A rich melting pot of Malay, Indian, Chinese and European cultures, Penang offers a captivating blend of East and West. Located off the northwest coast of Malaysia, this exotic island is known for its dynamic mix of contemporary flair and old-world charm.
Known as the Pearl of the Orient, Penang is home to stunning architecture, a cosmopolitan energy and a vibrant harmony of city and coast. This place is a foodie’s haven to boot, having long been regarded as the culinary capital of Malaysia.
The main hub and historic centre of Penang, George Town is the starting point for any sightseeing tour. A hive of activity, this bustling city is a fascinating mix of styles, cultures and stories. You’ll find mosques in Chinatown and Chinese temples in Little India, chic cafés alongside street food stalls, and British colonial architecture next to modern skyscrapers.
Set off with a curious eye and an empty belly and let George Town take you on an adventure. For something more relaxing, nearby Batu Ferringhi boasts a lovely beach surrounded by fragrant spice gardens and fruit farms.
Visit the butterfly farm and check out the night markets, which serve up delicious authentic food by the bucket load. The Penang Botanic Gardens, also known as the Waterfall Gardens, offer another tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle. Take some time out to explore the beautiful horticulture and stunning waterfalls.
Eat and Drink
Get set for excellent cheap eats – this is a city where street food is held in higher esteem than fine dining. Perhaps the most famous of traditional Penang dishes is asam laksa, a sour fish and tamarind soup. Noodle dishes are also popular, with must-eats including char kway teow (rice noodles with seafood), hokkien hae mee (an egg noodle and prawn soup) and laksa lemak (a rich and spicy coconut soup).
The traditional desert is ais kacang, a sweet fusion of jelly, coconut milk, shaved ice and red beans. You’ll find local specialties at street food stalls all over the city, while George Town is the obvious choice for restaurants.
For nightlife, the beachfront area of Batu Ferringhi offers a vibrant night market and several small bars, while Upper Penang Road in George Town is known for trendy bars, English pubs and big nightclubs.
Where to Stay
George Town is the most popular place to stay due to its vibrant atmosphere and proximity to Penang attractions, bars and restaurants. It also offers the most diverse range of accommodation options, from budget-friendly hostels to opulent heritage hotels.
Alternatively, Batu Ferringhi offers a white sandy beach, crystal clear waters, an excellent night market, action-packed water sports and resort-style hotels. It is, however, a tourist hotspot so it lacks culture. Those seeking a more authentic experience should head to George Town.
From independent stores and mega malls to vibrant street markets, Penang has you covered when it comes to retail therapy. The shopping hubs of Queensbay Mall, Gurney Plaza and Penang First Avenue Mall offer international brands and high street retailers along with entertainment and dining options.
The Komtar Tower and its adjoining Prangin Mall in central George Town offer local boutiques and shopping stalls. When you’ve had your fill of shopping, head to the observation deck on the 58th floor of the tower to take in amazing views across the city.
Perhaps Penang’s biggest retail draw card is its markets. The Batu Ferringhi Night Market stocks everything from clothing and jewellery to locally made handicrafts, while the Lorong Kulit Flea Market offers an eclectic range of goods, from second-hand books to quirky homewares.
Penang Like a Local
Dating back to 1890, historic Chowrasta Bazaar on Jalan Penang in George Town is a local institution. This bustling marketplace, which is bursting with vendors selling fresh meat, fish, spices, sweets and pickled fruits, is the perfect place to watch locals going about their daily business.