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Updated as of January 2020
Summary: This blog details a comprehensive budget travel guide for Penang, Malaysia which includes a DIY itinerary good for 3 to 5 days. It shares some of Penang’s top tourist attractions that are FREE of charge, options on how to get to each tourist spot by public transport, travel tips, and a list of recommended budget-friendly accommodations. Further, this Penang blog is intended for first time travelers either solo, family or traveling in group.
PENANG AT A GLANCE
Situated northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia, some 5-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur – PENANG steadily cuts to the edge of tourism forefront over the years giving other major destinations in Malaysia a run for their money, as it is formidably capable to do so for not only that it has a tapestry of long interesting history and a unique culture that ties together the east and west, it also enjoys a food scene that serves its ever dynamic market, an impressive display of eye-gripping tourist attractions, a vibrant neighborhood, and an economy to back up and hold these altogether!
Penang is the second smallest state in Malaysia by land mass, but it prides itself for having one of the nation’s highest population density. It is divided into two parts: Penang Island, which is connected to the mainland via Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah bridge, the longest in Southeast Asia; and Seberang Perai which takes up the majority of Penang’s land area.
Of the two, tourists crowd more at Penang Island, specifically at George Town, its capital where you can find a high-spirited neighborhood that celebrates culture diversity as proven on its well-anchored historic districts. Not to mention, George Town is the very place that made Penang a food and street art mecca that it is known today.
Read on and get excited of the small and big things that made Penang a broad spectrum of tourism delights!
QUICK FACTS ABOUT PENANG
Here are pieces of information you need to know about Penang:
- Pulau Pinang or simply Penang was the first foothold of British East India Company as it attempted to form a trade relation in the Malay Peninsula back in the day.
- George Town, Penang’s capital and a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a melange of culture that perfectly blends in Indian, Chinese, Malay, Melaka, Singaporean, and British influences that are evident from its food and custom.
- Unlike other citizens in Malaysia, the locals in Penang are called Penangites.
- Penang is every day summer, with a temperature ranging from 72 to 84 fahrenheit and around 80% humidity all year round.
- Penang has put forward a heavy nature conservation effort and was the first Malaysian state to launch the “No Plastic Bag Day” campaign.
HOW TO GET TO PENANG
Getting to Penang By Air: The state of Penang has an international airport located 20 kilometers south of George Town which services an extensive list of domestic and international destinations across Asia, via the following carriers:
- Malaysian Airlines
From Penang International Airport, you can get to Georgetown for about 30 minutes or at the nearby areas on a taxi, Uber, Grab or by taking a Rapid bus route 102 which stops over at Teluk Bahang and KOMTAR and routes 401 and 401E at Weld Quay.
Getting directly to Penang By Land and Water is possible from major destinations in Malaysia, and some provinces and cities in Thailand and Singapore as sampled below, either on a bus, train, taxi or ferry.
- Johor (bus)
- Langkawi (ferry)
- Malacca (bus)
- Perak (bus)
- Phuket (bus)
- Koh Tao (bus and ferry)
- Koh Phi Phi (bus and ferry)
Singapore at the Golden Mile Complex (bus)
Book online or find available transport (plane, ferry, bus and train) from your location to Penang using the search box below:
Most of these trips disembark at Butterworth terminal. To get to George Town, you can take a connecting ferry which is only a walking distance from the terminal, travel time is around 15 minutes; or charter a taxi which comes with a steep price considering the distance difference and the traffic situation especially during the rush hour.
How to Get Around Penang
Buses are the most effective form of transport to get around Penang and its major tourist attractions including Penang Hill, Kek Lok Si temple and Botanic Gardens. A 10-minute travel time on a bus costs around 2RM.
If you are in a hurry and don’t want to wait for a bus, getting on a taxi would be a good alternative. However, you must know that most of the taxis around Penang don’t use a meter and might ask for a steeper price than usual.
If you plan to travel only around George Town, a bicycle-for-rent or a human-powered trishaw would serve as better options as they are a chill and fun way to explore the city. Bike rental for a day would cost around 10 to 20RM while trishaws can be chartered as a tour for at least 50RM an hour, from any rental shops around Georgetown.
TOP ATTRACTIONS IN PENANG
The top tourist spots in Penang are grouped into two: the ones inside Georgetown and the others that are found outside the city.
Here are the most interesting tourist spots inside GeorgeTown, Penang that can be covered in a full day on a bike or trishaw tour:
PENANG STREET ART
The street art of Penang at Old town has been a major come on to tourists when visiting around the vibrant city center of George Town. Not only that it gives color to the soiling walls, it also evokes a powerful message about the history and life of each street – at Jalan Penang, Muntri Street, Weld Quay, Lebuh Leith, Armenian Street and Ah Quee Street among others.
The murals are commissioned by London-trained Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, local artist Desmond Yeo and other notable artists in Penang. Among the highly praised art pieces are the “Little Girl In Blue”, “Children in a Boat”, “Boy on a Bike” and “Little Boy with Pet Dinosaur”
To get around the street art of Penang on a tight schedule, it is highly suggested to go on a trishaw tour which costs around 50 to 80RM per hour. It is efficient than going on a bike as the drivers know the streets well and can easily identify which among the murals tourists likely to visit.
The floating village on stilts of the seven Clan Jetties at the Penang ferry terminal has been one of the most sought-after sights at Georgetown for its historical and cultural value. The settlement which gives a glimpse of the way of life of Chinese clans in the early 1900s has been recognized as one of the last bastion and features some of the well-kept custom of old Chinese.
The long promenade along with the old floating houses are the most significant sights to visit while in this area. The Clan Jetties are part of the Penang’s heritage trail which stretches from its coastal area to Lebuh Chulia near Kapitan Keling mosque, down to Pengkalan Weld Quay where a Chinese and Indian temple are seated together, side by side.
The Jetty Clan Pier can be found along Pengkalan Weld which can be accessed on foot when you are around the city center. specifically around 10 minutes from Komtar. RapidPG buses that stop over the ferry terminal are 307 and 401E.
KAPITAN KELING MOSQUE
Kapitan Keling mosque at Jalan Buckingham which sprawls to an area of 18 acres has been the center of Muslim devotion around GeorgeTown. It consists of arches that surround its outer passageway. At its center is a shining chandelier that assist an already glamorized prayer hall.
Visitors need permission from the mosque officials to enter; and are required to wear clothes that well cover the body. Kapitan Keling mosque is open daily from 9:30AM to 5:30PM. After you visit, check out the nearby St. George’s church, the oldest Anglican-built church in Southeast Asia.
CHEONG FATT TZE MANSION
Cheong Fatt Tze or the Blue Mansion built in the 1880s is home to “The last Mandarin and first Capitalist of China”, Cheong Fatt Tze. The mansion which is located at Leith street features 38 rooms, 5 courtyards, 220 frame windows and an edifice built in traditional Hakka–Teochew style.
Cheong Fatt Tze has been highly recognized as one of the three UNESCO heritage award-winning buildings. Guests are permitted entrance on a guided tour good for one hour on these timings 11:00AM to 12:00PM, 2:00PM to 3:00PM and 3:30PM to 4:30PM. Admission fee is 16RM per person.
Rating : 3/5
The “Crown Jewel” of Georgetown, Khoo Khongsi is home to one of the original five big Chinese clan associations that ruled the Hokkein community in 1906, which lineage can be traced as far back as 600 years ago.
The clanhouse was commissioned at the height of Khoo’s prominence by notable craftsmen from China. It stands on a granite carved in embellishments that portray a birthday, wedding and some important life events. Its interior is decorated with massive paper lamps that glow in red orange, especially at night.
Khoo Khongsi is open daily from 9:00AM to 5:00PM and collects a 10RM for entrance. It is located at Cannon Square, Georgetown.
KUAN YIN TEMPLE
The oldest temple in Penang, Kuan Yin temple which was built in the 1700s for religious and social functions, has been considered as the most magnificent Chinese temple in all Georgetown.
The temple was constructed at an estimated cost of 4,000 Spanish dollars, a princely price around its time. It was built in honor of the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin and to the patron saint of seafarers, Ma Chor Poh.
The old temple is located at Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, at a near distance of a mosque and St. George church. Opening hours is from 5:00AM to 6:00PM. The temple is free of admission fee.
HAN JIANG ANCESTRAL TEMPLE
The Teochew-style temple of Han Jiang was built in 1885 in honor of the Taoist God of the North. It is designed with a small central courtyard in a square gable roof. It’s inner temple which serve as a keeping place for some ancestral tables of deceased Theochews is accessed through three doors with a dragon statue on its archway.
Among the important attractions in the temple are the Hall of Respect and the fraternity signboard. The temple is located at Chulia street and is open to visitors from 8:00AM to 9:00PM for free.
QUEEN VICTORIA CLOCK TOWER
The Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower is one of the tangible evidences of western influence in Penang. It was commissioned in 1897 as tribute to Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The tower sits 60 feet high, a number signifying Queen Victoria’s reign.
The Clocktower is located south of Fort Cornwallis, at the intersection of Light Street, Lebuh Pantai and King Edward’s Place and can be accessed on foot from anywhere in the city.
The star-shaped bastion Fort Cornwallis was built in 1786 and has since recognized as the largest standing fort in all of Malaysia. The place is easily identifiable with all its cannons installed at every corner of its wall. At its open interior are prison cells, barracks and some munition storage areas.
Fort Cornwallis is located at Lebuh light and is open to visitors from 09:00AM to 6:30PM daily. Entrance fee is 20RM.
Other top tourist attractions outside Georgetown are as follows, which can be visited in 1 to 2 days:
The protected area of Penang hill is located some 6 kilometers away from Georgetown which covers the Western hill, Bukit Laksamana, Tiger and Government hills to a close 900 meters above ground level.
Penang Hill has been considered as the first colonial hill station in Peninsular Malaysia and has been welcoming tourists of its cool climate and a fascinating view of Penang’s city and landscape. Among the notable sections in Penang Hill are the Canopy Walk, the dense jungle that gives a viewing point of the nearby hillside, and the 2000-meter track that carries tourists in and out of this beautiful tourist attraction.
To get to Penang Hill, take a 201 bus at Georgetown Jetty from 5:30AM to 11:30PM, the bus leaves every 30 minutes. Travel time is close to an hour, fare is 2RM. Entrance fee is 30RM.
KEK LOK SI
Near Penang Hill is another wondrous tourist attraction that is carved on rock at the highlands of Penang, Kek Lok Si – a temple complex that features heavenly pavilions, monasteries, prayer halls, courtyards, gardens and temples which are relatively Buddhist; it is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. On your visit, pay attention to the historic relics that are safely kept in the archives.
Kek Lok Si is situated at Air Itam some three kilometers from Georgetown. To get there, take a 203 or 204 bus; fare is 2RM, travel time is around 30 minutes. You will drop off at the terminal station of Air Itam, take a short walk to the base of the temple and start exploring. Entrance fee is 2RM, incline lift is also 2RM.
AVATAR SECRET GARDEN
The pandora-inspired Avatar Secret Garden is a mesmerizing tourist spot at Tanjung, Tokong near Thai Pak Koong temple. The secret garden transforms into a magical place at night, at exactly 7:30PM, with all its shimmering LED lights draping around the branches of trees filling in almost all of the area.
You can take a Grab or Uber to get to Avatar Secret Garden in a short ride. Entrance is free though the garden collects 3RM for parking. Opening hours is 8:00AM to 12:00AM daily.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN PENANG
For a small state, Penang is surprisingly a haven of the best and most interesting tourist sights in Malaysia, and possibly in the nearby region. Depending on your days of stay, feel free to do all these top activities when paying a visit to Penang:
Track down the artistic murals of Penang Street. Whether you do it on foot, on a bicycle or on a guided-trishaw tour, the street art of Penang which accounts to 30 different masterpieces that are spread out from Jalan Penang down to Clan Jetty is an amusing way of enjoying a day in Georgetown. Have fun, take your most creative shot and play around in the best way you can with the murals!
Get lost at the neighboring historic districts of Georgetown, from Little India, to the colonial buildings and old Chinese manors. Penang infuses eastern and western culture. At one point you find yourself heading to an Indian neighborhood, and suddenly, as you take a turn, you are brought to an old Chinese temple. It’s part of the beauty of the city that you surely would marvel on!
And yes, as far as culture and history go, Penang is one that reflects diversity. Catch a unique view at Harmony Street with all these different places of worship juxtaposed to each other: the Masjid Kapitan Keling mosque of the muslim people, Khoo Kongsi and Kuan Yin Temple of the Chinese, St. George’s Church of the Anglicans, and the Sri Mahamariamman temple of the Hindus. Diverse, right?
Surely not to miss are the interactive museums that also raise the banner of entertainment in this already jam-packed city. You can start at 3D Trick Art Museum, then to the Wonderfood, and end it either with Ghost Museum or the UpsideDown museum. There are plenty of choices for you and your family!
Lastly, the FOOOOOOD! Penang is widely celebrated as a food paradise for its local cuisine. Head out to Chulia street at 6PM and feast on every food stall and trendy cafe that swarm its full stretch. Try the best known Penang dish, Assam Laksa or Mee Goreng, Char Kway Teow, Hokkien Hae Mee and all of its noodle dish. Of course, teh tarik, a hot milk tea beverage, is a must try at Little India.
PENANG DIY ITINERARY
Below is a sample DIY itinerary for 3 days that would cover the best of Penang, Malaysia – particularly its capital, Georgetown. The proposed budget in the itinerary assumes a party of two and will set back an amount of 341RM+ per person which includes expenses for food, transportation, and tour activities only.
Things to note for this sample Penang DIY itinerary:
- If you have a limited time and are tight on budget, Penang can be enjoyed by just going on a bicycle for 10RM per day around Georgetown and marvel at its Street art, visit the Clan Jetty and old temples that are free of charge.
- You will take on the same bus to get from Kek Lok Si to Penang Hill, distance is around 3 kilometers.
- Penang is generally humid and searing in heat especially at noon time. When going around on a bicycle, make sure to apply some sunblock and carry a bottle of water to keep yourself from exhaustion.
DAY ONE (budget per person: 85RM)
|Penang Street Art on a bicycle||08:00AM||10RM|
|Kapitan Keling Mosque||2:00PM||–|
|Han Jiang Ancestral temple||3:00PM||–|
|Kuan Yin Temple||4:00PM||–|
|Dinner at Chulia Street Hawker||06:00PM||15RM|
|Avatar Secret Garden||08:00PM||15RM|
|Back to Georgetown for Dinner||10:00PM||20RM|
Look for more Klook discounted tours for Penang and other major destinations in Malaysia using the search box below. Type the destination and click “search”.
DAY TWO (budget per person: 125RM)
|Sunrise at Clan Jetty||08:00AM||10RM|
|Queen Victoria Clock Tower||10:00AM||–|
|Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion||11:00AM||16RM|
|Kek Lok Si||01:00PM||5RM|
|Penang Hill at Sunset||06:00PM||32RM|
|Back to Georgetown for Dinner||08:00PM||17RM|
DAY THREE (budget per person: 131RM)
|Penang 3D Trick Art Museum||09:00AM||25RM|
|Historical Districs on a bicycle||03:00PM||10RM|
WHERE TO STAY IN PENANG
Much of the action in Penang is concentrated in Georgetown so it would make perfect sense to choose an accommodation in the area, as it also provides a good option for backpackers and budget travelers.
Here are some of the affordable and top-rated accommodations in Georgetown, Penang.
Other recommended budget hostels and dormitories in Georgetown, Penang:
- Third Street station (dormitory). Click here for rate and availability.
- Rainbow House (economy double room). Click here for rate and availability.
- Great Shanghai Guesthouse (dormitory). Click here for rate and availability.
- Just Inn (double room). Click here for rate and availability.
A good number of locals in Penang, Malaysia understand English. But the better way to communicate with them is by using basic Malaysian phrases that they could easily understand. Here are some that proved to be useful.
Good Morning – Selamat Pagi
Good afternoon – Selamat tengah hari
Good evening – Selamat petang
Thank you – Terima kasih
How much? – Berapa harga
EXTEND YOUR TRIP
Four hours away from Penang by bus is Malaysia’s capital – Kuala Lumpur. Click the link below for the DIY budget travel guide.
Eight hours away by bus is Johor Bahru, the nearest Malaysian city from Singapore. Explore its family-oriented attractions, from Legoland to Hello Kitty town and Angry Birds Activity Park. This blossoming major tourist attraction is a great offering after a Penang or KL trip.
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