Made unique by its friendly people, varied culture, natural beauty and fantastic landscape, Penang, Malaysia is indeed one of the great treasures of Southeast Asia. Penang embraces modernity while retaining its old world charm which led to George Town being listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 2008. A cultural melting pot, many different nationalities live in Penang. In this 3-day suggested itinerary, you will be able to explore historical streets with preserved heritage buildings and hidden back lanes, as well as enjoy Penang’s diverse street food culture.
Things to know before traveling to Malaysia:
1.Language – Bahasa Malay is the national and official language of Malaysia. English is taught in schools and is widely used in Malaysian cities, so do not worry about not knowing local phrases or words. It is, however, recommended to learn some Malay if you are heading towards rural areas. In Penang, languages commonly spoken include Bahasa Malay, English, Tamil, Hokkien, Mandarin and Cantonese.
2.Money and Costs – Malaysian Ringgit (RM) is the official currency of Malaysia. Exchanging money is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in Asia. You can exchange currency at the airport, hotels, malls, local banks, and money changers throughout Penang. ATMs are plentiful, all accepting international credit cards and debit cards, so it’s easy to withdraw your money in Ringgit. Credits cards are commonly accepted in most mid-range to high-end restaurants and hotels.
3.Etiquette – Despite being open to foreign influences, Malaysia remains a fairly conservative nation. Handshakes are common when meeting someone. Avoid touching someone’s head as the head is considered sacred in eastern culture. When visiting mosques and temples, it is recommended to dress modestly. Removing your shoes is also required before entering. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter a mosque during prayer time although it is okay to stand outside and look around. Chinese and Hindu temples are open to visitors but it is also required to remove your shoes.
4.Where to stay – Due to its popularity among visitors worldwide, Penang has heaps of accommodation to suit every pocket, from budget hostels to luxury hotels. To help you decide on the best place to stay, it is recommended to do a bit of prior research so you won’t land in the wrong part of this busy island. George Town, for example, is for visitors who want to stay in the center of the action. It is also a fantastic base for sightseeing. Batu Feringghi, on the other hand, is for beach lovers and for people looking for a vibrant nightlife scene.
5.Getting Around – Travelling around beautiful Penang is very easy. All destinations in and around the island are easily accessible and well connected. Aside from the Rapid Penang Buses, the island has a free shuttle bus specially orientated for tourist! The service known as the Rapid Penang CAT, goes around the popular attractions within George Town’s inner city.
6.Getting there – AirAsia and JetStar Asia both operate non-stop flight from Singapore to George Town with the amazing price of 47 USD per person for a round-trip airfare. From Seoul tickets cost 180 USD, from Amsterdam tickets are under 700 USD and from Hong Kong – 100 USD.
Day by Day Itinerary A short trip to Penang, Malaysia
Since you only have 3 days in Penang, it can be tough to whittle down the must-sees. The good news is, the island is such a small place that virtually every sight is relatively close. So on your first day, start early and enjoy breakfast at one of the restaurants where locals go frequently. Try Red Tea House Dim Sum, Goh Chew Deep Fried Fish Beehoon Mee or Song River Cafe Gurney Drive. You can also grab a Nasi Lemak, the defacto national dish of Malaysia at Ali Nasi Lemak located at Beach Street.
Where to stay in Penang:
Le Dream Boutique Hotel (139 Jalan Pintai Tali, George Town, Penang Island 10100, Malaysia)
Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa (Batu Ferringhi Main Road | Kampung Tanjung Huma, Batu Ferringhi, Penang Island 11100, Malaysia)
The Blue Mansion – by Samadhi (14 Leith Street, George Town, Penang Island 10200, Malaysia)
Coffee Atelier (47 – 55 Lorong Stewart,, George Town, Penang Island 10300, Malaysia)
Nam Keng Hotel (17 Cintra Street, George Town, Penang Island 10100, Malaysia)
After breakfast, start with a self-guided walk through George Town. Or you can rent bikes from Metro Bike for a day at 20 MYR (4.50 USD; check their website). All-In-One UNESCO George Town Bicycle & Trishaw Tour is also available on their website. If you prefer to go around on your own with a bike, please remember to exercise caution as Penang’s busy streets can be quite dodgy.
The attractions you can visit on this day are: the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Memorial Clock Tower, Fort Cornwallis, Padang Kota Lama, The Cenotaph at the Esplanade and Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion. In the afternoon, explore Little India and the Armenian Street Heritage Enclave.
On your second day, go on a day excursion out of George Town to visit Air Itam (also known as Ayer Itam or Air Hitam). The main tourist attraction of this highland area is Kek Lok Si Temple, one of the most important Chinese Buddhist Temples in Southeast Asia. To get to the temple, go to Komtar Bus Terminal, the main bus terminal in George Town. Get on bus #203 or bus #204 and get off at the terminal station along Jalan Air Itam. Travel time is approximately 30 minutes and bus fare is 2 MYR (0.50 USD).
If you haven’t had breakfast yet, find the infamous Lim Sisters’ Curry Mee! Curry Mee is a famous dish in Malaysia, usually made up of different noodles, with spicy curry soup and coconut milk, with choices like pieces of squid, dried tofu, prawns, chicken or egg for toppings. They can be difficult to find for first time visitors as they setup their stall on the ground instead of the usual hawker stall so your landmark would be the Air Itam Methodist Church. If you can’t still find them, just ask the locals.
After your tour of Kek Lok Si Temple and Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas, take the funicular railway to the summit of Penang Hill, a resort complex with awesome views of Georgetown, Butterworth and mainland Malaysia. The cost of the tram is between 10 and 20 MYR (2.25-4.50 USD) and it is worth every penny because the ride up the hill is spectacular. Don’t hike up to the top on your own unless you are in really good physical condition.
It is best to stay in Penang Hill until sunset so you can see how Penang looks like at night.
After having a filling breakfast, your final day in Penang can be spent on last-minute shopping and seeing those attractions that you haven’t yet had time for. Do not miss the Tropical Spice Garden, Khoo Kongsi, Dharmikarama Burmese Temple, The Camera Museum and the Wat Chayamangkalaram. Also, do not miss to go on a food adventure! You may schedule your flight back home or your next destination in the evening so you can rest a little or go souvenir shopping.
Have you been to Penang or anywhere else in Malaysia? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.