Travel Guide Asia Malaysia Penang

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Introduction

Kek Lok Si Temple

Kek Lok Si Temple

© All Rights Reserved Degolasse

Penang (Malay: Pulau Pinang) is the second smallest of the 13 states of Malaysia, and George Town on Penang Island is its capital. Penang might refer to the city, the island or the state.

Penang state population has more than 1.5 million, nearly half residing on Penang Island. There are a considerably large population of ethnic Chinese, consisting of over two-fifths of the population - about the same proportion as the ethnic Malay. Expatriates consist of over five per cent of the population in the state due to the large number of multinational companies operating here such as AMD, Bosch, Dell, Hitachi, Intel, Motorola and Osram.

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Geography

Penang state consists of two parts, Penang Island and mainland Province Wellesley (Malay: Seberang Perai), connected by ferry from Butterworth across the 3-kilometre-wide North Channel and by the 13.5-kilometre-long Penang Bridge, the longest in Malaysia. The topography of Seberang Perai, comprising more than half of the land area of Penang, is mostly flat save for Bukit Mertajam, the name of the hillock and the eponymous town at its foot. It has a long coastline, the majority of which is lined with mangrove.

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Sights and Activities

George Town Clan Jetties

George Town Clan Jetties

© All Rights Reserved Herr Bert

Batu Ferringhi Beach

Batu Ferringhi is a town on the northern coastline of Penang, and is located 10 kilometres west of George Town. There are several hotels located along the main road. On the beach there are possibilities for jet skiing, hang gliding and horse riding amongst other things. In the evening there is a touristic evening market. it is also the location for the Penang Hard Rock Café and Hotel.

Clan Jetties in George Town

The Clan Jetties are a couple of stilt houses, built by several Chinese families. There are several next to each other, but the most visited (and touristic) is the Chew Jetty. There are several tours visiting, and most houses are turned into shops. When visiting please remember that there are actually people living here, so respect their privacy.

Fort Cornwallis

Fort Cornwallis was build on the northeastern cape of Penang so that overlooks the northern waters, and the water crossing to Butterworth. Captain Sir Francis Light took possession of the island from the Sultan of Kedah and built the original fort in 1786. A statue of Captain Light, can be found near the entrance. The exhibition is being renewed at this time.

Ernest Zacharevic street art works

George Town street art

George Town street art

© All Rights Reserved Herr Bert

Young Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic was asked in 2012 to create a number of murals in the center of George Town for the 2012 George Town Festival. They vary from large painting covering the whole side of a house to small pieces of art. When walking around town, you will be sure to come across them. Hopefully the people of George Town take good care of these artworks.

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Other Sights and Activities

  • Botanical Gardens
  • Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
  • Gurney Drive
  • Kapitan Keling Mosque
  • Khoo Kongsi
  • Kek Lok Si Temple
  • Kew Leong Tong Temple
  • Night markets
  • Northern beaches
  • Penang Butterfly Farm
  • Penang Ferry
  • Penang Hill Furnicular Train
  • Penang Museum
  • Penang War Museum
  • Straits Quay
  • Taman Negara National Park
  • Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram (Reclining Buddha)

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Events and Festivals

  • Penang International Dragon Boat Race - Originating in China, this famous festival has made its way to this Malaysian capital because of its high percentage of Chinese inhabitants. Visitors can watch colorful dragon boats race accompanied by the rhythmic thumping of traditional drums. This event has attracted international participants from all over the world since its inception in 1979. It was initially created as a way to celebrate the celestial dragon of the Chinese culture.
  • Wesak Day - Considered a holy day among the Buddhist community of Penang. Wesak Day celebrates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddah. Celebrations are held throughout the city. Followers of Buddah can participate in a large procession that circles the entire city. The parade includes elaborate floats and decorations, along with hundreds of Buddhist monks that sprinkle holy water and offer chants and prayers. This event occurs every year in May.
  • Penang World Music Festival - During three consecutive days every spring, Penang hosts an eclectic and internationally popular music festival at its beautiful Botanical Gardens. The festival will feature world renowned musicians from Malaysia as well as other musicians from overseas who gather and participate in "a convergence of harmonic fusion". This event is sponsored by the Penang State Tourism Development and Culture Office and promises to entertain thousands with top world music performances.
  • George Town Festival - This month-long festival is celebrated in George Town every year commemorating the city's induction into UNESCO in 2008. The festival celebrates local theater, music, dance, film, art, opera, food, and fashion - with a specific focus on the city's dynamic culture and rich history. This event is held every June/July.
  • Bon Odori Festival - A high-energy event put on by the Japanese community in Penang every summer. The event is saturated in Japanese culture and cuisine. Visitors can expect to see fascinating displays of traditional dance and music performances. The celebration of "Bon Odori" comes to Penang comes from Japan, where each year, a festival is held to honor the departed spirits of Japanese ancestors. The evening of celebration culminates in a grand fireworks display. This event is held every July in Penang.
  • Nine Emperor Gods Festival - The Nine Emperor Gods Festival occurs on the 9th Month of the Chinese Lunar year and lasts for nine days. It is believed that during this time, the spirits of Nine Gods descend upon the earth by ceremonially possessing spirit mediums and putting them in a trance. During this popularly celebrated festival, processions are held throughout the city leading from religious temples to the sea or rivers. Devotees of these gods dress up in traditional white clothing, and they carry incense and candles through the streets of George Town. This religious event is held every October. Throughout the Nine day festival, witness the Preparation & Invitation, Hot Oil, Spear Skewing & Float Procession, Fire Walking and Fort Crossing Ceremonies culminating in the Sending Off Ceremony at the sea or river on an Emperor Boat. Race dates vary every year.

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Weather

Like the rest of Malaysia, Penang has a hot and humid tropical climate with daytime temperatures mostly around the 30 °C mark while nights are around or above 20 °C. Monsoon rains arrive around November and last until at least March. The climate is very much dictated by the surrounding sea and the wind system. Penang's proximity with Sumatra, Indonesia makes it susceptible to dust particles carried by wind from perennial but transient forest fires, creating a phenomenon known as the haze.

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Getting There

By Plane

Penang International Airport (PEN) has quite a few international and domestic services. AirAsia flies to/from Hong Kong, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, Macau and Singapore. Other airlines serve cities like Taipei, Guangzhou, Xiamen, Langkawi, Medan, Phuket, Jakarta and Bangkok.

By Train

Butterworth station is a terminus on the northern route of the west coast railway line. KTMB operates trains to/from this station, with trains towards Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.

By Car

Penang is connected to the mainland and the North-South Expressway by the Penang Bridge, one of the longest bridges in Asia, and by the Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge, commonly called the Penang Second Bridge, which is further south and even longer. There is no toll for vehicles heading to the mainland on either bridge, but vehicles headed to the island must pay a toll as follows: For the First Bridge: motorcycles: RM1.40, cars: RM7, lorries and vans with two axles and four wheels: RM12. For the Second Bridge: motorcycles: RM1.70, cars and other vehicles with two axles and three or four wheels, except buses: RM8.50, vans and other vehicles with two axles and six wheels (except for buses, which are charged RM 26.20): RM 30.50.

By Bus

Several companies offer bus services to George Town from Kuala Lumpur (5-6 hours), Johor Bahru and Singapore (both around 10 hours) and other cities and towns across the Malaysian Peninsula. There are also minivans services to places in southern Thailand with van/ferry combinations possible, even to the Perhentian Islands.

By Boat

Ferries travel between Penang and Butterworth, Langkawi and Medan on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra. It's a relatively short ride to Butterworth, about 2.5 hours to Langkawi and 6 hours to Medan.

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Getting Around

By Car

Car rentals may be a viable option, especially if you are planning to get off the beaten track and explore the western or southern coast of the island. Take note that Penang Island has quite a number of one-way streets and narrow roads. Many Penangites ride motorbikes and a minority of them have disregard for pedestrians, cars, and even their own lives, so you must be very careful when driving on the roads.

Taxis in Penang are equipped with meters and by law they are mandated to use them, but practically all drivers will refuse to turn them on. Always haggle with the taxi driver and agree on a price beforehand.

By Bus

RapidPenang, the local bus service, features new buses. All bus stations and bus stops which are serviced by the RapidPenang buses are labelled with proper signboards to ensure user-friendliness. Buses are somewhat frequent on the main artery to Batu Ferringhi. Rapid Penang bus 101 bound for Teluk Bahang goes through midtown Pulau Tikus, (northwest end of) Gurney Drive, Tanjung Tokong, Tanjung Bungah, Batu Ferringhi and terminates at the Penang National Park entrance. Avoid so-called 'minibuses' because they usually go as far as Tanjung Bungah and can be poorly maintained.

Trishaws, three-wheeled human-powered vehicles, might be the best idea for a pleasant city tour. One can stop at any point to take a photo or buy souvenirs. Many trishaw riders are also excellent 'tour guides'. Negotiate the fare first before getting on a trishaw; it is advisable to hire them by the hour for extended sightseeing.

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Eat

Penang is widely considered the food capital of Malaysia and is a melting pot of cuisines. The obvious mix of Malay, Chinese, Peranakan/Nonya and Indian cuisine has a strong presence along with a variety of other international fare. Penangites live to eat and will eat anywhere, provided the food is exceptional. Often some of the best food can be found along the side of a busy road or even down an inconspicuous alleyway. The rule of thumb is to be adventurous with your tongue, look at the condition of the stall and its surroundings. If in doubt where to eat, go where the locals eat and ask around for recommendations.

If you have been to Singapore or other parts of Malaysia you may see some familiar names, but don't be fooled as some dishes in Penang are quite different from what you may get elsewhere. With that in mind, many dishes that are common throughout Malaysia are also present in Penang, which can be found under Malaysian cuisine. The following is a list of some, but not all, common and popular Penang dishes.

  • Assam Laksa is a far cry from the sweet, coconut Singapore version. The broth of this noodle soup is packed with tamarind (assam), Lemongrass, galangal and flaked fish and is typically garnished with pineapple, mint, onion, prawn paste and a generous helping of chilli. The combination is utterly unique, powerful and will have the uninitiated breathing fire. The coconut variety, called Curry Mee, is also available in Penang.
  • Char Hor Fun (炒河粉) is a local dish with flat rice noodles (kway teow) in a delicious broth of beaten eggs and seafood bits. Goes best with pickled green chillies.
  • Char Kway Teow (炒馃条) is the ever popular stir-fried (char) flat rice noodle (kway teow) dish found throughout Malaysia and Singapore, often mixed with prawns, cockles, bean sprouts and vegetables, with an egg mixed in on request. Exceptional versions of this dish can be found all over Penang, with the best typically coming from roadside stalls, Hawker centers and coffeeshops, or Kopitiams.
  • Hokkien Mee (福建面) in Penang bears little resemblance to the stir fried dish of the same name found in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. It is a soup based dish filled with rice and egg noodles, pork, prawns, vegetables, bean sprouts, a hard boiled egg and fried shallots. Mee Udang is the Malay version of Hokkien Mee.
  • Kway Teow Th'ng (粿条汤) contains flat rice noodles (kway teow) in a clear chicken soup (th'ng) with slices of chicken, pork, fish cake and garnished with chopped spring onions. Some also include duck meat or even offal, but you can request for them to leave it out.
  • Lobak, or Lor bak (卤肉), comprises minced pork wrapped in tofu skin and is very famous in Penang. Similar to a sausage, you can also choose the accompanying servings of prawn fritters, tofu, fish cakes, Taiwan sausages or even century eggs. They are all fried up and served with chilli sauce. At street stalls you just grab what you want and give to the chef to cook.
  • Lor Mee (鹵麵) is a dish unique to Penang comprising of yellow noodles in sticky brown coloured gravy and commonly served with sliced chicken breast and pork. Some vendors may also include offal in the in their lor mee, but as always you can request for it to be left out.

Mee Sotong is a popular local dish found specifically at the Kota Selera Hawker Center, near Fort Cornwallis. The dish contains egg noodles served squid, shallots and a fishy, spicy sauce. A wedge of lime is usually given to add extra zing to the dish. You can also find this dish at several other hawker centres.

  • Nasi Kandar is literally white rice (nasi) with anything else you want with it. Although these days it is sold in virtually every Malaysian city, Penang is the where the dish originated from, and according to many Malaysians is still where the best ones are. Typical side dishes to add include curries, fried chicken or fish, prawns, squid, hardboiled eggs and vegetables and it's often completed with splashes of various curry sauces. It may not be a particularly pretty dish, but it is loved by Malaysians. Be warned that adding too many sides can make the dish quite expensive. Many Penangites have their own favourite stall, and some stalls are open 24 hours, so ask around for their recommendation.
  • Oh Chien, or Or Chen, is simply an oyster omelette, is a very popular dish among Penangites. You can find it all over at hawker centres, Chinese coffee shops and some seafood restaurants. It is typically mixed with chives, radish and dash of soy sauce, fish sauce and white pepper before cooking.
  • Rojak can refer to two different dishes. Chinese rojak (or just rojak at hawker stalls) is a salad of raw mango, pineapple, cucumber, white turnip, fried bean curd and topped with peanuts a dark thick sauce of shrimp paste and sugar. The ingredients do vary slightly between stalls.
  • Pasembor, also called Indian rojak, is found mostly at Mamak stalls. It consists of cucumbers, fried dough fritters, bean curds, prawn fritters, hard boiled eggs, bean sprouts, cuttlefish and topped with a sweet thick, spicy peanut sauce.
  • Satay, or Sate, obviously is the famous meat-on-a stick that is found all over Malaysia. Often you can find chicken or beef satay, but what makes Penang different is that the Chinese vendors also serve up pork satay. Once cooked over hot coals they are served with a fresh salad of cucumbers, onions and a spicy-sweet peanut dipping sauce. Some place will also serve it with compressed rice.
  • Seafood is not exactly a dish, but considering much of the state lined by coastline, it is no surprise that it is a big player in Penang cuisine. Seafood is used in all local cuisines, from Indian tandoori prawns, to Chinese black pepper crab or even the Malay grilled fish (ikan bakar). Seafood restaurants are common along the coastline, particularly around Batu Ferringhi and Teluk Bahang along the north coast or Batu Maung to the south.

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Drink

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Sleep

Much of Penang's accommodation options can be found along the northern area of Penang Island, with bargains to be found in George Town and Batu Ferringhi. Take note that advertised prices often do not include the 6% government tax and 10% service charge that is required by law for hotels. Informal accommodation, such as small hostels and simple home stays may not be required to include this additional charge. Advertised prices will often show a plus-plus after the ringgit amount, to indicate the charges are excluded from the price. As such, prices advertised as RM30++ will actually cost RM34.80.

Most of Penang's budget accommodation is in the form of backpacker hostels, located in George Town, within and near the historical core of the city. There is a large concentration of hostels located along and around Lebuh Chulia, Jalan Muntri and Lorong Love. Many of the hostels are within charming and slowly decaying historic shops that have been renovated to house guests. In terms of price, expect to pay around RM20–40 for a dorm bed, RM50-60 for a single private or RM60-100 for twin and double private rooms. Most of the better hostels will at least have shared bathroom facilitates, air-con, Wi-Fi and a simple breakfast.

For those who do not favour hostels, there are a few budget hotels available scattered throughout the state. The notable Tune Hotel that is found throughout Malaysia is located in George Town, just outside the historical city area. Budget hotels are generally simple, a little worse for wear, but still livable, and have the advantage of a private ensuite. Noise insulation is non-existent in many and can be a major problem for the light sleepers.

Mid-range beach accommodation can be found in Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah, typically those that are not located directly next to the beach front. In some cases, Mid-range hotels are not much better than some of the better budget hotels and it may be worth paying a little more for a more luxurious hotel. Heading to Balik Pulau offers a much more laid back experience with a small range of home stays situated among rice paddies, fruit farms and kampungs (villages) to a couple of more expensive retreats.

Penang has a modest range of luxury hotels for those who can afford it, including the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, founded by the same Armenian family who opened the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Beach resorts are also common luxury options, with most found along the beach strip of Batu Ferringhi and prices are fairly competitive. There are a few business hotels in Bayan Lepas which are located near the airport and the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone.

View our map of accommodation in Penang

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: 5.4157
  • Longitude: 100.326012

Accommodation in Penang

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Penang searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Penang and areas nearby.

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