For first-time travellers, Penang can be a confusing and unfamiliar place. Read on for 11 must-know facts to get the most out of your next holiday to Penang!
Now that you’ve picked Penang as your next holiday's destination, what can you expect to fill your itinerary visiting a rich cultural melting pot like Penang? Boasting charms that have put it on the map as a focal tourism point, the unique world-class beauty of Penang can be hard to put in words. However, have no fear lah: with these 11 helpful tips, you can quickly conquer many of Penang's points of interests once you step out from the Penang hotel you’re lodging in.
1. About Penang and Its Heritages
Like many other cities in the region, Penang has a long history of once being an island where the British settled at and prominent trade route for China, India, the Middle East, and Europe. One of its notable historical figures is Captain Francis Light who modernised Penang and founded the capital city, Georgetown. You’ll find a statue of him inside Fort Cornwallis, and Georgetown, in particular, has been on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list since 2008.
Inevitably, there’ll be no shortage of historic buildings and sites accentuating the nation’s past and traditional values everywhere you go in Penang. You can learn more about Penang’s rich history from museums or restored best hotel in Georgetown Penang—both an obligatory part to add in the itinerary of every Penang traveller.
2. Recommended Time to Visit
With a generally sunny and humid climate all year round, Penang experiences occasional rainfalls like its Southeast Asian counterparts. The hottest period occurs from January to March, while the wettest time is from April to September. These weather conditions, however, are dictated by the state of the surrounding oceans, which can change at the slightest.
On the other hand, Penang's sunny weather is perfect for cycling or walking in without worry of sunburn. Do take note that the dry and cool season occurs between December and February and is also the peak season of New Year and the Chinese New Year, thus many schools and offices have a long break and Penang will be more crowded than usual.
3. How to Get There
Penang is situated on the northwest coast of the Malaysian Peninsula, a short 20-minute long ferry ride from the ferry terminal itself. If you’re coming from Johor Bahru, Kuala Lumpur, or Singapore, you can take the 6-hour train trip before alighting at the Butterworth Ferry Terminal next to the train station. Then, continue riding a connecting ferry to Penang Island.
The island is easily accessible by bus and car as well; simply take a reasonable 5-hour drive along the North-South Highway. If you’re coming from other neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia, you can book a direct plane ticket to Penang International Airport instead. Wherever you’re coming from, you’ll definitely reach Penang easily and swiftly.
4. Where to Stay
The rapid tourism growth has resulted in many accommodation options mushrooming all over Penang and leaving you spoilt for choice. According to your budget, needs, and preference, you’ll have the choice from the cheapest lodging to the most atas and best hotel in Penang. Take your time to consider the place based on what you want to explore and visit during the trip. Any Penang hotel Georgetown is popular due to its location, while properties situated along Gurney Drive or the northern coast stretching from Tanjung Bungah to Batu Ferringhi appeal to those looking for more peaceful natural surroundings.
For starters, Seberang Perai Utara is vibrant with more locals and traditional villages of the island, earning its popularity by offering homestay programmes, which allow Penang visitors to experience living with locals. Seberang Perai Tengah, on the other hand, houses many shopping malls along with the famous St Anne’s Church and Penang Bird Park. There’s also Seberang Perai Selatan where bat caves and mangrove forests are everyday scenery. Whichever you choose, a memorable adventure always awaits!
5. Getting Around
Now that you’re already in Penang and your exploration officially starts, how will you get around? While walking is very much possible, you can try riding public transportation to reach distant destinations on your itinerary list. Taxis are everywhere and open for fare negotiation before boarding, or alternatively, you can take the immensely popular and well-used ride ordering app Grab. In short, there are many options to get around Penang according to your budget and itinerary.
While public buses by Rapid Penang serve routes on both mainland and island, you can also try the Free CAT (Central Area Transit) shuttle bus service operating within Georgetown. You can find more about the public buses’ route maps, schedules, and fares from Rapid Penang official website, along with rapid Passport, the country's easy access card to get you around on the bus routes. Other popular options include renting a daily-surcharged car or an inexpensive bicycle.
6. How to Pay for Everything
Malaysian Ringgit (RM) is the currency unit used commercially in Penang. You can exchange some cash at the licensed money changers at Penang International Airport upon arrival if you haven’t done so in your home country. In general, currency exchange offices can be found at bus terminals, shopping malls, and hotels, although the different exchange rates offered at each place can be extremely varied. Alternatively, some ATMs can help you withdraw the local currency with relatively cheap exchange rates.
7. What Language to Use
The primary language commonly used in Penang is Malay, but fret not non-Malay speakers, because locals also communicate relatively well in English, with even Chinese. Most street signs will be shown in English alongside Malay.
Even as a tourist visiting for a short time period, knowing basic greetings will help you greatly in breaking the ice with locals! After all, one purpose of travelling to new places is to learn new things, so you'll see how easy it is to learn some easy and helpful Malay phrases that come in straightforward pronunciation! Some popular ones you can expect include “Ciak pah boi?” in Hokkien or “Dah makan kah?” in Malay, which means “Have you eaten?”.
8. Must-Try Local Delicacies
Another reason to travel to Penang is its wide and delicious array of local cuisines. Fill your bellies and social media feeds with die-die must try foods typical of Malaysia and Penang, such as Assam Laksa (spicy and sour fish noodle) and Char Kueh Teow (fried flat noodles).
Other delicacies include Cendol (iced sweet dessert) and Nasi Kandar (flavoured steamed rice served with curry-based complement dishes). In short, there are so many options of dishes to last you a generous feast in Penang, with both vegetarian and organic alternatives available to all. As with other surrounding Southeast Asian countries, rice is the staple food here. Hence, for those coming from a country where rice isn't, you will be able to adapt to this carbohydrate-rich food source quickly!
9. Common Entertainment
Bustling with endless places to explore and experience, Penang gives you chances to dive in and let loose as much as you want. Shop for local tidbits at Chowrasta Market situated in the inner Georgetown, or find gorgeous pottery and porcelain work on Penang Road. While most shopping centres close at 10:00pm, prolong your evening itinerary by paying a visit to a pasar malam (night market) selling anything from savoury street food to super cheap quirky T-shirts for souvenirs.
Visit the Penang Performing Arts Centre to watch the local artistic performance in multi-purpose studios, exhibition spaces, and a black box theatre. Live up the nightlife at Slippery Senoritas for the clubbers at heart, or visit Jalan Batu Ferringhi for an after-dark shopping experience that will grant a shiok beach foreground view alongside affordable retail items.
10. What Else to Do in Penang
Besides Penang's historically-rich places of interest listed in the first point, there are still a lot of vibrant and authentic must-sees you can explore. Visit the infamous Penang Hill whose peak can be reached via a 1-hour funicular train trip. After escaping the heat at the summit of this hill, continue to Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion or Blue Mansion to admire 18th and 19th-century Chinese Fengshui mastery and architecture.
For a thrilling experience after the leisurely stroll visiting historical points, visit Escape Adventureland presenting a wide array of fun activities like the World’s Longest Tube Water Slide (1,111m!), or the Adventure Zone Theme Park appealing to families with active youngsters. Finally, don’t forget to make an eccentric memory with your family or friends in Made in Penang Interactive Museum exhibiting 3D paintings, which will show that learning history isn’t always dull.
11. More Travel Tips
Now that this list comes to an end, it’ll conclude with more travel tips to help ease your trip until you go back home. What else should you know? Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months upon the entry date to Malaysia. Check whether you also need to issue visa first or not before coming!
Though the Penang hotel you stay at offers multinational plugs, it’s suggested to bring one and a handy power bank along to keep your gadgets charged all the time. Bring light outerwear like jackets and cardigans to fight the colder temperatures at night and a raincoat or umbrella to get ready for any surprise rainfalls. The phrase “Price for MyKad holders” on some fare boards in tourist attractions means that the rate is only applicable to Malaysian residents. Therefore, make sure you refer to the right fare board for foreign tourists. There is no tipping culture here, and a lot of shops and eating places accept international credit cards.