“The Pearl of the Orient” and “the Food Capital of Malaysia” are just two of the nicknames given to Penang island. It is located on the northwest coast of Malaysia and its capital is George Town. It is one of the smallest states in Malaysia, while its population density is among the highest. Its name is coming from the modern Malay name Pulau Pinang which means “The Island of the Areca Nut Palm”. The mix of ethnicities is one of a kind – it used to be a predominately Chinese state however Malays (and East Malays) have reached parity. Ethnic Indians make around one tenth out of the whole population. In 1786 the British arrived in Malaysia and established a settlement in Penang, and therefore its history has been shaped by British colonialism which is unmissable in many parts (e.g. architecture, language etc.).
We only stayed 4 days in Penang which I can tell now is too short, to see everything Penang has to offer. But it’s very likely we´re going back sooner than planned. Due to Covid 19 we have to go back to Penang to an embassy to get our Visa for our next international flight.
For our stay we decided getting a room somewhere in George Town, as Penang is not known for its beautiful beaches (although some people like to say that, I cannot confirm I´m sorry) and it turned out to being a great decision for us. We lived a ten minutes walk away from the “Rapid Ferry” arrival spot and a 20 minutes walk to Komtar Skyscrapers. We lived in Simcity Stay which is a low budget motel, with very tiny rooms and windows which are either to the corridor or still inside the house – no sunlight here. The location was perfect, the room was clean, the rooftop terrace has an amazing view, it was super cheap, we had hot water but still, longer than 4 days I probably wouldn’t have managed.
Places & Highlights
1. George Town
You could probably write a blogpost on George Town itself. There are heaps of things to do. Doesn’t matter if you’re a foodie, into arts or architecture or a night owl, here everybody gets his money’s worth. Temple touring (Wat Chaiyamangkalaram, Sri Mahamariamman Temple or the snake temple, which we unfortunately missed out on), enjoying the lovely cuisine in Chulia street or checking out Penang’s Hipster Scene and its cute boutique cafes.
2. Street Art in Penang
Talking about George Town and its Hipster scene – you shouldn’t miss out on Penang’s amazing Street Art. Check out either this brochure or find your path through google maps, all the important spots you can find there. Nothing more to say about it, i think especially here pictures paint a thousand words.
3. Komtar Skyscraper
With 68 floors and 249 meters in height, Komtar Tower is the highest Skyscraper on Penang and the eleventh highest building in Malaysia. At the top you will find a bar and a viewing platform and an (apparently) stunning 360 degree view on Penang. The Rainbow Skywalk being its main attraction, includes a walk on a transparent sky ledge where you can test your acrophobia. To be fair – we skipped on going up as we found RM68 (15 Euros) a little bit overpriced.
4. China Town
Chinese restaurants, tea houses, temples, shops and clan houses offering an insight into Chinese culture, cuisine and religious traditions, will be found in China Town, Penang. Most famous places are Kong Hock Keong temple, an entrance to the Khoo Kongsi Clanhouse, and the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (The Blue Mansion). All big festive Chinese celebrations are going on in this area throughout the year, if you happen to be there at the right time, don´t miss out on it.
5. Little India
Little India might have been among the list of my favorite places in Penang such a lovely and colorful place. It really has something special about it, already when entering the streets of little India you will smell aromatic spices, Bollywood music playing loudly in the background, Sari fashion shops all around and you will have tons of food options from restaurants to the smallest little food stalls. If you are a vegetarian like me, you will definitely enjoy the purely vegetarian restaurants along Penang street.
6. Avatar Gardens
Avatar Gardens is located in the north of the island in Tanjung Tokong. Jump into a Grab and after around a 25 minutes ride (costs: RM12) you will arrive at a parking space next to a beach. There is no entrance fee to Avatar Gardens but I would recommend asking your grab driver to come back after an hour maximum to pick you up again, because it pretty small and you might be done with it even after 10 minutes. There is no WIFI or anything near the attraction so if you don’t want to walk 20 minutes to the next big hotel and ask for WIFI, you might as well ask your driver to wait for 15 minutes and pay him a little bit extra. The Tree of souls decorated with colorful LED strings is the main attraction, but to be very honest, it’s pretty but not really worth seeing in my eyes. Our main attraction there was an old Malay guy who came up to us and telling us about his higher self, which we could ask questions if we wanted to. According to him our projects will develop well and my boyfriend’s and my relationship will stay strong – good to hear. Be aware that there are rumors that there are Mafiosi around the gardens trying to collect fees for parking, the beach and the garden – we were lucky and nobody approached us but we heard it from other people.
7. Clan Jetties – Floating VIllages
There are six remaining Jetties (water villages) which are part of the heritage trail in Penang, all named after different chinese family clans. They are close to the Penang ferry terminal, so more or less just across the street from where we lived. Rivalry between the different clans led to disputes and finally to one jetty being burned down. The most famous and tourist-friendly jetty is the Chew-Jetty (home to 66 families). Be aware that people still live there while your visiting and taking pictures from their home.
8. Batu Ferringhi
It is probably the most popular beach on Penang island. About half an hour ride from George Town it is located on the northern coast of the island. It is a long stretch, white sand beach with plenty of spots for dining and drinking. I personally would rate it a 7 out of 10, as we were warned of jellyfish, so swimming was not really an option here.
9. Trishaw Ride
Due to narrow streets, high traffic and congested streets opting for a trishaw ride might not be the worst decision. It is a three-wheeled vehicle (bycicle style) and might the most fexible option to discover the streets of George town, taking multiple stops wherever you want to. It used to be a common thing on Penang but modern times nearly eliminated them.
10. Kek Kok Si Temple
To complete the list of activities in Penang I also added in the Kek Kok Si Temple, which we unfortunately missed out on, as we were running out of time. It is the largest buddhist temple in Malaysia and located on a hill top at Air Itam. It looks stunning on pictures and I hope when we get back to the island that we can make up for that.