Welcome to Penang, Malaysia!
Just off the west coast of mainland Malaysia, the island of Penang is living proof that good things come in small packages. A melting pot of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and European cultures, this island is one of the most unique and compelling destinations in Southeast Asia.
Of course, coming to grips with such a diverse and dynamic destination can be challenging. By traveling as a worldwide local, you will unlock sights, sounds, and experiences like no other, and this guide will show you how to do just that.
Getting Started in Penang
The main city of Georgetown is the center of the action, and the historic lanes around Armenian Street are the perfect place to start--and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lined with historic merchant shop-houses, this area has now become a hotbed for street art with numerous, often entertaining, murals adorning the walls. From there, it’s just a short walk to the historic Blue Mansion, or Cheong Fatt Tze, the Colonial era Penang City Hall, and imposing Fort Cornwallis. The city is a maze of roads, lanes, and alleyways, but getting a little lost is all part of the fun, particularly as there is always a friendly local nearby to point you in the right direction.
Worldwide Local Tip: The beautifully maintained Kapitan Keling Mosque is an oasis of calm and a welcome escape from the bustling streets. Outside of prayer times, visitors are welcomed with open arms and can enjoy a free tour of the building.
Getting Around in Penang
Given Georgetown’s compact size and winding lanes, walking is without a doubt the best way to get around. Stroll from neighborhood to neighborhood, enjoying the Penang weather. Bicycle hire is another excellent option, and while the four-wheeled pedal-cars offered around Armenian St. look like good fun, they aren’t very practical for the serious worldwide local. For destinations outside of Georgetown, an excellent bus network covers most of the island, while ferries run to the mainland at regular intervals between 5 am and midnight.
Worldwide Local Tip: As a pedestrian, the ferry from Butterworth on the Malaysian mainland to Penang costs RM1.20. The return journey, however, is completely free, regardless of whether or not you arrived by boat.
Visit a Buddhist Temple
The Kek Lok Si, or the Temple of Supreme Bliss, purports to be one of the largest Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia, although it’s best visited during the weekdays when it’s less crowded. For a total cultural contrast, take a stroll through the neighborhood of Little India for an exciting range of Indian shops, restaurants, and street vendors selling everything from freshly-fried samosa and bhaji to the very latest Bollywood hits.
Worldwide Local Tip: Alternatively, jump aboard bus number 101 for a one-hour ride along the west coast of Penang Island, to the white-sand beaches of Batu Ferringhi. While the impact of tourism has already begun to take its toll, this remains a popular getaway for Penang residents and is a great way to interact with the local community, outside of the city.
Eat Right in Penang: Malaysian Cuisine at Its Best
Penang is, without a doubt, one of the gastronomic capitals of the world. With such an array of cultural influences, it’s no surprise that the local cuisine is a melting pot of smells, flavors, and textures. For the best varied experience, join the throngs of locals at one of the vast Hawker Markets that can be found throughout the city. Dozens of vendors line what is essentially a vast courtyard, each selling their specialty dishes on plastic plates, to be eaten at one of the large communal tables. You’ll find menus to rival the best of Penang restaurants. Don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions. Nightlife is limited, although a number of bars open up around Love Lane, and keep the party going until the wee hours of the morning.
Worldwide Local Tip: If there was one dish that could lay claim to being the signature dish of Penang, it would have to be Char Kway Teow (flat rice noodles stir-fried with soy sauce, prawns, cockles and Chinese sausage). Every Penang resident has their favorite place to eat Char Kway Teow, so be sure to ask for suggestions.
Have an Unforgettable Time in Penang!
A living, breathing city, Penang is the perfect destination for worldwide locals to get out there and engage with the various local communities. While many may seem a little conservative at first, most will gladly share their insider tips and make your trip one you will never forget.