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Penang, Malaysia

Introduction

Penang is an island in the Straits of Malacca 8 km off the north-western coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Georgetown, the capital of Penang, is a favourite place for tourists with its rich multicultural history full of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and European influences. The city has many quaint pre-Second World War houses, as well as 19th century churches, temples, mosques, and colonial buildings. Georgetown has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The island's best beaches are on the northern side, particularly Batu Ferringhi Penang, with its luxurious hotels & restaurants. Penang is also well known for being a "food paradise" of Malaysia.

Penang was part of the Malay state of Kedah until 1786, when Captain Francis Light built a fort at the site of present-day Georgetown and managed to have the island conceded to the British East India Company. The capital, Georgetown, was named after King George III of Great Britain. The British made the island a tax free port to encourage trade and commerce and it worked! Penang grew rapidly in economy and population. Today, the cargo trade has largely shifted down to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore since Penang lost its free-port status in 1969, but now makes a good living off Penang tourism and electronics factories. Today, Penang has the highest population density in Malaysia and is the only state where the ethnic Chinese are the majority. Penang state is the third-largest economy amongst the states of Malaysia, after Selangor and Johor.

Travel to Penang

Penang Bayan Lepas International Airport (PEN) is located on the southeastern coast of the island about 20 minutes from Georgetown. There are many direct flights to Penang airport from all over Asia. Flights from KL to Penang and Singapore to Penang are inexpensive.

Coaches and Taxis are the only option from Penang airport to Georgetown and Penang airport to Batu Ferringhi. Ensure the taxi uses the meter or negotiate a fixed fare.

Coaches connect Georgetown to a many other Malaysian destinations. The Kuala Lumpur to Penang trip takes around 5-6 hours [costs about RM 30]. Transnasional have direct buses from Penang to KL and many Malaysian destinations.

Trains service the Butterworth railway station. Penang Island has no train service but visitors can take a ferry to Butterworth and transfer to a train service. There are trains north to Thailand and south to other parts of Malaysia and Singapore.

Penang Transport

Penang Bridge Penang Travel & Hotels is one of the longest bridges in Asia and connects Penang to the mainland and the North-South Expressway.

Penang Ferry operates between Georgetown and Butterworth on the coast. [Daily, 5:30am to 1:00am, Adult - RM1.20 & Child RM0.60]. Visitors can walk from the Butterworth pier to the train station.

RapidPenang is the public bus service in Penang. The main hub for buses in Georgetown is KOMTAR tower, the tallest building in town. The secondary hub is located at the ferry terminal. All buses departing from the ferry terminal will stopover at KOMTAR tower. Penang buses are frequent around Georgetown, on the main road to Batu Ferringhi and to Penang airport.

Penang Attractions

Komtar Scenic View is situated at level 60 of KOMTAR Tower on Jalan Penang and is the tallest building in Penang. Komtar Scenic View provides a 360 degree spectacular view of Penang. There is a restaurant and souvenir store. [Open daily, 9am-9pm, entrance fee].

Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera) - Penang Hill (830m) has excellent views of Georgetown and Penang Bridge, especially at night. The Penang Hill Railway is a funicular cable train service that takes you from Air Hitam to the top of the hill. The air temperature at the top can be at least 5C cooler than Georgetown below. There are walking tracks up the hill starting from the Moongate (about 300m from the entrance to the Botanical Gardens) and from inside the Botanical Gardens. You can also walk up the paved jeep trail which begins beside the entrance to the Gardens. The summit has excellent views of Georgetown and the Strait. There is a caf, restaurant and souvenir shop.

Kek Lok Si (Temple of Supreme Bliss) Travel to Penang is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and one of the largest in South-East Asia on a hilltop near the village of Air Hitam around 6km (4miles) from Georgetown. The temple contains three architectural styles: Chinese, Thai and Burmese. During the Chinese New Year period, the temple is decorated with hundreds of lanterns which turns it into a night-time wonderland.

There is a 3km road from Kek Lok Si up to the Air Hitam Dam and lake which is popular for walking/jogging in the cooler morning/evening mountain air. [Taxi from Georgetown RM20-25, bus from the Komtar station around RM1.20].

Penang Botanic Gardens (Waterfall Gardens) on Jalan Kebun Bunga were established by Charles Curtis of Britain in 1884. Every morning, many locals go to the gardens for their daily exercises like walking, jogging, jungle trekking, aerobic dance, Tai Chi or Qi Gong. There are groups of monkeys living in the gardens. Be careful as they are known to snatch bags from tourists. [Open daily, 5am-8pm, Free admission].

Bukit Jambul Orchid, Hisbiscus & Reptile Garden is located close to the Hotel Equatorial and is about 10 minutes from Penang International Airport. The garden is home to Malaysia's largest tame snake, a rare Albino Python. Have your photo taken with a snake. There is a Snake Show on weekends and public holidays. [Open daily 9.30am-6.30pm, Adult RM5, child RM2]

Penang Butterfly Farm (830 Jalan Teluk Bahang, 11050 Pahang). There is a large collection of butterflies, as well as fish, reptiles, scorpions, and snakes. [Open 9am-5.30pm, RM12.50]

Fisheries Department Research Institute Aquarium (Batu Maung). The aquarium showcases fish found in local and regional waters. [Daily 10am-5pm. Adult RM5, child (7-12 years old) RM2, child under 7 free]

Penang Bridge (Jambatan Pulau Pinang). The bridge opened in 1985 and is one of the longest bridges in the world covering 7km over water. The bridge connects the island to the mainland (Seberang Perai), offers great views of the port and city and is a major national landmark for Malaysia.

Penang Museum & Art Gallery is located on Lebuh Farquhar. [Open Sat-Thurs 9am-5pm, entrance fee].

Round the Island Tour - The round-the-island road runs for 74kms (46miles) and tours can be booked at Malaysian Tourism Centre.

Snake Temple (Temple of the Azure Cloud) is located between the airport and the Penang bridge and was built in 1850 in memory of the renowned Chinese monk Chor Soo Kong. Venomous pit vipers inhabit the temple and can be seen coiled around everything. However the snake population is very small these days due to the urbanization of the area. Originally the snakes were believed to be rendered harmless by the smell of burning incense, but today, to be safe, the snakes are devenomed. [RM5 for adult and RM1 for children].

Penang Bird Park is a bird park and lush garden located on the mainland at Butterworth (Seberang Perai). There are hundreds of species of tropical birds from all over the world including ostriches, flamingos and parrots housed in walk-through aviaries. [Open daily from 9am to 7pm, entrance fee].

War Museum is located at the southeastern tip of Penang. It is an abandoned military fortress built in the 1930s by the British to protect the southern approaches to the island. The fortress has a network of underground tunnels housing a logistic center, offices, halls, sleeping quarters, kitchens, an infirmary and artillery firing bays. [Open daily, 9am-7pm, admission fee].

Fort Cornwallis was originally a wooden structure built by the British, under Captain Francis Light, at the site where they first landed. The fort was rebuilt in the early 1800s using convict labour. The fort is located at the Georgetown Esplanade. [Open Mon-Sat 9am to 6.30pm, Admission adult RM3]. Captain Francis Light lies buried in the Penang cemetery down the road (Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah).

Cheong Fatt Tze's Mansion (Lebuh Leith or Leith Street) Built in the 1890s and carefully restored, this famous indigo-blue Chinese Courtyard House in George Town was the residence of Cheong Fatt Tze, a prominent Chinese businessman during the 19th century. The mansion was built by master craftsmen brought in from China. [Guided tours 11am M,W,F,Sa, entrance fee].

Penang Accommodation

eastern & oriental hotel georgetown penang

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Georgetown's larger hotels tend to be restored colonial buildings and cater to the business market. There are a few classical luxury hotels in Penang (eg Eastern & Oriental Hotel), however, most of Penang's mid to luxury hotels are in the main tourist beach of Batu Feringghi Penang. The best hotels penang are the newest hotels as the beach hotels are the oldest seaside resorts in Malaysia however most have been renovated and are relatively affordable during off-peak.

Budget Hotels in Penang and backpacker accommodation is located in Georgetown along Lebuh Leith and Lebuh Chulia.

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Penang Nightlife and Entertainment

Georgetown has many pubs especially on Lebuh Leith (or Leith Street).

Beach hotels at Batu Feringghi have some nightlife (Modestos at Paradise Sandy Bay, Beers at Parkroyal Hotel).

The waterfront, on Gurney Drive, has many bars & restaurants.

Penang Shopping

Jalan Penang (or Penang Road) is the main shopping street with modern shopping malls and ends at the KOMTAR tower shopping complex. Chowrasta market (on Jalan Penang) specializes in cotton and silk as well as food. Another modern mall is Midlands Shopping Mall on Jalan Kelawei.

Chinatown is located in the center of Georgetown. In the crowded and colourful network of streets and alleyways Chinese merchants sell their goods from the ground floor of quaint century-old shophouses. Chinatown is great place to visit day or night where shoppers will find copies of branded goods, CDs that havent been released yet and many interesting shops. Shoppers can test their bargaining skills. The main street of Chinatown is Lebuh Chulia.

Penang Dining

Cuisine is one of the main attractions in Malaysia and Penang offers plenty of delicious and cheap Malaysian food. Malaysian food is a unique blend of cusines originating from Malaysia's multi-ethnic population - a melting pot of cultures between the Malay, Chinese, Indian and the West.

Many hotels have restaurants and cafes providing buffet breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner at affordable prices. Most shopping centres (eg KOMTAR) have a food court offering value-for-money meals. Try the local fare at a hawker street stall in the Chinatown area or in local coffee shops along Jalan Penang, Jalan Macalister or Jalan Burma. Gurney Drive has the most famous of Penangs foodstalls open from sunset to late. The Esplanade foodstalls overlooking the sea are great for night dining.

Weather in Penang

Penang, like the rest of Malaysia, has an equatorial climate. Temperatures are between about 22C (night) and 30C (day), between 70% and 90% humidity. The best time to visit Penang are in the driest months are January and February. The wettest period is usually from September to November.

Beyond Penang

Langkawi Island is in an archipelago of islands north of Penang and with its jungle-covered mountains, caves, lakes, waterfalls and stunning beaches it makes a great holiday destination. The island is only one hour north of Kuala Lumpur by air or catch a ferry between Langkawi & Penang.

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