLIS
- PENANG HILL
- THE HABITAT
- CHEW JETTY
- PENANG FOOD
- WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO GO TO PENANG
- HOW TO GET TO PENANG
My first time in Penang, the backpacking husband and I stayed for a week at a hotel resort at Batu Ferringhi, which is a beach resort 17km (10.5 miles) northwest of George Town. The area is known for its mainstream hotels, beautiful white sand 3km long (almost 2 miles) stretch of beach, its seafront night market and fabulous seafood restaurants.
It’s easy to get to Batu Ferringhi from George Town by Grab or taxi or a local bus.
We stayed at The Holiday Inn at Batu Ferringhi and we booked it with Booking Dotcom (affiliate link).
The second time in Penang we specifically wanted to explore George Town. This time, it was also the backpacking husband’s birthday so we stayed at The Prestige.
The Prestige is a luxury hotel in a central location in George Town. A fabulous base for exploring and with a roof top swimming pool for cooling off at the end of a hot and busy day.
It was an amazing and special stay and I booked it with Booking Dotcom (affiliate link).
Our third time in Penang we again stayed in George Town but this time towards the end of our Six Month Grand Tour Of Asia (November to April 2023) so we were on a tight budget. We stayed for a week at a wonderful hostel and heritage building in the old town called 24 Kimberly at less than £20 (less than $25 US) per night. I hope you enjoy the video I made for you!
We had a big and comfortable private room and we shared very clean and pleasant bathroom facilities. I would definitely stay at 24 Kimberly again as it was on my last visit one of my 10 best things to do in Penang.
The address is 24 Kimberley Street. 10100 Georgetown, Penang. They are on Facebook.
Again, as usual, I booked this accomodation with Booking Dot (affiliate link).
Explore Georgetown. The capital of Penang is best known for its UNESCO World Heritage Status, historical landmarks, its culture and its culinary delights. George Town is undoubtably in my 10 best things to do in Penang because there really is so much to see and do here. It’s all so pretty and so compact that walking slowly around the streets is the easiest way to see the very best of George Town.
It’s an easy – approximately a 2-mile (just over 3-km) walking tour route – starting from the paved waterfront esplanade and onto explore Fort Cornwallis. After the fort, walk on to admire the City Hall and the Queen Victoria Clock Tower and Penang’s impressive mansion houses.
Then into Market Street, along Beach Street and Armenian Street, (lots of famous street art here) and onto Canon Square. Here look out for the Khoo Kongsi Mansion House and then the impressive Masjid Kapitan Keling mosque. Then, you can either head over to The Blue Mansion (once owned by Cheong Fatt Tze – the ‘Rockefeller of The East’) or savour it on another day and head back into town through Chulia Street in Little India.
But, if walking is not your thing, do not worry because you can always take a trishaw ride or ‘a beca’ as they are known in Malaysia. A trishaw is a bit like a rickshaw, in that it is a three wheeled vehicle, with a cab in the front to seat two adults and a driver at the back who peddles the trishaw. I’m sure your trusty driver will always know the best routes and the best street sights to show you around my 10 best things to do in Penang.
Little India has been part of George Town since it was founded in 1786. That makes it one of the oldest areas of the city. Today, Little India is not just a place to go for amazing Indian food (I recommend you try GEM restaurant for amazing Indian food) because here you will find all the scents and the sounds and the vibes of a Little India!
Getting a Henna Tattoo In Little India: There is so much art and culture in the streets of George Town, so when in Little India I spotted a tattoo artist offering a Henna tattoo, I grabbed at the chance to get one! I do have several permanent tattoos but I’ve always admired and wanted a traditional Indian style Henna Hand Tattoo which tend to last 10-15 days!
Exploring the streets of George Town for its famous street art is a fantastic activity and one that I wrote a whole post for you on my specially curated Penang Street Art walking tour HERE which includes a route map showing you exactly where to find and where to identify the best street art in the old town which is absolutely in my 10 best things to do in Penang .
I loved wandering the colourful streets to suddenly come across another fabulous piece of famous street art – especially the interactive ones – and have my photo taken!
Fort Cornwallis is the largest standing fort in Malaysia and has great historical significance in Penang. The fort stands at the place where Captain Frances Light and his crew from the British East India Company landed in August 1786 to take possession of the island of Penang from the Sultan of Kedah.
Captain Light built the original fort to protect Penang from pirates and he named it after Charles Marquis Cornwallis, Lieutenant-General 2nd Earl Cornwallis (1738–1805) and the Governor-General of Bengal at the time of the fort’s construction.
The fort was originally built in a ‘star shape’ with palm trunks but this was quickly replaced by brick as can be seen today as there are walls and foundations stones and lots of cannons remaining on the site to feed the visitor’s imagination. The oldest and largest cannon on site is known as Seri Rambai and was cast in 1603. See my photo!
I certainly enjoyed wandering around the fort, seeing the statue of Captain Light, exploring what remains of this important historical site and imagining what life must have been like back then in the 1700’s.
The backpacking husband and I met with our local friends to enjoy a wonderful day trip to Penang Hill, which is also known by the Malay name Bukit Bendera, meaning Flag Hill.
Penang Hill is special because it’s the tallest of a group of mountainous peaks near the centre of the island, standing at 833 metres (2733 feet) above sea level, and located 9 km (approx. 5.5 miles) to the west of George Town.
Penang Hill has lots of interesting history as was the very first Hill Station in Malaysia back in 1787 and the elevated aspect was first developed by the British as a place for the gentry to relax and escape the oppressive summer heat (plus the risk of catching Malaria) in hot and steamy George Town.
PENANG HILL UNESCO BIOSPHERE RESERVE IS A RECREATIONAL PARK KNOWN AS THE HABITAT
THE HABITAT IS NOT ONE BUT FOUR OF THE TEN BEST THINGS TO DO IN PENANG MALAYSIA!
THE FUNICULAR RAILWAY: We took The Penang Hill Funicular Train to the top and then trekked through the tropical rainforest trails. Back in the day, it must have been an arduous trek to the top on horseback, but 100 years ago, in 1923, the Funicular Railway opened to take passengers up from lower to middle station. Then, in 2010, the railway track and cars were upgraded to reach from lower to the upper station in less than 10 minutes.
You can still hike up Penang Hill if you wish but the Penang Funicular Railway is much more fun because it features the steepest tunnel and is the longest funicular ride in Asia and in my 10 best things to do in Penang!
Buy your tickets in advance at the official website.
RAINFOREST TRAILS: Estimated to be 130 million years old, the Penang Hill biosphere rainforest reserve (gazetted 1911) is a treasure trove and in 2017 over 2,500 species were documented here, some previously undiscovered to science.
It is truly a wonderful experience and such a privilege to walk the trails through this rainforest reserve and to take in the flora and fauna and the wildlife all around you (lots of monkeys!) and to recognise the importance of this special habitat.
But, if you are looking for a much more adventurous rainforest experience, then there is also the Flight Of The Colugo Zipline to consider at this point. Not for me I’m afraid!
THE LANGUR WAY CANOPY WALK: This is a bridge and viewing platform that is the longest bridge of its kind in the world and the only one in a rainforest. The 230-meters-long and 40 metres above the forest floor Langur Way Canopy Walk (named after the Langur Monkey) will give you an unprecedented primate-eye view of Penang Hill’s 130-million-years-old stretch of tropical rainforest. An unmissable experience on Penang!
THE CURTIS CREST TREETOP WALK: Completed in 2017 and names after the 19th century English botanist Charles Curtis (1853-1928), this amazing circular Curtis Crest Treetop Walk is the highest viewing platform on Penang Hill.
The bridge forms a loop above the forest canopy at about 820 meters above sea level and about a hundred meters higher than the Top Station. But, unfortunately, by the time we reached this point it was later in the afternoon and the jungle mist had suddenly overtaken us and obstructed our promised panoramic views. See my atmospheric photos!
The largest and most intact of the six remaining waterfront clan ‘community’ jetties built on stilts above the water in 1888 and linked by elevated wooden walkways. Families from Penang’s ‘Hokkien’ Chinese community still live on Chew Jetty with the clan members using the lower part of their houses as shops. Chew Jetty is really interesting and it’s a popular tourist attraction easily located at Weld Quay in George Town.
I can’t write about Penang and not tell you a bit more about the food when Penang holds the title of the food capital of Malaysia! Some popular dishes include Penang Laksa, Char Kway Teow, Nasi Kandar, and many more, because of the cultural diversity of the island which also influences the food being offered here.
While we’re in Penang we love to meet up with our local friends and we all go out to dinner. Sometimes to a favourite restaurant and sometimes we meet up at one of the amazing many food courts in Penang – for dinner and also for breakfast!
I already mentioned Little India for fantastic street food and restaurants offering authentic, classic and fragrant, Indian dishes. The street food and food court scene is also up there with the best I’ve ever encountered and I’ve encountered many all over Asia.
Georgetown has a wonderful and often quirky café culture too.
One of the best cafés in Penang and a place we often go for dessert in the evening or for afternoon tea and cake is China House. A local friend tells me you can’t even say you’ve been to Penang unless you’ve been to China House to try some of the 30 different types of cakes baked there by 10 ‘passionate’ bakers who are selling no less than 7000 slices of cake PER MONTH.
My favourite type of cake at China House?
Erm… I really can’t decide between the gorgeously salted caramel cheesecake or the deliciously boozy Tiramisu cake.
I suggest you try both! You’ll find China House at 153, Beach St, Georgetown, Penang.
I visited Penang in May (once) and November (twice) but the best time to visit Penang depends on your preferences for weather and the type of activities you plan to do. If you enjoy a vibrant atmosphere with festivals and don’t mind occasional rain, the festival season (July to September) might be ideal. If you prefer drier weather the cool and dry season from December to February might be more suitable.
December to February (Cool and Dry): This period is considered the peak tourist season in Penang. The weather is relatively cooler, and there is less rainfall. It’s an excellent time for outdoor activities, exploring the city, and enjoying the beaches. However, do keep in mind that popular tourist spots may be more crowded.
March to April (Transition Period): This is the transition period between the northeast monsoon and the southwest monsoon. The weather is generally pleasant, and it’s a good time for outdoor activities. However, there might be occasional rain showers.
May to November (Monsoon Season): The southwest monsoon brings heavier rainfall to Penang during these months. While it’s still possible to visit, be prepared for occasional heavy rain. If you don’t mind some rain and prefer a quieter atmosphere with fewer tourists, this could be a suitable time to visit. Just keep in mind that some outdoor activities might be affected by the weather.
July to September (Festival Season): If you’re interested in experiencing local festivals, this period can be exciting. The Hungry Ghost Festival and the Nine Emperor Gods Festival usually take place during this time. However, be aware that the weather might be wet.
Travel Tip on Penang’s Public Holidays: Consider avoiding major public holidays like Chinese New Year, Ramadan, and Hari Raya Aidilfitri if you prefer a less crowded experience. On these holidays, popular attractions and accommodations may be much busier than usual. You can check and plan for all of Penang’s public holiday dates HERE.
Getting to Penang is relatively easy and there are many transport options available.
By Air: Penang International Airport (PEN): The airport is located on Penang Island and is well-connected with domestic and international flights. Airlines operate direct flights to Penang from major cities in Malaysia and other countries.
By Car: From Kuala Lumpur: Penang is approximately a 4-5 hour drive from Kuala Lumpur. The North-South Expressway connects these two locations. From Thailand: coming from the north you can use the North-South Expressway to reach Penang from the Thai border.
By Bus: From Kuala Lumpur: Several bus companies operate long-distance buses from Kuala Lumpur to Penang. The journey takes around 4-5 hours, depending on traffic and the type of bus. From Other Cities: Buses also connect Penang with other major cities in Malaysia.
By Train: From Kuala Lumpur: You can take a train from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth, which is on the mainland. From Butterworth, you can use the ferry service to reach Penang Island.
By Ferry: From Butterworth: If you are on the mainland, you can take a ferry from Butterworth to George Town on Penang Island. The ferry ride is about 15-20 minutes, and it offers a scenic view of the island.
By Cruise: Penang is a popular cruise destination, and many cruise ships make stops at the Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal in George Town. If you are arriving by cruise, you can explore Penang as part of your itinerary.
Are you planning to visit Penang?
Have you already been to Penang?
Let me know. Leave a comment below?
I’d be delighted to hear from you!
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