Essential Travel Information to Penang
Essential Travel Information to Penang

Essential Travel Information to Penang

Overview of Penang

Penang is an amazing holiday destination that has been named as a world heritage site by UNESCO. The paradise location is popular with tourists because of its magnificent natural scenery and numerous cultural sights. Visitors to the state also get to explore popular historical landmarks spread all over its capital, George Town. Penang is a great mix of local culture and foreign influence, making it worth the trip for those visiting for the first time or return travelers.

The state of Penang offers never-ending tourist attractions that will leave you enriched and fulfilled throughout the trip. The activities are ideal for both adults and children, making the city a great destination for families or groups.

Best travel companion

Traveling to Penang is possible all year round because of its warm weather with some rain intervals. Even so, the best time to plan for a vacation is from December to March when the weather is cooler. Penang is a great place to visit alone or with a group that wants to enjoy time away together. Honeymooners will also find the destination a great place to spend a few days or weeks. 

How to Get There

Penang has a long history as a trading port. It boasts a comprehensive network of air, sea, road and rail transportation and is easily accessible.

By Air

Penang has air links with Kuala Lumpur and major capitals of the region such as Singapore, Bangkok, Phuket, Medan, Banda Acheh, Macau, Hong Kong, Xiamen and Taipei. Its airport, the Penang International Airport, is about 16km from George Town. You can purchase taxi coupons at the airport before leaving for various destinations in the state or hire limousines, which cost slightly higher. The Rapid Penang bus no. 401E stops at the airport and the Weld Quay Jetty where you can make a transit to your destination.

By Road

You can drive to Penang via the Penang Bridge and enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way.

By Sea

You can get to Penang Island from Butterworth by ferry, which caters for both passengers and vehicles. Fares for passengers and vehicles are collected at the Butterworth terminal and no payment is required for the return journey.

By Rail

Enjoy views of the picturesque countryside when you make a train journey from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth. Select from comfortable air-conditioned first and second class coaches as well as sleeping berths that are available at reasonable rates. Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) also operates regular services to Alor Setar, Padang Besar, Haadyai and Bangkok from Butterworth. Electric Train Service (ETS) is also available to and from Butterworth. For enquiries regarding train services or fares, call the KTMB ticket counter (04 331 2796 / 261 0290) at the ferry terminal in Penang.

Where to Go in Penang

Family Leisure (With Kids): 

Penang National Park

Penang National Park is the best place to go if you want to get out of the hectic city life and spend some quality time communing with nature. There are a number of trails here which head towards beautiful small beaches, and you can also walk to an ancient lighthouse that dates from 1883. Some paths take you to Kerachut Beach, the Home of a Turtle Conservation Centre, which also serves as the perfect place for a picnic and day out at the park.

Penang Botanic Gardens

The Penang Botanical Gardens are simply called the Botanic Gardens by Penang islanders, while also being known as the Waterfalls Gardens. You can find the gardens in a valley along Jalan Kebun Bunga. It is a well-landscaped place that holds a wide variety of exotic plant species. This garden was set up by the British in 1884 from an old quarry site, the garden is divided into twelve sections: the Formal Garden, Quarry Recreational Park, Lily Pond, Perdana Plant House, Tropical Rainforest Jungle Track, Fern House, Fern Rockery, Orchidarium, Horticulture Centre, and Nursery.

Penang Butterfly Farm

Anyone who likes fauna and flora should visit the Butterfly Farm in Batu Ferringhi. Here you will find over four thousand marvelous butterflies from over a hundred different species, all of which flutter around in a big and colorful garden. Some of the species here include rare finds such as Indian Leaf butterflies, Yellow Bird, and Wing butterflies, and the farm also acts as a conservation center that focuses on caring for and breeding the habitats of these endangered species.

Tropical Food Farm

With the largest collection of Tropical Fruits in Southeast Asia, the Penang Tropical Fruit Farm will amaze you with their 200 species of edible fruits! Featuring fruits from far-flung places such as South America, Central Africa, the Caribbean, and even Pacific Islands, you’ll definitely learn a thing or two about fruits and other fun facts about the amazing flora of Malaysia. The most popular thing to do here is go on the guided farm tour where you will sample at least 15 different fruits, light snacks, and juices.


Beaches & Islands: 

Batu Ferringhi Beach

As the second most popular destination in Penang (after Georgetown), its long, white sandy beach is a sight to behold. Soak in the beautiful sun or unwind on the beach in peace, or get pumped up and get wet from canoeing or windsurfing. For an adventure, try parasailing to experience the view of the beach from the sky. Its night market is pretty legendary, while its waters are popular spots for a range of water sports activities such as windsurfing, jet-skiing, and parasailing. When you’re done exercising, go explore the winding road named Jalan Batu Ferringhi for a variety of dining options.

Monkey Beach

Teluk Duyung, known as Monkey Beach Penang, is found in Penang National Park. So-called because of the Crab-eating Macaques that exist around here, the beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in Penang Island, with a long stretch of white sand and clear waters that are good for snorkeling and swimming. Monkey beach is the ideal spot for weekends and public holidays, when countless locals will come here for the day to enjoy a picnic on the beach with their friends and families. If you enjoy camping, there are campsites near the beach where you can spend a night under the stars!


Attractions & Theme Parks: 

Escape Theme Park Penang

The Escape Theme Park is a fun destination with exciting rides and attractions. Located in Teluk Bahang, this park re-introduces outdoor play in a natural environment. With challenging high confidence obstacles at Adventureplay and exhilarating water slides at the Waterpark, there is no age limit to having fun while exploring the world in a natural setting. With amazing rides for children and adults, this is a place not to be missed!

Adventure Zone at Golden Sands

The Adventure Zone features several indoor drop slides that will challenge children and adults alike. With their 2-story Demon Drop Slide and other play modules like Swinging Steps and Padded Corner Climber, reconnect with your inner child, or just watch your children from the side while you enjoy a hot coffee in a cool air-conditioned environment. Do be sure to dress up with socks and long sleeved shirts to prevent scrapes and abrasions.


Cultural Trip: 

Georgetown

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Georgetown beautifully weaves the colourful traditions of its multicultural population into an unforgettable tapestry of sights, sounds, and smells. From colourful murals, pre-war buildings, a large collection of innovative museums and traditional local delights that will leave your taste buds wanting more, a visit to Georgetown is a must for anyone going to Penang. 

Clan Jetties

The clan jetties hark back to a time when Chinese immigrants sought protection in Penang from their fellow clansmen. The jetties started out as a loading dock for traders unloading their wares, when settlements sprung up around them. Eventually, the stronger clans dominated the jetties, and there were often disputes between clans. Today, people still live in these settlements, but they make perfect instagram pictures for your trip! Make sure to visit and take a snapshot or two!

Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram Temple

The focal point for the Thai community in Penang, the Thai-style temple houses the 3rd largest reclining Buddha statue in the world. With a large naga water dragon marking the entrance and a Chinese dragon marking the exit of the temple, its architecture truly stands out against modern day buildings we are used to seeing. With vibrant murals depicting the Buddha’s life story on the temple walls, along with several Buddha statues covered with gold leaf featured in the temple, this is a place worth visiting if you enjoy cultural and religious places of interest.

Kek Lok Si Temple

The largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, Kek Lok Si’s sprawling complex is divided into three zones. Featuring a turtle liberation pond, giant statues of the Goddess of Mercy Guan Yin, a series of monasteries and landscaped gardens, this “Temple of Supreme Bliss” has become a national icon famous throughout Malaysia. They even have historic relics such as imperial Buddhist sutras gifted by the Manchu Emperor Kwang Xi and Empress Ci Xi back in the Qing Dynasty.


Night Markets: 

Malaysia is famous for its night markets, from which you can find anything from watches and clothes to traditional arts and crafts, or even modern gadgets and gizmos. There are also night markets that specialise in street food, where you can grab a dinner, a drink or dessert as you shop. Some of the Night Markets worth visiting are Macallum Street, Tanjung Bungah, Farlim, Batu Ferringhi, Jelutong, Sungai Dua, Paya Terubong


Adventure & Hiking: 

Moon Gate Hiking Trail

The Moon Gate was formerly the entrance to the home of Penangite millionaire Cheah Chen Eok, but now has become known as the starting point for a good number of trails up Penang Hill. If you are lucky, you will get to see Penang’s wildlife during the trek, including macaques, leaf monkeys, and even flying lemurs. The short but intense nature of the trails will leave you exhausted and exhilarated at the same time as you climb Penang Hill.

Penang Hill

Penang Hill is one of the top attractions in Penang and towers to a height of approximately 800 meters above sea level. The hill offers a much-needed break from the intense heat of the city, and going there is part of the fun. You reach the Penang hilltop by the Penang Hill Railway, which is considered to be one of the oldest funicular systems around the globe. Once you reach the top, you can take in the fantastic scenery across to Kedah and Langkawi. Moreover, there is also a range of quality trails here if you love hiking, and for those who fancy a workout can also trek to the Hill from the nearby Botanical Gardens.

The Habitat Penang Hill presents the most diverse, authentic, and educational Malaysian rainforest experience. The best part is, you can reconnect with nature in its purest form as you engage yourself in there 130-million-year-old rainforest. Starting at the forest floor, Naturalists will take you on a journey along the Nature Trail to explore the myriad of fauna and flora– plants, mammals, trees, insects, birds, and reptiles that call The Habitat home. You must explore the biodiversity of the rainforest canopy on 230-meter Langur Way Canopy Walk and see the Curtis crest treetop walk at the top of the Hill, and experience the full panoramic views of Penang Island from the highest viewing point of Penang.

What to See in Penang

Historical Sites: 

Fort Cornwallis

Built in the 18th Century, Fort Cornwallis is one of the most famous sights in Penang. Built to defend the city in case of enemy attack from the water, the fort is still in excellent condition today. Take pictures with the original cannons that have never been fired, or with the Penang Harbor Lighthouse, a unique structure that resembles a ship’s mast. With informative exhibits inside the star-shaped fort, this will be a visit to remember!

Cheong Fatt Tze Blue Mansion

Cheong Fatt Tze’s Blue Mansion was built by the man who became known as the Rockefeller of the East and the J.P. Morgan of China. Featuring an architectural confluence of Hakka and Teochew styles with Southern Chinese typologies, combined with Cheong Fatt Tze’s fascination of all things western, the mansion’s mosaic of Chinese craftsmanship with western motifs blends elegantly into a truly unique building. You can even learn about the history of Penang and this revered business tycoon through a night’s stay in the boutique hotel here.


Museums: 

Wonderfood Museum

This one-of-a-kind musuem celebrates the city's unique food culture with giant sized displays of Malaysian dishes you can pose in. The museum is divided into three galleries: the Educational Zone, the Info Zone, and the Wow Zone, and each zone features hyper-realistic handcrafted models of food using Japanese food replication methods. If you’re not not really a big fan of food, this museum might shift your mindset and open up a new world of flavour for discovery!

Penang War Museum

Originally built as a fort for the defence of Penang, the war museum chronicles the defeat of the colonial British forces to the invading Japanese forces in World War II. Serving as a memorial today, you can take a tour of the various military installations while jumping back in time to 1941 when the fort fell. Crawl in the ammunition tunnels below, and take pictures with the large defence cannons, to remember the garrison nicknamed “Bukit Hantu” or Ghost Hill during the Japanese Occupation.

Interactive Museum

This interactive 3D museum located near Penang pier features lots of mural-like exhibits which highlight the creativity of the local art scene. Complete with props and contemporary exhibits, make sure you take pictures of yourself strolling down the old penang port, posing in a giant polaroid of Love lane in Penang, or engaging with the props that make up the 3D murals!

Teddyville Museum

Possibly the friendliest place in Penang, the Teddyville Museum showcases the history, culture, and famous sites of Penang, with teddy bears! Aside from a showcase of some of the oldest teddy bears in the world, the rest of the museum is dedicated to everything Penang. Take pictures of the life-sized bears dressed in cultural and traditional costumes, bears serving Char Koay Teow, and Bears chilling out at the beach. This will probably be the most interesting learning journey for the little ones and bear lovers!

3D Trick Art Museum

The 3D Trick Art Museum uses camera angles and clever shading that makes flat images appear 3-dimensional in your photos! Create interesting pictures that will wow your friends on social media! With two themed exhibitions named ''Modern Classic'' and ''All About Penang Life'', a trip there even comes with full guidance and assistance provided to help visitors take the perfect photos for interesting memories!

Penang Glass Museum, Ibox

One of the many creative museums in Penang, the Penang Glass Museum features a large variety of decorative glass artworks that you can buy and bring home. All exhibits are for sale! From glass crafting decorations, reflective glass art, glass drawings and glass art pieces, every ticket entitles you to a free glass crafting workshop where you get to make your own glass souvenir and bring it home!


Unique Landmarks: 

The Top Komtar

Komtar Penang is the tallest building in Georgetown, and a tourist favourite. Established decades ago as the second tallest building in Asia, this building has been refurbished and renewed to truly become a Penang icon. Besides being a retail mall for casual shoopers, the open-air Rainbow Skywalk at Level 68 on the rooftop of Komtar tower gives visitors the exciting, thrilling experience of walking on “air” 249 meters above the ground, and the Gravityz rope course is known for being one of the best high-altitude sports platforms in Asia. Whether you are an adventure lover or a casual shopper, this is the right place for you.

House of Music

A collection of the auditory heritage of Penang, explore the sounds of the past through the Penang Musical Heritage Project’s collections. From music recorded in the 1930s all the way to new works of musical art created by local Penangites, immerse yourself in an auditory journey complete with visual exhibits to recreate the feeling of Penang in the past. The House of Music is a must go for history buffs and music lovers.

Muka Head Lighthouse

Located at the Northwestern tip of Penang Island, this was a welcome sight for sailors from India and Europe travelling to obtain spices from Southeast Asia since 1883. Today the lighthouse marks the end of the Muka Head Lighthouse trek from Monkey Beach, a short 1 hour hike suitable for persons young and old.

Where to Stay in Penang

Visitors to Penang have a large range of accommodations for visitors on different budgets. From boutique hotels in old shophouses to international brands like the Hilton, or simply just backpackers lodges, you can easily find the right accomodation for your budget.

Visitors looking to enjoy Georgetown should book accommodation in the heritage area for easy access to the sights. If you plan to spend more time at the beach, Batu Ferringhi has great beach accomodations. If you’re a foodie, make sure to stay near Gurney Drive to enjoy the huge shopping malls and legendary street foods. If you’re just in Penang for business, stay near Bayan Lepas for easy access to the airport.

Where to Eat in Penang

Penang is widely regarded Malaysia’s food capital, and for good reason too. With its history as a key stopover for the spice route, Penang served as a harbour for Indian, Arab, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, French, and British ships. With this melting pot of spices cultures at the port, Penangites take pride in the heritage of their cuisine, best sampled at mamak stalls (open air stalls) that pop-up by the roadside anywhere. 

Night Markets 

Batu Ferringhi is recognized for its night market, a fabulous place to shop for some bargains. You can find almost anything, from watches, DVDs, bags, and clothes, to a selection of souvenirs such as wood carvings, and other local produce. Another reason to come here is to taste the street food as you can get a number of local dishes here, such as fried rice, barbecued meats, and noodles.

Food Streets

Kimberly street boasts the “Four Heavenly Kings” crowned by Penangites that serve Duck Kuay Chap (Duck and Pork innards stew with flat rice noodles), Char Kuay Teow (pan fried rice noodles with several ingredients), Kuay Teow Tng (Flat rice noodle soup) and Heng Jin Teh (Almond tea).

The Air Itam Market is also a great place to find some of the hidden gems in Penang. The Air Itam Laksa serves Penang Assam Laksa (rice noodles in a minced fish broth with several spices) that was ranked #7 in CNN’s top 50 best food in the world. Or, check out the Penang Curry Mee served by the Lim sisters for 70 years near the Air Itam bridge.

The Gurney Drive hawker centre is another place to get your foodie fix. With lots of lok lok (skewered meats and vegetables with a variety of dipping sauces) stalls and other local fare, you’ll be tempted to try everything and find yourself too full to move.

What to Eat in Penang

Must Try Food: 

Char Koay Teow

Flat rice noodles pan fried with egg, beansprout, taiwan sausage, lard, prawns/shrimp and a host of other secret ingredients. The beauty of the dish comes in the smoky aroma from charred bits of noodles. With a heavenly taste you won’t forget soon, this dish can be ordered to share or all for yourself.

Hokkien Mee

A spicy prawn/shrimp noodle soup topped with pork ribs, bean sprouts, hard boiled egg and rice noodles. The magic is in the delectable soup base of pure shrimpy stock boiled for hours to perfection. This dish is enjoyed by Penangites at all times of the day.

Assam Laksa

A fish and tamarind based sour noodle soup with rice noodles, shredded fish, cucumbers onion and lettuce. With a sour-spicy combination of taste paired with a delightful texture of noodles mixed with the other vegetables, this is one dish that will tease and tantalize your taste buds to no end.

Nasi Lemak

The national dish of Malaysia, Nasi Lemak features a coconut milk rice served with sambal (fresh ground chilli shrimp paste), fried anchovies, cucumbers and roasted peanuts. Typically served with barbecued fish or fried chicken wings, the pairing of sambal with the rice and the additional meat is a match made in heaven.

Tau Sar Piah/Tambun Biscuits

Translated literally as Bean Paste Pastry, Tau Sar Piah are baked flaky biscuits filled with mung bean or red bean paste. The combination of the sweet bean paste with the savoury pastry makes it a delightful dessert or a snack between meals.

Kueh Pie Tee

Shredded yam been, garlic, french beans, carrots and shrimp, wrapped in a crispy fried flour shell and topped with shredded omelet, fried shallot and scallions. You can usually order with or without chili (spicy). The best part about eating this is the feeling of the crispy shell breaking to reveal the soft moist vegetables inside.

Popiah

Fresh soft-skinned spring rolls made with bean sprouts, turnip, and other shredded vegetables topped with chopped peanuts, thinly sliced tofu, shredded omelette and a special sweet sauce. Like Kueh Pie Tee, this is a dish ordered to share and is suitable any time of day.

Rojak Pasembur

A Malaysian salad consisting of shredded cucumber, potatoes, beancurd, prawn fritters and spicy fried crab or other seafoods served with a sweet and spicy nut sauce. Considered a dish that represents Malaysia with the mix of various ingredients, this dish is also often ordered to share.

Cendol

An iced sweet dessert containing green rice flour jelly, coconut milk, and gula melaka (palm sugar syrup), this dessert can be served in a bowl or in a cup. Long before bubble tea was invented, this is the default Malaysian dessert to cool you down on a hot day. Occasionally, variants of this dish include beans or sweetcorn to vary the texture and taste of the dish.

Penang Duck Kway Chap

Kway Chap is a Teochew noodle soup made of flat wide rice noodle rolls served in a meat based broth, paired with pig innards. In Penang, they serve braised duck paired with coagulated blood, pork intestines, and sliced pig ears. If eating innards doesn’t faze you, this will probably be the heartiest dish you’ll eat all day.

How to Get Around in Penang

In Penang, you can take the Rapid bus, take a taxi, or use Grab (a ride hailing app like Uber). While Grab is more expensive, the cab fares are reasonable and definitely lower than most major cities. If you are travelling within Georgetown, you can walk or take a trishaw to soak in the atmosphere of the city. If you are travelling to Butterworth which is on mainland Malaysia, you can also take the ferry or a Rapid bus from Penang Island.