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First Timer's Guide To Penang, Malaysia

25 May 2018

Hew Lee Yee

Klook Travel Curator

Discover the charm of Penang

As one of the most favourite spots amongst visitors in Malaysia, Penang is home to incredibly delicious street food, interesting historical sites, vibrant art scene and more. Separated into 2 areas, the mainland and the island, Penang’s best attractions are mostly located on the island.

This Pearl of the Orient certainly has enough cultural sights, natural sceneries, exciting activities, and food spots to keep you entertained throughout your trip. Find out what are some of the must-see, eat and do!

Getting around Penang

There are a few public transport options in Penang like buses and taxis but the easiest way to get around the island is by a car. You can choose to rent a car but be warned, Penang drivers are known to be notorious! Combined with the narrow alleys and tricky routes, driving in Penang is not for the faint of heart.

To travel around Penang in comfort and with a peace of mind, you can opt for a private car charter. Get picked up and dropped off to all your destinations by an experienced driver without a worry. You can even take quick naps from the food coma in between all your foodie stops!

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Penang highlights

1. Georgetown Tour

As the capital of Penang, Georgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site teeming with British colonial buildings, heritage houses and mansions, Chinese shophouses, religious sites and more. Harmony Street is especially interesting and the perfect embodiment of Malaysia’s cultural diversity with places of worship of different religions lining the street.

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It’s a must to walk the streets of the city and explore Georgetown on a walking tour where you’re brought to all the must-visit spots. For a truly authentic Penang experience, you can also join a trishaw ride through all the heritage spots of the city!

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2. Kek Lok Si

Sitting atop Crane Mountain, the Temple of Supreme Bliss or better known as Kek Lok Si is one of the largest Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia. You can find a bronze statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, standing tall at over 30 metres as well as a seven-storey pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas.

With a location facing the sea, you’re also rewarded with a killer view from the temple. If you happen to visit during the Chinese New Year, you can witness the sight of Kek Lok Si decorated with thousands of bright hanging lanterns. It’s also considered an auspicious time to visit the temple!

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3. Penang Hill

A hill resort made up of several peaks located in Air Itam, it’s also known as Flagstaff Hill or Bukit Bendera to the locals. The best way to access Penang Hill is through the funicular train which takes you up 833 metres!

There are plenty to explore atop the Penang Hill from vibrant nature spots to traditional temples and mosques, interesting museums, and Insta-worthy lookout points.

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4. The TOP at Komtar Penang

An iconic building adorning the skyline of Penang, the recently revamped Komtar now has a new food and entertainment quarter named The TOP. It’s home to some exciting experiences like a rooftop viewing deck, a skywalk where visitors can step on a curved outdoor glass walkway, 7D motion theater, and many more.

There’s plenty to do in this indoor theme park and as Penang tallest building, you can bet the view from the top of the building is one to remember.

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5. ESCAPE Adventureplay Theme Park

One of the latest outdoor theme parks in Penang, the ESCAPE Adventureplay park is a great family-friendly activity. With obstacle courses suited to all levels and ages, fun water slides and many other exciting activities, visitors are bound to have a day full of adventure.

Still relatively undiscovered in Penang, even amongst locals, you won’t have to beat through the crowd to try out all the different attractions in the theme park.

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6. Mural-hunting

Known for having street art scattered across the city mainly in Georgetown, many visitors make a trip to Penang just to take photos with the murals. Many of the murals merge the paintings with surrounding objects like bicycle, trees, swing set and more.

The street art scene in Penang began when Ernest Zacharevic, a Lithuanian artist, created a number of murals in conjunction of Georgetown Festival. When you’re walking the streets of Georgetown, make sure to look out for those famous murals!

Download a map of the murals in Penang made by Chin Seng Leong Bike Shop.

7. Pinang Peranakan Mansion

The Peranakan culture is unique to select places in Malaysia and Singapore and has a prominent presence in Penang. The Pinang Peranakan Mansion used to be a typical home of a Baba-Nyonya family but now serves as a museum to educate visitors on the history of the interesting Peranakan culture.

Step into the traditional century-old heritage house and marvel at the displays of antiques, eclectic tilework, carved wood panels, traditional memorabilia, beautiful furniture, artifacts and many more!

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8. Batu Ferringhi

A short drive away from Georgetown is another one of Penang’s hotspot, Batu Ferringhi. Best known as a long stretch of beach along the winding Jalan Batu Ferringhi, you can find an array of accommodation, restaurants, cafes, shops, and more along the same stretch. In the evening, the night market and bars in Batu Ferringhi come alive and liven up the area.

There are also a range of water sports activities like jet ski, parasail and windsurf that visitors can take part in. Certainly a different vibe from Georgetown, it’s a great spot to sit back, enjoy a meal by the beach and taking a nice stroll along the shore.

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9. Museum-hopping

Penang is home to quite a number of museums from the quirky to the trippy, family-friendly and even full of history. Some are also interactive, which certainly disproves the misconception that museums are boring!

Get ready to walk through the giant realistic food replicas of Malaysian cuisine in Wonderfood Museum, transform your 2D paintings to 3D images in Dark Mansion Museum or snap mind-boggling photos in the Trick Art Museum.

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10. Penang food tour

Known for having some of the best street food in Asia, be prepared to eat non-stop during your trip in Penang! Although the options are endless, the number of choices and variety can be overwhelming to first-timers in Penang.

To dip your toe into the world of delectable cuisine in Penang, join the heritage food tour to discover the must-try local delights. If you’re hungry for more, keep reading as we’ve narrowed down the top 5 must-try food in Penang!

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What to eat in Penang

1. Char Koay Teow

If there’s one dish that is synonymous to Penang, it would be char koay teow! Thick rice noodles stir-fried with chilli paste, prawns, egg, cockles, bean sprouts, garlic chives and lard, every mouthful gets more addictive than the last.

A dish so popular, it has spawned a myriad of recreations outside of the Penang and even Malaysia! Although there are many debates on where you can get the best char koay teow in Penang, it’s hard to go wrong with this simple but delicious dish.

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2. Asam Laksa

A close contender for the iconic char koay teow is the asam laksa. It’s a sweet, sour, spicy and savoury bowl of slippery rice noodles soup that will make your sweat drip and nose run. Doesn’t exactly sound fun but trust us, this flavour bomb of a noodle dish will have you going for seconds (or even thirds)!

A famous spot amongst visitors for this dish in Penang is the Ayer Itam Assam Laksa, located at the foot of the hill heading towards the Kek Lok Si temple.

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3. Chendol

As you would expect Penang’s island weather, it can get pretty hot and humid. The perfect way to cool down is with a bowl of icy cendol or chendol. Served in a bowl with shaved iced, green rice flour jelly, coconut milk and palm sugar syrup, this simple combination is a saviour during those scorching hot afternoons.

You can find this dessert easily across Penang from roadside carts to humble local eateries,food shacks, and restaurants.

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4. Mee Goreng

Mee goreng, or stir-fried noodles, can be found readily in Southeast Asia and each city does it differently. The Bangkok Lane Mee Goreng in Seng Lee Cafe has made a name for itself due to its distinctive taste.

Noodles stir-fried with fried rojak bits, fried tofu, potatoes and bean sprouts in a secret sweet-savoury sauce - this truly is comfort food on a plate. You can also choose to add a serving of cuttlefish to go with your noodles.

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5. Nasi Kandar

A popular dish originating from Penang, this Indian Muslim cuisine is a favourite amongst locals. It’s hard to miss a nasi kandar stall with it’s buffet line of daily dishes ranging anywhere from 10 to 30 different varieties.

You can choose to adorn your plate of steamed with rice with any of the daily dishes that are on display from curries to fried chicken, fried fish, stir-fried vegetables and many more. A favourite spot amongst visitors is the Line Clear Nasi Kandar meanwhile a couple of local favourites include Tajuddin Hussain Nasi Kandar and Nasi Kandar Kampung Melayu.

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