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Penang Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know

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Planning a Penang trip? Look no further! This comprehensive Penang Travel Guide is your one-stop resource for all things Penang. Nestled on the northwest coast of Malaysia, Penang is a captivating island that effortlessly combines a rich cultural heritage with stunning natural beauty. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie on a quest for culinary delights, or a beach lover seeking sun and sand, Penang has something for everyone. In this guide, we’ll take you through the top things to do in Penang, help you find the perfect accommodation, offer insights on how many days to stay in Penang for the ultimate experience, provide information on the best time to visit Penang based on the weather, delve into transportation options to get you there and around, and even offer packing tips to ensure you’re fully prepared for your Penang adventure. So, let’s dive into the vibrant world of Penang and make your upcoming trip an unforgettable experience.

Penang Overview

Penang, a Malaysian state comprising Penang Island and Seberang Perai on the mainland, is celebrated as the Pearl of the Orient for its cultural diversity, historical legacy, and natural splendor. Here are intriguing facts about Penang:

  1. Founded in 1786 by Captain Francis Light of the British East India Company, Penang was initially named Prince of Wales Island. This marked the establishment of George Town as Southeast Asia’s first British settlement.
  2. Penang boasts the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, the Kek Lok Si Temple, nestled in Air Itam. This grand temple showcases a seven-storey pagoda, a colossal bronze statue of Guanyin, and a serene tortoise pond.
  3. Penang’s culinary scene is renowned for its diverse street food influenced by various ethnic groups, including Malay, Chinese, Indian, Peranakan, and Thai. Savor popular dishes like char kway teow, laksa, rojak, nasi kandar, and cendol.
  4. The state embraces a vibrant arts and culture scene, featuring festivals, museums, galleries, and captivating street art. The George Town Festival, commemorating its UNESCO World Heritage status, hosts an array of performances and exhibitions.

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Top Things to Do in Penang

Penang presents a plethora of attractions for travelers. Here, we explore some of the top sights and activities to experience in Penang:

  • Explore The Habitat Penang Hill, an immersive rainforest adventure that brings you up close to the jungle’s vibrant sights, sounds, and scents. Traverse the canopy walk, zip through the trees, or savor panoramic vistas from the Curtis Crest Tree Top Walk.
  • Stroll through the Historic Streets of George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site showcasing Penang’s rich cultural tapestry. Marvel at colonial architecture, street art, clan houses, temples, mosques, and churches. Dive into renowned street food, peruse bustling markets, and take a rickshaw ride.
  • Travel back in time at Fort Cornwallis, an 18th-century British-built star-shaped fort. Observe cannons, barracks, a chapel, lighthouse, and an onsite museum. Enjoy cultural performances and historical reenactments.
  • Embark on a shopping spree at Batu Ferringhi Night Market, a bustling bazaar offering clothing, accessories, souvenirs, electronics, and delectable cuisine. Bargain with vendors, relish street entertainment, and savor local treats.
  • Delight in a culinary adventure, one of the finest ways to savor Penang’s diverse and delectable fare. Join a guided food tour or explore independently, tasting dishes like char kway teow, laksa, nasi kandar, cendol, rojak, and more. Explore famous food streets and markets like Gurney Drive, Chulia Street, Little India, and Chowrasta Market.
Malaysia George Town
Stroll through the Historic Streets of George Town

Where to Stay in Penang

Here are some recommendations for the best areas and hotels in Penang to suit your preferences and budget:

1. George Town:

As the capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, George Town is the top choice for most visitors. This area is renowned for its rich cultural blend of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and colonial influences. You can explore charming streets, admire street art, visit museums and temples, and savor local cuisine. George Town offers a diverse range of accommodation options, from luxury boutique hotels to budget-friendly hostels. Some top picks include:

  • Seven Terraces: A luxurious heritage boutique hotel featuring elegant suites, a beautiful courtyard pool, a fine-dining restaurant, and proximity to attractions like Khoo Kongsi clan house and the Goddess of Mercy Temple.
  • Cheong Fatt Tze – The Blue Mansion: An iconic 19th-century boutique hotel with spacious rooms, a museum showcasing its history, and an award-winning restaurant. Nearby attractions include the Penang Peranakan Mansion and the Pinang Peranakan Museum.
  • Kimberley Old House: One of the best budget hostels centrally located on Penang’s oldest street, offering clean and affordable accommodations.

2. Batu Ferringhi:

Located on the north coast with a beautiful sandy beach, Batu Ferringhi is perfect for beach lovers. Enjoy sunbathing, water sports, and vibrant night markets. This area boasts some of Penang’s best resorts, including:

  • Shangri-La Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa: A luxurious spa resort with spacious rooms, a large outdoor pool, a spa, a golf course, and numerous dining options. Activities range from yoga and cooking classes to cultural shows.
  • Hard Rock Hotel Penang: A fun and lively hotel with music-themed decor, modern rooms, an outdoor pool with a swim-up bar, a spa offering music-inspired treatments, and live music events.
  • Roomies Suites: A value-for-money hotel with cozy rooms, an outdoor pool, and a rooftop terrace offering panoramic views of the sea and sunset.

3. Bayan Lepas:

Located on the south-east coast, Bayan Lepas is known for the Penang International Airport, industrial parks, and shopping malls. It also has attractions like the Snake Temple, War Museum, and Queensbay Mall. Convenient hotels in this area include:

  • Olive Tree Hotel: A four-star hotel with comfortable rooms, an outdoor pool, a fitness center, a sauna, and a restaurant. It’s about a 10-minute drive from the airport and 15 minutes from George Town.
  • Hotel Equatorial Penang: Another four-star hotel offering spacious rooms, an outdoor pool, a fitness center, a spa, a golf course, and various dining options. It’s about 15 minutes from the airport and 20 minutes from George Town.
  • B Street Hotel: A budget-friendly option with simple and clean rooms, air-conditioning, free Wi-Fi, and a rooftop terrace. It’s approximately 20 minutes from the airport and 25 minutes from George Town.
Malaysia Shangri-La's Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa
Shangri-La's Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa in Penang

How Many Days to Stay in Penang?

The ideal duration for your stay in Penang, Malaysia, isn’t set in stone; it hinges on your preferences, budget, and travel objectives. It’s commonly advised to allocate a minimum of 3 days to fully delve into Penang’s primary draws like George Town, Penang Hill, and Batu Ferringhi Beach. For a more unhurried immersion in the island’s nature, culture, and cuisine, we recommend extending your stay to 5 days or even longer.

Here are some top experiences you can enjoy in Penang, tailored to different durations of stay:

1 Day in Penang: If you’ve got just one day, make the most of it in George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Admire colonial architecture, explore vibrant street art, visit temples, and immerse yourself in museums. Don’t forget to savor famous street delicacies like char kway teow, laksa, and rojak.

3 Days in Penang: With three days, expand your adventure. Take a scenic funicular ride to Penang Hill for panoramic island vistas, explore the Kek Lok Si Temple and the intriguing Snake Temple, discover Penang National Park and its beaches, and relish the nightlife and shopping in Batu Ferringhi.

5 Days in Penang: A five-day stay lets you fully immerse in the island’s diverse experiences. Dedicate extra time to George Town, uncovering hidden gems like the Clan Jetties, the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, and the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion. Venture further to Balik Pulau for rural landscapes and durian farms, Teluk Bahang for a tropical spice garden and butterfly farm, and Tanjung Bungah for a floating mosque and fishing village exploration.

Penang Weather & Best Time to Visit Penang

The prime time for a Penang visit falls between December and February when the weather is pleasantly cool and dry. February stands out as the sunniest month, albeit with occasional rain showers. This season offers ample opportunities for outdoor adventures like exploring Penang Hill, the Habitat, and the Langur Way Canopy Bridge. Plus, you can indulge in year-round swimming on Penang Island.

For a more tranquil getaway with fewer crowds, consider sidestepping the peak season and planning your trip during the wetter months from May to October. Expect regular afternoon showers during this period. However, indoor attractions like the Penang State Museum and Art Gallery, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, and Pinang Peranakan Mansion provide enjoyable alternatives.

Penang maintains a warm and humid climate throughout the year, with average temperatures hovering around 30°C. The rainiest stretches occur in April, May, October, and November. Humidity peaks in October and November and reaches its lowest levels in January and February.

See also Best Time to Visit Malaysia

Penang Transportation: How to Get to and Travel around

How to Get to

There are multiple travel options to reach Penang from foreign countries and various cities within Malaysia. Here’s a breakdown of these choices:

  • By Plane: Penang boasts an international airport (PEN) connecting to numerous countries and cities, including Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Taipei, Seoul, and more. You can also catch flights from Kuala Lumpur (KUL) or Subang (SZB) airports, with a swift one-hour journey. Airlines like AirAsia, Firefly, Malindo Airways, and Malaysia Airlines operate flights to Penang.
  • By Train: Hop aboard the KTM ETS train from Kuala Lumpur or other stations along the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia to Butterworth, located on the mainland across from Penang Island. The train voyage typically takes around four hours from Kuala Lumpur. Upon reaching Butterworth, opt for either a ferry or bus to cross the Penang Bridge and reach George Town, Penang’s capital.
  • By Bus: Numerous bus companies offer services from Kuala Lumpur and various Malaysian cities to Penang. The bus journey generally lasts about five hours from Kuala Lumpur. Upon arrival, you can disembark at either Sungai Nibong or Butterworth bus terminals. From there, you have the option to take a local bus, taxi, or Grab to reach your destination on Penang Island.
  • By Car Ferry: If you’re traveling from Singapore or Johor Bahru, consider taking a car ferry from Stulang Laut Ferry Terminal in Johor Bahru to Sultan Abdul Halim Ferry Terminal in Butterworth. The ferry journey, operating twice a week, lasts around 12 hours. Upon reaching Butterworth, you can either board another car ferry or catch a bus to Penang Island.
Malaysia Penang International Airport
Penang International Airport

How to Get around

Public Transportation: Penang’s Rapid Penang bus system spans the island and mainland with fares typically ranging from RM1 to RM4 per trip. Exact change is needed. A free shuttle circles George Town’s central area.

Taxi or Grab: Taxis lack meters, requiring fare negotiation. Costs depend on distance, traffic, and time. A more convenient and cost-effective choice is Grab, an e-hailing service. Use the Grab app for estimates and booking with various vehicle types.

Car Rental: For flexibility and comfort, consider renting a car in Penang. Numerous companies like Hertz, Avis, and local options are available. Prices average RM100 to RM200 per day, excluding petrol, tolls, and parking. A valid driving license and international driving permit are necessary.

Walking: Explore George Town’s heritage zone on foot, enjoying historical sites, street art, and more. The area is compact and pedestrian-friendly, though not suitable for longer distances or hilly terrain. Be cautious of traffic, heat, and humidity.

Bike or Scooter Rental: Renting a bike or scooter offers a scenic and economical way to tour Penang. Costs are typically lower than car rentals. Some parts of Penang offer bike lanes and paths along the coast and in parks.

What to Pack for a Penang Trip?

To make the most of your trip, you should pack some essential items that will help you enjoy your stay. Here are some packing tips for your upcoming trip to Penang, Malaysia:

  • Pack comfortable, waterproof shoes for walking and hiking in places like Georgetown, Penang Hill, and Penang National Park.
  • Bring breathable shirts made of cotton or linen to combat hot weather and avoid dark colors.
  • Pack shorts or jeans for walking comfort, with jeans offering sun and insect protection.
  • Carry an outer shell jacket for wind and rain, suitable for cooler destinations like Cameron Highlands or Kek Lok Si Temple.
  • Don’t forget sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and water resistance due to Penang’s strong sun.
  • Wear sunglasses with UV protection for sun and better visibility.
  • Bring a hat, either wide-brimmed or a baseball cap, for shade and style.
  • Carry a camera, whether smartphone, DSLR, or GoPro, to capture Penang’s beauty.
  • Pack a power bank to keep devices charged and ready.
  • Bring a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated and reduce plastic waste.

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