If you are touring Malaysia, a visit to the diverse island of Penang should not be missed. All the sights Georgetown has to offer can’t be counted on one hand let alone some of the island itself. A week is nothing to explore the state of Penang. But first start by eating some good food in Penang because the melting pot as we know it in Melaka is also found here. Multiple cultures come together in food and of course this is reflected in the streetscape as well. I really find Georgetown a delightful city to wander around.
I have been there twice now and both times I was there for several days. I must honestly say that I saw far too little of the island of Penang itself and spent a lot of time in Georgetown. If you want to do everything I list here then a week is not enough. But. plan in 3days so you can give the city of Georgetown and the island of Penang both some time.
Wander Georgetown’s ancient streets
The first of these 13 tips what to do in Penang is very easy. Go walking, just spend a lot of time on the streets. Savour the atmosphere of this old historic district, experience the different cultures that have almost melted together there. Stroll through the narrow streets and marvel at the beautiful colourful colonial buildings that are still there. Some a little better maintained than others but just beautiful with the woodwork.
Feel the energy of all the people who once lived there and left their mark on the streetscape as we get to see it today.
The fishing village of Chew Jetty is also really fun to stroll through. Originally a Chinese settlement, you will encounter many Chinese influences here. Right at the start, you come across a small Chinese temple. The Chew Jetty is only small and most tourists walk the one ‘main road’ to the end and back again. I can also recommend turning right at the beginning and walking down that path as well. Somewhere you can then also turn left again so that you end up back on the busy path.
There is a completely unique atmosphere and so it is great fun to take a stroll here.
13 tips what to do in Penang – Georgetown
Street Art of Georgetown
Street art is everywhere in the city. Years ago, it started with Romanian artist Ernest Zacharevic‘s street art. When this proved to be a real success, more artworks came. I visited Penang in 2014 and have to say that the original works I saw then are really starting to fade. I hope these can be updated, or renewed perhaps. Surely it would be a shame if this faded so much and then eventually disappeared. It makes the already colourful city even more colourful!
I had my hotel this time, 2023, in the building where the Wushu Girl is painted on the side. A great picture on a big wall. The hotel is Moon Tree 47 and I spent two lovely nights there.
Did you know.
I practised Wu-Shu for 10 years? Really a super beautiful form in the sport of defence! So how nice is it that I stay in the building that the Wu-Shu Girl is on!
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
I passed this blue mansion at the end of the afternoon. Buying a ticket was a pity because I had very little time left but when I had a chat with the security guard I was allowed in anyway. On condition that I bought something to drink or eat at the little restaurant near the entrance. Upon showing my receipt, he let me in. What a beautifully maintained building!
If you can take a tour though, it’s nicer because I couldn’t enter every room now and I feel like you can with a tour. It is a beautifully crafted building with beautiful corridors and rooms.
The Fort Cornwallis, another important place in Penang’s history, of course. Along the coast you will find this park, which they are now also turning into a kind of food truck-like place. You pay an entrance fee to enter and can walk along the old walls for a while. Included in the ticket was a discount on a cup of coffee at the restaurant in the park.
Penang Peranakan Mansion
I did not visit this mansion on either of my visits to Penang. Definitely a reason to go back to this delightful city again. I did visit a Nyonya house of a wealthy family in Melaka. I thought that was super to see and so it is kind of a shame I missed this one. Later I saw this house and for a next visit this one is on the list.
There are so many beautiful temples to be found and I cannot possibly name them all. Just go for a walk and wander Penang’s fine streets. Whichever one you come across on your walk, it’s always impressive if you ask me. I’ll mention a few that I liked and went inside in 2014 and now again in 2023.
Hainan Thean Hou Temple 天后宮
A very pretty temple on the same street as Wu-Shu Girl. I was here in 2014 and loved walking in there in 2023 too. All the decorations, all the colours but also the smells. I always continue to find a Buddhist temple beautiful. All the different facets present make it a beautiful whole.
Goddess of Mercy Temple
Walking around like this, you come across temples here and there. Like this Chinese Taoist temple built in Chinese style from the 18th century. Nice place to be for a while, smell the fragrances and watch the people pray.
But if you have time, also visit the Wat Chaiyamangkalaram Thai Buddist Temple with a reclining buddha. This temple is also known as Wat Chaiya for short.
You will find the 33-metre reclining Buddha statue there. Like any Buddha statue, this reclining statue depicts Buddha in his last days. He will always lie on his right side, showing a peaceful and contented look on his face.
This temple with the reclining Buddha is just outside Penang’s tourist heritage zone. Check this GPS if you will also visit it on your Penang city break.
Taking in a bit of India is always nice. The colours are always just more present, you smell different spices and incense. I always like to feel a bit of India. In Penang, too, there is a district called Little India, where you can eat many flower offerings in the streets.
Sightseeing & what to do in Penang, Malaysia
This year, I did not go to the following places because I had already been there in 2014. In hindsight, I still regret not looking at them with the eyes I have now. Of course, almost 10 years on, I look at the environment much differently than I did then. I see different things but I also process them differently.
Clanhouse Khoo Khongsi
So in 2014, I did book a trip across part of Penang island and that included a visit to the old Chinese clan house. I remember finding it very interesting to learn that the Chinese families who came to Malaysia clustered together in these kinds of houses. They were so-called family houses where they could live together initially, or for a longer period of time, and have support from each other. This is also how the whole Clan Jetty came into being.
13 Tips – What to do in Penang & outside the citycentre
Kek lok Si temple
That 2014 trip included a visit to this special temple located a little further outside Georgetown. It is the largest Chinese Buddhist temple in Malaysia and thus definitely worth a visit. You can probably have some fun wandering through the complex and marvelling at all the beautiful colours the temple has and, of course, the many statues.
And while you are in the area, a visit to Penang Hill is of course not out of the question. Let’s take the little train up to get a nice view of the island. Unfortunately, it was cloudy when I was there but I still found it an impressive view.
On top of Penang Hill you’ll find a Hindu temple
Penang National Park
Take a nice walk through the park. You can do this on your own but of course you can also book a guided walk or trip. I loved walking there and going from beach to beach by boat and then walking the last stretch back to the park entrance. At the second beach I was then able to have a nice lunch, perfect day!
What to do in Penang?
Read my 13 tips for your citytrip Georgetown
When I was in Penang in 2014, I showed my father around there for a day. How fun is that? He came ashore for a day from a cruise he was doing at the time. That travelling bug? Well who knows, I got that from him…..
Food in Georgetown Penang
Penang is known for its culinary culture, as in Melaka, there is a super melting pot of all kinds of food cultures here. When I was in Georgetown the first time, I took a cooking class. Super educational and just great fun too, of course. But best of all? You get to eat it afterwards. I was given the recipes to take home with me and still regularly cooked something from them.
But the whole street food scene is especially big in Penang in the evening. Make sure you are on Chulia Street in the evening and see your dinner prepared in front of you. It doesn’t get any better!
Where to stay in Georgetown – Penang
My first night in 2023 Georgetown, I stayed outside the tourist centre but very close to Georgetown’s big bus station. I really liked the old house though. For that reason, I can recommend it. In the hotel, I didn’t have a bathroom in my room but had a private bathroom elsewhere on the floor. This bathroom too was really super decorated. They really made something nice out of it.
Right in the centre of Georgetown and in a building that even houses the beautiful street art painting Wu-Shu Girl is this hotel. They have several rooms available there. I was in a nice room with two floors behind the building. Downstairs I had my bedroom there and upstairs a balcony with an open air shower. This was really super thought out and executed though. The tricky thing though is that the stairs down cannot be closed off and so you have a sort of open-air in your bedroom as well. There was incense burning and thankfully I had very little trouble with mosquitoes.
In 2014, I went by bus from Georgetown to Ipoh. Ipoh is a nice city to explore for a while. As a stopover to KL, this is a nice place. Afterwards, you can easily travel on to Kuala Lumpur by train.
If you are in Ipoh visit nearby Kellie Castle where it is said to be haunted….
From Georgetown to Langkawi
There was a possibility to go by ferry. From Penang, since corona, that option is no longer there and you would have to go back to the mainland to catch the ferry a lot higher up. To save some time anyway, I flew to Langkawi. For 50 to 100 euros you can get a ticket and be at your next destination in a morning. That same afternoon I was already on the skybrigde
From Georgetown to Cameron Highlands
A bus from Georgetown will take you easily to the Cameron Highlands. This trip will take about 3.5 hours and will take you to the beautiful tea plantations in the upper part of Malaysia. Definitely a tip to go there if you’ve never seen tea plantations before. I had a nice walk through the tea plantations there which, even after having visited several tea plantations already, I found really super cool!
13 tips – What to do in Penang
Have you visited Penang already?
Or is Malaysia still on the bucketlist?