Penang, renowned as the Pearl of the Orient, is a state on the west coast of Malaysia. Hailed as the food capital of Malaysia, it has become a popular destination with plenty on offer for those who visit.
Penang is rich in culture and history, with a unique mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and British influences. Visitors will find Penang brimming with charming historic buildings, ornate religious sites, sandy beaches, kampungs surrounded by rice paddies, vast unbeaten jungles, all topped with a splash of bustling city life.
Penang City Nighttime
Things To Do In Penang
Exploring Penang would usually involve a lot of walking, sandals are comfortable in this climate and do double-duty for a stroll on the beach too.
I would also suggest that you have a backpack to carry these three essential items, rain or shine: sunblock, bottled water, and umbrella.
To top up with some style, wear a hat and a pair of sunglasses and you are good to go!
A morning market in the day
Penang island, in particular, is full of things to see, including the great views of George Town and environs and across to Seberang Perai from Penang Hill, the tremendous Kek Lok Si pagoda in Ayer Itam, the many historic Chinese towkay (merchant) mansions, and the quiet beaches on Balik Pulau.
The secluded beaches of Pantai Kerachut, Muka Head, and Teluk Kampi are located on the northern coast. There is an old lighthouse at Muka Head beach.
You can reach these beaches by either hiking (1 – 3 hours) or by hiring a fisherman’s “sampan” (boat) from the small village of Teluk Bahang. The village itself has a kilometer-long beach and a small Scout campsite.
Jungle Trekking & Camping
Enjoy walking through the reserve forest in Teluk Bahang, go to the northwestern cape of the island where there are unspoiled beaches and an old lighthouse.
For a quicker and more relaxed way to reach the secluded beaches there, approach the locals at Kampung Nelayan for boat rides to beaches like Muka Head, Pantai Kerachut, and Teluk Kampi.
Kampung Nelayan is less than 1 km down the road northwest of the small roundabout located at Teluk Bahang.
Watersports are on the agenda for many visitors, although the waters are a bit too murky for scuba diving and a bit too calm for surfing or more extreme pursuits.
Teluk Kuantan Beach
Swimming is OK along most of the northern coast especially near the international-class hotels as they do their best to keep the beaches and water clean.
You can also try out jet skis and parasailing near most of the hotels along Batu Feringhi beach.
Cycling included guided cycling tours in Balik Pulau is a good way to explore the area.
can be found in Upper Penang Rd or UPR. It is a very popular place to be at night among locals and tourists alike. It is opposite the famed Eastern and Oriental Hotel and beside the City Bayview Hotel.
- Alor Star – the capital of Kedah state
- Hat Yai – the largest city in southern Thailand, about 4 hours away by road
- Ipoh – the capital of Perak state
- Kota Bharu – the capital of Kelantan state
- Perhentian Islands – Pulau Perhentian
- Langkawi – a popular tourist destination famous for beach resorts
- Taiping– a town at North of Perak state
- Phuket – at South Thailand
- Medan – at Sumatra, Indonesia. There is no ferry to Medan anymore since the price of flights to Medan is now cheaper than a ferry
- Bangkok – if you are planning to go to Thailand, your best bet is to hop on the Butterworth-Bangkok International Express. It’s dirt cheap, very comfortable, super clean sheets, and blankets laundered after each use) and wide cozy beds
Explore Buddhism in Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand
Penang is widely considered the food capital of Malaysia and is a melting pot of cuisines. The obvious mix of Malay, Chinese, Peranakan/Nonya and Indian cuisine has a strong presence along with a variety of another international fare.
Penangites (as they are called) love to eat and will eat anywhere, provided the food is exceptional. Often some of the best food can be found along the side of a busy road or even down an inconspicuous alleyway.
The rule of thumb is to be adventurous with your tongue, look at the condition of the stall and its surroundings. If in doubt where to eat, go where the locals eat and ask around for recommendations.
If you have been to Singapore or other parts of Malaysia you may see some familiar names, but don’t be fooled as some dishes in Penang are quite different from what you may get elsewhere. With that in mind, many dishes that are common throughout Malaysia are also present in Penang, which can be found under Malaysian cuisine.
The following is a list of some, but not all, common and popular Penang dishes.
Assam Laksa is a far cry from the sweet, coconut Singapore version. The broth of this noodle soup is packed with tamarind (assam), Lemongrass, galangal and flaked fish and is typically garnished with pineapple, mint, onion, prawn paste and a generous helping of chilli.
The combination is utterly unique, powerful and will have the uninitiated breathing fire. The coconut variety, called Curry Mee, is also available in Penang.
Char Hor Fun
Char Hor Fun is a local dish with flat rice noodles (kway teow) in a delicious broth of beaten eggs and seafood bits. Goes best with pickled green chillies.
Char Kway Teow
Char Kway Teow is the ever-popular stir-fried (char) flat rice noodle (kway teow) dish found throughout Malaysia and Singapore, often mixed with prawns, cockles, bean sprouts and vegetables, with an egg mixed in on request.
Exceptional versions of this dish can be found all over Penang, with the best typically coming from roadside stalls, Hawker centers, and coffee shops, or Kopitiams.
Hokkien Mee in Penang bears little resemblance to the stir-fried dish of the same name found in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. It is a soup-based dish filled with rice and egg noodles, pork, prawns, vegetables, bean sprouts, a hard-boiled egg, and fried shallots. Mee Udang is the Malay version of Hokkien Mee.
Kway Teow Th’ng
Kway Teow Th’ng contains flat rice noodles (kway teow) in clear chicken soup (th’ng) with slices of chicken, pork, fish cake and garnished with chopped spring onions. Some also include duck meat or even offal, but you can request for them to leave it out.
Lobak (Lor bak)
Lobak, or Lor bak, comprises minced pork wrapped in tofu skin and is very famous in Penang. Similar to a sausage, you can also choose the accompanying servings of prawn fritters, tofu, fish cakes, Taiwan sausages or even century eggs.
They are all fried up and served with chili sauce. At street stalls, you just grab what you want and give to the chef to cook.
Lor Mee is a dish unique to Penang comprising of yellow noodles in sticky brown colored gravy and commonly served with egg and pork. Some vendors may also include offal in the in their lor mee, but as always you can request for it to be left out.
Mee Sotong is a popular local dish found specifically at the Kota Selera Hawker Center, near Fort Cornwallis. The dish contains egg noodles served squid, shallots and a fishy, spicy sauce. A wedge of lime is usually given to add extra zing to the dish. You can also find this dish at several other hawker centers.
Nasi Kandar is literally white rice (nasi) with anything else you want with it. Although these days it is sold in virtually every Malaysian city, Penang is the where the dish originated from, and according to many Malaysians is still where the best ones are.
Typical side dishes to add include curries, fried chicken or fish, prawns, squid, hardboiled eggs and vegetables and it’s often completed with splashes of various curry sauces. It may not be a particularly pretty dish, but it is loved by Malaysians.
Be warned that adding too many sides can make the dish quite expensive. Many Penangites have their own favorite stall, and some stalls are open 24 hours, so ask around for their recommendation.
Oh Chien, or Or Chen, is simply an oyster omelet, is a very popular dish among Penangites. You can find it all over at hawker centers, Chinese coffee shops, and some seafood restaurants. It is typically mixed with chives, radish and dash of soy sauce, fish sauce and white pepper before cooking.
Rojak can refer to two different dishes. Chinese rojak (or just rojak at hawker stalls) is a salad of raw mango, pineapple, cucumber, white turnip, fried bean curd and topped with peanuts a dark thick sauce of shrimp paste and sugar. The ingredients do vary slightly between stalls.
Pasembor, also called Indian rojak, is found mostly at Mamak stalls. It consists of cucumbers, fried dough fritters, bean curds, prawn fritters, hard-boiled eggs, bean sprouts, cuttlefish and topped with a sweet thick, spicy peanut sauce.
Satay, or Sate, obviously is the famous meat-on-a stick that is found all over Malaysia. Often you can find chicken or beef satay, but what makes Penang different is that the Chinese vendors also serve up pork satay.
Once cooked over hot coals they are served with a fresh salad of cucumbers, onions and a spicy-sweet peanut dipping sauce. Someplace will also serve it with compressed rice.
Try Local Seafood
Seafood is not exactly a dish, but considering much of the state lined by coastline, it is no surprise that it is a big player in Penang cuisine. Seafood is used in all local cuisines, from Indian tandoori prawns to Chinese black pepper crab or even the Malay grilled fish (ikan bakar).
Seafood restaurants are common along the coastline, particularly around Batu Ferringhi and Teluk Bahang along the north coast or Batu Maung to the south.
Ais Kacang, also known as ABC or Air Batu Campur, is a concoction of shaved ice, red beans, grass jelly, sweet corn, and attap palm seed. It is finished with lashings of coconut milk or evaporated milk, palm sugar syrup (gula melaka) and other colored syrups.
Cendol, or Chendol, is somewhat like ais kacang. Shaved ice is topped with mushy red beans, green coloured rice flour noodles, coconut milk and palm sugar syrup (gula melaka). It is simple, sweet and satisfying, particularly on a hot sunny day.
Durian is a popular local fruit that is much loved or much hated depending on your taste. The odour of the fruit is distinctive and pungent with the flesh often described as rich, sweet and creamy by some while others liken it to warm garlic ice cream.
Stalls in markets and by the roadside often sell pre-packaged flesh or the whole fruit itself. There are several fruit farms located around Balik Pulau which are good places to sample the fruit and to find out about the various durian varieties.
You can also find durian in various sweets including ice creams, cakes, and biscuits, with the flavor being much more subtle than the fruit itself.
Kaya is a jam-like spread made of eggs and coconut milk. Can really be spread on anything, but is often eaten for breakfast on toast. To impress the locals, order some kaya toast with runny eggs and a strong cup of coffee (kopi). You can also find kaya in many pastries and sweets.
Nutmeg is commonly grown in Penang and a favorite among locals. Preserved nutmeg strips, either in dry or wet form, are eaten as a snack and the rind is used to make nutmeg juice or Lau Hau Peng.
It is also used in traditional medicine, with nutmeg oil or balm used for illnesses related to the nervous and digestive systems.
Penang is famous throughout the country for its Chinese bakeries. For ethnic Chinese tourists from Singapore or elsewhere in Malaysia, a visit to one of these bakeries is a must, and friends and office colleagues would generally be expecting some pastries as souvenirs from someone returning from a trip to Penang.
Biscuits and Pastries – Traditional biscuits such as Tambun Pneah, Beh Teh Sor, Heong Pneah, Pong Pneah, and Tau Sar Pneah.
Coconut tart, If you have eaten egg tart before then instead of the egg put in some coconut and voila! You get coconut tart and definitely the best is at Cintra Lane.
Almost all locals in Penang are able to speak Malay, the national language of Malaysia. The ethnic Chinese in Penang (who form the majority) usually speak a localized variant of Hokkien known as Penang Hokkien, which Minnan speakers from Taiwan and Fujian may have some difficulty understanding due to the slang and some loan words from Malay.
Most ethnic Chinese are also able to speak Mandarin and Cantonese. Ethnic Indians usually converse with each other in Tamil and ethnic Malays usually converse with each other in Malay, but quite a good number of Indian and Malay Penangites can converse in Hokkien.
English is spoken fluently by most white-collar professionals and businessmen, as well as by service staff working in hotels and tourist attractions. Most other locals under the age of 50 will be able to communicate in broken English, supplemented by non-verbal forms of communication such as pointing and gesturing.
When in doubt, gravitate toward younger locals, as the Commonwealth variety of English is a required subject in Malaysian schools. Nearly all teenagers or adults in their 20s or 30s should be able to speak reasonably fluent English.
In general, as an island on the West coast of Malaysia, Penang is hot and humid. Be prepared to get hot and sticky during the day because the average temperature is between 28 °C and 32 °C.
The temperature is much pleasant during the night on an average of 26 °C. The hottest and driest months are from January to March, with an average of 33°C and could shoot up to 35 °C.
Best Time To Visit
The table below is a short summary of understanding the climate in Penang.
- Jan & Feb – Sunny and humid
- Mar – Sunny and humid
- May – Rainy/ thunderstorm
There are more rain and thunderstorms in May and October. Then, between June to November, the sun, clouds, and rains are likely to share the sky in a day. Many of the locals are typically pleased to have cloudy days as the temperature would be around 28°C.
While some tourists think that the cloudy months of June to September may be a good time to visit the island, be warned that Malaysia is likely to get haze too from May to November.
Winds bring in the smoke from the massive land-clearing fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan that creates the haze issue. Apart from the corporations and farmers in those two places, there is no telling on when haze may happen.
The air pollutant issue has been happening for nearly two decades. Once the haze comes, it is likely to last for weeks and sometimes months when there are not many rainy days.
When you come across terrible ‘haze days’, it is best to plan your traveling to indoors only such as visiting museums or shopping in the malls. Wearing a mask will be a good idea to avoid harmful pollutants into your lungs.
Most convenient stores or pharmacies will have the mask during ‘haze season’. Be aware that the haze could bring some common health issues such as eye inflammation, nasal and throat irritation, and headache. To minimize developing health complications, it is advisable to drink more water.
What To Wear
My suggestion for what to wear and prepare in this climate:
Lightweight cotton clothing and long loose pants or knee-length shorts are wise choices of clothing. On days that you will be visiting religious sites, it is advisable to wear ankle-length/ long pants/dress.
For the ladies, a long scarf will be handy as a cover-up especially at mosques.
Dressing modestly will really pay off because you will be:
- showing respect and being culturally sensitive
- drawing less attention and locals will be more comfortable talking to you
- covering up from the sun
How To Get Here
Penang International Airport (PEN IATA), formerly Bayan Lepas International Airport, is the third-largest airport in Malaysia and situated in Bayan Lepas, about 16 km (9.9 mi) south of George Town.
Getting Around in Penang
One of the best ways to sight see is to walk around George Town; but wear light clothes, start early in the morning, and put on plenty of sun-block during the daytime. When crossing the roads, remember to look both ways, even on a one-way street.
RapidPenang, the local bus service, features new buses. All bus stations and bus stops which are serviced by the RapidPenang buses are labeled with proper signboards to ensure user-friendliness. Buses are somewhat frequent on the main artery to Batu Ferringhi. Rapid Penang bus 101 bound for Teluk Bahang goes through midtown Pulau Tikus, (northwest end of) Gurney Drive, Tanjung Tokong, Tanjung Bungah, Batu Ferringhi (Starbucks is a good place get off and gives access to the beach), Tropical Spice Garden, Escape/Entopia and terminates at the Penang National Park entrance.
RapidPenang bus 203 and 204 to Air Itam (RM1.50 adult) departs westward on Lebuh Chulia (the main backpacker hotel road) or southbound from the KOMTAR building are handy for visiting both Kek Lok Si Temple and Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera) Funiciular Base Station, approximately 30mins southwest of the city center. The driver will inform you of when to alight. Bus 204 departs from the funicular base station to return to Komtar and onward.
The main hub for buses in George Town is KOMTAR, the tallest building in town. The secondary hub is located at the Pengkalan Weld (Weld Quay) ferry terminal. All buses depart from the ferry terminal will stopover at KOMTAR, but downtown-bound buses destined for KOMTAR may not go all the way to the ferry terminal; ask the bus operator. There is a new long-distance bus terminal at Sungai Nibong, refer to by bus entry.
Municipal Council of Penang Island together with RapidPenang provide a free shuttle bus service in George Town called CAT (Central Area Transit), which runs approximately between the Pengkalan Weld ferry terminal and KOMTAR every 20 min daily 06:00-24:00, (including Sundays and public holidays). Visit CAT bus for more details.
Also, foreigners can purchase a Rapid Passport for RM30 and enjoy a week of unlimited travel onboard all rapid Penang buses.
These three-wheeled human-powered vehicles might be the best idea for a pleasant city tour. One can stop at any point to take a photo or buy souvenirs. Many trishaw riders are also excellent ‘tour guides’. Negotiate the fare first before getting on a trishaw; it is advisable to hire them by the hour for extended sightseeing.
Pulau Rawa, one of the many brightly coloured ferries between Butterworth and Penang
If you wish to travel between the mainland and Penang Island then the Penang Ferry Service is a cheap and unique option to take. The ferry operates between Butterworth at Sultan Abdul Halim ferry terminal on the mainland and George Town’s Raja Tun Uda ferry terminal at Weld Quay (Pengkalan Weld) on Penang Island. Ferries depart every 10-20 minutes between 05:20–00:40 daily with the fare to George Town costing RM1.20 for adults or RM0.60 for children. The fare to Butterworth is free. From both ports, Rapid Penang Buses are nearby to help connect you to the rest of the mainland or Island.
Car rentals may be a viable option, especially if you are planning to get off the beaten track and explore the western or southern coast of the island. Take note that Penang Island has quite a number of one-way streets and narrow roads. Many Penangites ride motorbikes and a minority of them have disregard for pedestrians, cars, and even their own lives, so you must be very careful when driving on the roads. Avoid driving during the rush hours 07:30-09:30 and 17:30-19:30. Motorcycle riders can be undisciplined and tourists should be extra vigilant of them.
Taxis in Penang are equipped with meters and by law they are mandated to use them, but practically all drivers will refuse to turn them on. Always haggle with the taxi driver and agree on a price beforehand.
At some high-end hotels, particularly on Batu Ferringhi, you may find blue SUVs marked “Teksi Executif” (Executive Taxi). These taxis do use the meter, but are hard to find on the streets.
To avoid haggling for the price, try using a taxi booking smart phone app. Grab works well in Penang. Useful also to get taxi fare prices.
There are plenty of places to rent a bicycle in Georgetown. There is also a bicycle sharing system called LinkBike. It has 25 stations with typically 10 or 12 bike racks. You need to download their smart phone app and pay for a short term membership such as 1 or 2 days using a Visa or Mastercard. You can then use the bikes as often as you like, the first 30 mins are free then its RM1 per hour but often 30 mins is enough for a short hop. You are charged once for rides over 30 mins at the end of your membership period so you are not going to get lots of RM1 charges.
Penang is relatively a very safe place for travelers. However, as in most other places, Penang has its share of crime, so common precautions must be taken against snatch-thieves and scammers.
Some other precautions:
- Don’t walk alone in dark and deserted places
- Don’t accept rides from Kereta Sapu (passenger cars/unlicensed taxis)
- Don’t carry valuables in motorbike-baskets
- Don’t leave valuables in hotel rooms
- Don’t place valuables on restaurant tables
- Do be wary of snatch-thieves – especially when wearing jewelry and/or carrying expensive handbags
- Be careful about your surroundings in waters off Batu Feringhi beach, where you may be harmed by unregulated jet skis or other water activities
- Do be wary of the sometimes aggressive long-tail macaques at the botanical gardens
July 22, 2019 3:02 pm
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