- Is Penang on your radar?
- Take in the sights and sounds of Georgetown’s UNESCO World Heritage.
- Stay in a Shop House with a long history.
- Take a stroll through history at the Clan Jetties.
- Visit the Khoo Kongsi Clan House.
- Take a ride up to Penang Hill.
- Get lost and find Penang’s famous Street Art.
- Take the local bus to Kek Lok Si Temple.
- Stroll through Armenian Street’s Saturday Night Street Fair.
- Check out Cheong Fatt Tze – The Blue Mansion.
- Take a reprieve from the heat with a Coconut Shake or Dragon Ball.
- 10 Tips for your trip to Penang:
Penang is situated in the North West of the Malaysian Peninsula by the Mallaca Straits. Its a place filled with history, food and cultural experiences. If you’re looking for places to visit in Penang, in this post I’ll share the top things to do in Penang Malaysia.
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Is Penang on your radar?
As soon as you set foot in Penang Malaysia you realise you have arrived at a very special destination. From the friendly people to the vast array of food and chaotic traffic, Penang is a treat for your sights and senses. Everywhere you go in Penang you’ll be teased with the smells of street food cooking, and you’ll soon find yourself immersed in the different cultures, colours and historical charms that is distinctly Malaysian. If you’re looking for an inexpensive destination that is perfect for solo travel, you’ve found the perfect place.
For my trip to Penang I decided to take the bus. The trip from KL to Penang takes about 5 hours and costs the equivalent of about $20. For this you’ll get to see some of the beautiful countryside and wonderful limestone mountains. You’ll also be fed and watered along the way. All in air conditioned comfort.
I fell in love with Penang at first glance, perhaps you will too. Wondering what to do in Penang? If you’re looking for interesting places to see here’s my list of top things to do in Penang.
Take in the sights and sounds of Georgetown’s UNESCO World Heritage.
In 2008, UNESCO named Georgetown Penang as a world heritage site. The World Heritage site in Georgetown is the embodiment of the culture, buildings, heritage and history of Penang. Walking its streets you feel the history of this place, and experience a unique blend of cultures and belief systems.
The Jubilee Clock Tower pays tribute to Queen Victoria’s 1897 Diamond Jubilee. It’s sixty feet tall to represent a foot for each year of Queen Victoria’s reign. Just be careful crossing the road to get up close and personal with it, and say no to the taxi drivers and tour touts that hang out around it.
Georgetown is filled with gorgeous heritage buildings and everywhere you go in the heritage site you’ll see interesting architecture and see people who have lived in the area for generations. Many of the buildings are in disrepair but there’s plenty being renovated back to their former beauty.
Temples are a plenty in Georgetown. You won’t need to go far to see one of these points of interest in Penang.
A hint of Penang’s colonial past, Fort Cornwallis marks the landing spot of Captain Francis Light. Completed in 1810 by the British colonists to protect Penang, Fort Cornwallis is the largest fort to remain standing in Malaysia. If you’re interested in history Fort Cornwallis is an interesting stop on your Penang tour.
Cats are a plenty in Penang. I saw more here than in my time in Istanbul. A lot of cats have stumpy tails. I’m not sure if they are bred that way or they’ve come a cropper with a random Motorcycle.
Stay in a Shop House with a long history.
Wondering where to stay in Penang? There’s nothing like the feeling of staying in a place filled with history in a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are a number of accommodation options in Penang including hotels near the beach, hostels and hotels in the main tourist haunts and the option to stay in a guesthouse or bed and breakfast in a heritage Shop House. These guesthouses and bed and breakfasts can be found in quite streets where you stay amongst the locals going about their day to day.
I stayed at The Rumah Batu Heritage Guesthouse for my time in Penang. Although it is share accommodation, I booked a whole room to myself and was made to feel welcome and comfortable. Each morning my amazing host brought a different Malaysian breakfast food for me to try. A fabulous experience. For me this was the best place to stay in Penang.
Take a stroll through history at the Clan Jetties.
There are six remaining Chinese Clan Jetties over the water in Georgetown. They are like floating villages and each is their own community. People have lived on the Jetties since the 19th Century. The most tourist friendly is the Chew Jetty. If you’re respectful though people don’t mind you taking a stroll along their Jetty. I was welcomed with quite a number of smiles. Having blonde hair and blue eyes I did have a number of older Chinese people come and smile and touch me gently during my stay in Penang.
Visit the Khoo Kongsi Clan House.
If you’re looking for interesting places to visit in Penang, the Khoo Kongsi Clan House will do just the trick. It’s ornate architecture and intricate carvings had me in awe at first sight. When it comes to Chinese culture size matters, that is in relation to the size of your clan house and the Khoo Kongsi Clan House is representative of the fact that this clan was powerful in the Penang community.
Take a ride up to Penang Hill.
Take the funicular tram up to Penang Hill for an escape from the heat and a view over Penang Island. Penang Hill gets pretty busy and even if there’s not many people lined up for the trip up the hill, you’ll thank yourself when you buy a fast lane ticket on your return journey. Otherwise you’ll line up for quite some time. If you’re in for an adventure take the 204 bus from the Jetty in Georgetown to the lower station to catch the funicular. If you’d prefer to be driven to the Lower Station download the Grab app instead of taking a taxi (the taxis are renowned for taking advantage of tourists).
Get lost and find Penang’s famous Street Art.
Penang is famous for its array of street art by Ernest Zacharevic who was commissioned to bring the streets of Georgetown to life. Now there’s plenty of street art by a variety of artists to check out around the city. You can pick up a map to follow the street art in Penang trail alongside lots of other tourists or just decide to get lost and let the art find you.
The street art of Penang is a wonderful surprise at every turn. You’ll have fun exploring the streets in search of the hidden away pieces.
Take the local bus to Kek Lok Si Temple.
For me there is no better way to explore new places than to take the local bus. Part of the adventure is the risk of getting lost. But it’s also a great way to meet the locals and more often than not someone will strike up a conversation with you.
If you’re looking for cheap things to do in Penang, take a bus to Kek Lok Temple. To get to Kek Lok Si Temple take the 204 bus from the Jetty and ask the driver where to get off or just follow the other tourists. But don’t worry the last stop on this route is the stop for the Penang Hill funicular, so you can always head there if you miss your stop.
Opened in 1905, Kek Lok Si is the best known and largest Buddhist Temple in Penang. It’s really a complex of temples and gardens and boasts gorgeous views over Penang. The 30 metre tall statue of Kuan Yin, is impressive to say the least and worth taking the lift to the top. The only downside to the visit is the plethora of hawkers and shops which takes the gloss off the experience.
Stroll through Armenian Street’s Saturday Night Street Fair.
There’s always plenty of action along Penang’s Armenian Street and you’ll find yourself weaving through traffic and the multitude of people taking the obligatory selfie with the famous street art there. But on Saturday evening the street takes on a different vibe when it closes to traffic for its weekly fair. There’s plenty of stalls, food and music playing as you stroll along the streets in the cooler evening air. Apart from early in the morning (when nothing is open), this is the best time to check out Armenian Street.
The Armenian Street Fair and the Hawker Market will provide you with a great taste of Penang food. There are plenty of trinkets and things to take home with you at the stalls that line the street. Needless to say, the shops remain open then too. You’ll appreciate a stroll in the relative cool of the evening.
Check out Cheong Fatt Tze – The Blue Mansion.
Cheong Fatt Tze gets its nickname The Blue Mansion from it’s vibrant cobalt blue exterior. Inside is an eclectic mix of architecture and features pieces from Europe and China. You can stay at the Blue Mansion or take a tour twice daily. You don’t get to see a lot of the inside on the tour but what you do see is impressive and worth checking out. It was a bit difficult to understand what the tour guide was saying and there was a lot of talking, but it’s a truly gorgeous place. Might be worth spending the night in the bed and breakfast there.
Take a reprieve from the heat with a Coconut Shake or Dragon Ball.
Penang is situated close to the equator which means it’s hot and humid! Your makeup will melt off your face in moments and by midday you’ll be in need of a cool down. Before you head back to your accommodation for that much needed swim, shower or afternoon siesta, cool yourself down on the inside with some yummy Penang treats. A coconut milk shake will do just the trick and you’ll find plenty of places to sit in air conditioning while you sip away at this tasty drink.
A visit to Penang wouldn’t be complete without a Dragon Ice Ball from the Art of Dragon Gallery in Cannon Street. This tasty treat comes with a chat with the owner who will delight you with her story of how she invented the Dragon Ice Ball.
10 Tips for your trip to Penang:
- Wear cool loose clothing (make sure you cover your shoulders and legs to access mosques)
- Take an umbrella – both for the rain and the sun (you’ll appreciate having it in the heat of the day)
- Make sure you wear sunscreen and insect repellent
- Have a couple of pairs of comfortable walking shoes and switch them out during the day
- Keep up your fluids
- Pack a head scarf just in case
- Be aware of strangers asking to take you places
- Take a swim or have a siesta in the early afternoon, when the heat can be unbearable
- Shops and food outlets don’t open early (you’ll need that coffee at your hotel before venturing out early)
- Stay aware of the traffic, particularly the motorcycles
These are my top things to do in Penang, but there are so many things to do there that you’ll be spoilt for choice. Make sure you pop some of these things on your Penang to do list.