Top Penang Hotels
Sadly the days of being known as the "Pearl of the Orient" are long gone in so far as the beaches in Penang are concerned - although, that is not to say that nice beaches do not exist on the island. As far as holidaymakers are concerned, the beach starts in Tanjung Bungah and ends in Teluk Bahang, known locally as "the end of the world." The beaches at the Tanjung Bungah end vary in size, are rockier and being close to residential complexes, can be a little dirtier. The one bonus with being at this end of the island is that there are not many hotels and it is usually necessary for the general public to access the beach via a hotel, which would appear to serve as a deterrent.
Moving around the coast the rocks gradually give way to clearer beaches. The main strip of Ferringhi Beach is also used by locals and day-trippers alike creating an altogether more congested feel in parts. All hotels on this drag have gardens opening out onto the beach and most have taken it upon themselves to keep their own section of sand clean. The best beach is at Teluk Bahang as it is not only bigger and much quieter but has clean white sand. As this is a five minute drive from the main Ferringhi Beach take plenty of water as shops are not as convenient.
Although most beaches are clean, the sea at all points of the island is of a brown hue and if images of crystal clear blue oceans was in mind, forget it!
Watersports in Penang include catamarans, canoes, jetskis and kneeboards. The surf isn't exactly up so don't bring your surfboard but do bring plenty of high factor sun protection as the sun is extremely hot!
Warning: Jellyfish are present at most Penang beaches all year round, however there is a marked decrease from May June.
Perched on the side of a hill in the Air Itam section of Penang, is the impressive Kek Lok Si Temple with its many lanterns and intricate detailing. Reputed to be the largest Buddhist temple complex in Southeast Asia, the grounds comprise several pagodas and temples joined by a multitude of steps along with a great view of the city below.
Located approximately 15 minutes from the centre of Georgetown, Wat Chaya Mankalaram (Thai Buddhist temple), is home to the 33m long reclining gold-plated Buddha and is situated opposite Dharmmikarama Temple (Burmese Buddhist Temple) housing the standing Buddha. A combination of ornate and the slightly tacky, with some stalls selling souvenirs dotted around outside - both temples are worth a quick visit.
Note: Remember to take off shoes before entering any Bhuddist temple.
The colonial history and wealth of migrants to the area has resulted in a host of religious representation. For a potted sample, clustered together off Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling are Kapitan Keling Mosque, St George's Anglican Church, Kuan Yin Teng Goddess of Mercy Temple and the ornately decorated Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple with its multitude of statues.
The nearly 100 year old Khoo Kongsi clan house built for ancestral worship displays typical Chinese traditional architecture along with an abundance of carvings, statues and paintings.
The Botanical Gardens is a 29 hectare oasis of peace and tranquility just ten minutes drive from Georgetown offering a host of interesting species of flora and fauna from all corners of the globe. A popular spot for joggers and family weekend picnics.
Note: Since the government prohibited the feeding of monkeys in the gardens, they have now retreated to the area around the grounds. It is possible to feed them there and they are quite tame. Unfortunately, before entering the park you will have to run the gauntlet of hawkers trying to sell peanuts and take photographs.
The bustling Chinatown district with its rambling old multi-coloured low rise buildings gives more than a hint of the flavour of China and would have to rate as one of the most authentic Chinatowns around. This area is also home to many bars, restaurants and bargain shopping.
From the minute that you enter the short area between Lebuh King and Lebuh Queen containing Little India, your senses will be assailed, from the smell of exotic spices to the multitude of textile shops selling bright, colourful saris and material at bargain prices. The bazaar-style feel, coupled with the ramshackle old architecture makes for a real mini slice of India. Komtar tower is the central reference point and can be seen all over Georgetown. Home to government buildings and shops, there is a viewing point on the 58th floor for those wanting an aerial view of the city.
Situated on the Esplanade close to the business district stands the slightly down at heel Fort Cornwallis, the site on which Sir Francis Light landed in 1786. The remnants of this fort do little to inspire, and due to vandalism, parts have had to be renovated. Gun emplacements, a memorial room, a small chapel and an amphitheatre are about all there is to see.
Opened in 1923 and rising approximately 830m above sea level, Penang Hill affords breathtaking views of the sea, city and lush green surrounding countryside. Although the peak can be accessed by bus, the charming old funicular railway is hoisted up at a romantic pace and offers a whiff of days gone by. The journey takes around 30 minutes and costs just a few Ringgit. The more intrepid may wish to hike up from one of the nature trails in the Botanical Gardens. The trail runs for 6 km and takes between 3 4 hours.
The government has taken decisive steps to preserve the historical architecture of the island and to this end, has designated a Heritage Trail extending from Northam Road at the end of Gurney Drive into the city centre. Well worth having a look at for some stunning examples of old Chinese and colonial buildings.
The much talked about Snake Temple at Bayan Lepas is not worth the effort, unless that is, you are into seeing a handful of doped up, docile snakes coiled around pillars and altars doing little in particular.
Educational experiences for all the family include the Penang Bird Park at Seberang Jaya; the Tropical Fruit Farm, Butterfly Farm and Penang Cultural Centre - offering dinner shows featuring scenes from typical Malay life at Teluk Bahang and the Orchid, Hibiscus and Reptile Garden at Bukit Jambul.
Entertainment and Eating Out
Known locally as the "food paradise," Penang provides a profusion of eateries from the multitude of hawker stalls - which are virtually everywhere at meal times - offering Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisine for a couple of Ringgits a dish, to fine dining. Eating out would appear to be a local pastime in Penang. The blend of cultures are reflected in the cooking and for the less adventurous there are western restaurants and the usual familiar fastfood outlets.
You cannot go to Penang without sampling the delights of the numerous hawker stalls. Meals are extremely good value one of the more popular areas is at Gurney Drive on the waterfront facing the Malacca Straits; named after the former British High Commissioner Sir Henry Gurney, this colourful stretch of road comes alive after 6pm with hawkers stalls and streetside cafes and is also a popular jogging spot with locals in the mornings.
Observers of the Muslim faith should venture to the hawkers stalls on the Esplanade which specialise in Halal food. There is a vast array of reasonably priced eating establishments lining the main road at Ferringhi Beach but only a couple of bars most entertainment takes place in the many beachside hotels.
Chinatown comes alive at night with a plethora of laid-back bars and restaurants, mainly offering budget Asian fare. A great place to sit and watch the world go by from one of the streetside cafes.
Nightclubs and karaoke bars are dotted around Georgetown and are mainly to be found in the Jalan Burma area. As with the rest of Malaysia, clubs close by law at 2am.
Tourist Information Offices
Malaysian Tourism Promotion Board Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah Tel: 04 261 9067/04 262 0026
Penang Tourist Centre Pesara King Edward Tel: 04 261 6663
Penang Tourist Guides Association Tourist Information Centre Level 3 Komtar Tel: 04 261 4461
Tourism Malaysia Information Centre Bayan Lepas International Airport Tel: 04 643 0501
Internet shops are extremely cheap and can be found in many places including Komtar, Chinatown and Midland One-Stop Centre.
There is no diving or snorkelling anywhere on Penang, however diving excursions can be arranged by all hotels and go to Pulau Payar Marine Park off Langkawi. This is a full day trip which takes a couple of hours to reach and includes lunch. Just under two hours south of Penang will bring you to the Gua Tempurung limestone caves, which could prove a welcome relief from the heat of the city.
Three hours north of Penang just inside the Thai border is Hatyai known for its bargain shopping and wonderful Thai cuisine. Trains leave for the border from Butterworth or alternatively, tours can be booked through your hotel. Remember to take your passport!
Getting From A to B
A one-way system was implemented in 1999 which is reminiscent of a racetrack in parts - destinations which are quite close sometimes feel further away as it is necessary on occasion to take a more circuitous route. Traffic can be a little slower during peak periods but nothing much to note.
Taxis are not metered as taxi drivers are under the totally ludicrous notion that they would not make enough money. The government is trying to introduce metering with much resistance from the drivers - always barter. Like Kuala Lumpur, it is necessary to purchase coupons for taxis from the airport upon arrival. The drive into Georgetown takes approximately 20 minutes and 45 minutes to the beach destinations.
Lots of buses, usually pumping out copious amounts of black smoke, ply various routes including many tourist destinations. They are very cheap and run approximately every 30 minutes but there is no real timetable. Most buses can be caught at Komtar be sure to have the correct change prices depend on the distance travelled.
Operating in Georgetown, Trishaws, known locally as 'Beca,' are renowned as the "kings of the road" for their suicidal peddling and maneuvering.
The island is separated by a channel from the mainland and can be accessed either by a 24 hour ferry which runs every 20 minutes and takes 20 minutes to cross to Butterworth, or via the 3rd longest toll bridge in the world, spanning an impressive 13.5km.
Trains from Butterworth go to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Thailand. The more romantic may want to catch the Eastern and Oriental Express which runs from Singapore to Bangkok for some good old fashioned charm.
The nearby popular island of Langkawi can be reached by air or ferry.
Being multi-cultural, Penang celebrates a wealth of religious festivals from Christmas to the Mid-Autumn Chinese festival involving lanterns and moon cakes. Following the Muslim calendar, after a month long fast is the family oriented Hari Raya Puasa Muslim festival. Shops close, friends and families get together and candles are lit at home. Unless actually involved, this festival is unlikely to inspire. However, 2-3 months prior is a more fun celebration of the same festival. Visitors should go to Kampung Seronok at this time - a real village near the airport, set up as a model Malay kampung where the locals invite people into their homes.
Having a strong Chinese influence, Chinese New Year is celebrated in typical fashion in January or February, with lion dances and firecrackers to usher in the Lunar New Year. The Hindu Deepavali or Festival of Lights occurs in the 7th month of the Hindu calendar and lasts for three days. Hindu areas such as Little India come to life with decorations at this time.
International Dragon Boat Races are held each year in June off Batu Uban.
Thaipusam Hindu festival is to honour the icon Lord Subramaniam devotees flock to Nattukotai Temple for ceremonies during this time. Visitors will witness a striking display of religious fervour as large groups gather to celebrate, with pilgrims decorated in garlands and peacock feathers sporting skewered tongues and cheeks.
Featured Penang Hotels
Penang Travellers Tales
Penang Hill, the beach resorts, the Komitar, Gurney Plaza, China town and Little India along with the hawker stalls are all a must. There are plenty of restaurants if you like spicy food, temples to visit and the trishaw rides are fantastic. A great place to visit!
I only had 4 days to spend in Malaysia and had to pick only one destination to visit, and I was advised by trusted friends in Singapore to make it Penang. The city is known for its intriguing variety of Malaysian food. I am in the hotel/catering business, so this was a big attraction for me. My advice is to forgo the sit-down restaurants and take every meal at the local kopitiams (coffee shops) or food hawker markets. Don''t worry, the food is fresh and safe to eat at these establishments and you get to rub elbows with the locals at the same time. Besides all that, prices are dirt cheap. Be sure to try some of the local signature dishes: assam laksa, char kway teow, rojak to name a few. Do visit the merry old white colonial E&O hotel and have a frosty, tall ale in their Farquhar''s Bar while looking out at the sea or an iced coffee and scone in their charming European bakery cafe.
We spent a month in Malaysia. 12 days on the East Coast and the remainder spread between Ferringi Beach, Penang, Langkawi and then the 5 nights in Georgetown. We just loved Georgetown and will definitely return. People friendly, shopping great (I enjoyed it better than KL), food FABULOUS, and the lovely old buildings some restored, lent to a great Asian atmosphere. The Colonial atmosphere, plus the Chinese, Malay and Indian architecture made it all so enjoyable. We will definitely return to Georgetown.
Penang is a place not to miss. Please skip the beach, because there are much better ones in Malaysia and spend as much time as you can in the town. Great temples, old buildings and good food and if you are not staying in de Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion at least hop on a tour. Go to Penang as soon as possible, because it is changing fast. We have been there six years before and i is loosing charm rapidly. Altough it is still one of the most special places in Malaysia.
Penang is a pleasant surprise. The island is larger than we expected and you can spend a lot of money on taxis just to get around particularly if you are staying at any of the hotels on Batu Ferringhi Beach. For shopping, we tried Gurney Plaza (newly renovated and upmarket), Komptar (much more fun, lots of cheap shoes, DVDs, clothing) and the night markets at Ferringhi beach. There is not much of real value however you can really bargain for trinkets. If you are after DVDs, they can be picked up for around 4 ringgits each (about $1.30 AUD) however I can''t vouch for the quality yet. Penang Hill is worth a visit however you might need to pick your day - understand weekends are very popular and therefore very crowded. Also check the conditions - smoke haze from Sumatran forest fires totally obscured our view from the top. Butterfly Farm is also very worthy of a visit.
Penang has vastly developed since the last time I was there. About 10 years age. Their Gurney Drive is still there but I would say the standard and quality has gone down with time. The best "chendol" and "Penang Laksa" I had was at Lebuh Jeng Kwee, off Penang Road and directly opposite the Police Headquarters. The chendol''s stall is located outside the eating place and you would need to pay an additional RM0.40 cents to consume inside the eating place. The owner of the eating is not too friendly. There are many interesting places to visit, most of time within walking distance or short bust ride. There is a free shuttle bus to many interesting areas, but strangely enough they do not operate on Sundays & Public Holidays.
Independent travelling in Penang is almost impossible. Hardly see any cab driving pass, and the attractions (except for Penang Hill) are in quite remote places. Join either group day tours or book a van at your disposal. Average RM40 for one hour for a 10 seater van.
We loved Penang, despite the weather being really humid. Did a walking tour of the Heritage sites of Georgetown, which was both informative and interesting. The Blue Mansion was well worth visiting. Also took a trishaw ride to Fort Cornwallis and a fishing village. The driver had a wealth of knowledge about the local area, and I felt very safe with him, despite the traffic. Ate dinner one night at "The Lone Pine" at Batu Ferringhi, and nasi kandar at Kayu''s. Lunched at the restaurant next to Cititel--Mayflower garden I think it was called, and also at the Japanese rest in Cititel. Food everywhere of excellent quality and taste. People were most friendly and helpful. Shopping in Komptar was very good, tho I think we got a bit lost there--didn''t see many directions, but the person in the information booth was very helpful. Recommend change money with the licensed money-changers as they offer a better rate than the airports. Loved every bit of it--can''t wait to go back!!!
Check out "Jewel of the North" Indian Restaurant, food was excellent and value for money. Also the night market is great fun and bargains galore especially in DVD''s of the highest quality For 8 Ringgit.
As my friend and I took the whole day tour recommended by the hotel, we visited quite a number of places. We visited the Esplanade, Kek Lok Si Temple, Snake Temple, Wat Chayamankalaram, Dharmikarama Burmese Temple, Penang Hill, Butterfly Farm and other factory selling accessories. You will never go hungry in Penang. The food there is EXCEPTIONALLY DELICIOUS! Sedap!!! One thing you can''t miss is the Penang Laksa. With the mild sour gravy with thick bee hoon, its one taste you can''t forget. Other than that, don''t forget the roadside stalls and the night market in Lor Selamat and Lor Baru. The Chay Kway Teow there is excellent and not gorget the rest of the stalls that sell local delights.