Penang was one the places in SE Asia which came as a massive surprise to me and left me in awe times and times again. I’m talking art, architecture, culture, people, food, nature… in one word – everything! The beautiful mixture of Malay, Chinese and Indian people living together in a city that very much reminded me of European Barcelona, threw me in a world from a parallel Universe.
Even though alone in George Town, I was in a city where boredom didn’t seem like an option, so I got my camera and started exploring. From everything I managed to see and do in the short 5 days I had there, here are my top 10 recommendations summed up in a short video:
Top 10 Things To Do In Penang
Let me give you a bit more details about my top 10 things in this awesome UNESCO World Heritage site:
1.Go For a Walk – the historical center of George Town is so charming and inviting that I did not spare my legs at all. Make sure you don’t miss the colorful and buzzing Little India quarter and Armenian street with its lively, vibrant little shops. The mixture of ancient temples and colonial architecture is quite fascinating and walking around is one of the best ways to explore the city.
2. Go Street Art Hunting – I was massively surprised by the amount of art and cultural activities in George Town. There are numerous cute paintings on the walls of the buildings creatively combined with real life objects, providing beautiful art throughout the entire city. Following my first recommendation and going for a walk will inevitably take you to many of the artsy spots in town, but just in case you don’t want to miss a thing, most of the guest houses offer maps showing the must see pieces.
There’s art behind every corner, literally.
3. Visit Dammikarama Temple – As I didn’t have the chance to visit Myanmar during this trip, I was very pleased to find out that the only Burmese temple out of the country is actually in Penang. It’s absolutely gorgeous and if you enjoy exploring temples from different cultures, don’t miss it. To continue my temple hopping I also visited the beautiful Thai Temple Wat Chayamangkalaram, situated just one door down and showing an impressive statue of the Reclining Buddha.
4. Eat The Local Food – An absolute must! Penang has so much to offer when it comes to food. The vegetarians might have a bit of a challenge here and there as the locals don’t really understand why one wouldn’t eat meat if they can afford it. Going for the Indian restaurants in Little India quarter is a safe bet, even though the street hawkers also offer delicious veggie treats. Delicious cheap eats I found in Woodlands Vegetarian Restaurant, Y Not Cafe and the street (try the amazing Penang pancakes or Char Koay Teow). For a gourmet veggie dinner I recommend The Leaf Healthy House Cafe – the place is very cosy and the food is fantastic!
If you fancy going out for some music and drinks in the evening Love Lane is the place. The street is buzzing with many lively bars offering live music, friendly service and happy hour drinks.
5. Visit The Botanical Garden – I love to be in nature and each time I visit a city that has green spaces I make sure to visit. The botanical garden in Penang is beautiful, filled with numerous flowers, massive trees, creeks (which they call waterfalls, but I wouldn’t go that far) and, of course, monkeys! They’re roaming free everywhere and sometimes maybe even a bit too curious and cheeky 🙂 If you’re too lazy to walk in the heat, there’s an electric train ride offering a tour around the park.
6. Check Out Penang Hill – remember how I mentioned Penang really reminded me of Barcelona? Penang Hill definitely has a major contribution for that. From the cable car train to the beautiful views over the city and the see, it’s a fantastic place to visit. Carrying Penang’s artsy style, it has numerous art installations, sculptures, an owl museum and heart shapes all around. While you enjoy a meal or a drink from the top of the city you can definitely feel that love is in the air.
7. Go To Kek Lok Si Chinese Temple – I don’t know if I can ever get enough of Asian temples. I haven’t been to a Chinese temple before and I was quite impressed when I saw the massive Kek Lok Si. Decorated with countless lights for the Chinese New Year, it looked like a religious Las Vegas, but it also carried peace and the promise of a beautiful new beginning.
8. Visit Penang National Park – It’s a wonderful place to visit, but make sure you start early and have enough time. It takes about 45 min to get to the park, which is situated on an area of more than 25 km². Then be prepared for at least 2.5km walk each way in order to visit any of the two main destinations – Monkey Beach or Turtle Beach. The beaches’ names very well describe what you can find once you get there – cute little turtles or cheeky monkeys. I chose to go to Monkey beach as it offers nice white sandy beaches and clear waters for a swim after the trek in the heat.
9. Visit Penang’s Butterfly Farm Entopia – maybe that’s gonna be a bit too geeky for some people, but I love butterflies and the idea of being surrounded by hundreds of them excites me! In the huge building you can have gorgeous butterflies eating right off your hand and visit an amazing museum section. With all the UV lights and massive decorations it made me feel like Alice in Wonderland.
10. The Upside Down Museum – If you’ve never been to one – go! That was my first time in one of those and I was surprised how much fun it actually is! The tour is rather quick, but the staff knows exactly how to position you for some amazing crazy pictures to mess with people’s minds 🙂
If you’re lucky enough to be in Penang around one of their religious festivals you’ll be in for a real treat! I got the privilege to witness the Hindu Thaipusam festival, which was an out of this world experience. The abundance of people, the strangely pierced bodies, the bright colours, the smells from the food given away, the loud music, all that teleported me into another galaxy. A galaxy where people’s minds rule over the physical matter, the pain is danced away and the impossible is achieved in the name if faith. Words are really not enough to describe the experience, but I hope the short footage in my video above will give a better idea.
Whatever your interests may be, there is a chance that Penang can satisfy all your needs. If you’ve been there already and have other recommendations for fellow traveller, feel free to post a comment below and spread the word 🙂