Malaysia’s large island of Penang is situated to the north west of the peninsula and is connected by bridge and ferry services.
Known for being a haven for foodies, nobody would blame you if you spent much of your stay trying out the fabulously delicious array of cuisine! A wide assortment of beautiful religious buildings dedicated to various faiths, gorgeous colonial architecture, striking street art, lovely beaches, and stunning national parks should, however, be enough to tempt you away from the food courts and street sellers for a while.
Make the most of your stay in Penang and be sure to tick some of these highlights off your list:
1. Kek Lok Si Temple (Temple of Supreme Bliss)An enormous temple complex perched on top of a hill, Kek Lok Si Temple is often said to be one of the biggest Buddhist temples in the whole of South East Asia. Combining Chinese, Thai, and Khmer influences, the temple is watched over by a tall and impressive statue of Kuan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy. There are numerous Buddha statues throughout the area, as well as vendors selling flowers and other items to leave as an offering. Large koi carps swim to the surface of the sparkling pond, mouths agape waiting for food, and it is a lovely place to enjoy some local culture and spirituality.
Located around eight kilometres from the heart of Georgetown, you can reach Kek Lok Si Temple by taxi or public bus. Plan to spend a couple of hours on your visit.
2. Funky street artPick up a free map (or print a copy yourself) that shows the locations of the various beautiful pieces of public art and set off on a self-guided art walk around Georgetown, Penang’s main city. Huge and detailed pictures grace the sides of otherwise shabby buildings, and kitsch images and quotations made from wire seem to hide around most corners. There are also some interesting statues and sculptures to enjoy. “Little Children on a Bicycle”, located on Armenian Street, is particularly cool.
3. Fort CornwallisA great place to experience some of Georgetown’s history, the old fortress dates back more than 100 years. Once a key structure for defence and protection of the island, it is now one of Penang’s top tourist attractions. You can visit independently and explore the site or opt for a guided tour (bookable onsite) to learn even more about the fort’s role in the past. Admission costs just 3 MYR (approximately 0.70 USD).
Take a stroll around the high outer walls and soak up the coastal views, stopping to look at the old, and somewhat rusty cannons that still stand to attention waiting for enemies to attack. Poke around in some of the original buildings, such as the small chapel, storage rooms, and eerie prison cells. Some rooms now hold interesting and informative displays about the fortress.
4. UNESCO World Heritage ZoneAt the core of Georgetown, you will find a lively and atmospheric area that contains many old and fascinating buildings. From sacred places of worship to traditional shop houses and elegant colonial-era buildings, there’s certainly plenty to admire. Much of the architecture is in a good state of preservation, though you can still see those parts where the passage of time is starting to show its effects.
With an abundance of places to eat and shop, as well as several excellent museums, the UNESCO protected heart is well-worth taking a few days to discover.
Some excellent areas to start you off include the bustling streets of Little India, complete with the stunning and historic Sri Mahamariamman Temple and vibrant Market Street, and Armenian Street, with its shop houses that are closed up with colourful shutters and its Saturday evening fair with crafts and street entertainers galore. The delightfully-named Love Lane features interesting architecture and a small art gallery, Unique Penang, and on Beach Street, you can feast your eyes on splendid colonial architecture from different eras such as the Art Deco India House, the Victorian 1886 Building, and the Edwardian Islamic Council Building.
5. Feast on tasty foodWith influences from Malay, Indian, Chinese, Hokkien, Thai, Peranakan, and European cuisine, Penang, in particular Georgetown, is often said to have one of the best street-dining scenes in all of Asia.
There are many food courts, such as New Lane Hawker Centre and Red Garden Food Paradise, where you can sample an array of local dishes … although, the many tempting sights and smells may leave you struggling to decide what to try next!
You’ll also spot an abundance of independent vendors, cooking up an enticing selection of goodies next to the roadside. There are also restaurants to suit all price expectations and comfort levels, so whether you’re looking to grab a quick bite on the go or want to enjoy a swanky evening in a special place, Penang offers the lot.
Penang Laksa, a spicy mackerel soup with tamarind and lemongrass, the cold and sweet coconut milk dessert of Cendol, and Dim Sum, small filled dumplings, are just a few things to add to your Penang to-try list.
A rich variety of activities and attractions for all
If all that walking, exploring, and eating leaves you feeling a little tired, why not head to Batu Ferringhi and recharge your batteries in the soft white sands and with a dip in the sparkling sea? Experience a slower pace of life and a more rustic nature at the charming Balik Pulau. Climb Penang Hill for great views, be enchanted at Penang Butterfly Farm and Penang Bird Park, dodge fearsome vipers at the famous Snake Temple, and admire the gorgeous landscapes, colours, and fragrances of the Botanical Gardens and the Tropical Spice Garden. Plan to visit Penang as part of your South East Asia adventures.
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