Things to do in Penang Island, Malaysia

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    The Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower: Penang Island's iconic landmark

    Photo courtesy of FabVietnam_Photography/iStock

Get Your Bearings in Penang Island

By Dave Stamboulis
Penang Island Expert

Stay
Eat
See & Do
Party
Shop

Where to Stay

Penang is full of modern upscale hotels, and as it's an island, many visitors come here expecting sun and sea and book a spot on Batu Ferringhi Beach. However, the appeal of Penang is not its beach, but the old colonial splendor of Georgetown, and this is where the famed food, shopping and beautiful architecture can be found. You can stay here in plenty of old colonial gems, and walk to all the sights from here, even putting yourself up in the renowned Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, an end-of-the-19th-century architectural wonder.

Avoid:

Chinese New Year or any major Malaysian holidays, or else make sure to book way in advance if traveling here during these times.

What to Eat

The Malaysians joke that if you move to Penang, you will gain 5 pounds for every year you stay, and indeed, it has some of the best food in Asia. Do not leave without trying the famous hawker street food vendors in Georgetown, everyone has their favorite spot and dish. The market area in Chinatown is the best spot for breakfast and Chinese restaurants, while nearby Lebuh Chulia has plenty of cute cafes, pizzerias, and the like. Don't forget to make your way over to Little India as well, great for afternoon snacks or full thali meals.

Hot Tips:

Laksa Air Itam is the most famous laksa curry noodle spot in town, and don't miss the Ice Kacang stall on Kimberley Street where people line up around the block. Everyone knows where they are.

Be Sure to Sample:

Laksa, Hokkien mee, ice kacang.

Things to See

Penang has plenty of different sights to keep you occupied for several days. While most cultural sights (along with the great colonial architecture) are to be found in Georgetown, there is also the island's one and only proper beach out in Batu Ferringhi, along with natural scenery up on Penang Hill. In Penang National Park, The Kek Lok See Temple in the Air Itam area of Georgetown is a must-visit, especially at festival times, and don't forget to leave time to walk around the old colonial district and small lanes downtown.

Hot Tips:

On hot days, a trishaw is a great way to get around and go for a sightseeing tour. The drivers are great sources of local knowledge; just make sure to bargain a price for the trip in advance.

Places to Party

Penang is not noted for its nightlife; people tend to go enjoy food at the hawker markets and then go to bed, but there are some decent bar areas in the center of Georgetown where you can have a few drinks in pleasant surroundings. Lebuh Chulia, the "backpacker" street, has lots of open air and cutesy bars, and more elegant places can be found along Lebuh Penang and its surroundings.

Caution:

Make sure to check prices before ordering; alcohol in Malaysia is far more expensive than in its neighboring countries.

Where to Shop

There are plenty of souvenir shops around Chinatown and in its small lanes, although most items are daily goods that are aimed at locals. Just about anything can be found in the KOMPTAR complex and shopping mall, from designer goods to groceries and more. KOMPTAR is the center of Georgetown, and you can't miss it; just look up. It is also where all the buses around the island terminate, so you will most likely end up here whether you want to or not.

Best Local Souvenir:

Fabrics and sarongs in Little India, arts and antiques in Chinatown.

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