Planning to travel to one of the most-loved cities in Malaysia? Jub from Tiki Touring Kiwi shares his top tips on things to do in Penang having spent about over two months in Malaysia’s top foodie city! In this list of Penang activities, there are some of the usual haunts as well as a couple things you probably don’t see your typical list of Penang attractions.
Unique Things To Do in Penang
1. Plan Your Trip During Visit During A Festival
To get an insight into the culture of a place, visiting during times of celebration give you the real scoop of what’s going on.
Penang’s cultural mix makes the city a haven for various festivals throughout the year. The Chinese New Year and annual George Town Festival are two of the major festivals but there are dozens more if you dig below the surface. What about the weeklong Durian Festival? Or the Coffee and Dessert Festival?
Options are a plenty during June, July, and August. THe most interesting festival I came across was the Hungry Ghost Festival. I was sitting in a Chinese vegetarian restaurant when I learnt of this. If I recall correctly the girl wasn’t allowed outside in the dark, because ghosts. A few days later lots of fake paper money and confetti was being burnt in a pile as a peace offering to the ghosts. Why? Because they’re hungry!
Check out when the next festival is on here.
2. Crawl All Of The Street Art
The street art scene is what I think propelled Penang to be the popular tourist destination it is today. Dozens of cities around the world claim to have awesome street art, but you can’t deny Penang as one of the first to truly embrace it.
Ernest Zacharevic is the artist and creator who has compiled the majority of the interactive pieces Penang is famous for.
The easiest way to see all of the best bits is to pick up an updated street art map from the tourist office, then simply keep your eyes peeled for other pieces you see around town.
Even Janet was mesmerised by the street art back in 2013!
3. Give The Beaches A Chance
Penang isn’t exactly renowned for its beaches, with other Malaysian destinations hosting superior world class beaches. But Penang gets hot, so if you really need a beach you won’t be without.
The most popular beach area is Bukit Ferringhi northwest of George Town. There’s plenty of public transport to get you there, as well as Uber and scooters. The beach itself is over a kilometre long, so you’ve got plenty of space. There’s some cool funky shops in the town too, and restaurants of course.
Around the rest of the island is a lot of smaller beaches which can be fun to find if you’re on a scooter. The beach in the photo above is somewhere near the Pulau Jerejak Jetty south of George Town that I had pretty much to myself for an hour.
4. Make Friends At The Cheapest Booze In Penang
I can’t write a post about what to do in Penang without including this one spot in the itinerary. It’s around the corner from Love Lane, the popular backpacker streets full of hostels and bars.
The shop opens up around 6 pm or so most days and is simply an alcohol store, with tables and chairs out front. Come about 9pm it’s jam packed and you’ll be meeting more than enough people to have a laugh with. The best perks of curse are being able to buy cheap beers in a country where beer is relatively expensive.
Best. Business. Plan. Ever.
The GPS coordinates are 5.418673,100.3376038 or if you’re looking for it on Maps.me it’s called: ‘cheapest booze in Penang!’ Don’t go blaming me if you’re too hungover the next morning to adult.
If you like much classier establishments, check out Nagore Square. The bars here tend to open up after sunset, it’s a nifty little spot with a craft beer or four.
5. Enjoy Sunset At The Clan Jetties
Back in the 1800’s the harbour of Penang started to thrive and the jetties were built to house the Chinese labourers working on the boats in the harbour. Nowadays, people still live on the jetties constructed of long planks of wood with sampans (small boats) docked in between the houses.
There’s half a dozen or so of them you can explore and the colours of the harbour are magic around sunset time. Don’t forget, people still live in the houses, self awareness is always wise.
If you want to experience extended life on the Clan Jetties you can stay overnight on them.
6. Museums, There’s One You Can’t Miss
Penang is full of random museums. You’ve got the regular history museums and the stuff which is cool if that makes you feel intelligent and educated. Then you’ve got a bunch of whacky, slightly unusual museums to keep you entertained like the Upside Down Museum, Camera Museum and Ghost Museum (pesky ghosts are everywhere).
I’m not a museum person, but did make an exception with Wonderfood. You guessed it, a food museum! The displays are all hand made out of some kind of silicon material and while some of he stands make for fun photos, there is an educational twist to the museum if you want that experience. Have a chat with the staff, and increase your knowledge. Penang is a foodie destination after all.
7. Go Hiking In The Hills
If you’re in George Town and look west, you’ll almost see greenery in the distance. Penang’s population in fairly dense in the urban areas, but they’ve still managed to preserve a lot of the island’s greenery. There’s a good dozen or so defined areas to explore if that’s all you want to do.
The favourite for most travellers is through Penang National Park with the goal of reaching Turtle Beach. I prefered the hikes up Penang Hill via the Moongate Trails. There’s lots of hikes of varying degrees of difficulty, at worst you head back the way you came and find an alternative route.
One thing I found weird hiking in Malaysia? There signage is minimal. It’s real frustrating, if you come to a fork they won’t give you any pro tips on what choice to make. So I always have my bible, Maps.me, on hand to figure out where to go.
8. Explore Little India
Little India is full of colour, noise, smells and all the other awesome senses associated with India. Having been to India, Little India in Penang isn’t too far off the mark with lots of restaurants, food carts on the street, uneven footpaths and cars squeezing down tight roads. It’s a heck of alot less dusty in this Little India though.
There are a few religious sites in Little India, but given you’re on a time constraint stick to walking up and down and different blocks and simple keep your eyes open and you’ll see random interesting stuff.
Eventually you won’t be able to go any further with the smell of all the food. I’d say your best bet is to simply walk into any restaurant that takes your fancy. Myself, I ate at Woodlands Vegetarian Restaurant at least every other day. The lentils donuts (vadai) are the best.
9. Eat All The Hawker Centers & Street Food
I’m pretty much the opposite of a foodie but the street food markets and bazaars are a fun place to hang out in Penang. Penang is a world class food spot, and that doesn’t mean a sting in your budget.
A few of my regular spots to eat were:
- Red Garden Hawker Centre, where every food stand has something they believe they’re famous for (you’ll see what I mean when you go)
- Sri Weld Food Court, where they have a solid number of options (anybody’s guess who is actually open each day)
- New Lane Hawker Centre, the more traditional street food set up with plastic tables and seat roadside
My buddies Claire and Rosemary are food experts if you want to know more about Malaysian food.
Go Have Fun In Penang!
That should be plenty of ideas for you to have anywhere from 24 – 48 hours of fun in Penang (I didn’t even mention the Cat Cafe).
I’m not head over heels in love with the city, but I liked the place enough to come back and will no doubt go back again. I think the biggest downside to me is the traffic, the city centre is easy to walk around but as soon as you want to go outside, it’s hard to predict how long it takes to get anywhere.
If you’re a fan of comedy/drama TV shows, check out episode seven of Gap Year (*cough* online streaming *cough*) which is filmed in Penang. Here’s a couple of fun facts that make the show even better, though I’m slightly biased..
Fun fact #1 one of the dorm rooms they show in the film is one I stayed in.
Fun fact #2 I was an extra in the first episode (which may or may not have been filmed in China).
This was a guest post from Jub from Tiki Touring Kiwi. Jub likes cats. Beyond that he’s been roaming around the world with minimal plans for a few years. He’s started to find some direction and is blogging over at Tiki Touring Kiwi about sports experiences around the world. If you’ve got any random sports experiences he should try, let him know on Facebook.