In 2009, when I first visited, I hunted in vain for a Penang Travel Guide. There was so little information available then which frustrated me enormously.  I had to use the old school way and carry a heavy book with me. Do you remember those days? Now I wouldn’t dream of it. All my travel info is digital and I’m sure that yours is as well. How the world has changed!

My primary reason for visiting Penang was to enjoy the amazing food on the island. I arrived late at night from Kuala Lumpur and checked into the beautiful Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion boutique hotel. I woke up in the early hours of the morning feeling queasy. I should never have had that chicken pie at the airport!. The next 2 days I was violently ill with food poisoning.

I had to at least try and see the island so I hired a driver for the day. I managed the morning and then I was done. Early the next day I flew out to Hanoi. I was bitterly disappointed. I had managed a bowl of very plain noodles during my stay and not much else. A few years later I was in KL with my husband. I was determined to visit Penang again, so off we went.

 

Chinese Lanterns Penang

Chinese Lanterns

The Penang Travel Guide

 

George Town

The British arrived in 1786 in the form of Captain Francis Light. The town that was established grew quickly as it was ideally situated on a trade route. Soon the Chinese and the India traders arrived with wares to sell. Naturally, their cultures and cuisine played a big role in the development of the town. These influences are still prevalent today and this fusion can be seen all over the island which makes it such a wonderful place to visit.

 

Heritage buildings Penang
Heritage buildings

 

Street Art

It’s no secret that I love street art and Penang doesn’t disappoint. It is a treasure trove just waiting to be explored. Expect the unexpected! There are wrought iron caricatures, painted walls and art installations all over the city. 52 Caricatures made of steel rods were commissioned. They tell tales about traditions and history and are also a lesson in the diverse culture of the island. Take time to read the descriptors as they are very good explanations of the work.

The city abounds with fabulous murals as well. These include works by Ernest Zacharevic and  Russian artist Julia Volchkova. The Penang Tourist office can provide you with an excellent map to help you hunt down all the best work.

 

Boy on a chair Penang
Boy on a chair

 

Street Art Penang
Street Art Penang

 

Coffee Culture

You can’t visit Penang and not have at least one “white coffee”.

White coffee was introduced by the Chinese migrants in the 19th century who came to work in the local tin mines. Legend tells of a Hainanese coffee roasting master who began roasting beans this way in the old town of Ipoh and the rest is history.

The term does not refer to the colour of the coffee, but rather the way that the beans have been roasted in margarine which intensifies the caramel flavour and results in a lighter coloured bean.

You will find outlets all over the island to relax and savour the delicious toasty, nutty coffee. You can even buy some to take home with you to transport you back to your island holiday when you having a tough day at the office.

 

Penang white coffee
Penang white coffee

 

 

The Penang Heritage Trail

Georgetown, the capital city, has around 12 000 old buildings and was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008.

The Penang Heritage Trail covers the heart of the old town. Most of the buildings are clustered around the historic Lebuh Achen area so it is quite easy to explore.

You can get a good map for the trail from the tourist offices. There is so much to see, but obviously, depending on your level of interest you can spread it over 2 days or just a couple of hours. A good place to start the trail is in Armenian Street. This was used as a setting for an old musical film called Anna and the King. Its exotic charm is perfect for a movie.

 

Transport Penang Style
Transport Penang Style

 

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

I have to mention this hotel again as it forms part of the Heritage Trail. Having stayed here previously I can highly recommend a tour of this beautiful old mansion.The interior is ornate with a gorgeous courtyard in the centre of the building. There are daily tours if you are keen to find out a bit more of the history of this stunning house and have a peek at what life must have been like at the beginning of the 19th century for an extremely wealthy merchant.

 

Blue Mansion Penang
Window detail Cheong Fatt Tze

 

The Clan Jetties

The Clan Jetties are also part of the Heritage Trail. These are unique Chinese settlements that have been around since the 1880’s. There were 7 different Clans jetties, but one was destroyed by fire. I found them vaguely interesting, but not particularly exciting. People still live here so you need to respect their privacy as they go about their daily life.

 

Visit Fort Cornwallis

The fort was built in the late 18th Century, by Francis Light, to defend the island. It was originally built out of timber, but after the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars, it was decided to convert it to stone at a cost of USD 80 0000 in 1810.It’s a good place to learn about the history of the island, but if I am honest it didn’t rock my boat either.

 

Fort Cornwallis Penang
Fort Cornwallis

 

Little India

You can be forgiven for thinking that you have been transported to Mumbai. Little India is colourful with bright saris, Bollywood music and the aroma of curry and spice wafting on the breeze. I loved this part of town and would have liked to spend more time exploring. We did find time to sample some snacks from the hawkers. If you like Indian food head for a restaurant and indulge.  For sweet treats try Gulab Jamun ( an Indian doughnut) dripping in syrup, Kesar Peda ( fudge) and my favourite, kulfi which is a very sweet ice-cream.

 

Street food in Little India Penang
Indian Street Food

 

Tropical Spice Garden

The garden was originally an abandoned rubber plantation. It is spread across 8 acres of jungle and it took 18 months to complete. As the name suggests the emphasis is on spices and houses more than 500 different types of trees and plants. You can do a tour, a night walk or take a cooking class in the gardens surrounded by the jungle.

 

Spice Garden Penang
Spice Garden

 

Gurney Drive

This beautiful road snakes along the ocean. If you fancy a walk then this is the perfect spot to take in the views and watch the sunset. This area is also known for very good hawker food at the hawker centre.

If you are in need of retail therapy then you can pop into Gurney Plaza or Gurney Paragon where you will find all the international brands as well as some interesting local shops.

 

Dharmikarama Burmese Temple

This is one of the largest Buddhist temples on the island. The Burmese population of the island worship here. It is the only one of its kind outside Myanmar. It is colourful, ornate and worth a visit if you have the time. Built in 1805 look out for the two Panca Rupa, or mythical creatures, that are the guardians and protectors of the world.

 

Interior Burmese Temple Penang
Burmese Temple Penang

 

Relax at Batu Ferringhi

We stayed not too far from this beach. It is a hive of activity with restaurants lining the strip and a night market. It is a wonderful spot for a cocktail as you watch the sunset.

There is also a hawker centre selling divine street food. They have a huge selection of local favourites. I loved char kway toay, a local noodle dish with shrimp, cockles, lap cheong ( Chinese sausage), egg, bean sprouts, chives and soy sauce. It is such a unique taste I was hooked! Another delicious dish to try is the oyster omelette and of course Laksa, which has a totally different taste to anywhere else in Malaysia.

 

Batu Ferringhi Penang
Batu Ferringhi

 

Hopefully, this Penang Guide has inspired you. If you are a foodie, or a history buff, or just looking to chill Penang is the perfect getaway. If you are in  Kuala Lumpur it is a short journey to paradise so don’t miss out!

 

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22 COMMENTS

  1. Yes I remember those days of big heavy guide books, I am happy that those days are gone. Firstly, blogs make it so much easier now to find guides written by real travellers, I can make sure I look for those by bloggers with similar interests to me, and of course they are often more up to date. I did stop once in KL on a cruise but we only had a few hours there, so I’d love to go back. Like you, I’d want to see cultural sights as well as really focus on the cuisine. Bookmarking this for when I can make that happen!

    • I hope that you do have an opportunity to visit. Certainly, if you like food and culture Penang has so much to offer. It is a fascinating place and the people are really friendly and keen to share their heritage with you.

  2. What a shame your first visit to Penang was ruined by food poisoning! But great that you were able to go back and remedy that. The Penang Heritage trail sounds great – with such an interesting history and such diverse influences. I would be interested to try the white coffee, although being roasted in margarine sounds, umm, interesting! Heck, if it tastes good, I’d try it! I’ve not been to Malaysia, but would visit Penang for sure.

  3. I would love to visit Penang one day. With the vibrant mix of cultures in the colonial city of Georgetown, world class food and gorgeous beaches there is something for everyone. I would love to take a cooking class in the spice garden!

  4. This is the first I have heard about white coffee. We are huge coffee fans so we are for sure going to check that out. I always imagined coffee was dry roasted but I could see margarine imparting flavor and perhaps removing some of the bitterness.

    • It is a totally different taste.It is rich and rounded without any harsh notes. Sometimes, I find that it can be really sweet as well so you have to check first unless you like sweet coffee 🙂

  5. So I went to Penang as part of a cruise and got only 8 hours to spend in the city which I obviously felt wasn’t enough. But I am so happy to see that you’ve listed Georgetown at the top of your list, especially the street wall art because luckily I did go there and absolutely loved it! I would’ve liked to go for the Heritage Trail if I had more time, it looks interesting. The food though, oh my God, the food was amazing!!

  6. The tropical spice garden looks amazing! I would love to do a cooking class – one of my favourite things to do when traveling! It gives you such a glimpse into the unique, exotic cuisines. Thanks for this awesome compilation of recommendations when visiting beautiful Penang!

  7. Penang is so colorful. I’m falling in love with this city. And those street art? I wonder what it’ll feel like if I bumped into them. I’m all for coffee too, looks like Penang is my type of city. Thanks for the guide; I’ll add this city to my list.

  8. I’m so glad your second time around was so much better than the first! I’ve heard so much about the street art in Penang, I think that and the food make it definitely worth the trip. I think taking a cooking class in the garden would be a lot of fun too!

    • I also enjoy taking a cooking class. The people are always amazing and you get such an insight into the culture as well as the food. The setting naturally is a bonus as well.

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