Penang is amongst my favourite vacation destinations in Malaysia, and this is probably because the lifestyle this city offers feels exactly like in my hometown: Kuching.
Located in the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia, Penang, previously known as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, has a population of about 1.6 million people, mainly Chinese, Malays and Indians.
Penang itself is divided into two parts: Georgetown on the island and Buttleworth on the mainland. According to local history, Penang got its name from the betel nut, known as Pinang in the local language. Malaysian people in fact call it Pulau (island) Pinang.
Usually, when we talk about Penang, two things come straight to mind: food and cultural heritage. Thus, I’m going to share with you notions about interesting places to visit in Penang, places that I have visited and recorded in my several visits to the island during the past 3 years.
1. Penang Hill
Penang Hill, in local language called ‘Bukit Bendera’, has been the first colonial hill-station built in Peninsular Malaysia. Standing at the top of a hill and facing the sea, Penang Hill is about 6 kilometer from Georgetown. Reaching a height of 812 meters above the sea, Penang Hill is one of the coldest areas of Penang, reaching as low as 5 degree-temperature. However, these temperatures cannot defeat those of Cameron Highlands, Genting Highlands, Kundasang, Borneo Highland and Fraser Hill, known as the coldest in Malaysia.
Back to history, Penang Hill was ‘discovered’ by Francis Light, the founder of Penang as a British Colony as a British weapon storage for the Eastern trade. Indeed an iconic British figure who played a major role in making Penang what it is today; and since he missed so much his favourite fruit, strawberries, for they could not grow in the tropical heat, he brought with him some strawberry seedlings which he planted near his house on the hill. From that day hence, the ridge on top of Penang Hill has been known as Strawberry Hill.
As for today, Penang HIll functions both as a strawberry farm and as a tourist attraction, since the height gives tourists a better view over Georgetown. I must tell you that view over the town is indeed mesmerizing.
To get to the top of Penang Hill, you can either:
- hop on the Penang Hill Railway. Built in 1923, this is one of the oldest funicular systems, with a 2km long track and a climbing time of 30 minutes bottom to top.
- drive up with a private road with entry from Penang Botanical Gardens.
Penang Hill can be visited daily from 6,30 am to 11 pm. For more click on http://www.penanghill.gov.my
2. Kek Lok Si Temple
Kek Lok Si Temple is only a few minutes drive from Penang Hill. Located in the Air Itam area, this temple was originally built in 1891 and is the biggest Buddhist temple ever built in Malaysia. Thanks to its size, its location on a hilly area and an enormous statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin, I can guarantee you won’t miss it since it can be easily spotted from the road.
I visited this place only once, back in 2013; my friend and I drove up the hill via the road provided. I found Kek Lok Si Temple to be really huge, commanding impressive views. The compound includes the entrance, shops, gardens, temples and a prayer hall. For more information click on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kek_Lok_Si
3. Penang Botanical Gardens
The only gate to Penang Hill is the Penang Botanical Gardens, known as ‘Taman Botanical’. It is situated in a valley along Jalan Kebun Bunga. The whole gardens area has a very well-managed landscape that consists of plenty of exotic plant species. This garden was set up in 1884 by Englishman Charles Curtis, appointed Assistant Superintendent by the gardens Superintendent, Nathaniel Cantley. Penang Botanical Gardens has 12 sections; amongst the most interesting are the Formal Garden, the Lily Pond, the Perdana Plant and the Cactus House.
If you plan a visit here, do know that there are monkeys surrounding the area. You are reminded not to touch monkeys for safety reason. For more information click on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penang_Botanic_Gardens
4. Gurney Drive
Gurney Drive is a seaside boulevard home to boats, shopping malls, hotels and restaurant. Hence, if you are keen to try the famous Penang Laksa and various other signature dishes, Gurney Drive is the place you are looking for.
5. Snake Temple
I am definitely not a snake fan or any kind of snake lover. If you talk about snakes, I can feel my body ticklish, even by listening to the word. If there is a snake around, I am the first to run! It was my love for writing and documenting that made me turn the page, win the fear, make myself brave and visit the snake temple! I can now tell you it was not such a bad experience at all, the place is indeed worth seen.
Built by a Buddhist monk and healer, Chor Soo Kong, in 1850, the place is called, in the Hokkien language, Ban Ka Lan or Temple of the Azure Clouds, since it almost reaches the fluffy white clouds in the azure sky.
The snake temple is, you can guess, filled with various types of snake on display, some that was totally unknown to me, and with the smoke of burning incense. Devotees firmly believe the snakes have come to this temple on their own accord…
If you are daring enough, perhaps you too should visit it. Bear in mind that pit vipers are found everywhere, even on the altar. Though the vipers are believed to be rendered harmless by the sacred smoke, they have been de-venomed for safety reasons. Visitors are warned are warned against picking up the reptiles (most do so for picture takings) since they still have their fangs intact and could bite. There is of course a tourist service in place for taking pics with the snakes, and it costs RM30 for a set of 2 pictures…
The snake temple is located at Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, Bayan Lepas. It is open to public daily from 6.00 am to 7.00 pm – entry tickets are RM5 for adults and RM3 for children.
6. Komtar Tower
Komtar is the acronym for Kompleks Tunku Abdul Rahman (Tunku Abdul Rahman Complex), an important landmark of Penang. With its 65 storey, this building can be seen from any part of Georgetown, as well as from Butterworth on the mainland. One unique feature of this building is its cylinder shape. Komtar is home to the state government. I recommend a visit to those who want to snap a great view of Penang. Komtar is open to public from 10.30 am to 9.30 pm.
7. Queensbay Mall
This place is a paradise for shoppers as it consists of a wide range of stores selling anything from clothing to food. The Mall is open daily from 10.30 am to 10.30 pm.
8. Batu Ferringhi
Batu Ferringhi – translated as Foreigner’s Rock – is a beach area, one popular spot for those who want to have picnic and spend time on a sandy beach. The iconic feature of Batu Ferringhi is The Ship, a restaurant on the seafront shaped like a large wooden vessel. This award-winning restaurant features a maritime theme complete with captains and crews in charming uniforms, and serves delicious cuisine.
The Batu Ferringhi area offers a wide range of activities, and especially sport activities such as banana boats,windsurfing and jet sky. The area has plenty of great hotels and restaurants, and a night market too. It is indeed a most recommended place for those who want to spend a weekend with families and friends.
9. Butterfly Farm – Entopia
Butterfly Farm founder David Goh, who started this passion from a simple hobby in his backyard, opened it in 1986 with the main objective to protect and conserve the various types of butterflies on the island. Butterfly Farm is the first tropical butterfly exhibition in the world; it was set up in an area of 8 hectares that houses 4,000 butterflies from as many as 120 butterfly groups, and has played host to over 4 million visitors. Apart from butterflies, this farm also displays other insect and reptiles. I loved visiting Butterflies Farm, the area is great, the gardens lush and the explanation on the various butterflies is comprehensive.
Penang Butterfly Farm is now being reinvented into Entopia (Entomological Utopia). This rebirth comes from David Goh’s desire to help people live in better harmony with nature. In the new discovery hub, butterflies and insects are free to come out to play.
Entopia is located at Jalan Teluk Pahang, past the Batu Feringgi area, and it is opened from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm. Check www.entopia.com
10. Monkey Beach
Known as Teluk Duyung, Monkey Beach is a popular tourist destination in Penang, a great place to visit during weekends and public holidays, with locals coming to enjoy picnics and camping. There is plenty of sport activities like jet sky on offer, and there are walks and jungle trekking available for the adventurous types. Monkey Beach is also ideal for those who want privacy and a quite time away from the busy city life.
At Monkey Beach, I enjoyed cooking Ayam Pansuh (a chicken meat dish prepared in a bamboo stuffed with water) for my friends, swimming and playing volleyball with Japanese tourists. I loved my time there,quite soothing.
To access this beach, there are two route available. You can take a boat for the 20-minutes trip which costs RM50 for the whole boat, or you can take a 3 kilometres vigorous hike, which should take about 2 hours. Both start at the entrance of the National Park at Teluk Bahang.
READ PART 2 AT http://asianitinerary.com/20-best-spots-in-penang-part-2/
STREET FOOD PENANG: http://asianitinerary.com/penang-street-food-chulia-street/
PENANG ARTICLE: http://asianitinerary.com/surprising-and-inviting-penang/