Over the last few posts, I have been gushing about the 2nd largest city in Malaysia – Penang. Penang had me charmed from my first glimpse of it on Malindo Air and by the time I flew out, I was in love with the place. From its cultural experiences to its heritage legacies and its lovely beaches as well as the green rainforests, there is so much to this town that attracts a lot of travelers here. I am pretty sure that you too, would be adding it to your bucket list, especially after you see these top 10 things to do in Penang.
George Town in Penang, is the center of all activities in this state. With its UNESCO Heritage status, there is plenty of colorful history that you will love to see. However, it is the splash of modernity that adds that zing to the whole experience, along with its natural attractions as a Green Island. It is no wonder that with these myriad and diverse things to do, Penang is known as the Pearl of the Orient. Here are my top 10 things to do in Penang, ones that you cannot miss if you visit here.
10 Things to do in Penang
There are a few of these that I have shared earlier as detailed posts and thus, have restricted myself to a synopsis of the experience in this post. I have included the links to these detailed posts within the sections below. However, there are a few like my visit to the temples or my favorite Chew Jetty, that I have not shared earlier. You will find those out here. So, without much ado – let’s move on.
1) Get an adrenaline shot at Komtar Penang
The Komtar Penang is not just the tallest building in George Town. There is far more to it for here you can indulge in some shopping and loads of entertainment. Choose from a 7D theater to browsing an Aquarium or trying your luck through the Mirror Maze at The Top – the indoor amusement park here. However, whatever you do, do not miss walking on the glass at the Rainbow Skywalk on the 68th floor of this building. I promise you that despite being a hair-raising experience, it is going to a memorable one as you get that perfect birds-eye view of George Town. Don’t believe me, take a look at my own experience at the Rainbow Skywalk here. And yes, if you want to make it extra special – just book yourself a candlelight dinner on the rooftop with a view.
2) Walk along the Street of Harmony
Penang is one island that has been popular for centuries. It has a colorful history of being a British colony and having multi-ethnic culture. Besides the British, you had the Chinese, Indians and Armenians that made this island home. The best part about it is that all these cultures still co-exist and while maintaining their individuality, have blended into a unique culture of its own. The Harmony that lives here is evident as you walk this unique street in Penang – called the Street of Harmony.
Simply put, this street is called so owing to four religious landmarks that lie on the same 800 m path, next to each other. You can start with St. George’s church at one end of the street and walk to its other end where you have the Kapitan Keling Mosque. Along the stretch, you can visit the Taoist Goddess of Mercy temple and the Indian Shri Mahamariamman temple. Don’t forget to check out the other delights along this Walk on the Street of Harmony.
3) Create your own Street Art Story in Penang
Remember I mentioned how the old UNESCO sites merge with the contemporary in George Town? Well, the Street Art in Penang, is a fine example of what I am talking. The splash of those Slice of Life scenes of Penang on those ancient walls is what allows you to create a unique story of your own. Check out my own Penang Street Art story here, to give you a start. Walking around is the best to capture if all for every lane has a unique Art Piece to share -whether of plain paint or with props or even made of Wrought Iron. And for those of you who love Instagram, you might just have found your paradise.
4) Visit Chew Jetty – one of the Things to do in Penang
If the Street Art tour of Penang was my most favorite activity here, then visiting the Chew Jetty is a close second. A unique dwelling on the stilts, this part of the town is the living heritage of Penang. The settlement is named after the clan of Chinese migrants who initially used this as a dock and later made it their home. Greeting me afront was a street art wall and a Chinese temple and as I walked those planks, the smiling faces of its residents.
The wooden lane that takes you amidst those homes, is lined with interesting restaurants and shops – from where I bought my Penang souvenirs. Friendly and cute dogs paw you as you bend to pet them and I think that was half the reason I fell in love with this place.
As you walk further away, you are treated to the sights of the other Jetty settlements. Quaint Chinese boats offer you ample photo opportunities as do the Taoist temple at the far end. This is where you can even sight the longest bridge of Malaysia – the one that connects Penang to the Malaysian Mainland.
The water village of Chew Jetty has an interesting history of early settlements, bitter rivalry and harmonious community living if you care to know. The best way is to befriend the natives here and get them talking. I almost did that till time ran out but if I were to ever get to Penang again, I sure am heading here.
5) Take a temple tour
Even if you are not religious, you are bound to love a temple tour in Penang. The temples of Penang are largely Indian and Chinese. The variety that these two diverse cultures offer is what makes the entire temple hopping experience so enthralling. Largely owing to its colorful history and varied architecture. I have described a few in my earlier post on the Street of Harmony. And thus, to add to a little more variety – here are two more – the Waterfall temple and the Kek Lok Si temple.
The Waterfall temple in Penang
The actual name of the temple is Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani temple. Dedicated to the Hindu God – Lord Murugan, this is the largest temple for that God outside India. The original temple was built in the 1800s till the ground was taken away for the Penang Botanic Gardens. The shrine became a huge congregation point for the famous South Indian festival of Thaipusam. It was initially located at the base of a waterfall (as depicted in an ancient painting by a Britisher). However, today, the present day temple is a large Dravidian styled temple atop a hill.
A huge statue of Shiva greets you at the base of the hillock and this is where you begin your climb on foot. With over 500 steps and scintillating views at every landing, when I finally reached the entrance of the Waterfall temple, it felt as if it were a cleaner version of what I had back home. At the entrance was a grand doorway, that had two huge Dwarpalakas (Door Keepers) greeting you.
As you walk in towards the main shrine, I could not help drawing similarities to the Madurai Meenakshi temple and the Rameswaram Ramanathaswamy temple. One classic example is that of the painted ceilings.
There is plenty more to see and that would take another post but for now, I leave you with the stunning view of the George Town Cityscape.
Kek Lok Si temple in Penang
The Kek Lok Si is yet another hilltop temple in Penang, except for this one faces the sea and is a Buddhist temple. This temple visit was an incomplete one for when we reached here, it was closed. However, even the bits that we saw from outside, had us in awe. Greeting us at the entrance was the giant statue of Guanyin – the Goddess of Mercy.
The huge statue I believe is the largest in Asia and I am inclined to believe that, for I did feel like an absolute midget trying to capture it. Small stupas and stone statues of the Laughing Buddhas or Sumos in various poses lay scattered around the statue, giving us enough to capture in our memories.
A quaint Chinese pavilion with a refreshing fountain stood at the far end, next to a building with colorful doors and windows. They say that beyond those closed doors lies the actual highlight of the temple – a Pagoda that is a fusion of Thai, Chinese and Burmese architecture. Something that I could not see. And something that I wished I had tied a wishing ribbon for on that wishing tree.
6) Tour the Chinese Mansions in George Town
Take a peek into the Chinese way of life with a tour of the Pinang Peranakan mansion. It is truly, a fun way to discover the rituals of the Chinese – like how they design their homes, why they keep a basket of live hen and rooster below the newly weds’ bed and what went into the tiny feet ritual that the women followed? What is more is that you can not just hear the stories but see it as it was. The architecture and the interiors of the mansion are another reason to spend some time here. Why, it is not every day that you can see such ornate things.
If you want to add some more to that, then also, visit the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion – the Blue Mansion that is now converted to a heritage hotel. While you may not stay there, you can always have some lunch or dinner to experience the Chinese way of life in Penang.
7) Water sports at Batu Ferringhi beach
With the stunning waters of the Straits of Malacca, there is no escaping the beaches of Penang. The Batu Ferringhi beach is not just pristine and gorgeous but also, offers a lot of beach resorts for you. With that, you can not just experience the sea but also, try out the water sports on the Island – including Parasailing, Water scooters, Banana Boat rides and more. The evenings on Batu Ferringhi get even more exciting as you get to try the night flea markets – complete with their colorful wares.
8) Check out Fort Cornwallis
Built by the British as a sea fort, this one now stands a little away from the shoreline. Today as you stand at near its famous cannon – Seri Rambai, you get to see the extended coastline of Penang, mostly got owing to Land reclamation. Completing the view is the only lighthouse that Malaysia has shaped in the form of a ship mast.
With the 18th century fort, you find the old cells and a chapel that is no longer used. Several other cannons and an old gunpowder magazine room add to the story of the fort that never got conquered. While there isn’t much to see here, you could try the fine dining experience at the restaurant within its premises.
9) Go hiking in The Habitat Penang
The diversity of Penang does not limit itself to the heritage and culture of the place. Even the landscapes are equally different for on one hand you have the beaches and the other – rainforests. Take a ride on the funicular to experience the cool atmosphere of the Penang Hill. Visit The Habitat there to get a glimpse of the exotic endemic flora and fauna of Penang. A very refreshing experience that is coupled with a lovely view of Penang from the highest structure for public viewing – The Treetop Skywalk. And that is not all, for you have that date with the butterflies as you take a chance on the Giant Swing at The Habitat. Want to know more – check out my experience through this post.
10) Visit the unique Museums of Penang
Penang offers you a choice of contemporary museums which are far more than just passive adventures. Try out the Penang 3D Trick Art Museum for those crazy moments of fun and laughter with your friends. Not to mention the dozens of crazy pictures that you can click as a memory. Or if you like cute and cuddly, try the Teddyville Museum. The name says its all for this is all about mush and feeling loved.
If you are a foodie, then the Wonderfood Museum is an option and then for the culture lovers, there is the Batik Museum. I could not manage any of these but could only live them virtually through the article above. However, what I missed is something that you should not – Which is why – this does appear in my 10 things to do in Penang.
Bonus – Things to do in Penang
Well, there is plenty more that I can think of but here is one bonus tip on Things to do in Penang. Street Food and Shopping! I cannot remember the number of times my guide Gillian tried to entice us into the shopping bit. To be honest, if I had the time, I might have just gone crazy with the Batik and Pottery things here. And then, of course, there is always clothes and jewelry but well, some other time. For you guys, don’t forget to hit the malls or the Flea Markets across the city.
As for Street Food, I could smell the delightful options as I walked the Streets of GeorgeTown. The only thing I could sample were the unique ice creams and cold pressed Fruit juices. And considering that I am not even a foodie, I so wish I could have tried some of the other stuff too. So, I am pretty sure if you love food, there is no missing this bit.
Well, that is the end of my list of Things to do in Penang. Tell me which of these go on top of your list if you plan a visit to Penang. And for those of you who have already been to Penang, which of these have you done? Come on, comment in and let me know!
- On Visa requirements and other travel tips to Penang, I recommend reading my Malaysia Travel Guide.
- You can get to Penang directly with flights like Malindo Air from different parts of the world or internal flights from any city in Malaysia.
- You can even drive in here from the Malaysian Mainland.
- Penang is generally, humid through the year and has a mild winter. It is best during the months of November to February.
- The best way to tour George Town is by foot or Trishaw. Uber cabs are also, available here
- Malaysian Ringgits is the currency that is widely accepted here
- Cotton clothes are best suited for Penang
- For other general tips for Malaysia, you can check the Malaysia Travel Guide Malaysia Travel Guide.