While my family and I have been living and working in Penang for almost 3 years now, I have not written yet a blog post summarizing the reasons why Penang is a must-visit place in Malaysia. So I was inspired by a travel magazine from Singapore that circulates around Asia where one of my amateur travel photos was fortunately published. Below is my mini-guide for first-time travelers to Pulau Pinang. Enjoy!
Experience diversities in this cultural melting pot in Southeast Asia where Malays, Indians and Chinese blend harmoniously. Heritage trails, gastronomic delights, resorts and beaches can easily lure the traveler in you to bring your feet in this Northwestern Malaysian State.
WHEN TO GO
George Town Festival 2013 runs from June 07 to July 07 and during this month-long celebration of the anniversary of inscription of Penang’s capital as one of the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, Penangites’ culture and traditions are echoed in dances, street and theatrical performances, art exhibits and many more. However, one must know that revelry of each ethnic community in Penang is almost whole-year-round. The island’s sunny-weather also dictates no biases on when to plan a trip to George Town.
HOW TO GO
George Town is so accessible via air, land and sea. Fly directly from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur to Penang with Air Asia or other airlines. Take a bus from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth or a train ride from Bangkok to Penang Sentral and hop on the ferry at the jetty in Butterworth to reach George Town in Pulau Pinang (Penang island) from Seberang Perai (mainland). The iconic ferry ride takes about 12-15 minute trip but waiting may be a little bit longer. Alternatively, one may take a taxi ride from either the Penang International Airport to George Town (or take the public commuter, Rapid Penang bus), or take a taxi cab from Penang Sentral Bus Station in Butterworth after alighting off the bus or train via the 13.5 kilometer-Penang Bridge, the longest in Southeast Asia.
BEST FOR VIEWS : Penang Hill located about 6 kilometers from George Town and 833 meters above sea level, it’s the perfect spot to get a glimpse of the island and the mainland of Penang. Best to go there : the very first trip of the day of the Swiss-made funicular train from the foot of Bukit Bendera at 6:30AM. Experience the Malaysian dusk while waiting for the glorious sunrise. Savor a Penangite breakfast at the foodcourt and appreciate nocturnal-feathered artsy crafts inside The Owl Museum. Penang Hill is almost a complete community with its Post Office, Bellevue Hotel, shrines of worship (Hindu and Muslim), gardens, playground and restaurants. The roundtrip fare for funicular train is US$ 9.42.
BEST FOR CULTURE : It’s a must for every heritage suckers to spend a couple of nights or more in this quaint Malaysian island. With a unique fusion of diversities from Malays, Indians and Chinese, their opulent and rich histories that are apparent in the city’s clan houses, museums and living heritage, can effortlessly fascinate even the most idle tourist. MUST VISITS are Pinang Peranakan Mansion located in 29 Lebuh Gereja or Church Street, George Town(Monday to Sunday including Public Holidays from 9:30 am to 5 pm, Admission rate: US$ 3.15). Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion also known as the Blue Mansion is both a heritage mansion and a hotel in Leith Street, George Town (Daily guided heritage tours of the house in English : 11am / 1.30pm / 3pm Admission fee US$ 3.77). Khoo Kongsi in Cannon Street, George Town (Open daily with US$ 3:15 Admission fee). Penang State Museum and Art Gallery located at Faruqar Street is also not to be missed (Admission fee of US$ 0.314).
BEST FOR WALKING : George Town, Penang’s Heritage Trail stretches from the parallels of Chulia Street include Kapitan Keling, Armenian, Cannon, Muntri , Church, Pitt, Leith Streets and many more. Clan Houses, street food stalls that are more popularly known as hawkers and restaurants to suit a wide range of budget offer Malay, Chinese, Indian and even Western cuisines, various Hindu temples, Muslim mosques, Taoist shrines and Catholic and other religious churches, art installations on walls of shophouses around George Town can be spotted randomly by foot. And when both feet and legs become sore, hopped in a traditional trishaw to upgrade the city’s sightseeing. If nature and some trekking interest you, head directly to Penang Botanic Garden, Penang Butterfly Farm or Tropical Spice Garden via taxi cab or Rapid Penang Bus where strolling under lush greens and blooms provides soothing atmosphere.
BEST FOR ESCAPE : For less than 10 minute Drive or 20-30 minute taxi cab or Rapid Penang Bus-ride from George Town to Batu Ferringhi , soak your feet on the sand and shoreline of Penang beaches. Hundreds of possibilities awaits you in Batu Ferringhi; there are water sports, night bazaars, hotels and spas , food, food and more food!
EAT & DRINK
HAWKER FOOD STALLS in the streets of George Town and Gurney Drive are the best in the island. It’s a must to savor Chicken Satay, Char Koay Teow, Dim Sums, Hainanese Chicken Rice, Penang Assam Laksa that ranked 7th on CNN’s list of Most Delicious Food in the World and the Malaysian staple food, Nasi Lemak (literally means, fatty rice made up of boiled rice from coconut milk, with hard boiled egg, roasted peanuts, anchovies, slices of cucumber, sambal or red and spicy sauce served with chicken or seafood wrapped in banana leaf and newspaper). While most food shops are Halal, there are also lots of hawkers and restaurants serving otherwise.
OLD TOWN RESTAURANT in Burma Road and inside malls in Penang serves a variety of Malaysian dishes and beverages from breakfast, lunch and dinner.
RESTORAN KAPITAN that’s open 24 jam (24 hours) located at the corner of Pitt Street and Chulia Street in Little India, George Town serves the best Indian food in the island. Must sample dishes are the Chicken Tandoori set with either Cheese or Garlic Naan, Butter Chicken Masala, Chicken Kebab, Briyani, Tosai, and their fruity infused yoghurt beverage, Lassi. Try Mango Lassi or Mango shake, or wash down everything with Milo-ais (iced Milo) or a glass of coffee or tea. Other Indian dishes can be tasted from Nasi Kandar restaurants.
KEDAI KOPI or coffee shops in the island offer Kopi with condensed milk or simply black, either in hot or cold mugs. Also popular drinks are Teh Tarik (literally means, pulled tea because the tea is pulled and poured in a height from the mug to make it frothy), Milo-ais (or iced Milo), Minuman Laicee or Lycee drink, Teh-o-ais or iced tea without milk and yes, a lot of milk tea craze in Penang too! Try buying a drink from a hawker stall and you’ll sip it from straw in a plastic bag of the drink tied with a loop. If you feel like indulging and splurging a bit, troop to either Chinahouse, Edelweiss Cafe or Amelie Cafe located at the heart of George Town.
ROTI BOY in most malls in Pulau Pinang sells the best buttery buns on Earth! Definitely, a must-try!!!
Head to Lebuh Chulia or Chulia Street for most foreigners’ favorite backpackers’ hotels and inns where mostly offer ranging from bed space to bed and breakfast, with internet café or coffee shop or restaurant at the ground level and sleeping spaces at its next.
If you dig accommodation with heritage appeal, try reserving a room at either Yeng Keng Hotel, also in Chulia Street or Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in Leith Street.
When money isn’t an issue to you, premiere hotels in Penang includes Hard Rock Hotel Penang, Eastern and Oriental, Shangri la’s Rasa Sayang Spa and Resort, G Hotel, Traders Hotel and so much more.
GETTING AROUND : Tour around George Town in a day or two or immerse yourself in travel with Penangites’ lifestyle in a week or so via Rapid Penang Buses, taxi cabs, trishaws or by foot. Bus fares start at US$ 0.44 and up.
CLIMATE : Sunny all year long with few episodes of rainfall.
TYPICAL COST :
- Nasi Lemak : US$ 0.314
- Cendol or Ais Kacang : US$ 0.94
- Decent B&B : starts from US$ 15
- High end hotel : starts from US$ 219
- Visit to Cheah Kongsi : FREE!
- Penang WIFI : FREE!
AFFORDABLE EAT-ALL-YOU-WANT : Along Macalister Road at the heart of George Town Penang lies Towne Steamboat and Buffet that opens from 5PM onwards, where one can try his hands on cooking dim sum, cold cuts, seafoods and veggies on sour or spicy broth via steamboat, and also eat and enjoy cooked dim sums, fried goodies, chicken satay, steamed crabs, noodle dishes and desserts including bottomless ice cream bar and drinks for an affordable cost. US$9.40
BEST HAWKER STALLS : Bring your feet at the back of Plaza Gurney, and by the bay, your nose will be led by the aroma of gastronomic dishes from rows of the best hawker stalls in town. There you can find the best Char Koay Teow in Penang for my tastebuds.
MALL RATTING : Visit Pulau Pinang’s shopping malls that usually have 70-80% discounts on almost all items from clothes, luggages, kitchen and bedroom stuff to gadgets during great Malaysian season sale (July-December)
JALAN PENANG : A visit to George Town, Penang isn’t complete without strolling along Jalan Penang or Penang Road from Komtar –the tallest building in Pulau Pinang. Jalan Penang has Chowrasta Market, souvenir stalls and a ton of shop houses that sells almost everything you could imagine.
PLACES OF WORSHIPS : Do not miss to visit Kapitan Keling Mosque along Buckingham street, Standing Buddha in Burmese Temple, Reclining Buddha in Thai Temple (both located in Burma Road), St. George Church in Farquhar Street, it’s the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia and the other shrines located at the outskirts of Penang island -the picturesque Kek Lok Si Temple and the Floating Mosque.
CLAN JETTIES : Drop by Chew Jetty along Pengkalan Weld (a stone’s throw away from Jetty and Rapid Bus Station in George Town); Chew Jetty is one of the many clan jetties or water settlements by locals whose houses are built on stilts and are required to be preserved by UNESCO World Heritage Site authorities. Catch the sunrise, while away time by staring at the beauty of Penang Bridge or wait and watch for the sunset, take a cruise by boat from poles of the island via Chew Jetty.
PENANGITE DESSERTS : Cendol and Ais Kacang, an icy, fruity and nutty desserts available in hawker food stalls and restaurants around the island.
Hungry for more information about George Town, Penang?
Here’s a partial rundown of links to my previous blog posts about this beautiful island we called
our second home.
- George Town Festival 2011
- George Town Festival 2012
- George Town in Less Than A Day
- Kek Lok Si Temple
- Penang Hill
- Armenian Street
- Pinang Peranakan Mansion
- Pinang Peranakan Mansion Part 2
- Cheong Fatt Tze
- Khoo Kongsi
- Chew Jetty
- Shangri La’s Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa
- Spice Market Cafe at Shangri La’s Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa
- Yeng Keng Hotel
- Hard Rock Hotel Penang
- Food Porn at Hard Rock Hotel Penang
- G Cafe at G Hotel Penang
- G Cafe at G Hotel Part 2
- Penang Toy Museum
- Penang Assam Laksa
- Penang State Museum
- Tropical Spice Garden
- Penang Butterfly Farm
- Penang Spice Trail
- Steamboat Buffet
- Chinahouse Part 2
- Chinahouse Part 3
- Edelweiss Cafe
- De Tai Tong : Chinese Food | Mid Autumn Festival
- Amelie Cafe
- Cendol : Must Try!!!
- Charlie Brown Cafe at Straits Quay
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