Penang is one of the most popular places to visit in Southeast Asia, with the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Georgetown being the major draw card.
Penang is a state of Malaysia that comprises of the island of Penang, and the adjacent land on the Malay peninsula. When visitors say they are going to Penang they usually mean Georgetown, which is where the majority of hotels are. If you are staying in Georgetown for a while there are a number of things to do on Penang Island as well.
Georgetown (also styled as George Town) is the main reason people come to Penang, and for good reason; it’s amazing. There are few cities of this type that have such a large historical area intact, especially in Southeast Asia. The only comparable destination is Hoi An in Vietnam. What makes Georgetown so special is that it is still a working city, so many of the old shophouses house workshops and small businesses.
The streets are lined with old houses in varying degrees of decay. Some building look like they are about to crumble into the ground, while other have been lavishly restored to (and often beyond) their former glory.
Penang (and Georgetown in particular) is also famous for its food scene. It is one of the food capitals of Asia, and food lovers come here just to eat. The city even as a food named after it, the Penang laksa – a sour, tamarind-based fish soup.
Beyond the old town of Georgetown, Penang Hill is one of the highlights of a trip to Penang. The highest point on the island stands at 833 metres above sea level. It was used as a retreat from sea-level heat during the British colonial period, where it is an average of 5c cooler than in Georgetown.
The top of the hill is reached via the Penang Hill Railway, which starts in Air Itam. The railway is a funicular railway, which in itself is worth going to the hill just to experience this ride.
Kek Lok Si Temple
While you are visiting Penang Hill make sure to visit the nearby Kek Lok Si Temple in Air Itam. Often the Penang Hill Railway is booked out hours in advance, so you can get the ticket first, and then visit the temple while you wait.
Kek Lok Si is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and one of the most impressive in Southeast Asia. It is worth a visit even if you think you think you have “temple fatigue” from visiting so many temples. The temple began construction in 1890, and even now it is being continually expanded as more Buddhist pilgrims make their way here from across Asia.
Batu Ferringhi on the north coast of the island is the beach resort part of the island. The white sandy beach is lined with hotels and luxury apartment developments. While the water is not comparable to Langkawi or the Thai islands to the north, this is a good option if you are craving some beach time.
Getting To Penang
Penang is served by Penang Bayan Lepas International Airport, which is in the south of the island. Most flights are domestic and from around Southeast Asia. If you are coming from outside Asia, a search for flights to Malaysia will most likely have you connect in Kuala Lumpur.
There are now two bridges that connect the island to the peninsula, and there are buses from all over Peninusla Malaysia that serve the island. A bus from KL take about 5-6 hours.
There is also a train service from KL to Butterworth, which is the port directly opposite Georgetown. The new train take 4 hours, and at Butterworth you walk to the ferry terminal for the 20 minute trip across the water.