Penang Malaysia travel guide

Khoo Kongsi Clanhouse

There’s little wonder Penang has become such a draw for tourists in Malaysia as the historic island has a litany of sights worth exploring as well as breathtaking scenery and world class hospitality options. Plus with all the bounty of the sea on your doorstep there’s no excuse not to indulge in snorkelling excursions and then feast on platters of oysters, lobster and fish.

Penang attractions and sightseeeing

Penang is an island with a rich history having been a base for Portuguese traders from the 16th century and ceded to the British in 1786. It then became a favourite haunt of marauding pirates intent on plundering the wealth of ships transporting rubber, tea and spices through the treacherous Straits of Melaka. With the establishment of Singapore to the south Penang’s fortunes began to wane, but a modern resurgence on the back of tourism and technology industries has seen the state flourish once again.

The British East India company sanctioned the mass migration of different peoples from all over the empire to Penang to help with the establishment of the colony. These different communities, mainly from China and the subcontinent, have all left an indelible mark on the fabric of Malaysian society.

Different dialects and ways of life have been maintained by the influx and visiting these traditional communities and seeing their places of worship is a real treat. The Khoo Kongsi Clanhouse is a gaudy building which served as the communal hall for one of the ‘big five’ Hokkien clans of the island.

Few people who visit the island miss the opportunity to take a cablecar to the summit of Penang Hill, both for the awe-inspiring views and to escape the scorching heat for a short while. Popular attractions such as a mosque, snake show and Hindu temple await at the top. Fort Cornwallis is an 18th century British stronghold built in the shape of a star and housing a infamous Dutch cannon which is revered for promoting fertility.

Penang’s large Buddhist community consider Kek Lok Si Temple to be one of the holiest sites on the island and features exotic Buddha statues and a 120ft bronze statue of Kuan Yin. St George’s Church is the oldest Anglican place of worship on Penang with a grand statue of founding father Captain Sir Francis Light outside the front. Penang Museum and Art Gallery provides a fascinating insight into the early days of the settlement.

Penang activities and sports

Although simply lounging on the beach or around the pool is enough for many people on vacation in Penang, there are also many things for adventurous souls to try as well. Watersports is a massive draw with countless opportunities for jetskiing, parasailing and motorboating with fishing and diving excursions also extremely popular.

Scuba diving trips are easy to organise and the ocean surrounding the island is teeming with wrecks, reefs and diverse marine life. Penang National Park is filled with rare species of birds for avid twitchers whilst pony trekking and hiking expeditions can all be easy arranged. There are many golf courses in Penang where one can swing a club with cheap green fees and equipment rental.

Where to eat in Penang

Penang cuisine is an amalgam of all its different constituent cultures with spicy curries and noodle dishes commonly featuring seafood, coconut and lots of chilly. Plenty of choice is available in central Georgetown with street stalls offering quick and satisfying nibbles perfect for sightseeing tours, and the traveller joints around Lebuh Chulia serving large satisfying plates of pasta and burgers to ravenous backpackers. Batu Ferringhi is home to some of the plushest resorts with international restaurants to match. French, Italian and plenty of grilled seafood can be found here of five star quality.

Getting around Penang

Arriving into Penang is by air is simple as the airport is around half-an-hour from the major tourist centres of Georgetown or Batu Ferringhi. Taxis are easy to find all around the island but remember to agree a fare beforehand – drivers are obliged to use their metres but are universally reluctant to do so. For onward connections there is a bridge that reaches the mainland but taking a ferry is just as easy.