People love to come to Penang. Why is it special? Its chill atmosphere of a colonial idyll mixed with modern life of second biggest metropolis in Malaysia. Penang is also mixture of cultures. The island has 3 main rases: Indian, Malay and Chinese, which live together in peace. Contrast of traditions and religions creates extraordinary experience like being in a few countries at the same time. You can see beautiful temples of different faiths next to each other, festivals, colors, history.
Public transport works very well in Penang. You can get pretty much everywhere by numerous buses or use car sharing apps. So let’s start the trip!
10 Things to do in Penang
1. Discover street art in George Town
The streets of George Town are literally filled with interesting pieces of murals. Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic who drafted and painted murals in George Town Festival 2012, began a new era for the city. Exploring them and making “obligatory” selfies with each one of them became the most popular among things to do in Penang, not only for the tourists but also locals.
You can get touristic maps in almost all guest houses to see where the murals are. Street art is also well marked on Maps.me app, which I highly recommend to use while traveling. Roaming on those old colonial streets by bicycle, seeking Penang murals hidden in various places, was definitely my favorite activity while in George Town. The city is also center of social events, lots of museum and the best night life you can get on the island. Worth to stay in George Town for a couple of days to get a taste of them.
Having covered Penang’s street art, it’s time to start talking about Street FOOD. Penang is consistently ranked as one of the best food paradises in Malaysia and some say even in the world. From Malaysian food staples where you can have delicious broths like Laksa in coconut, and even to scrumptious after meal delights like Rojak thorough Chinese and Indian cuisine to Western meals – Penang has them all. So much so that ‘Penang’ has become a sort of brand in Malaysia’s culinary field. There are many food courts and hawker centres across the entire island, and I always saw them full of people. Prepare your stomach for a feast!
3. Floating village – Jetties
Jetties are the traditional settlements created by Chinese immigrants, today being part of the UNESCO heritage. There are still six clan jetties along the waterfront, and tourists are welcome and free to stroll about the wooden piers. Village is completely built on stilts which are over a century old. Each jetty is named after a Chinese clan – the Chew Jetty is the most tourist-friendly with the most stilt-houses and the longest walkway. You can make some nice pictures there and try different variations of durian, including pancake, icecream or coffee. Jetties are located in George Town, walkable distance from the old heritage site.
4. Go to Kek Lok Si temple
The Kek Lok Si temple is one of the finest and largest temple complexes within the region. It’s an essential aspect of Buddhism and Chinese cultural rituals in Penang. The temple’s architecture, with its many pagodas and archways, is even more enchanting during the Chinese New Year and Wesak Day celebrations as the temple will be covered in dazzling lights. It is also during those times when the temple is most crowded, usually by worshippers but also tourists who wish to soak in the serene atmosphere.
5. Visit National Park
Penang National Park is located on the north – west part of the island. 2.5 hectare area contains a rich diversity of habitats. If you’re up for the challenge, there are multiple trekking routes around the park and you’ll be rewarded with many breathtaking views.
The most popular is trail to Monkey Beach which is quite isolated. There is a camp site though, restaurants and lots of monkeys. From there you can climb to the light house, which is short (30min.) but steep path, perfect view point for the sunset. Another popular trekking path leads to Turtle Beach. More challanging than the previous one but also more wild. You will not find any restaurants over there so be sure to take enough food and water. Unfortunately, National Park is full of litter. Why not taking a rubish bag with you and committing random act of cleaning the path?
Both of the routes take from 1-2 hours one way. If you don’t like to hike, don’t worry you can also access both beaches by boat! Before you go there, please ask someone if it’s possible to swim. Dangerous jelly fish is quite common in this area. If that is the case, it’s very risky to swim. You can always take a ferry to Langkawi – island 3 hours away from Penang, where beaches will surely amaze you!
6. Climb Penang Hill
Also known as Bukit Bendera in Malay, Penang Hill is one of the top attractions in Penang and one of the coolest (the temperature is literally cooler at the top of the hill). One of the main attractions of Bukit Bendera is the funicular train ride to the top. It only takes few minutes but if you’re one who fancies the embrace of nature, you may also choose to hike up the hill, as I did. Trekking path I chose starts at the Botanical Garden at the Moon Gate and it took me around 4 hours to climb up. To go down I decided to take a jeep road, which is more boring but faster – to go down took only 1,5 hours. You’ll be surrounded by lush greenery and minty fresh air. I encourage you to stay on the path, not only because it’s safer for you but also you won’t damage plants which may be indangered. The top of the hill is home to a few restaurants, a souvenir shop, a temple, a bird sanctuary and a mosque.
7. Check on the festivals
Mixture of cultures and religions means as well many public holidays and amazing festivals. I was lucky to see Chinese New Year celebrations which lasted two weeks plus Hot Air Baloon Fiesta and Thaipusam – the most crazy festival I have ever seen. Being in Penang I had the impression that festivals are all the time, and lots of events along. If you are planning to come to Penang don’t forget to check the events before, to don’t miss any unforgettable celebration.
8. Have unique tea experience
Staying in Penang I noticed that there are many unique tea houses. (Not only for tea lovers but also for sweets lovers.) Mixture of Asian cultures which love to drink tea plus heritage after English colonialisation allows you to discover variety of tea serving traditions and tea kinds from luxury English afternoon tea through Japanese tea brought straight from family farm to Chinese herbal tea from the street stand. I couldn’t resist to check few of them and finally, tasty article has been created. Tea experience is definitely one of the things to do in Penang, which made my stay unique and hopefully inspire you as well. I have never seen so many various tea houses in the same place.
9. Have picnic at the Botanical Garden
The Penang Botanical Gardens is a beautiful public park to have a nice stroll on a breezy afternoon. The gardens were originally established in the 1880s from an old quarry site. It contains lush green tropical forests and is generally a place of tranquility of peace. If you decide to bring food and have a picnic please be aware of monkeys!
10. Relax on Batu Ferringhi beach
Batu Ferringhi beach is the most popular for tourists. It’s pristine sandy beaches, water sports, and array of water activities keep visitors coming back. If you’re not one to hop about in the sun, you too will surely be able to appreciate the idea of lazing around on a beach with an ice cold cocktail in hand. Sunset there is a nice idea too, to accomplish the day.
There are just too many things to do in Penang Island; I chose just few of them. In fact, I have to admit, I’ve done all of those things myself and couldn’t leave this island for two months! There’s no way to say it more clearly than this: The reviews are on point. Visit Penang once, and you just might never want to leave again.