This birthplace of shoe designer Jimmy Choo is known for being THE “Food Paradise” of Malaysia. Penang is home to one of the largest Buddhist temples in all of SE Asia(Kek Lok Si), and like many other islands in SE Asia, is known as ‘The Pearl of the Orient’. Let’s visit Penang!
Visiting Penang? Here’s What To Do
There’s really so much to do, this place could keep you busy for days. Here’s a list of our must-see’s when visiting Penang.
Immerse Yourself in the Culture
Penang is home to “floating” villages called jetties where Chinese clans have lived for generations. There are six in total: One each for the Chew, Lee, Lim, Tan, and Yeoh families, and Chap Seh Keo, which is home for families with different last names. The jetty homes are actually perched above the water on concrete stilts, and are connected by wooden piers. A visit to these UNESCO world heritage sites is a must when visiting Penang.
Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower
Built in the Moorish style, this 60-foot colonial landmark of George Town was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Look closely and you may notice a slight lean, residual damage from WWII.
Originally built to protect Penang from pirates, this fort also played an important role as a British trading post. For roughly $5, take a relaxing walk around the grounds and immerse yourself in Penang’s colonial history.
Look no further for Malaysia’s most authentic Indian culture and cuisine. Covering three streets of old George Town; Lebuh Chulia, Queen Street, and Market Street, Penang’s Little India is known worldwide for their particular brand of curry. When visiting this neighborhood, make sure to check out the beautiful Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple.
Admire the Architecture
Kuan Yin Teng
Located in the heart of George Town, this beautiful Chinese “Temple of the Goddess of Mercy” is George Town’s oldest temple, dating back to 1728.
Thai Pak Koong Temple
Located on King Street, this historical temple is known for it’s incredible ornamental detail. From dragons to Chinese unicorns, Thai Pak Koong is home to many festivals and celebrations throughout the year.
Taste the Local Flavors
Cecil Street Market
Located on the southern end of old George Town, this open-air market is home to some of the best food on the Island. From duck meat kaoay teow and white curry mee to fresh fish, octopus, and crab, this is where the locals eat.
We happened upon this authentic Balinese restaurant by chance, and couldn’t have been more pleased. The food is incredibly flavorful(and very spicy!). The ambiance is relaxed and welcoming, and the staff was memorably friendly. Highly recommended!
You Simply Shouldn’t Miss…
Kek Lok Si
Located about 20 minutes from old George Town, Kek Lok Si is only a $2.50 UBER ride away. Also called Temple of Supreme Bliss, this beautiful complex of brightly painted buildings and countless Buddhas statues is said to be the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. Check out this field recording we made on the day of our visit.
Getting to Penang
Getting to Penang: FLY
Thanks to AsiaAir you can find many flights to Penang for under $40, and you can even fly from Kuala Lumpur for less than $10. You can also find affordable international flights from Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam for only $15 and Thailand for $33 with our favorite flight search site, Skyscanner.
Penang Flight Deals
Getting to Penang: TRAIN
With links to Singapore, Johor Bahru, and Kuala Lumpur, the Butterworth Station of mainland Penang is well connected throughout the region. The 4-hour ride from Kuala Lumpur is $15, or take the 21-hour train ride from Bangkok for $34.
Getting to Penang: BUS
Buses are not our favorite mode of travel.. The seats are generally cramped, the ride is bumpy, and departure/arrival times can be unpredictable. And with flights for less than $20, AirAsia is kind of a no-brainer when traveling to Penang.
Airport to George Town, Penang City Center
Penang International Airport is located about 10 miles south of the George Town city center. How will you get there?
The 30-minute ride from the airport to old George Town costs about when taking a taxi, or about $4 for an UBER. If you’re new to UBER, sign up and receive your first ride for free using our discount code: krissy98ue.
Look for the ticket counter on the arrivals level and pay less than $1 for a ride. While the name of the bus is ‘Rapid Penang Bus’, expect lots of stops and about a 1-hour ride into George Town.
Getting around in Penang
Taxis are available throughout the city. Just make sure the driver turns on the meter, or you might get “taken for a ride.” We prefer UBER, which is available all over the island and is very affordable.
Walkscore.com gives Penang, specifically George Town, a score of 100, calling it a “Walker’s Paradise”. We also found this to be true, and highly recommend walking aroung George Town.
With over 25 lines running from one end of the island to the other, Penang has an extensive bus network throughout the island. You might look into purchasing the ‘Rapid Passport’, which gives you unlimited rides for a week for less than $7.
Where To Stay in Penang:
Where To Stay in Penang: HOTELS
With prices ranging from $20-$800/night, from budget to luxury, you’re sure to find the right hotel in Penang. We’ve found some great hotel deals using Priceline’s sister site, Agoda.com.
Penang Hotel Deals
Where To Stay in Penang: HOSTELS
With over 40 hostels in George Town, you’ll likely find one that suits your needs. Prices generally range from $5-$11 a night for a dorm room, while private rooms cost a bit more at about $14-$30 per night. Hostelworld always has great deals, especially in Southeast Asia:
Penang Hostel Deals
Where To Stay in Penang: AIRBNB
We love using Airbnb. From private rooms to entire homes, Airbnb is represented in all parts of Penang, especially in George Town. The average Airbnb price in Penang is only $56/night. If you’re a first timer to Airbnb use our coupon for $35 off your first night’s stay.
Where To Stay in Penang: NEIGHBORHOODS
Choosing a neighborhood is an important part of trip planning that should not be overlooked! Penang is a small island with five districts divided into unique neighborhoods. While our general recommendation is to stay closer to the city center, here are some of the best areas in Penang.
This entire capital city of Penang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is known for it’s colonial and ethnic history. Stay here to be in the center of it all, with plenty of things to do, see, and eat.
This very walkable neighborhood is great for hawker food, shopping malls, and hotel options. Located just north of George Town, this popular seafront neighborhood is known for it’s nightlife and has the best food in Penang.
Just south of George Town, this residential neighborhood is home to Karpal Singh Drive, a seaside promenade full of restaurants, amazing views, and lots of roller skaters!
Penang Travel Tips:
Penang Travel Tips: Tipping
Tipping in Malaysia is not customary although tipping for good service is always appreciated. At restaurants check your bill, as there is sometimes a 10%-15% service charge added. Leave 2-10RM per day at hotels and round up for taxi drivers.
Penang travel tips: Money
Malaysia’s national currency is the Ringgit and is currently exchanging at 4.43MYR to $1USD. Credit cards are accepted at most places and ATM machines are readily available.
Penang travel tips: Insurance
Traveling to Penang is exciting and safe, but you never know when some good travel insurance could come in handy. World Nomads offers the best coverage in the business, is affordable, and is quick to act should something go wrong. For more info, check out our recent World Nomads blog post.