With sunny, warm, tropical weather for 12 months of the year it's easy to see why us Brits have such an attraction to Malaysia and after spending a week in Penang, I now know why there is an affinity to this particular city in our great history. Penang is located in the northwest sector of Malaysia and is an Island just off of the mainland city of Sungai Petani with Georgetown as its capital. If you are a backpacker entering Malaysia from the south of Thailand it's a great location to visit straight after having a relaxed few days on the beaches of Langkawi and before heading on to Kuala Lumpur for some city life.
Penang is geographically situated between the laid-back beaches of Langkawi and the city life of KL. With beautiful beaches, exceptional shopping and history dating back to 1786 Penang is seemingly an amalgamation of these two great locations that it's sandwiched between.
From the 6th February 2018 the world's number one airline Qatar Airways opened up a new route from Doha to Penang so it's never been a better time to experience this incredible island city. Flights now operate from Doha to Penang 3 times per week (Tuesday, Thursday & Saturday's) and is increasing to 4 flights later on in the year due to high demand. If you wanted to fly from London Heathrow to Penang via Qatar Airways the flight duration would be 15 hours and 25 minutes including a 1hr 35m connection time at Doha airport. The London Heathrow to Doha flight is 6hr 50m leaving at 15:05 UK time and arriving at 00:55 Qatari time, the connecting flight leaves Qatar at 02:30 and arrives in Penang, Malaysia after a 7hour flight at 14:30 local time.
Before I get on to listing my top tourist spots and things to see in Penang, here are a few hidden gems that are not listed in many Penang tour guides:
The Antarabangsa Enterprise is somewhat an institution in Penang. It's an off licence where you can buy the cheapest beer in Penang, it's not a bar although there are plastic chairs kerbside to drink the beers you have just brought from the store. A backpacker and local favourite.
If you are after cheap backpacker accommodation and a laid back lifestyle head straight to Chulia Street and Love Lane. The cheapest room I found was around 50 Malaysian Ringgit.
Spend time at the Durian farm of Balik Pulau which offers cheap home stay with the local farmers.
A few wacky but wonderful places include the Upside Down Museum on Kimberley Street in Georgetown. Or how about visiting the Trick Art Museum where art comes alive and finally not for the faint hearted there is the Ghost Museum.
TOP TIP: If you are drinking with a Chinese local and you 'cheers' your glasses there are rules! Cheers normally and you should take a sip of your drink, cheers with the top of the glass and this indicates that you have to finish whatever you have left in your glass...you've be warned!
After spending a full week in Penang, here are the best touristy things to do in Penang and my recommended time of stay to make the most of the attraction and to help you to plan your days efficiently.
1. Pinang Peranakan Mansion
The Pinang Peranakan Mansion in George Town, Penang, Malaysia, is a museum dedicated to Penang's Peranakan heritage. (1 Hour).
2. Street Food
If you ask any local "What is the best thing about Penang?" they will say the street food. Visit New Lane, McCalister Road, Kimberley Street and the Red Garden Food Court for the best street food in Penang. (All day every day).
3. Religious Buildings
Where else on this planet can you find a Christian Church, Hindu Temple, Buddhist Temple, Chinese Temple and Muslim Mosque situated close to each other in harmony? The diverse culture of Penang should be an inspiration to the world. (Half a day on foot in Georgetown).
4. Learn the Art of Batik
Visit one of the many traditional Batik Art museums or small family run factories to give an insight into the beautiful Malaysian craft. (30 Minutes - 1 Hour).
5. Visit the Best Beaches of Penang
Penang is an island and therefore has a coastline full of great beaches, some of the best include Batu Ferringhi, Teluk Bahang, Monkey Beach, Kerachut Beach and Pulau Betong (which is where the locals go - so must be incredible). (Half Day or Day Trips).
6. Penang Hill
Penang Hill is a hill resort comprising a group of peaks on Penang Island, Malaysia. It is located within the Air Itam suburb, 6 km west of the city centre of George Town. Get to the summit by a railway which is a tourist attraction in itself. Once at the top of Penang hill there are a variety of different attractions such as a canopy walk and nature trails. (2-3 Hours).
7. Clan Jetties of Penang
Busy, scenic destination featuring a traditional village of rustic houses on stilts over the water. (30-60 minutes).
8. Street Art
There is a thriving street art scene that is present throughout Georgetown, just explore the area around Love Lane and you'll find loads of unique artwork on every spare canvas wall. (Half a day on foot in Georgetown, maybe combine with a tour of the Religious Temples).
9. Entopia, The Penang Butterfly Farm
There is more to Entopia than 10,000-20,000 butterflies fluttering around in a big domed shelter. This indoor sanctuary is full of live butterflies & other insects such as dragonflies, plus interactive workshops for adults and children. (30 minutes-2 Hours depending on how much of the interactive workshops you attend).
10. The Gravityz, Outdoor Adventure Platform
If you're afraid of heights this is probably not for you, head up to The Top which is on the 65th floor of the Komtar Tower in Georgetown, Penang. Test your nerve by tackling the glass walkway (Sky Walk) as a warmup for The Gravityz which is an outdoor platform/assault course on the outside of the building where you're strapped on to a safety line. (1-2 Hours enjoy the views at the bar as an added benefit).
11. Pay Respect to the Fallen Founders of Penang
This is a bit of an odd tourist destination but this is rumoured to be the oldest cemetery in Malaysia and buried here are some incredible men & women who helped shape Penang into what it ultimately is today. The Old Protestant Cemetery, also known as Northam Road Cemetery is now listed as a Class 1 Heritage Site and is maintained by the Penang Heritage Trust. (15-20 minutes).
12. Coffee Shops
Make sure you sample the local coffee shops in the old colonial buildings of Georgetown. I stumbled across what I think is the best cafe in Penang, it's a lovely coffee shop called Bean Sprout Cafe. (Whenever you need that caffeine fix).
13. Tropical Spice Garden
Take your mosquito repellent with you as this is a real Tropical Spice Garden forest in the middle of the city. Sample and learn about the plants, leaves, flowers or roots that make all of the fine spices used in the Malaysian food. (2 Hours).
14. Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is located at Leith Street in George Town, Penang, Malaysia. The mansion's indigo-blue outer wall makes it a very distinct building in the area, and it is often popularly referred to as The Blue Mansion. (1 Hour).