Penang, the smallest Island State of Malaysia, is located on the northwest coast of Peninsula Malaysia. It is one of Asia’s favored holiday destinations offering an interesting mix of history, culture and natural beauty. Penang with its imposing backdrop of Indian Ocean, fringed by sandy beaches and adorned with beautiful landscapes, is a perfect visual treat for tourists.
Geographically the state is divided into two sections, the Penang Island and the coastal strip on the mainland known as Province Wellesley. The Island and Mainland are connected by the 13.5 km long Penang Bridge, one of the longest in Asia and the third largest in the world. Regular ferry services also ply between the island and the mainland.
Penang reflects a fine blend of multi racial community consisting of Chinese, Malay, Indian and others. Penang is dominated by the Chinese. Though Bahasa Malaysia is the official language, Hokkien is the primary dialect followed here. English language is widely used and understood by most of the people at Penang.
Tourist attractions in Penang
Georgetown is Penang Island's capital city boasting of an extensive and illustrious history. It is also one of the largest cities in terms of population and size in Malaysia. UNESCO has listed it as a World Heritage Site. Georgetown is a tourist hub offering historic buildings reflecting colonial architecture, divine temples and art museums of yesteryears happily co-existing with trendy restaurants, sidewalk cafes, discotheques and night markets.
Khoo Kongsi: It is a clan house built by Chinese craftsmen showcasing the art and architecture of ancient China. It features a massive hall decorated with delicate carvings and finely embellished wooden beams.
Kapitan Keling Mosque: Located on Pitt Street, this is one of the oldest mosques of Penang featuring yellow shaded structures and dome shaped towers. It was named after the Indian Muslim merchant, the ‘Kapitan Keling’ (headman) Caudeer Mohudeen who built it in the early 19th century. The premises look impeccable with well-maintained surroundings. Going around the mosque is a rich experience in itself, but visitors are expected to enter the place barefoot and women are allowed only after putting on the heavy robes provided by the staff.
Fort cornwallis: An important landmark of the city, Fort Cornwallis is the place where Captain Francis Light first set foot on Penang on July 16, 1786. Originally built of bakau wood, the fortress was replaced by stone later. It houses an open-air amphitheater, a history gallery and a handicraft and souvenir center. Fort Cornwallis is closed on Sunday.
Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram
This is Thai-styled Buddhist temple housing a gigantic reclining Buddha statue. The statue measures 33 meters in length and is the third largest of its kind in the world. The shrine is surrounded by many other statues of Buddha and Thai deities. Walls of the temple are done up with colorful murals depicting Buddha’s life.
The City Hall, located along the Esplanade was built during colonial rule and was an important political center of yesteryears. It is a magnificent building representing Victorian architecture with huge windows and columns. Even today Penang Municipal Council Chamber conducts its meetings at this venue.
Towering 60 feet high, the clock tower was a gift to the British rulers by local millionaire Cheah Chen Eok in 1897 to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.
Located in the heart of Georgetown, this 65-storey tower offers a fabulous view of the whole city. It is the tallest building in Penang and houses government departments, commercial offices, boutiques, fast food outlets, restaurants, amusement arcades and department stores.
St George's Anglican Church
St George's Anglican Church, a glorious heritage building was built in the 19th century in the Georgian Palladian style. The gable-shaped roof, expansive white walls and Grecian columns on the front side of the building looks awe inspiring. The church holds regular services every Sunday.
Penang State Museum and Art Gallery
Penang State Museum and Art Gallery houses artifacts showcasing the historical evolution of the multi-ethnic society in Penang. It also displays ancient paintings, old photographs, antique documents, maps, art galleries, Malay wedding costumes, charts, Chinese furniture, embroidery and invaluable historical relics.
Georgetown shopping and food
Georgetown is a shopper’s paradise and if you love food you are in for a treat. Delicious food, lots of shopping and entertainment - Gurney Drive in a nutshell.
Little India, an interesting spot in Georgetown sells Indian delicacies, spices, sarees, gold jewelry, prayer items and Indian entertainment.
If you are looking for authentic Chinese food, head to China town located along Lebuh Campbell and Lebuh Chulia. When you get tired going around China Town, take a break at ‘Kopitiams’, a popular Chinese coffee shop.
You are in Georgetown and if it happens to be the last Sunday of the month, do not miss the Little Penang Street market held at upper Penang road. It is an art and crafts bazaar which comes up every last Sunday of the month and also features art gallery, live performances, entertainment, children’s activities, hands-on demonstrations, book readings and exhibitions.
Tip for shoppers: Put your bargaining powers to test and get the best deals. Normally the street stalls quote higher prices.
Penang is the food capital of Malaysia and is known for the best hawker food in the world. Georgetown needs special mention with all the important streets lined up with food stalls offering superb culinary delights. Amongst Penang’s most popular dishes are Penang Char Kuay Teow, Assam Laksa, Tar Sau Peah, Rojak Pasembur, Nasi Kandar and Hokkien Mee.
This historic town is best enjoyed on trishaw, an open-fronted three-wheeled vehicle, as the ride allows the visitor to take pleasure of island's sights at a leisurely pace.
Penang Bridge, an important icon of Malaysia, is a link between the Penang Island and the mainland. It is the largest bridge in Asia and the third largest bridge in the world. The bridge offers fabulous scenic views of the city.
Penang Hill, also known as Bukit Bendera is located at the center of the island, measuring about 821 meters (2700 feet) above the sea level. A funicular train is available to reach to the hilltop and for the nature lovers, the ride itself is a memorable experience. But if you are adventurous, opt for jungle trekking. The popular route for trekking begins at Botanical gardens entrance and passes through Hye Keat Estate in Air Itam and the most vigorous trail of Tiger hill.
Penang hill welcomes you with cool and refreshing weather and offers a breathtaking view of the whole island. Penang hill also entices you with amazing flora and fauna. In its foothills lies the Air Itam Dam offering a panoramic view of the island. This site wears a festive look on religious occasions and local people gather here to celebrate the annual functions.
Spread over sprawling 29 hectares, botanic garden at Penang exhibits various flowers along with rare plant species. The garden also features a beautiful waterfall inside and locals fondly call the place as waterfall garden. Penang Botanic Garden is open everyday from 5am to 8pm.
Butterfly farm at Penang, spread over 0.8 hectares is a haven for many unique butterflies. You can find colorful winged beauties here in a natural environment. Around 4000 butterflies belonging to120 species including some rare ones such as the Indian Leaf, the Yellow Bird wing and the Rajah Brooke’s Bird wing are kept here. Apart from the butterflies, the farm is also a home for some reptiles, snakes, scorpions and fishes. Butterfly Farm is open from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm during weekdays and from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm on weekends and public holidays.
Kek Lok Si Temple
Kek Lok Si is the largest Buddhist temple of South East Asia. It sits majestically on a hill near Ayer Hitam. It is known for the seven-storey pagoda, which houses Buddha statues reflecting a fine blend of Thai, Chinese and Burmese styles. The statues are made from precious materials and the pagoda is aptly named as ‘Million Buddha’s Precious Pagoda’. The temple is also famous for mammoth bronze Kuan Yin statue measuring 120 feet in height. Temple is surrounded by beautiful vast turtle garden, a pond and other shrines.
After the visit to the temple, do not miss the delicious Asam Laksa dish, a Penang’s specialty, sold in stalls near the temple.
Penang's northern shoreline is adorned with expansive beautiful beaches. The most famous beaches in Penang are Batu Ferringhi and Tanjong Bungah and numerous resorts are clustered around these beaches. They offer plenty of water sports and recreational activities like motor boat riding, parachuting, canoeing, sailing, and horse riding to the visitors. These beaches are great places to unwind, but on the flip side, they are always crowded and packed with tourists. If you are looking for serene and peaceful beaches to relax and rejuvenate, head to beaches at Muka Head, Pantai Keracut, Pantai Acheh, Monkey Beach and Gertak Sanggul. These beaches have a soothing effect and captivate you with the calm and pleasant surroundings.
Penang, being an international tourist hub, is well connected by air. Malaysia Airlines operates direct air services to Penang from London, Singapore, Bangkok, Nagoya, Medan, Xiamen and Madras. Penang’s Bayan Lepas International Airport is nearly 20 km from the city center. The airlines also provide daily shuttle services between Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Air Asia flies to Penang from Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.
You can take a train to Penang from either Singapore via Kuala Lumpur or Thailand. Malaysian Rail has daily trains running the entire length of the peninsula. Trains arrive in Butterworth on the mainland and you can take ferry service to reach Georgetown. To move around the Penang, you can opt for the shuttle buses provided by Penang municipal council or hop onto trishaws to have a more laid-back and fun filled sightseeing experience. You can even drive around yourself by hiring a taxi/car or motor bike. Check your driving license for international validity and remember, keep to left while driving.
Climate of Penang
Penang has an equatorial climate and enjoys constant temperature throughout the year. Humidity is high and August to November are the wettest months; though light monsoon occurs from April to July. The period between December and February is dry and is an ideal time to visit Penang.