Known as the “Pearl of the Orient”, Penang is famous among worldwide travellers as an international food paradise. Often overshadowed by the popularity of Langkawi’s tropical paradise of island archipelagos, Penang is fondly referred to by the locals as Malaysia’s gastronomical haven. For some, Penang is still shrouded in mystery as many have yet to discover its rich culture and history yet Penang so much to offer visitors, begging to be explored and recognised as a global tourist destination.
As the second smallest state in Malaysia, Penang encompasses a wonderful cultural diversity deeply rooted within its history. It stands as a cultural extravaganza, a fascinating and intriguing destination that provides an eclectic mix of food, heritage, beach activities, nightlife, art and culture all in one place. KKday offers a platter of interesting places in Penang for you to explore with recommendations that one should never miss out on in order to get the full Penang experience.
Old streets brimming with rustic charm, crumbling pre-war colonial buildings highlight a unique cultural and architectural landscape in Penang. The arrival of Captain Francis Light in 1786, played a key role in the cultural development of the island and established Penang as a centre of trade. To this day, Penang still bears the influence of British colonialism.
As of 2008, the centuries-old cultural buildings of Georgetown have been inscribed into UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This is where some of the most notably interesting places in Penang are found, encompassing both culture and religion.
Divided into two zones, the Core Zone and the Buffer Zone — these sites are sporadically located around the heart and centre of Georgetown, Penang. With a guided city map, visitors can opt for a heritage building walking tour on their own.
Ernest Zacharevic’s Boy on Bike
In recent years, Penang has witnessed a cultural boom that has paved the way for a gamut of art and expression. This resulted in Penang’s emergence as the street art hub of Malaysia. Major sights of Penang are not confined to architectural buildings but are also found on the sides of buildings in the form of paintings, wall art, murals and even sculptures.
In between stained walls and peeling paint, an artistic display of brilliance is showcased. Visitors can find themselves embarking on a little trail following the artwork around Georgetown.
Hin Bus Depot Art Centre
Despite the overwhelming presence of street art, visitors may be surprised at the lack of bona fide art galleries. ChinaHouse plays a multifaceted role in functioning as a restaurant/café housing an art gallery upstairs. Similarly, Hin Bus Depot Art Centre has evolved from an abandoned building into a makeshift gallery that houses conceptual art.
Penang is also home to many festivals that pay homage to art and culture annually. These festivals play a pivotal role in solidifying Penang’s position on the global tourism map.
Every traveller understands that the best way to truly immerse yourself in local culture is to sample the local cuisine. True to its status as Malaysia’s top gastronomic destination, Penang boasts an impressive range of cuisines derived from a fusion of cultures. This has led to an impressive mix of traditional Chinese, Malay, Indian and Nyonya food, reflective of Penang’s multi-ethnic and multicultural population.
A major part of Penang’s food culture is the ubiquitous presence of hawker stalls, calling out to your senses and sending one into a taste bud tingling frenzy. Seeking delicious food to satisfy your cravings is like engaging in a tango of cuisine selections and the thrill of tasting. The best part about it? The food is budget friendly and still relatively low-priced. Spoil yourself silly at the abundance of choices and dig into dishes bursting with flavour.
Try out these 6 must-eats in Penang
1. Assam Laksa
2. Char Kway Teow
3. Nasi Kandar
4. Penang Rojak
5. Penang Teochew Cendol
6. Penang Curry Laksa
Being an island, Penang is surrounded by beaches; but no trip to Penang is complete without stopping at Batu Ferringhi Beach, the most popular beach on Penang island. Be it a quick escape from Georgetown or a strategic spot to set up base during your visit to Penang, Batu Ferringhi is the place to be.
Soak up the sun, laze on the beach sipping on cocktails; or if you prefer something more active, there’s a host of aquatic activities available at the beach.
The entire strip is home to luxury hotels like Holiday Inn Resort Penang, who have access to a stretch of their own private beach reserved for guests. If you’re keen on special promotions and offers, don’t forget to check out their Facebook page.
Holiday Inn Resort Penang
Address: 72, Jalan Batu Ferringhi, 11100 Penang, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Tel: +60 4-886 6666
Some of the more interesting places in Penang can be found when the sun has long gone down, when Penang truly comes alive. There is something for everyone in this mix. From boozy beach bars to live reggae music and the latest K-pop hits, Penang has it all.
Penang is a hub of constant activity after hours; the nocturnal culture is prevalent amongst both locals and tourists alike. The nightlife in Penang is comprised of clubs and music, while the other half is comprised of food and shopping.
Along the stretches of Gurney Drive and Batu Ferringhi Night Market, there is a splendid array of hawker stalls and shopkeepers displaying their wares under colourful umbrellas. Many souvenirs, handmade crafts and all sorts of knick-knacks can be found here. Join in the hustle and bustle and excitement of haggling prices, navigate the sea of both locals and tourists alike to gain a deep insight into the lifestyle of the local Penangites.
Penang island is an amalgam of traditions and a twist of the modern found off the coast of Peninsula Malaysia. A travel-worthy destination you will leave the island with a wealth of experience.
Ultimately, if you still feel at odds with Penang, Southeast Asia is home to many beautiful hidden beaches near Singapore as well.