3 Days in Penang
Penang is a state in North West Malaysia which is located partly on the mainland and partly on an island. In this post, I want to talk about sightseeing in Penang Island.
How to get to Penang Island
Although it’s an island, it’s easily accessible from the mainland or by air. Penang has an airport which is located in the south of the island so you have the option to fly in. In fact, we arrived by train from Bangkok and took the ferry across from Butterworth. You can read about this trip here and I can recommend it as it was also great fun. Of course, you can also get to Penang from Kuala Lumpur and other places in Malaysia by train or by bus.
Where to stay on Penang Island
So, where is the best place to say for Penang sightseeing? Straightaway, I’d recommend staying in George Town. Basically, it’s the centre of the island’s transport network and you can easily get to anywhere on the island from here by bus or taxi. Also, the ferries arrive and depart in George Town which makes arriving and leaving so much easier. We arrived on the Butterworth ferry and then left on the ferry to Langkawi afterwards.
Of course, which hotel to stay in is a personal choice but we loved Muntri Grove hotel where we stayed. It’s a small boutique hotel with stunning rooms and a fabulous pool and it’s also very good value for money. You can read all about it in my review.
Penang Sightseeing for 3 Days in Penang
Day 1 – Explore George Town. Take a stroll around town.
Day 2 – Penang Hill. Hop on the bus to see more of the island.
Day 3 – Relax during the day followed by an evening Food Tour
Penang Sightseeing – Day 1
For our first day in Penang, we decided to spend some time walking around George Town. In fact, it was a fairly unstructured walk as it’s not that big and we just wanted to wander and get a feel for the place.
Penang Heritage Trail
We picked up a leaflet about the heritage trail in the lobby of our hotel so we decided to use it as a guide for exploring. Although we didn’t follow it completely as we wandered here and there we did make sure to see as many of the sights on it as possible. Above all, it gives you a fascinating insight into the historical buildings in George Town.
Everywhere you go while in George Town there are interesting buildings to see. In fact, the historic zone has 1700 historic buildings in around 100 hectares so plenty to see here.
So, here are some of the places we discovered en route.
Syed Alatas Mansion
As you can see, Syed Alatas Mansion was undergoing some refurbishment when we visited but it’s still an impressive building. It’s located on Armenian Street and inside you’ll also find the fascinating Islamic Museum.
Syed Alatas Mansion Practical Information
Opening Hours: 9.30 am to 6.30 pm
Entrance Fee: RM 3 (50p)
Official Website: http://www.pulaupinang.com/tag/syed-alatas-mansion/
Further along, Armenian Street is Yap Temple. This is a clan temple. Clans are an important part of Penang history and culture and so it is well worth exploring the various buildings and sights associated with them.
Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple
Then just across the road, you’ll find the small entrance to Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple. This is a traditional Chinese temple and although the entrance is rather understated, inside it is very impressive.
Hardly anyone was going inside but we were welcomed in by the people looking after it. There was no charge for exploring the temple although you can leave a donation to help with upkeep. It’s well worth taking the time to wander inside so you can admire the ornate decorations.
Also on Armenian street, this ornately decorated building is one of the Penang Clan Houses. It’s designed in a Chinese style although it has some British influences also. Inside is another museum with artefacts related to the clan’s rich history.
Central Fire Station
As you explore George Town you’re sure to come across this striking fire station. Central Fire Station was also known as Beach Street Fire Station, the street it sits on, for a while but reverted to its original name a few years ago. This historical building is actually still a working fire station and serves the surrounding area. However, it’s also a tourist attraction and if you wander inside you’ll see some display cabinets with information on its history. Central Fire Station was established in 1908 so is one of the oldest in Malaysia.
Also on Beach Street is Whiteways Arcade. This historic building caught my eye because the white walls make it feel so cool and inviting on a hot day. We wandered around this colonial building and enjoyed the cool environment. It is a fabulous space for various exhibitions and shows and there are also cafes, art galleries and shops.
George Town Street Art
As part of our walking tour, we also enjoyed spotting the different street art. Indeed, Georgetown Penang is a fabulous place for street art. Especially, look out for these metal sculptures which you’ll find all over town. Each one represents a different area of the city. They’re so creative and many are quite amusing too.
Our next major stop on this walking tour was Fort Cornwallis. It’s located on the esplanade with a superb view over the water to the mainland. The fort is one of the oldest structures in Penang and although some of the original walls no longer exist it is still an impressive structure.
In brief, Fort Cornwallis was built in 1786 and is named after Charles Cornwallis. Once inside you can explore a number of interesting structures and artefacts. Including this cannon and also the gunpowder magazine.
Fort Cornwallis Practical Details
Opening Hours: 9 am to 6.30 pm
Entrance Fees: 20 RM (approx £4)
Queen Victoria Clock Tower
Then, just outside the fort is the Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower. If you walk around while in George Town you’ll inevitably pass this distinctive structure which sits in the centre of a roundabout. It was commissioned in 1897 to commemorate the diamond jubilee and it is 60 feet high, one foot for each year of Victoria’s reign.
St George’s Anglican Church
At this point, we were on the way back to our hotel but we passed this striking white church so just had to pop in for a look. St George’s is an Anglican church and was built by the East India Company in 1817. In fact, it’s the oldest Anglican church in South East Asia.
So that’s it for day one of our Penang sightseeing tour. It’s a lot of walking in the heat so we enjoyed cooling off in the hotel pool before heading out for dinner.
Penang Sightseeing – Day 2
So, for our second day sightseeing in Penang, we decided to take a bus out of town and head for the hills. Indeed, the public bus system on Penang is excellent. It’s very cheap and the buses are also modern and air-conditioned. As well as getting you where you need to go, it’s a comfortable way to see a bit more of the island as you go.
So we caught bus 204 from near our hotel and headed to Penang Hill. When I was planning I worried that we might not know where to get off but it’s pretty obvious when you get there. In fact, Penang Hill is the turnaround point and you can see the funicular station as the bus pulls in. There’s a massive sign with Penang Hill written on it so you can’t miss it.
Firstly, take the funicular to the top of Penang Hill. A standard return ticket is 30 RM (£5) and you can pay extra for a fast lane ticket 80 RM (£15). It’s quite a lot more to avoid the queue and fortunately for us, it was very quiet on the day we visited so they didn’t even sell fast lane tickets.
Of course, you get some great views on the way up and it’s a really fun way to travel to the top of Penang Hill. Of course, the views are even better once you get to the top. Unfortunately, it was quite cloudy when we visited but we still had some fabulous views.
Firstly, we took some time wandering around the observation platform and taking photos. Afterwards, we walked further up the hill to the Habitat. This is a series of walkways through the rainforest and it is a really fabulous environment.
You walk through the treetops and then look down over the rainforest below. As I said, it was really quiet on the day we visited so we felt as though we had the place to ourselves which was amazing.
Curtis Crest Treetop Walk
For me, the highlight was unquestionably the massive circular elevated viewing platform called the Curtis Crest Treetop Walk. It stands at 13m tall and it is quite a climb up the staircase to reach the platform, especially in the Malaysian sun, but it’s worth it.
There is an extra fee for visiting the Habitat. It costs 55 Rm for adults (£10) but it’s well worth it.
Penang Sightseeing – Day 3
Then for our third day of sightseeing in Penang, we decided to start with a more leisurely approach. Of course, these 3 days in Penang were part of a month-long tour of Thailand and Malaysia so we needed some downtime occasionally. If you’re feeling more energetic there are still lots of other things to see on the island. So we spent the day relaxing by the pool at our hotel although we did take a walk around the neighbourhood to get a light lunch.
However, our main activity for today was a local food tour. I love to sample the local cuisine when we travel and a food tour is a great way to get insider tips on where to go.
Penang Food Tour
You can’t get a real feel for a place without sampling the local food. So, once again, we arranged a food tour to show us the must-eat places in George Town. I chose Penang Food Tours and arranged our tour by email. At the time of writing this, they are temporarily closed due to the pandemic so their website is unavailable but I hope they’ll be up and running again soon.
It was just us on this tour and we met our guide and driver outside a local mall. Our first stop was Penang Road and the Teochew Chendul restaurant. Apparently, it is normally packed and very hard to get a seat but our guide managed to find us a table.
We sampled a few dishes including a Penang curry with noodles. But you have to try the cendol as it’s a famous local dish. It’s a cold sweet dish made with rice but it’s quite unusual with some kind of bean and green noodles in it.
In the photo above you can see their serving kiosk with the separate ingredients ready. I don’t think we’d have eaten here if we just wandered by which is why you need a guide.
Above the restaurant is this fabulous piece of art. There is street art everywhere in George Town and I love how you find it in unexpected places.
For the next couple of hours, we whizzed all over George Town discovering new places to eat and sampling a lot of food. You certainly don’t go home hungry on this tour. Some of the places we stopped at were just small kiosks and I have no idea what they were called. So I’m just going to share some of my food photos with you to give you an idea of the variety of food in Penang.
One of the places I do remember well was our visit to the clan jetties. Here, we watched as delicious sweet and savoury snacks were made before sampling them. There are lots of these snack kiosks along the road bordering the jetties. As we sat and ate our snacks we saw locals pull up in their cars and take large bags of them away. It’s very popular.
We also had time for a quick walk around the jetties. These small communities have lots of houses, shops, businesses and they’re all built on stilts over the water.
Afterwards, we drove to a large market on the outskirts of George Town. This was great as we had a chance to look at the various stalls as well as sample some local pancakes. We also had iced coffee in a bag – yes really!!
We were pretty full by now but the food tour wasn’t finished. Next, we headed to an Indian restaurant to sample some of Penang’s’ international cuisine. Here we had some delicious iced drinks with lime. Very welcome as it was still hot even in the evening.
Then we sampled several different curries and dips along with traditional dosa and other traditional Indian bread.
If that all sounds like a lot of food then you’re right – it was! And actually, there was more. In between, we stopped at lots of little food stalls and sampled nuts, pastries and fruit. George Town has such a fabulous array of food options and it was great fun sampling them. We finished our food tour with a walk around the clan jetties to see them lit up at night.
So that is what we did for 3 days in Penang sightseeing. We had a great time and felt we saw plenty of Penang and still had time to chill a bit. Next, we head for the island of Langkawi.