Situated in the northern part of West Malaysia along the Malacca Strait, Penang is one of the most popular and renowned travel destinations. It was founded by the British in 1786 and awarded UNESCO World Heritage site due to an impressive collection of more than 1,700 historic buildings. The island was nicknamed the Pearl of the Orient because there are many soft sandy beaches and is the food capital of the country with many authentic food are originated from here.
Best Time to Visit
Penang has been one of the favorite destinations in Malaysia and is visited by locals and international travelers throughout the year. The peak season is between November and February during the long year-end school holidays and festive seasons. The dry season fall between December and April and has attract foreigners to this lovely tropical island to enjoy a warm climate and sandy beaches. The weather can be hot and humid with temperatures reaching up to 34°C.
The low season is during the monsoon season, which falls between September and November. The rain and occasional thunderstorms usually happen only in the late afternoons and evenings. There are still plenty of attractions that you can slowly wander and explore the island.
Getting There and Around
Penang International Airport (PEN) is an airport located on the island and located about 17 kilometers away from the downtown and the UNESCO Heritage Site. There are three domestic airlines flying here: Malaysia Airline, Air Asia, and Malindo Air.
If you choose to take a domestic flight from KL International Airport (KUL), the journey takes only an hour. This is the best option if you are traveling aboard and need to transit from Kuala Lumpur. Other domestic flights include Langkawi (45 minutes), Johor (1 hour and 10 minutes), and Kota Kinabalu (3 hours).
Coming to the island by bus is the cheapest alternative, especially during the high season. If you are traveling from Kuala Lumpur, buses will depart from KL Sentral or Bersepadu Selatan Terminal (TBS), the main bus terminal of the city. You can get to TBS by KLIA Transit from KL Sentral or from KL International Airport. Alternatively, you can choose to take a Grab car to the bus station. The journey to Penang takes about 5 hours.
Other common routes to Penang are Ipoh and Johor and the buses will usually arrive at Penang Sentral. These buses will depart from Amanjaya Bus Terminal, Ipoh, which takes 2.5 hours, and from Larkin Bus Terminal, Johor, which takes 10 hours. It is best to take the bus to Penang Sentral because you can directly transit to Georgetown by ferry.
The ride may be longer than taking a plane, but look at the bright side, you can enjoy the scenery of the countryside, small towns, paddy fields, and palm trees Purchase your bus ticket online in advance via Redbus.
The old ferries had been temporarily being replaced by passenger-only boats. These boats take less than 10 minutes to get from Pangkalan Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal to Swettenham Pier, Georgetown. The ferry departs every 30 minutes (peak hours) to an hour (off-peak). The ferry service operates between 7 am to 8.30 pm and the ticket fare costs RM1.20 for adults and 60 cents for children.
You can also opt for a train, which departs from KL Sentral in Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh Station, and JB Sentral in Johor. Tickets can be purchased from KTMB Mobile app on your phone (Be advised to buy the ticket in advance, especially during peak periods). Once you arrive at the train terminal, you will need to take the ferry from Pangkalan Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal to Swettenham Pier, Georgetown. The ferry departs every 30 minutes (peak hours) to an hour (off-peak). The ferry service operates between 7 am to 8.30 pm and the ticket fare costs RM1.20 for adults and 60 cents for children.
Upon arrival at the airport, you can take Grab car directly to your accommodation (Download Grab app into your phone). The airport is about 20 km away from Georgetown. There are also public buses, Rapid Penang Bus no. 401, 401A, and 401E, which will travel between the airport, Komtar Building, and the Jetty. The buses running every 30 minutes and take about an hour to arrive at your destination. One-way trip will cost RM2.70 and buses operate from 7 am to 10 pm (Note: bus drivers only take the exact fare and do not have any change).
Penang island is an easy place to explore and navigate, enough there is no train available like Kuala Lumpur. Most heritage buildings are situated right in Georgetown and can visit them on foot. There is the free Penang City Hop On Free Central Area Transit (CAT) to take you around the town and they depart every 30 minutes from Bus Terminal Jetty. If you are heading to the beach in Batu Ferringhi, you can take the local bus 101 for RM3 on a round trip from the Jetty Bus Terminal. Alternatively, there are always Grab throughout the town.
The exciting stuff for three days in Penang
Penang is well-known for its UNESCO Heritage Sites in Georgetown, amazing street arts, beautiful beaches, and the birthplace of delicious Malaysian food. Discover the city on foot is a great way to admire the beautiful old buildings built during the British rule. To make the most memorable trip here, it is recommended to spend three full days in Penang.
1. Get a taste of Penang’s local food
Malaysia has many delicious food and Penang is no exception to it. The famous Char Kuey Teow or Fried Koay Teow was originated from here and has always been favorable to locals and tourists. It can be found in most street hawkers, night markets, and local cuisines. A trip to Penang is considered incomplete without having one of these yummy Char Kuey Teow.
Char Kuey Teow is a flat rice noodle cooked with shrimps, cockles, bean sprouts, and eggs in a Chinese wok. Some hawkers will add preserved sliced Chinese sausage or use duck eggs instead. To spice things up a little, customers love to ask to add chili paste as well.
Besides that, here is the list of food you must have and add them to your checklist during your stay in Penang. These include Wanton noodles, lobak , fried oysters, and Pasembur.
- Penang Wanton noodles/ mee: noodles tossed with dark sauce and topped with boiled or fried wontons, char siu, some some green choy sum and pickled chilies.
- Lobak (Five-Spice Meat Rolls): crispy meat rolls made from pork tenderloin and spices, and rolled up with bean curd sheets. It will be fried and sometimes served with cucumber.
- Fried oyster omelette/ ‘Oh Chien’: a popular street food comes with fresh, juicy oysters, fried together with a bed of crispy but yet sticky egg.
- Pasembur or Rojak Mamak: salad comes with shredded cucumber, potatoes, bean curd, turnip and bean sprouts, either with prawn fritters, spicy fried crab, fried squid or other seafood. It is topped with sweet and spicy nut sauce.
2. Roam around the UNESCO Heritage Sites
Georgetown was the first British settlement in Southeast Asia when Francis Light, a British Royal Navy captain established the island as an entrepot in 1786. It became the main trade route for spices between the West and the East. Many old heritage buildings were built under the influence of different ethics which mainly consists of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Peranakan, Eurasian, and Thai during the British colonial era,
These 19th-century old buildings had been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. The town has become an open-air museum where you can walk through the streets surrounded by old government buildings, churches, monuments, Fort Cornwallis, Esplanade (the place where Light first landed on the island), lovely cafes, and authentic cuisines.
Travel Tips: If you want to know more about the interesting history of Georgetown, there is a free Georgetown Walkabout Tour organized by the Tourist Information Centre of Penang every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. You need to register before 10 am which is based on a first-come, first-served basis. The tour starts at 10.30 am at the Whiteaway Arcade meeting point and takes about an hour and a half.
3. Take a tour at the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is one of the most beautiful landmarks in Georgetown. This indigo blue building known as the Blue Mansion was built at the end of the 19th century by the wealthy merchant Cheong Fatt Tze.
The owner is not only rich, but also has eight wives, a number of concubines, eight sons, and six daughters. This mansion consists of 38 rooms, seven staircases, and five courtyards, which is big enough to accommodate the entire family. The architectural design is mixed with Chinese and Western style. It is now converted into a museum, boutique hotel, and restaurants for guests to explore and experience the elegant lifestyle.
Tips: A 45-minutes guided tour is available twice a day at 11 am and 2 pm from Thursday to Sunday. You can see the entire mansion and learn about its history at the price of RM25 for adults and RM12.50 for children. You can also experience a lifestyle of Cheong Fatt Tze by staying here, chilling out in The Bar, or dine-in at Indigo at The Blue Mansion (Click here for more information).
4. Admire the street art of Georgetown
These heritage sites have become much alive, many thanks to the creativity of street arts painted by local and international artists. When walking along the main streets of the historic buildings, you will find many cool murals, funny cartoon characters, and interactive artworks. Some paintings are made in such a way to make you fit right into paintings, and others portray the life of Penangites. These street arts are mostly visible along the main streets, but some are hidden in small alleys and the back of shophouses.
5. Munch the tasty Ming Xiang Tai pastries
Ming Xiang Tai is my favorite pastry shop in Penang. Although they are famed for their homemade Signature Egg Tarts, what I love most is their Salted Egg Pastry. Its sweetness of pandan paste combined with salted duck egg makes this pastry a perfect snack during tea break.
This pastry shop has opened back in 2008 by the third generation heirs Au Meng Kit. He named his egg tarts the “Trishaw Egg Tart” to honor his parents’ time when they first used a trishaw cart to sell pastries around their neighborhood. The recipes were passed down from his grandmother. Today, there are five branches on the island and the most popular store is at Lebuh Armenian in the UNESCO Heritage Site. (Click here for more info).
6. Step into the past at Penang Peranakan Mansion
Built in the end of the 19th-century, this Pinang Peranakan Mansion is the former residence of Kapitan Cina Chung Keng Kwee. He and his family had created a unique culture and custom known as Baba Nyonya, by adopting selected ways of the local Malay and British colonial lifestyle. Their rich culture, cuisine, language, rituals, and lifestyle are still preserved and practiced today by the descendants of the family.
Join a guided tour with the host as he takes you on a glimpse of this green-hued mansion and shares the history of the Peranakan family and this century-old mansion. The Baba mansion houses a thousand pieces of antiques and collectibles of its era displayed here. The mansion has been restored to its origin where you will find Chinese carved wooden panels, English floor tiles, and Scottish ironworks still intact to the building.
Opening hours: Daily from 9.30 am to 5 pm
Entrance fee: Adults: RM20/ Children below age 6: free
7. Visit the ancient Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi
Tucked away from the main heritage streets, Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, simply known as Khoo Kongsi is one of the extraordinary Chinese clans that has a history dating back more than six centuries. This clan together with Cheah, Yeoh, Lim, and Tan Kongsi form the ‘Five Big Clans’ within the Hokkien community.
The courtyard in front of the temple was used to stage cultural performances. You can visit the museum to learn about the history of the clan house, the Chinese community in Penang, and the clan houses.
Opening hours: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm
Entrance fee: Adults: RM10/ Children: RM1
8. Admire Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple
This Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple was built between 1845 and 1867 and is dedicated to the Taoist God of Prosperity. The temple is painted in deep hues of red to symbolize good fortune. The temple also functioned as a military barracks and business headquarters for the local Hokkien community.
Inside the temple houses several artifacts dating back to the earliest days. You will find shrines, religious statues, paintings, antique furniture, clan paraphernalia, and an array of weaponry believed to be used back in the days of the secret societies here.
Opening hours: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm
Entrance fee: Free
9. Walk along Little India
Little India is one of the most colorful places in town and home to one of the smallest ethnic groups in Malaysia. It covers three streets: Chulia Street, Queen Street, and Market Street. The street is buzzing with loud Bollywood music. To fill your growling tummy, there are several cafes serving delicious Briyani rice, banana leaf set, Muruku, Samosa, Vadai, and many more.
The Sri Mahamariamman Temple just around the corner is the oldest Hindu temple built by the early Indian settlers in 1833. The interiors of the temple are heavily sculptured with Hindu deities, soldiers, and floral decorations.
Opening hours: Daily between 6.30 am to 12 pm and 4.30 pm to 11 pm
Entrance fee: Free
10. Explore the charming Kapitan Keling Mosque
Kapitan Keling Mosque is the oldest mosque in Penang, which was established by the Indian Muslim traders in Georgetown in 1801. The “Kapitan” name represents the Indian community and “Keling” is the Malay term for the people of Indian origin. The mosque was uniquely designed with Gothic, Moorish, and Roman-style with beautiful minarets and domes.
Opening hours: 11 am to 6 pm
Entrance fee: Free
11. Discover the life of the clan families at Chew Clan Jetty
Wandering at one of these old clan jetties gives you an experience of the traditional way of life. Chew Clan Jetty is one of the seven remaining clan jetties that still existed and their houses were originally built on wooden poles by the Chinese Hokkien immigrants from the Fujian province of China about 150 years ago. They moved from inland of the island because it would be easier to run their shipping and trade business at the waterfront. The descendants of the clans still lived here.
Nowadays some stilt houses have been converted into small shops, restaurants, budget hostels, and Airbnb, but many members of the community still lived here and work as fishermen, hawkers, and dock makers. Chew Jetty has been too touristy in recent years and partly because it was a famous location for the filming of a local movie named “Ice Kacang Puppy Love” which starred local actor Ah Niu and actress Angelica Lee.
12. Going up the Penang Hill
Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera) is one of the higher points on the island with an elevation of 833 meters. It was known as Flagstaff Hill by the British because the British flag used to be raised to signal the arrival of mails and used to escape the tropical heat with 5-6°C cooler up here.
The Sky Walk and Viewing Deck give you awesome views of the city, Penang bridge, shipping port, and mainland of Penang. There are a few attractions at the hilltop: the flower garden, a mini bird park, an owl museum, mosque and Hindu temple. If you are on the island for more than 3 nights, do consider staying overnight at the historic Bellevue Hotel.
Getting Here: Take bus 201 or 204 from the Jetty Bus Terminal or Komtar Bus Station or ride the Penang Hop-on Hop-Off Tourist Bus to Penang Hill Railway Station. If you are driving a car, you can park your car at the multi-story car park. Alternatively, you can also hail a Grab car to the station. Then you buy a return-trip funicular ride to get to the top of the hill in just 6 minutes (Click here to check beforehand if the funiculars are operating because they are occasionally under maintenance)
Looking for some physical challenge? Go on a 5 kilometers hike to the top of Penang Hill. You will walk through the woods, jungle, and small golden temples that take about 3 hours.
Travel tip: The funicular is accessible by wheelchair and visitors with a disability are eligible for free rides and access to the fast lane. The pathway and attractions at Penang Hill are wheelchair-friendly.
Opening hours: Daily from 6.30 am to 10 pm
Entrance fee: Click here for full details
13. Wander into The Habitat
The Habitat in Penang Hill is a protected forest reserve that is home to many exotic flora and fauna. The 1.6-kilometer nature trail lies within the rainforest was built by the British East India Company in the 1800s. The 13-meters high Curtis Crest Tree Top Walk is the highest public viewing point in Penang and you can enjoy the breathtaking panoramic view of its surroundings. You can also walk along the world’s longest two-span Langur Way Canopy Walk to spot any wildlife and just listen to the sound of birds chirping.
Travel tips: The Habitat is well-paved and is suitable for all fitness levels and can be accessible by wheelchair. There is a buggy car to pick up visitors at the end of the trail back to the main entrance. Do check beforehand if the funiculars are operating because they are occasionally under maintenance (Click here to more details).
Opening hours: Daily from 9 am to 6 pm. The last entry is at 6 pm and exit by 7 pm. The Sunset Walk is available on weekends from 5.30 pm onwards with last entry at 7 pm and exit by 8 pm.
Entrance fee: Adults: RM54/ Children: RM36 (Click here to buy tickets)
14. Visit the enormous Kek Lok Si Temple
Built between 1890 and 1930, the Kek Lok Si temple is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and is an important pilgrimage center for Buddhists. The 30-meters-high pagoda with a fascinating landscape garden, also known as Ban Pho Tar, is the main highlight of the complex. It has an octagonal base and is built with Chinese, Thai, and Burmese elements. The seven-story pagoda has different jade Buddhas at each level made in Thai and Burmese style. You can enjoy the magnificent views of the complex from the top of the pagoda.
A grand statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy was completed in 2002 at the hillside above the pagoda. It is the tallest Kuan Yin statue in the world and is surrounded by one hundred of 2-meters goddess Kuan Yin statues. There are also other 10,000 bronze Buddha statues around the shrine.
During the Chinese New Year period, the temple is lit up with over 200,000 lights and lanterns. Buddhist worshippers around the country will come to the temple to pray for good fortune and abundant life. You also get a chance to witness the colorful fireworks display during this festive night.
Tips: The complex is mostly accessible by wheelchair. There are tram services from level 1 to level 2 and level 3 to level 4 of the complex with a small fee of RM3 per ride to each level. They also provide a buggy ride from level 2 to level 3 of the temple.
Getting Here: Take bus 201 or 204 from the Jetty Bus Terminal or hail a Grab car to the temple. You can also drive to the temple, but parking is limited and hard to find especially during Chinese New Year (fall between January and February) and Tomb Sweeping Day (falls in April).
Opening hours: Daily 8 am to 6 pm. The temple will open until 10 pm during Chinese New Year which falls between January and February.
Entrance fee: Free to enter the temple. There is a small fee of RM 2 to the Pogoda at the third level of the complex
15. Enjoy the cool breeze at Batu Ferringhi beach
Batu Ferringhi is one of the best places to chill out, watch the stunning sunset and enjoy different water sports activities. It stretches 11 kilometers along the northern coast of the island and you will find many backpacker inns, motels, and luxury hotels.There is a night market at Tanjong Bungah, which opens daily from 7 am to 12 am and traders selling street food and various merchandise.
Travel Tips: Some beaches are privately owned by hotels. However, some hotels allow non-guests to hang out in their hotel and enjoy sunbathing. All you need to do is order some food or drinks and relax at the pool area and the beach.
Getting There: Take bus 101 from the Jetty Bus Terminal or take a Grab car to Batu Ferringhi.
Going Elsewhere in Malaysia?
If you are planning to stay longer for more adventures in Malaysia, you can check out my other posts: