THINGS TO DO IN PENANG
Not a lot of to say except, walk! walk! walk! Get lost around the streets of George Town center and you won’t blame this decision. The mixture of cultures coexisting in the same area, Chinese, Malays, Muslims, Indians and other minorities, create a surrealistic experience. Just walking for the streets is worth the trip. Every few steps, smells, sounds, costumes, colors, change drastically. Amazing.
The most effective way to go around Penang island is to use public transportation (Rapid Penang). Fairly cheap, the busses from George Town cover all the routes to the most famous attractions. Prepare in advance a little change according to your trip fare (RM 1-3), to pay directly the driver onboard. It’s available even a weekly subscription at the cost of RM 30 (More info on the official website).
Public transportation information are now available even on google maps, so don’t be afraid to set your destination there and follow the indications!
The situation with Taxi is a little controversial. The drivers won’t miss the chance to take advantage of unaware tourists, avoiding to turn on the fare meter or bargaining for a fixed price. Be ready for that or book your ride on GRAB, the Asian version of UBER.
If you are open to discovering new cultures, there is no better place than Penang! Here below the top attractions that I liked most, to visit not only with your eyes but with all your senses. Remind to be respectful for the wide of traditions you will get in touch here. Wear comfy, but don’t forget you could need to dress modest clothes to enter in some sacred places.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE ZONE
The UNESCO World Heritage Zone is situated in the heart of George Town and it’s a mixture of 19th-century colonial and settler architecture. It’s hard to explain the urban vibes you can feel walking among the Armenian street to Chulia street and Beach road. Here the must-see to not miss during your walk in the city center.
YAP TEMPLE (CHOO CHAY KEONG 慈濟宮)
The Yap Temple officially called Choo Chay Keong 慈濟宮, is the clan temple of the Lum Yeong Tong Yap Kongsi, located next to it. This little place of worship is very evocative if visited during the night time.
Located at the corner of Armenian and Cannon Street, in the heart of UNESCO World heritage zone, is usually the point of meeting of trishaws and locals.
KAPITAN KELING MOSQUE
The Kapitan Keling Mosque is really interesting to visit if you are a passionate of architecture, here you can appreciate the mixture of Roman, Gothic, Indian and Moorish styles. It’s the largest mosque in George Town and has been built by Penang’s first Indian Muslim settlers.
Why should you definitely get here? Arrived at the entrance I have received a warm welcome by a volunteer, who kindly remind me to wait for the end of the pray. He offered me a free tour of the mosque, providing information not only about the history of this place but also regarding Islamic culture. Such as an enriching experience!
SRI MAHAMARIAMMAN TEMPLE
Sri Mahamariamman is the oldest Hindu temple in Penang. It was my first time to visit a place like this, I have been very impressed by the colours and the complexity of decorations.
Little India is for sure one of my favourites areas to walk through at any time during the day. It’s full of life, music, scents and despite I have never been to India, I feel like I had a little taste of it.
PENANG STREET ART
The streets of Penang were already artistic because of that appearance of postcolonialism decay, but thanks the effort of several street artists breath now of new life. My favorite artworks and probably the most famous are the ones realized by the Lithuanian, Ernest Zacharevic, in occasion of Penang’s Georgetown Festival 2012.
Surely one of the best things to do in Penang!
KEK LOK SI TEMPLE OF SUPREME BLISS (极乐寺)
This majestic structure of the Kek Lok Si has the reputation to be the largest Buddhist in South-East Asia. If you have the chance to visit it during the Chinese New Year period, you will be the witness of a mind-blowing show of lanterns light up for the occasion.
I reached this spot very easily using public transportation, (bus n. 203/201 are the correct ones, 4 RM both ways), get off from the bus is around 10 minutes walking up the hill.
This temple is impressive. More than ten thousand statues of Buddha decorate the interiors. Paying 2 RM you will have the access to the bottom of the Pagoda.
In Penang, there are plenty of other places and attractions that could be worthy for you. These mentioned in the list above are the ones I found interesting, affordable according to my budget and fitting to my 4 months trip in Asia. However here below I propose you a brief list with honourable mentions, which will make your research easier.
BEST LOCAL FOOD
As I suggest every time to my friends, discover the best locals food for yourself is the way! But, if you are hungry and you are reading here, probably you could think to follow these suggestions.
These restaurants are very affordable and managed by locals. If you don’t feel comfortable to serve yourself from a common food tray, skip this section 😀
I have eaten here more than one time, both lunch and dinner, without any stomach problems, so I consider them SAFE!
This is an open-air restaurant organized on 2 floors. The variety of the menù is wide and the taste is good. You can choose among the most famous Indian dishes and some Malay options. The prices are affordable, I spent around 15 RM for a decent meal.
Another Indian restaurant, but this time vegetarian one. I don’t follow a specific diet, but trust me or not, after this experience, I started to look for other vegetarian places.
It’s not only because of the warm roti canai or chapati, these you can find almost in any Indian restaurant. The food is simply tasty, the portions are generous. You will find more than just tofu, take your time and browse the vast menù. If it’s your first time in a local like this, you will be surprised.
Price? 10-15 RM to come back to the hoste full and happy.
Another restaurant directly from Little India, same vegetarian as before, but this time canteen style. Take your food tray and choose what inspire you from the option already cooked available.
This place is full of locals, it means hot food ready! The price is even lower in this kind of restaurant, around 10 RM. Maybe it’s not fancy, but I am sure you will fall in love with this.
Going to the Kek Lok Si Temple, stop here. Now you are thinking “Did you eat only vegetarian food?”, the answer is “no, but…” I choose these places because I really enjoyed this cuisine. It’s totally different from the European concept of the vegan restaurant, these “food centers” are crowded with people, eco-friendly and especially wallet-friendly.
Here you can find all the mock meat you can desire, fresh vegetables, fried delights and more. I spent less than 10 RM here and before leave Kampung (the village), I took some food take away!
Photography is the activity I include in all my guides, not only because it’s my passion, but also because it’s free and help you to discover different aspects of the place where you are travelling for.
As you can imagine, Penang is not an exception. Street photography is the best of the things to do in Penang. Through this article, I already showed you some of my shots and with this section, I want only remind you to focus on people and the story you want to tell.
This city is full of landmarks perfect for some memorable shots, but if you are looking for something unique, choose a subject more dynamic or a detail of the environment won’t be there forever.
Find the inspiration for trying new perspectives and conveying a message with the combination of creative elements. I am sure this city will be able to surprise you with its variety.
HOW TO REACH PENANG
There are plenty of ways to reach Penang, in this part of the article I will explain how I did it and other ways to arrive to George Town.
If you are travelling around Thailand, you should read the following. I spent 5 days in Krabi before starting my trip direction Malaysia and here is a detailed summary.
FROM KRABI TO HAT YAI 400 THB
Usually, there are two runs from Krabi, at 6.30 and 10.30. Don’t miss to insert the pickup information about your accommodation, the ticket includes it.
It takes around 6-7 hours. The street is not in very good conditions, so I highly suggest you to “steal” the seats in the front, if you suffer car sickness. (This tip is valuable for all the minivans around the world ;D)
NIGHT IN HAT YAI
I slept in a very nice guesthouse “Silla House” with small cosy rooms and great staff. The lovely owner helped me to change the time for my bus to Penang, calling the tour operator. Approved!
If you have other preferences, and you desire to find out for yourself the Best Accommodation for ratings in Hat Yai, click here.
CROSS THE BORDER THAILAND – MALAYSIA
FROM HAT YAI TO PENANG 410 THB
There are usually three runs per day from Hat Yai to Penang, at 9.00, 12.00 and 15.00. The trip is not very long, there will be the usual stop half-way, where you can spend the last THB coins for a snack or just use the toilet (TIP: usually coins are not accepted by money changers, better spend them before leaving the country).
The controls at the Immigration Office are fluent and won’t take so much time, just remind to bring with you the Arrival Card to Thailand. After a few new stamps on your passport, you are ready to jump again on the minivan, but this time as a Malaysian traveler.
ARRIVED IN GEORGE TOWN
On my ticket was showed as destination Butterworth, a city on the other shore of George Town, but finally, the driver crossed the bridge and dropped us off at the Bus Terminal Komtar, walking distance from the city center. In case your minivan would stop in Butterworth, no worries, there is a good connection with Penang Island by ferry. More details here below.
THIS TIME FROM SUNGAI PETANI
I went for a second time to Penang, after I have spent 2 weeks as a volunteer in an eco-project in Pulau Bidan (Bidan Island), this time leaving from Sungai Petani. For this ticket, I had to bargain with a local tour operator at the Terminal Bas Ekspres Ukir Square Sungai Petani, from a first offer of RM 25 to RM10. Still expensive, considering that on the way to go I spent RM4 with Rapid Penang Bus, but it was very late in the night, no trains and normal buses anymore.
The best way to enjoy the trip to Penang Island is to take the Penang Ferry (Feri Pulau Pinang) from Butterworth (Pangkalan Sultan Abdul Halim) direction George Town (Pangkalan Raja Tun Uda).
The cost of a ticket is 1.20 RM for an adult and 0.60 RM for a child. To leave Penang is FREE!
Penang Island is distant only 3,3 km (15-20 min.) from the main land and the frequency of the ferries is each 20-30 min. after 10 pm each 60 min.
All these information are also available here.
Butterworth - Georgetown
Georgetown - Butterworth
First Ferry Departure
Last Ferry Departure
Butterworth – Georgetown
First Ferry Departure – 5.20 am
Last Ferry Departure – 12.10 am
Georgetown – Butterworth
First Ferry Departure – 5.40 am
Last Ferry Departure – 12.40 am
BY MINIVAN OR BUS
One easy and flexible way to reach George Town and more in general Penang Island is by a minivan or bus. You can simply go to any local tour operator and book a ticket or simpler use 12Go.asia and choose the run that more suit to you. There are plenty of minivans that offer direct routes from Thailand and if you are travelling from KL with a 6-hour trip and RM 30-40 you can easily reach Butterworth or Sungai Nibong, the central bus terminal of George Town.
Another valid option is to catch a train to Butterworth. These services are offered by KTMB (Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad), which is the Malaysia largest railway company, the line cover from Singapore until Bangkok, Thailand. In this way, you will have the chance to enjoy the countryside landscapes and after catching the ferry to George Town. If you will travel from Kuala Lumpur for example, the trip will take around 6 hours. The prices for one way trip from KL can range from RM 20-100, depending on the travel class and the kind of train.
The Penang International Airport is only 16km far from the center of George Town.
The cheapest way to move from or to the airport is surely the public bus, service offered by Rapid Penang. The Bus lines 401, 401A and 401E run each 30 minutes and cover the distance between the Airport and Komtar (Center) and the Jetty (Pier). Bus drivers only take the exact fare of RM 2.70, they do not have change.
If you are in a hurry you can ever choose to catch a taxi outside the airport, mind the scams and check that the meter is turned on. The fare should be around RM 35-40. If you don’t feel comfortable in bargaining, you can book your ride on GRAB, the Asian version of UBER.
Since George Town is a big touristic center, you will be able to find accomodation of all price ranges. Here I will briefly tell you my experience in two different hostel in the city center.
I have only good things to say about Page 63 starting from the manager of the Hostel, who was very kind and helpful giving me all the information I need, attractions, cheap restaurants, local markets and where to change money and buy a sim card.
It’s a friendly guest house in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Georgetown, walking distance from the main attractions. There is a nice common area where you can interact with other travelers, work or just have a coffee available 24H.
The beds are comfy and the wood box style give you more privacy, despite it’s a dormitory. Personally I spent here 3 nights for 33€ (Double bed) and I loved it.
Follow the >> LINK << to check more details about services and prices.
My personal experience at Georgetown Residences was also very positive. I spent here 4 nights for 43€ (2 single beds) and I was really surprised by the quality of the dorms for the budget price I payed. A simple breakfast is included, composed by the traditional european toast, butter and jam with a well welcomed scrabled egg and watermelon.
If you need a place for working, the common area is simply amazing. it’s spacious and faces on chulia street with big windows, there you can find also hot/cold water dispenser and put some chilling music.
Follow the >> LINK << to check more details about services and prices.