The Island of Penang in Malaysia has long been one of Asia’s favourite travel destinations for many tourists. Why wouldn’t it be? With the tropical climate, lovely beaches, great food and reasonably priced hotels, it is an ideal holiday location for couples and families.
Here is my visitor’s guide of things to do on the Island of Penang that are fun and interesting, including tips and advice for tourists.
A bit about Penang
Penang State is actually split in two halves. One half is the Island of Penang and the other half lies on Peninsula Malaysia. The two halves are connected by 2 bridges over the Straits of Malacca, the Penang Bridge and the Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge. The second bridge is 24 km long making it the longest in South East Asia.
The capital of the Island of Penang is Georgetown, which is a combination of the old town with its characteristic colonial buildings, and the new modern skyscapers and malls.
1. Batu Ferringghi Area
When I visit the Island of Penang I usually stay at the lovely Batu Ferringghi oceanfront resorts in the north of the island which is the main resort precinct. The reason I choose to stay here in particular is that there are many great hotels to choose from along this stretch of beach, such as Golden Sands and Rasa Sayang, both of which I have enjoyed. I love that they have beautiful pools and beaches close together, so you can wander freely from one to the other.
All the staff are very friendly and helpful and make you feel special during your stay, which is always appreciated.
2. Penang Beaches
On the beaches there is a plethora of activities on offer. If you’re a bit of a thrill-seeker there is plenty for you too. My family enjoys partaking in some adrenalin charged pursuits occassionally, such as parasailing, jet skiing, 4-wheel sand buggy riding and kayaking. Or you can charter a boat to sail around the waters and go fishing if you like. Also, horse riding and camel riding (yes, you read that right) are also available on the beach here, with the guidance of the handlers of course. Volleyball on the beach is also very popular.
Snazzy tip: Make sure you check the credentials of the water-sport operators, as many aren’t licensed and don’t have insurance if and when accidents occur. Best to book through the hotels to be safe.
Alternatively, on the beach you can relax and enjoy some pampering. There are massages, foot reflexology and hair-braiding right on the sand, which is a nice way to relax and admire the view. Ahh!
Warning: Sometimes swimming in these beaches is not recommended due to the presence of jellyfish, unfortunately. So please make sure it’s safe before you venture into the ocean.
Important tip: If you are unlucky enough to get stung by a jellyfish, put vinegar on it immediately to neutralise the sting. Don’t use urine – this does not help!
3. Straits Quay and Marina Mall
Straits Quay is a new town built in 2010 on the Malacca Straits in Georgetown. It is a marina, convention centre, waterfront restaurant precinct and a shopping mall with 100 stores. The lighthouse is quite lovely and many yachts and boats berth here. We ate at one of the lovely restaurants whilst enjoying the view of the marina.
4. Penang Botanical Gardens
These gardens dating from 1884, on Jalan Kebun Bunga, are lovely sections of landscaped gardens in various themes: ferns, cactus, orchids, lily pond, formal garden and more. Cheeky wildlife hang out here, namely Macaque monkeys (these are common in Malaysia), which will try to snatch your food, if it’s visible. So I suggest you don’t take food to the gardens at all, or they will attack you, speaking from personal experience.
Admission is free.
Important tip: You are not allowed to feed the monkeys, as there is a fine if you do so.
5. Penang Night Market
The Pasar Malam, night market, along the main road, Jalan Batu Feringghi, is a highlight here not to miss, where you can haggle for everything: bags, clothes, shoes, watches, jewellery, etc. I have often picked up a bargain or two, because what’s a holiday without a bit of a shopping fix!
It is open every evening from 6.30pm till late and attracts herds of tourists.
Note, many items sold are copies and the designer goods are all copies, albeit some are reasonable quality. But there are also plenty of local handmade goods and crafts, such as batik clothing, jewellery and earthenware for sale, which support local industry.
Snazzy Tip: Don’t buy the first item you see, look around, and haggle hard for a good deal. The stall owners expect you to bargain with them so don’t be shy.
6. Penang Hill
One of the main attractions here is Penang Hill, Bukit Bendera, which is more than 800 metres above sea level, located about 9km from the capital, Georgetown. It is popular not only for the great panoramic view it offers, but also for the cooler temperature at the higher altitude, which is a much-welcomed relief from the heat and humidity down below. Another great reason to venture up there, in my opinion.
There are food vendors up the top, a playground and a Hindu Temple dating from the 1800s to see which is situated on top of a hillock, another small hill (sorry, you have to walk up this one).
Cost is RM per person.
7. Penang Butterfly Farm
Located in Teluk Bahang, the farm hosts around 4,000 butterflies and other insects, with waterfalls, ponds and caves in this 8 hectare garden. It is also well known for increasing awareness of conservation issues regarding rainforests.
Admission cost is RM69 per adult.
8. Snake Temple
The temple is in Bayan Lepas, about 12 km from Georgetown, and is home to venomous vipers and green tree snakes. According to legend, they used to be protected by the Monk that lived here, and now are his disciples (believe it or not). Of course, the snake handlers will charge you to have your photo taken with a snake. Note, most of the snakes have been defanged, thank goodness for that. I’ve been here once, and that’s enough for me, as snakes freak me out! But I’ve included a photo for all you snake lovers. You’re welcome.
Admission is free.
9. Other Temples
Kek Lok Si Buddhist Temple
This temple is an important pilgrimage centre for buddhists from many countries. It has a 7-storey pagoda and a 30m bronze statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. And guess how many statues of Buddha are here … 10,000!
Address is 1000L, Tingkat Lembah Ria 1, 11500 Air Hitam. Admission is free.
Wat Chayamangkalaram Temple (Sleeping Buddha)
A giant gold plated reclining Buddha housed inside is the main feature of this Siamese temple in Penang. A bit tricky to get a photo of the whole statue.
Address is 17 Lorong Burma. Admission is free.
10. Local Penang Cuisine
Dining is my favourite holiday activity. Sampling and experiencing different flavours and cuisines is always a highlight for any foodie and is definitely one of the best things about travelling.
Penang food is a religion in itself. Its world-famous dishes are to die for. Chicken Satay, Char Keow Teow, Nasi Lemak, Roti Canai, Rendang, Mee Goreng, Curry Laksa, Ice Kacang, Rojak and so much more. The spicy yumminess will mesmerise your taste buds. I’ve had all of these dishes and I can’t pick a favourite, as I truly love Malaysian cuisine.
Cost of a cooked meal outside of the hotels is normally only between RM5 to RM10. How good is that!
11. Penang Seafood
When you’re on an island you can expect to eat great seafood. So you will want to go to an iconic Penang seafood restaurant. I went to a fabulous place that was recommended to me by a friend, called Bali Hai, in Gurney Drive, Georgetown. Wow! This place is a huge market style restaurant where the fish and other sea life are alive and on display in tanks. You choose which you would like to have cooked for you, so it’s super fresh. How cool is that! It is very popular with locals and tourists and great for large groups, as it’s a massive place. So be sure to check it out if you’re in Penang. It is a little pricey, but well worth it for the very fresh and delicious seafood, and fast service.
Interesting Facts About Penang
- Jimmy Choo, the famous shoe and fashion designer was born here;
- The movie ‘Anna and the King’ with Jodi Foster was filmed here, and
- Georgetown was named after King George III of Great Britain.
Malaysia has many local creatures that like to pop out and say “hi” when you least expect them. Like this Monitor Lizard, which wandered out from the bushes near the pool while I was enjoying a relaxing afternoon.
Important tip: Please do not touch these lizards, because they can be dangerous and harm you with their teeth and tail, if provoked.
Tours of Penang you may like
Thanks for reading. I hope you have been inspired to visit the Island of Penang. Leave me a comment below.
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