From vibrant street art to mouth-watering street food – it’s time to move Penang to the top of your travel list.
Rich with multicultural influences and ranked one of the best travel destinations for 2022 by CNN Travel, there’s no doubt Penang packs a punch. This tiny Malaysian island has a whole lot to offer — from street food so good locals consider it a reason to visit in its own right — to a UNESCO city centre dotted with eclectic tea houses, multicultural places of worship and famous street art.
Getting to Penang is simple. Most tourists opt to travel by air with Malaysia Airlines running regular flights to the island from Kuala Lumpur. An additional upside is that once you’ve finished exploring Penang, it’s easy to continue your adventures in Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi, Kuching or Kota Kinabalu.
Ready to dive in? Stay at this five-star Shangri-La beachfront oasis.
Explore UNESCO World Heritage-listed George Town
The eclectic buzz of Penang State’s capital reverberates through its colourful streets. Its tantalising mix of old, new and unique multicultural heritage earned George Town UNESCO status in 2008. Discover influences from Asia and Europe across the quaint shophouses, jetties, British colonial monuments, churches, temples and mosques. George Town’s popular street art scene creates perfect picture opportunities and is best enjoyed with the help of a local guide. Reward your explorations with a stop at one of the city’s many coffee shops or a delicious street food dish.
Eat your way through Chulia Street Night Market
Unofficially hailed the food capital of Malaysia, Penang is a culinary hotspot for locals, who will take weekend breaks here for the food alone. An unmissable treat for the tastebuds is Chulia Street Night Market in the heart of George Town. Pay a visit to its most popular stall, Mother and Son Wantan Mee, for its famous signature dish of rich, sauce-covered noodles, barbecued char siew pork and delicate dumplings. Not sure what to try next? If you spot a big queue at one of the stalls, it’s probably worth joining it. Don’t-miss dishes include lok lok skewers, popiah spring rolls and satay.
Experience rural life at Kampung Agong
Escape to Kampung Agong’s coconut orchard for a little respite from city life. The ‘agro theme park’ aims to immerse visitors in Penang’s rural heart amid its vast paddy fields. Take a moment by the floating lily pads, hop on a swing overlooking the surrounding greenery and stop to pet the friendly resident horses. Beautifully designed ‘birds' nests’ are dotted throughout the park and offer a perfect spot to sit down, take a break and snap a few pictures. If you want to take things up a (very gentle) notch, there’s also cycling, seasonal paddy harvesting and a fun family tram tour.
Hike at Penang National Park
It may be Malaysia’s smallest national park, but it’s still easy to spend a full day here discovering Penang’s lush wilderness. An easy bus ride from George Town takes visitors to its quiet beaches and dense forests filled with monkeys and flying lemurs. Head west towards Muka Head (approx. a two-hour trek) or choose to go south to Pantai Kerachut (approx. 90 minutes). Splash in the pools at Sungai Tukun, check out the local wildlife at Monkey Beach or take in the views and lighthouse (dating back to 1883) at Muka Head. Top tip: take plenty of water to beat the year-round heat.
Take a guided bicycle tour through Balik Pulau
Located at the southwest of the island, Balik Pulau is about as laidback as Penang gets. Vast rice paddies and rolling hills offer a chance to get closer to nature and find a slower pace of life. The best way to discover the quiet rice paddies of Balik Pulau is undoubtedly by bike. A guided tour will immerse you in local life and help you find hidden gems you may otherwise bypass. From vegetable farms to glimpses of the area’s history and watching fishermen by the riverbanks – this is an unmissable insight into rural Penang.
Visit a tea house and enjoy a cuppa
Penang’s tea houses offer a welcome opportunity to take a break while discovering its many multicultural influences. For a taste of Japan, visit Komichi Tea House, where the tea and matcha is sourced directly from Japan. Meanwhile, David Brown’s brings the best of British to Penang Hill with its manicured garden and traditional Devonshire cream tea, complete with fluffy English scones. For Chinese tea and dim sum, check out Bao Teck Tea House, where Asian treats are served amid mossy greenery (make sure to book in advance – Bao Teck gets busy).
Get your thrills at Snake Temple
Embrace your inner Indiana Jones at Penang’s famed Snake Temple (Hock Hin Keong). Built as a Buddhist place of worship in 1850, the temple soon became a place of shelter for venomous snakes from the surrounding region. These days, it’s rumoured the pit vipers and pythons here are released from cages every morning for the benefit of tourists – and some even believe they’ve been de-venomed to make the attraction safer. Either way, we’d recommend watching your step!
Looking for more inspiration? Check out Wild Beauty: The World's Most Luxurious Rainforest Retreats.