Enticing Penang is a hype of activity and very different to the rest of Malaysia…
Getting to Penang
The Terminal Bersepadu Selatan (TBS) bus station is extremely busy and similar to a bustling airport – people and craft coming and going every 5 minutes.
When you purchase your ticket at this station for the Kuala Lumpur to Penang journey, make sure you ask the ticket office the actual name of the bus. Never assume that if the company is the Etika Express then the bus is named the same.
Purchasing the tickets for the 5-hour journey for the Etika Express, we discover that the bus is named the “Seasons” and we nearly missed the bus. Luckily, I checked with another passenger on the same platform for the bus to Penang.
A little on Penang
Laying by the busy Malacca Strait, Penang is densely populated with a diverse background in religion, culture, and language.
This melting pot is a delight to explore.
Dating back 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, Penang became a British colony in 1867 and strategically important during WWII.
Wander Georgetown’s historical streets and discover beautiful colonial architecture. See Penang before its elegant buildings fade into history and are over-run by concrete high rises.
Bumped into a few shops with unusual items for sale…
What to see
Spend several days in the gorgeous World Heritage-listed Georgetown and discover its unique and wonderful restored architecture.
Or just amble along the alleyways and seek a different Georgetown in the back streets…
The street art in Penang is dazzling and breathtaking.
Some art incorporates 3-dimensional scenes with actual bicycles or iron-work and people in varying wall canvases.
Murals emerge from around every corner to grab your attention – you simply can’t walk past these famous murals.
Try to be patient (I’m not) when taking photos of street art as these are also very popular with the local tourists, which love having many photos taken.
Perbadanan Muzium Negeri Kelantan
The Perbadanan Muzium Negeri Kelantan WW11 Memorial is a great respite from the heat and houses an informative display of this era, including some outside displays of aeroplane parts and turrets.
On Pulau Pinang’s northeastern tip along the seafront, Fort Cornwallis was built in the 1700s and it’s worth a stroll around these wonderful metre-thick walls. A small stone church is hidden inside the fort.
The history and also restoration of the Fort are documented with faded photographs and text.
It’s also pleasant just walking around the grounds surrounded by this wonderful history in a picturesque setting with sea views, but bring the mosquito repellent as they’re fierce here!
Tried to find one of the world’s largest reclining Buddha’s, the Wat Chayamanangkalaram as apparently, it’s a spectacular sight to behold.
Sadly, after walking around 10 kilometres away from the city in the scorching heat, asking several times in broken Thai (no one understands us), tempers fraying, we give up!
Trying to return to the city with buses whizzing past but not stopping, and after walking a very long way, finally, a bus driver takes pity on a couple of dishevelled tourists and stops – our feet are saved.
Take your camera to Tan Jetty in the Pengkalan Weld district.
You won’t be disappointed with the ever-changing traditional scenes of local life.
Strolling through the winding timber jetty, homes and unusual tiny wooden shops are shaded from the sultry heat and makes for a shadowy atmosphere.
The only colourful building along the jetty…
Traditional fishing boats moored in the channel.
Kapitan Keling Mosque
Established in the early 1800s, the impressive Kapitan Keling Mosque was enlarged in 1930, as the original design was ‘deemed impractical’.
Where to sleep
Georgetown offers an abundance of hotels and guesthouses at varying prices.
Inside converted mansions, and shops is where you find accommodation with quaint courtyards and colonial fit-outs. And of course, some accommodation is in better condition than others. Throughout SE Asia it seems that the facades and lobbies are much better than the actual rooms.
The Heritage Lodge in Georgetown is pricey for the type of accommodation offered and quite noisy.
The price includes a communal breakfast. If you’re not an early riser, then you miss out or pick up the crumbs left by other lodgers as nothing is replenished. The upside is that there is always a plethora of eating stalls and restaurants open in Malaysia offering delicious alternatives, so go out and explore for breakfast.
Where to eat
Penang is host to diversity and deliciousness when it comes to food. A profusion of exotic flavours arouse the senses and drives any stomach to hunger.
Georgetown is famous for its hawker stalls, which are abundant, cheap, and serve up delicious food.
Assam Laksa is famous here and locals travel from afar just to savour this dish here in Georgetown. So, make sure you try this before you leave as it is simply delicious.
Kompleks Makanan Medan Renong
Kompleks Makanan Medan Renong seafront food markets on Jalan Tun Syed Shah Barakah is recommended in a couple of the guide books. I’m not impressed as the same meals and quality is offered throughout the markets so not much variety. The chicken satay sticks accompanied with a stingy amount of peanut sauce is very tasty.
Red Garden Food Paradise
This food paradise serves up a selection of scrumptious local and western food at cheap prices.
Order the chicken and fried rice, which comes with a small bowl of soup for a minimal amount or choose from even cheaper or much more expensive meals. Be aware, the beer isn’t cheap.
The Armenian House offers wonderful coffee but it isn’t cheap. Yummy toasted sandwiches and cakes served in a lovely ambience by great staff.
A tiny stall along 78 Armenian Street makes shaved ice into a condensed hard ice ball. Two or more types of syrup are poured over the ice ball and skewered so that you can pick this up and suck or crunch into the ice ball.
An excellent way to cool down on a sweltering hot day in Penang.
Try the Indian restaurant/café on Jalan Penang (up from the Oriental Hotel). Loads of cheap delicious and great Indian dishes available at super cheap prices. Pick from ready-made dishes or order freshly made ones from the menu. Fast service by very friendly staff at this very busy restaurant frequented by both locals and tourists.
Understandably, Malaysia is conservative when it comes to serving alcohol, drinking, bars, and nightclubs. Penang however, seems to be the exception to the rule. You can buy almost anything on the island.
Just a side note: – it’s well-known that Malay men frequent Thailand’s Hat Yai border crossing for “entertainment”.
Travelling by bus to Thailand from Penang Island is easy.
Organise a mini-bus to Hat Yai – Thailand’s border – from the many agents in the Komtar Mall in Georgetown.
The border crossing (checking-out of Malaysia and checking-in to Thailand) is included in this 3-hour journey. You are granted a 30-day free visa, on arrival in Thailand.
Once in Hat Yai, expect a wait of around 2 hours for the connecting mini-bus to Phuket Town, which takes around 6.5-hours and is also included in the ticket purchased in Malaysia.
Going to miss the amazing food in Malaysia. Although, as I love Thai food, then I also can’t wait to eat my way around Thailand. Food is a passion!