Penang is a good choice if...
…You want to avoid taking the plane. That was us. Didn’t feel like taking covid tests – going through all the SOPs at the airport with the kiddos. If you’re based in KL – and you plan well – it’s about 5 hours straight drive from KL using the highway. Easy peasy…watch out for travel peak times – weekends etc.
…You’ve got only a few days off – that was me! It was a nightmare trying to get approval to take leave. We did a 5 day, 4 night trip to Penang (straddling the weekend) so that my boss will grant me the much needed break time from office – sigh…
…You want something to cater for everyone no matter how old you are…In Penang – you have options – you can spend time going to all the touristy places which can easily be covered within the few days. Or you can just choose a beach resort and relax by the pool and beach with a mocktail. Let the kids go crazy in the water…Or you can go all nature crazy and spend time trekking, hiking, camping, whatever you fancy
Where to stay in Penang...
Depends on what you want to do, and of course who is travelling:-
Great base to relax/unwind. Nice selection of family friendly beachfront resorts. Great seafood restaurants – you can have meals by the beach, means romantic dinners for couples too. Great for honeymooners. Nice place to go for sea sports. About a 30 min drive (if no traffic) to Georgetown if you want to do a quick visit around the George Town sites. You’re not that far from National Park near Teluk Bahang if you want to do a bit of hiking.
The night markets here used to be quite ‘happening’ – but since the covid situation – I think a lot of the small businesses were hit hard and had to close. Maybe things will start to pickup again soon with the lift in inter-state travel ban. Anyway if you want to listen to live bands – you can check out Hard Rock Cafe.
If your activities are more focused on sight seeing – I’d recommend to stay in George Town. You’re closer to the all the key attractions. You can admire the old colonial architecture – shophouses, government buildings etc. checkout the exotic shops in Little India, take poses with the famous Penang Street Arts, visit the famous, old temples, churches and mosques throughout the city and take a cable car up the Penang Hill. If I was a solo traveller – or first time in the city – I would definitely opt for George Town.
I almost booked us here this round – there is a new hotel here that looks quite interesting. Angsana Teluk Bahang – they offer rooms with private pools! Didn’t go for it in the end because I wanted to stay in Batu Ferringhi – plus I was always thought Teluk Bahang is like a small fisherman village. So again – depends what you’re after… Anyway – to get to Teluk Bahang, you will pass by Batu Ferringhi. They’re not too far from each other unless the road is busy. I’d recommend to stay here if you’re more interested in nature activities as it is closest to the Penang National Park.
What to see and do in Penang
Check out old architecture/historical buildings
Drop by for a short visit at Fort Cornwallis
The fort was built in the late 18th century. It was built by Sir Francis Light (all Malaysians should be familiar with that name from the history books) on 11 Aug 1786. That time the fort was just a stockade of Nibong palm wood. In 1803, Sir Francis Light had the fort rebuilt using bricks. The fort was finally completed in 1810. This is the largest standing fort in Malaysia.
Buy a few sarees in Little India
Take photos with Penang street art
Best way to see the Street art is to walk. They are not so easy to find. If this is your thing – download the street art map. You can download the map here.
In order to “revive” the city bringing out the local cultural elements, in 2009 the Penang state government hosted a competition called the “Marking of George Town”. The company that won the competition, Sculpture at Work, made 52 iron rod sculptures illustrating the history or characteristics of selected streets in the district. Later on, in 2012, the state commissioned Ernest Zacharevic to create wall murals as part of the “Mirrors of George Town” series. And the list of murals continued to grow.
Visit beautiful religious sites
Go hiking on Penang Hill
You can take the funicular up to Penang Hill. Suggest to buy tickets in advance online. Go to the website here.
If you’re going during the school holiday season, best to take the fast track tickets. So what can you do up here?
- Take in the beautiful view of George Town – at sunrise, dusk, or anytime during the day from the skydeck/skywalk. Gorgeous instagram worthy backdrops
- Pay a visit to the Penang Hill mosque and the colourful
Sri Aruloli Thirumurugan temple
- Sample some local food (or Western cuisine) at the various food outlets/cafes
- Best of all – come in your sneakers/sports shoes and choose your hiking trail.
Have a mocktail on the beach
The waves can be quite high during the monsoon season – so be careful. If your aim is to spend most days on the beach, you probably need to plan to avoid the rainy season. Nov to early December may still be alright.
Go trekking or spend the night camping in the Penang National Park
There is no entrance fee to the park – although there is a small minimal charge to go on the 250m canopy walkway in the park to maintain the facilities. Do check the website before you make the trip on what is closed/opened. Currently the canopy is closed for maintenance.
Activities that you can do here include jungle trekking, picnicking, camping and fishing. There are 2 main trekking trails leading to Kerachut Beach (Monkey Beach) and Teluk Kampi Beach (about 2-3 hours trail). Both locations have campsites – you need to register before you can camp for the night. Kerachut beach also has a Turtle Conservation and Protection Center which is opened to the public. There is a shorter trail to Teluk Duyung (don’t know why they also call it Monkey Beach), if you continue on after that you will get to the Muka Head Lighthouse. You can head up and take views of Penang.
Just outside the park, you can find tour agents/local boatmen offering boat rides for a fee to the beaches in the park. You could also do one way jungle trekking and arrange a boat pickup from the beach. Worth the fee if you’re travelling in a group.
What to eat in Penang
Penang is often described as food heaven of Malaysia – great place for “makan-makan”. So what’s good to eat in Penang?
Nasi kandar is a must! Famous nasi kandar shops in Penang include Hameediyah, Line Clear, Deen, Sulaiman…Then there is char away teow, pasembur, laksa, cendol for dessert… the list goes on and on…
These days, Penang is also home to young trendy cafes like The Table & Co., Lagenda Cafe, MORE by Arang Coffee and the list goes on and on…
The Old Ferry Service
The iconic Penang ferries, which opened in 1894 ceased operations on 31 December 2020. Pretty sad… we were lucky to have gone on it several times. You used to be able to take your vehicle or just get on the ferry on foot to cross from the mainland to Penang Island and vice versa. Cool experience and you get a view of the Penang bridge on one side and the Butterworth port on the other.
They are converting a few of the old ferries into some kind of floating attractions, so you can still check them out.
To sum it up...
Penang is a great place to head to whether for a short visit or a long one and especially if all you want to do is chill with a mocktail (in my case) by the beach. Great place Mummies and Daddies as there are plenty of stuff to amuse the kids with. And in case – you feel like using your brain power, and learn about history and architecture, plenty of stuff to keep you occupied in that sense too!. So yes – highly recommended to anyone and everyone – singles, couples and those with young babes…