Penang (Malay: Pulau Pinang; Mandarin:槟城), renowned as the Pearl of the Orient, is a state on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Geographically, the state consists of Pulau Pinang, or Penang Island, and Seberang Perai, the mainland strip facing the island, which are separated by a small stretch of the Strait of Malacca.
Penang is rich in culture and history, with a unique mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and British influences. Visitors will find Penang brimming with charming historic buildings, ornate religious sites, sandy beaches, kampungs surrounded by rice paddies, vast unbeaten jungles, all topped with a splash of bustling city life. Hailed as the food capital of Malaysia and sometimes likened to Singapore 50 years ago, Penang has become a popular destination with plenty on offer for those who visit.
Cities and towns
Penang Island (Pulau Pinang)
- 1 George Town – The capital of Penang; a favourite spot for tourists as it has many attractive pre-Second World War houses and shophouses, as well as 19th century churches, temples, mosques, and colonial buildings. George Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site (it was inscribed as one of the Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca together with the city of Melaka).
- 2 Air Itam – A largely residential town just west of the capital. The area is often visited by tourists heading to Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si Temple, but is also home to some exceptional local food.
- 3 Bayan Lepas – Penang's main electronic manufacturing area and location of its international airport. George Town's satellite town.
- 4 Balik Pulau – Literally "Back of The Island" in Malay; a small town nestled among Malay villages, fruit orchards, and padi fields. Popular for its assam laksa, durian, and nutmeg. Favourite spot for countryside cycling.
- 5 Batu Ferringhi – On the northern coast of Pulau Pinang, this area is home to white sandy beaches and luxurious hotels. A favourite spot for both locals & tourists. The nearby resort town of Tanjung Bungah and the fishing village of Teluk Bahang are also included here.
Mainland (Seberang Perai)
- 6 Butterworth – mainland gateway to Penang, directly across the Straits of Malacca from George Town
- 7 Bukit Mertajam – capital of Seberang Perai Tengah district
- 8 Nibong Tebal – capital of Seberang Perai Selatan district
- 9 Simpang Ampat – a small town famous for its nearby seafood at Bukit Tambun and Batu Kawan. The nearby island of Pulau Aman is a popular weekend getaway and also famous for its seafood.
- 10 Batu Kawan – satellite township
- 11 Seberang Jaya – satellite township
- 12 Tasek Gelugor – a small town 20 minutes from Butterworth
- 13 Kepala Batas – a small town 20-25 minutes from Butterworth
Penang was part of the Malay sultanate of Kedah until 1786, when Captain Francis Light built a fort at the site of present-day George Town and managed to get the island ceded to the British East India Company. The island, along with Malacca and Singapore, was one of the three British Straits Settlements.
The name Penang comes from the Malay word Pinang, which means betel nut (槟榔） (Areca catechu). The name Pulau Pinang translated literally from Malay means "betel nut island". The original name of Penang was Pulau Ka-satu or "First Island", it was renamed to Prince of Wales Island on 12 Aug 1786 to commemorate the birthday of the Prince of Wales, later, George IV. During the early and middle part of the last century, Penang Island was also known as "The Pearl of the Orient".
The capital, George Town, was named after King George III of Great Britain. Today, Penang has the highest population density in Malaysia and is the only state where ethnic Chinese are in the majority. Despite its small size, the state of Penang today has the third-largest economy amongst the states of Peninsular Malaysia, after Selangor and Johor.
The cargo trade has largely shifted down to Port Klang and Singapore since Penang lost its free-port status in 1969, but now Penang makes a good living off tourism and electronics manufacturing. The multi-national corporations that operate factories in Penang's Free Trade Zones include Intel, AMD, Braun, Dell, Flextronics, Agilent, Osram, Motorola, Seagate, and Jabil Circuit. Penang was granted Cyber-City status on 21 June 2004. At the World Heritage Committee Session in July 2008, George Town and Malacca were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The state of Penang is made up of two parts, Penang Island, a turtle-shaped island in the Straits of Malacca 8km west of Peninsular Malaysia, and Seberang Perai (formerly Province Wellesley), a rectangular-shaped district that is part of the mainland.
George Town is Penang's largest city. Development of the eastern coast of the island is slowly linking George Town, in the northeast, to the city of Bayan Lepas in the southeast. The northern coast, including Batu Ferringhi, is also being heavily developed and features the island's best beaches and resorts. The island's western side is still relatively undeveloped and has a serene "kampung" (village) lifestyle and feel about it.
Penang, like the rest of Malaysia, has an equatorial climate. This means temperatures of between about 22°C/72°F (night) and 30°C/86°F (day), between 70% and 90% humidity, and an annual total rainfall of about 2,400mm. The driest months are usually January and February. The wettest period is usually from September to November with August also being quite wet; frequent thunderstorms can be expected in these months.
When to go
Penang's high season is around Christmas, New Year's Day, and Chinese New Year (check the lunar calendar; it could fall on the end of January or early to mid February), when the east coast of Malaysia is drenched and hordes of sun-seeking tourists descend on the island. Accommodation tends to be packed, and priced accordingly.
Almost all locals in Penang are able to speak Malay, the national language of Malaysia. The ethnic Chinese in Penang (who form the majority) usually speak a localized variant of Hokkien known as Penang Hokkien, which Minnan speakers from Taiwan and Fujian may have some difficulty understanding due to the slang and some loan words from Malay. Most ethnic Chinese are also able to speak Mandarin and Cantonese. Ethnic Indians usually converse with each other in Tamil and ethnic Malays usually converse with each other in Malay, but quite a good number of Indian and Malay Penangites can converse in Hokkien.
English is spoken fluently by most white-collar professionals and businessmen, as well as by service staff working in hotels and tourist attractions. Most other non-elderly locals are able to communicate in broken English, supplemented by non-verbal forms of communication such as pointing and gesturing. When in doubt, gravitate toward younger locals, as the Commonwealth variety of English is a required subject in Malaysian schools. Nearly all teenagers or adults in their 20s or 30s should be able to speak reasonably fluent English.
Pre-paid Airport Taxi Fares
Purchase your pre-paid coupon from the Airport White Taxi kiosk and then hand it to the taxi driver. Prices are subject to change.
A 50% surcharge applies between Midnight and 06:00.
Penang International Airport (PEN IATA), formerly Bayan Lepas International Airport, is the third largest airport in Malaysia and situated in Bayan Lepas, about 16 km (9.9 mi) south of George Town. The airport is served by more than 15 airlines with flights operating to domestic and international Asian destinations. Domestic flights include Johor Bahru, Kota Bharu, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, Kuantan, Langkawi and Malacca, served mostly by AirAsia, Malindo Air and a few destinations by Malaysia Airlines and Firefly. International flights also call at the airport from Banda Aceh, Bangkok, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Krabi, Ko Samui, Medan, Phuket, Singapore, Surabaya and Taipei.
Ground transportation options to the airport fall under two categories, local taxis or the public bus system, Rapid Penang. Naturally buses are the cheaper option but if you do want a taxi head towards the taxi counter for a pre-paid coupon to your specific location. Several buses depart from the airport to different locations around the island. If heading to George Town take bus 401 or 401E to Weld Quay (Not to Balik Pulau), with Bus 401E being an express bus. KOMTAR or Weld Quay (the terminus) are good areas to alight from the bus as most other buses will also pass through these bus stops. The bus fare is RM2.70 each way and ensure that you have exact fare as the bus driver cannot give you change.
Penang is connected to the mainland and the North-South Expressway by the Penang Bridge, one of the longest bridges in Asia, and by the Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge, commonly called the Penang Second Bridge, which is further south and even longer. There is no toll for vehicles heading to the mainland on either bridge, but vehicles headed to the island must pay a toll as follows: For the First Bridge: motorcycles: RM1.40, cars: RM7, lorries and vans with two axles and four wheels: RM12. For the Second Bridge: motorcycles: RM1.70, cars and other vehicles with two axles and three or four wheels, except buses: RM8.50, vans and other vehicles with two axles and six wheels (except for buses, which are charged RM26.20): RM30.50.
The nearest train station to Penang is Butterworth train station and is operated by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (Malayan Railway or KTMB). Tickets for all services can be booked at train stations, the Butterworth ferry terminal or on-line [dead link]. It's better not to book the train at the last minute (reservations can be made as early as 2 months in advance) as you'll find the service becomes quite full usually around a week before the train's departure. This is especially true for the overnight sleeper cars. timetable of all trains along this route [dead link].
Once at Butterworth train station you can walk to the local port and take take the ferry to George Town on Penang. For more information on this service see the Penang Port section below. The other alternative is to take a taxi from the train station to the island itself, via Penang bridge. However this does cost more than the ferry service.
From Singapore/Kuala Lumpur
There is one train service (Ekspres Rakyat) from Singapore that departs daily from Woodlands train station at 08:45, stops over in Kuala Lumpur at 14:56, and continues on to Butterworth arriving at 21:20. There is also a day service (the Sinaran Utara) that originates in Kuala Lumpur, leaving at 08:45, and arrives at Butterworth at 16:15. Additionally, there is also an overnight train (the Senandung Mutiara) which departs from Kuala Lumpur at 23:00 and arrives at Butterworth train station at 06:30. This service does include sleeper cars as well as seating options for those who do not mind sleeping on a seat.
Be aware that train tickets purchased from Singapore to any location in Malaysia will be charged in Singapore dollars at a 1:1 ratio of the Malaysian ringgit price. Therefore a ticket that is RM20 in Malaysia will cost SGD20 in Singapore, which is charged in ringgit, costing RM50. There are three ways which can help you avoid this:
- Cross the border by road from Singapore and then board the train at Johor Bahru.
- Buy a train ticket from Singapore to Johor Bahru and purchase a subsequent ticket from Johor Bahru onwards.
- Book a return ticket from Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur-Singapore-Kuala Lumpur will be charged in ringgit and is still cheaper than a one-way ticket from Singapore if the first leg of the trip is not used.
There is one overnight train that departs from Bangkok Hualamphong (the Ekspres Antarabangsa) at 14:45 Thai time and arrives the day after at 13:51 Malaysian time. The trains are air conditioned and comprise of sleeper cars only and a restaurant car.
A day train also departs from Hat Yai train station in Thailand at 16:00 Thai time and arrives at Bukit Mertajam, a nearby station to Butterworth, at 21:47 Malaysian time. From here you can reach Butterworth station or Penang by taxi.
Buses in George Town arrive/depart at the new bus terminal at Sungai Nibong, a fifteen-minute ride from the center, and about ten minutes from the airport. A taxi to the centre costs RM20. Rapid Penang bus 301 and 401E goes to KOMTAR and Pengkalan Weld (Weld Quay). Major coach operators include Fivestars with online booking, Konsortium, Plusliner / Nice, Transnasional, and Mutiara.
The trip from Kuala Lumpur's Pudu Raya bus station or Kota Bharu, Perhentian Islands each cost around RM35 and take around 5-6h. Buses to/from Johor Bahru and Singapore take 10h and cost RM60 or SGD45.
It's possible to travel by bus to and from Thailand. Tickets are available from travel shops in and around Penang Road. Some prices and journey times are:
- Krabi - RM59, 8h
- Phuket - RM76, 12-14h
- Bangkok - RM125, 18h.
Minivan service is more expensive than bus service and is available between George Town and cities in Thailand such as Ko Phi Phi, Phuket, Trang, Surat Thani, Krabi, Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Bangkok and Hat Yai (RM40) on daily basis. Service is available to the Perhentian Islands for RM130-150, boat included.
Langkawi Ferry Services [dead link] operates twice daily ferries between Swettenham Pier in George Town, on Penang Island, and Langkawi, with the first days service stopping via Pulau Payar en route. Ferries are scheduled to depart from Langkawi at 14:30 (via Pulau Payar) and 17:15 while from George Town at 08:15 (via Pulau Payar) and 08:30, taking around 2h 45min. Fares cost RM60 (RM115 return) for Adults and RM45 (RM85 return) for children. Tickets for the ferry can be booked online here [formerly dead link].
Swettenham Pier in George Town is the cruise terminal of Penang, with many cruises calling here from other cities in the region. Star Cruises is a primary operator at this port with common itineraries including a 1-night cruise on the high seas or a 3 night cruise to Krabi and Phuket before returning to George Town. The port is also a frequent stop for round-the-world and major regional cruises often originating from Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Europe and North America. Typically these cruises allow a port visit in George Town for several hours before continuing to another destination. Refer to individual cruise companies for details of these cruise routes and the duration of stay at each port.
One of the best ways to sight see is to walk around George Town; but wear light clothes, start early in the morning, and put on plenty of sun-block during the daytime. When crossing the roads, remember to look both ways, even on a one-way street.
RapidPenang, the local bus service, features new buses. All bus stations and bus stops which are serviced by the RapidPenang buses are labelled with proper signboards to ensure user-friendliness. Buses are somewhat frequent on the main artery to Batu Ferringhi. Rapid Penang bus 101 bound for Teluk Bahang goes through midtown Pulau Tikus, (northwest end of) Gurney Drive, Tanjung Tokong, Tanjung Bungah, Batu Ferringhi (Starbucks is a good place get off and gives access to the beach), Tropical Spice Garden, Escape/Entopia and terminates at the Penang National Park entrance.
RapidPenang bus 203 and 204 to Air Itam (RM1.50 adult) departs westward on Lebuh Chulia (the main backpacker hotel road) or southbound from the KOMTAR building are handy for visiting both Kek Lok Si Temple and Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera) Funiciular Base Station, approximately 30mins south west of the city center. The driver will inform you of when to alight. Bus 204 departs from the funicular base station to return to Komtar and onward.
The main hub for buses in George Town is KOMTAR, the tallest building in town. The secondary hub is located at the Pengkalan Weld (Weld Quay) ferry terminal. All buses depart from the ferry terminal will stopover at KOMTAR, but downtown-bound buses destined for KOMTAR may not go all the way to the ferry terminal; ask the bus operator. There is a new long-distance bus terminal at Sungai Nibong, refer to by bus entry.
Municipal Council of Penang Island together with RapidPenang provide a free shuttle bus service in George Town called CAT (Central Area Transit), which runs approximately between the Pengkalan Weld ferry terminal and KOMTAR every 20 min daily 06:00-24:00, (including Sundays and public holidays). Visit CAT bus for more details.
Also, foreigners can purchase a Rapid Passport for RM30 and enjoy a week of unlimited travel onboard all rapid Penang buses.
These three-wheeled human-powered vehicles might be the best idea for a pleasant city tour. One can stop at any point to take a photo or buy souvenirs. Many trishaw riders are also excellent 'tour guides'. Negotiate the fare first before getting on a trishaw; it is advisable to hire them by the hour for extended sightseeing.
If you wish to travel between the mainland and Penang Island then the Penang Ferry Service is a cheap and unique option to take. The ferry operates between Butterworth at Sultan Abdul Halim ferry terminal on the mainland and George Town's Raja Tun Uda ferry terminal at Weld Quay (Pengkalan Weld) on Penang Island. Ferries depart every 10-20 minutes between 05:20–00:40 daily with the fare to George Town costing RM1.20 for adults or RM0.60 for children. The fare to Butterworth is free. From both ports, Rapid Penang Buses are nearby to help connect you to the rest of the mainland or Island.
Car rentals may be a viable option, especially if you are planning to get off the beaten track and explore the western or southern coast of the island. Take note that Penang Island has quite a number of one-way streets and narrow roads. Many Penangites ride motorbikes and a minority of them have disregard for pedestrians, cars, and even their own lives, so you must be very careful when driving on the roads. Avoid driving during the rush hours 07:30-09:30 and 17:30-19:30. Motorcycle riders can be undisciplined and tourists should be extra vigilant of them.
Taxis in Penang are equipped with meters and by law they are mandated to use them, but practically all drivers will refuse to turn them on. Always haggle with the taxi driver and agree on a price beforehand.
At some high-end hotels, particularly on Batu Ferringhi, you may find blue SUVs marked "Teksi Executif" (Executive Taxi). These taxis do use the meter, but are hard to find on the streets.
To avoid haggling for the price, try using a taxi booking smart phone app. Grab works well in Penang. Useful also to get taxi fare prices.
There are plenty of places to rent a bicycle in Georgetown. There is also a bicycle sharing system called LinkBike. It has 25 stations with typically 10 or 12 bike racks. You need to download their smart phone app and pay for a short term membership such as 1 or 2 days using a Visa or Mastercard. You can then use the bikes as often as you like, the first 30 mins are free then its RM1 per hour but often 30 mins is enough for a short hop. You are charged once for rides over 30 mins at the end of your membership period so you are not going to get lots of RM1 charges.
Penang island, in particular, is full of things to see, including the great views of George Town and environs and across to Seberang Perai from Penang Hill, the tremendous Kek Lok Si pagoda in Ayer Itam, the many historic Chinese towkay (merchant) mansions, and the quiet beaches on Balik Pulau.
Beaches - The secluded beaches of Pantai Kerachut, Muka Head, and Teluk Kampi are located on the northern coast. There is an old lighthouse at Muka Head beach. You can reach these beaches by either hiking (1 - 3 hours) or by hiring a fisherman's "sampan" (boat) from the small village of Teluk Bahang. The village itself has a kilometer-long beach and a small Scout campsite.
- Jungle Trekking & Camping - Enjoy walking through the reserve forest in Teluk Bahang, go to the northwestern cape of the island where there are unspoiled beaches and an old lighthouse. For a quicker and more relaxed way to reach the secluded beaches there, approach the locals at Kampung Nelayan for boat rides to beaches like Muka Head, Pantai Kerachut, and Teluk Kampi. Kampung Nelayan is less than 1 km down the road northwest of the small roundabout located at Teluk Bahang. More strenuous but cooler walking can also be done on Penang Hill. Popular walks start around the Botanical Gardens, the Youth Park, and Moon Gate which is located in between the two.
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- Watersports are on the agenda for many visitors, although the waters are a bit too murky for scuba diving and a bit too calm for surfing or more extreme pursuits. Swimming is OK along most of the northern coast especially near the international-class hotels as they do their best to keep the beaches and water clean. You can also try out jet skis and parasailing near most of the hotels along Batu Feringhi beach.
- Cycling, included guided cycling tours in Balik Pulau.
- Gyms Seven Star Gym upstairs in Chowrasta Market, near Chulia St on Penang Road, across the street from Mydin's. Cost is RM10 per visit. Jen Hotel, next to Komtar, also has a gym non-guests can use for a fee.
- Night Activities can be found in Upper Penang Rd or UPR. It is a very popular place to be at night among locals and tourists alike. It is opposite the famed Eastern and Oriental Hotel and beside the City Bayview Hotel.
Events and festivals
During major festivals such as Hari Raya, Chinese New Year and Deepavali, organizations and politicians will have open houses welcoming the everyone, including tourists.
- Hari Raya Puasa / Aidil Fitri. This is the local name for the Muslim celebration at the end of the fasting month of Ramadhan.
- Chinese New Year. Celebrating the start of Spring for fifteen days where there will be plenty of lion dances accompanied by noisy drums, cymbals and firecrackers as various shops and institutions usher in the new year.
- Thaipusam. A Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (Jan/Feb).
- Vesak, (Wesak). A Buddhist festival celebrated mainly by the Chinese community on .ar month. It is characterized by a street parade. Temples will typically be filled with devotees and there will be a variety of activities by the various Buddhist associations and societies on this day.
- The Penang International Dragon Boat Festival is held annually at the Teluk Bahang Dam.
- Penang Bon Odori Carnival. A Japanese traditional harvest carnival usually with drum and dance performances.
- Hungry Ghost Month. A Taoist practice where the ghosts are believed to be released from hell for the duration of the 7th lunar month (End Jul - Early Sep). Households can be seen making offerings by the roadside at night and markets will set up temporary stages to entertain the spirits with a variety of traditional Chinese Opera and modern pop songs.
- The Feast of St. Anne. Late July at St. Anne's Church, Bukit Mertajam. A Christian religious festival that includes a candle-light procession at the church.
- Nine Emperor Gods vegetarian festival, held at Taoist temples for 9 days of the 9th lunar month in the Chinese calendar, normally at the end of Sept or Oct.
- Deepavali. The Hindu Festival of Lights which, according to legend, celebrates the triumph of Lord Rama over the demon Raavana.
- Penang Floral Festival. Held at the Penang Botanic Gardens annually.
- Songkran, the Thai Water Festival, is held in George Town annually.
- Flea Market at Lorong Kulit.
- Pasar Malam (Night Market) (along Batu Ferringhi). 20:00-24:00.
- [dead link] Little Penang Street Market (at Upper Penang Rd, near the E&O Hotel). 10:00-17:00. Held on the last sunday of each month, the Little Penng Street Market has some unique wares, foods and souvenirs to purchase and is also a local arts and music event.
Penang is widely considered the food capital of Malaysia and is a melting pot of cuisines. The obvious mix of Malay, Chinese, Peranakan/Nonya and Indian cuisine has a strong presence along with a variety of other international fare. Penangites live to eat and will eat anywhere, provided the food is exceptional. Often some of the best food can be found along the side of a busy road or even down an inconspicuous alleyway. The rule of thumb is to be adventurous with your tongue, look at the condition of the stall and its surroundings. If in doubt where to eat, go where the locals eat and ask around for recommendations.
If you have been to Singapore or other parts of Malaysia you may see some familiar names, but don't be fooled as some dishes in Penang are quite different from what you may get elsewhere. With that in mind, many dishes that are common throughout Malaysia are also present in Penang, which can be found under Malaysian cuisine. The following is a list of some, but not all, common and popular Penang dishes.
- Assam Laksa is a far cry from the sweet, coconut Singapore version. The broth of this noodle soup is packed with tamarind (assam), Lemongrass, galangal and flaked fish and is typically garnished with pineapple, mint, onion, prawn paste and a generous helping of chilli. The combination is utterly unique, powerful and will have the uninitiated breathing fire. The coconut variety, called Curry Mee, is also available in Penang.
- Char Hor Fun (炒河粉) is a local dish with flat rice noodles (kway teow) in a delicious broth of beaten eggs and seafood bits. Goes best with pickled green chillies.
- Char Kway Teow (炒馃条) is the ever popular stir-fried (char) flat rice noodle (kway teow) dish found throughout Malaysia and Singapore, often mixed with prawns, cockles, bean sprouts and vegetables, with an egg mixed in on request. Exceptional versions of this dish can be found all over Penang, with the best typically coming from roadside stalls, Hawker centers and coffeeshops, or Kopitiams.
- Hokkien Mee (福建面) in Penang bears little resemblance to the stir fried dish of the same name found in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. It is a soup based dish filled with rice and egg noodles, pork, prawns, vegetables, bean sprouts, a hard boiled egg and fried shallots. Mee Udang is the Malay version of Hokkien Mee.
- Kway Teow Th'ng (粿条汤) contains flat rice noodles (kway teow) in a clear chicken soup (th'ng) with slices of chicken, pork, fish cake and garnished with chopped spring onions. Some also include duck meat or even offal, but you can request for them to leave it out.
- Lobak, or Lor bak (卤肉), comprises minced pork wrapped in tofu skin and is very famous in Penang. Similar to a sausage, you can also choose the accompanying servings of prawn fritters, tofu, fish cakes, Taiwan sausages or even century eggs. They are all fried up and served with chilli sauce. At street stalls you just grab what you want and give to the chef to cook.
- Lor Mee (鹵麵) is a dish unique to Penang comprising of yellow noodles in sticky brown coloured gravy and commonly served with egg and pork. Some vendors may also include offal in the in their lor mee, but as always you can request for it to be left out.
- Mee Sotong is a popular local dish found specifically at the Kota Selera Hawker Center, near Fort Cornwallis. The dish contains egg noodles served squid, shallots and a fishy, spicy sauce. A wedge of lime is usually given to add extra zing to the dish. You can also find this dish at several other hawker centres.
- Nasi Kandar is literally white rice (nasi) with anything else you want with it. Although these days it is sold in virtually every Malaysian city, Penang is the where the dish originated from, and according to many Malaysians is still where the best ones are. Typical side dishes to add include curries, fried chicken or fish, prawns, squid, hardboiled eggs and vegetables and it's often completed with splashes of various curry sauces. It may not be a particularly pretty dish, but it is loved by Malaysians. Be warned that adding too many sides can make the dish quite expensive. Many Penangites have their own favourite stall, and some stalls are open 24 hours, so ask around for their recommendation.
- Oh Chien, or Or Chen, is simply an oyster omelette, is a very popular dish among Penangites. You can find it all over at hawker centres, Chinese coffee shops and some seafood restaurants. It is typically mixed with chives, radish and dash of soy sauce, fish sauce and white pepper before cooking.
- Rojak can refer to two different dishes. Chinese rojak (or just rojak at hawker stalls) is a salad of raw mango, pineapple, cucumber, white turnip, fried bean curd and topped with peanuts a dark thick sauce of shrimp paste and sugar. The ingredients do vary slightly between stalls. Pasembor, also called Indian rojak, is found mostly at Mamak stalls. It consists of cucumbers, fried dough fritters, bean curds, prawn fritters, hard boiled eggs, bean sprouts, cuttlefish and topped with a sweet thick, spicy peanut sauce.
- Satay, or Sate, obviously is the famous meat-on-a stick that is found all over Malaysia. Often you can find chicken or beef satay, but what makes Penang different is that the Chinese vendors also serve up pork satay. Once cooked over hot coals they are served with a fresh salad of cucumbers, onions and a spicy-sweet peanut dipping sauce. Some place will also serve it with compressed rice.
- Seafood is not exactly a dish, but considering much of the state lined by coastline, it is no surprise that it is a big player in Penang cuisine. Seafood is used in all local cuisines, from Indian tandoori prawns, to Chinese black pepper crab or even the Malay grilled fish (ikan bakar). Seafood restaurants are common along the coastline, particularly around Batu Ferringhi and Teluk Bahang along the north coast or Batu Maung to the south.
Snacks and sweets
- Ais Kacang, also known as ABC or Air Batu Campur, is a concoction of shaved ice, red beans, grass jelly, sweet corn and attap palm seed. It is finished with lashings of coconut milk or evaporated milk, palm sugar syrup (gula melaka) and other coloured syrups.
- Biscuits and Pastries - Traditional biscuits such as Tambun Pneah (淡文饼), Beh Teh Sor (马蹄酥), Heong Pneah (香饼), Pong Pneah (清糖饼) and Tau Sar Pneah (豆沙饼). Coconut tart, If you have eaten egg tart before then instead of the egg put in some coconut and voila! You get coconut tart and definitely the best is at Cintra Lane.
- Cendol, or Chendol, is somewhat like ais kacang. Shaved ice is topped with mushy red beans, green coloured rice flour noodles, coconut milk and palm sugar syrup (gula melaka). It is simple, sweet and satisfying, particularly on a hot sunny day.
- Durian is a popular local fruit that is much loved or much hated depending on your taste. The odour of the fruit is distinctive and pungent with the flesh often described as rich, sweet and creamy by some while others liken it to warm garlic ice cream. Stalls in markets and by the roadside often sell pre-packaged flesh or the whole fruit itself. There are several fruit farms located around Balik Pulau which are good places to sample the fruit and to find out about the various durian varieties. You can also find durian in various sweets including ice creams, cakes and biscuits, with the flavour being much more subtle than the fruit itself.
- Kaya is a jam-like spread made of eggs and coconut milk. Can really be spread on anything, but is often eaten for breakfast on toast. To impress the locals, order some kaya toast with runny eggs and a strong cup of coffee (kopi). You can also find kaya in many pastries and sweets.
- Nutmeg (豆蔻) is commonly grown in Penang and a favourite among locals. Preserved nutmeg strips, either in dry or wet form, are eaten as a snack and the rind is used to make nutmeg juice, or Lau Hau Peng. It is also used in traditional medicine, with nutmeg oil or balm used for illnesses related to the nervous and digestive systems.
Penang is famous throughout the country for its Chinese bakeries. For ethnic Chinese tourists from Singapore or elsewhere in Malaysia, a visit to one of these bakeries is a must, and friends and office colleagues would generally be expecting some pastries as souvenirs from someone returning from a trip to Penang.
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:|
Much of Penang's accommodation options can be found along the northern area of Penang Island, with bargains to be found in George Town and Batu Ferringhi. Take note that advertised prices often do not include the 6% government tax and 10% service charge that is required by law for hotels. Informal accommodation, such as small hostels and simple home stays may not be required to include this additional charge. Advertised prices will often show a plus-plus after the ringgit amount, to indicate the charges are excluded from the price. As such, prices advertised as RM30++ will actually cost RM34.80. Since 2017 there is also a RM10 per room per day tax for foreigners only.
Most of Penang's budget accommodation is in the form of backpacker hostels, located in George Town, within and near the historical core of the city. There is a large concentration of hostels located along and around Lebuh Chulia, Jalan Muntri and Lorong Love. Many of the hostels are within charming and slowly decaying historic shops that have been renovated to house guests. In terms of price, expect to pay around RM20–40 for a dorm bed, RM50–60 for a single private or RM60–100 for twin and double private rooms. Most of the better hostels will at least have shared bathroom facilitates, air-con, Wi-Fi and a simple breakfast.
For those who do not favour hostels, there are a few budget hotels available scattered throughout the state. The notable Tune Hotel that is found throughout Malaysia is located in George Town, just outside the historical city area. Budget hotels are generally simple, a little worse for wear, but still livable, and have the advantage of a private ensuite. Noise insulation is non-existent in many and can be a major problem for the light sleepers.
Mid-range beach accommodation can be found in Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah, typically those that are not located directly next to the beach front. In some cases, Mid-range hotels are not much better than some of the better budget hotels and it may be worth paying a little more for a more luxurious hotel. Heading to Balik Pulau offers a much more laid back experience with a small range of home stays among rice paddies, fruit farms and kampungs (villages) to a couple of more expensive retreats.
Penang has a modest range of luxury hotels for those who can afford it, including the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, founded by the same Armenian family who opened the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Beach resorts are also common luxury options, with most found along the beach strip of Batu Ferringhi and prices are fairly competitive. There are a few business hotels in Bayan Lepas which are located near the airport and the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone.
Those intending to stay in Penang for an extended period of time should note that prices, particularly on Penang Island, are quite high for Malaysian standards. Some hotels and resorts offer long term stay options, typically with certain discounts and perks included, but these options do tend to be somewhat expensive. Better value options can be found in private housing blocks, or Condos, which are typically located within suburban areas and more expensive options near the waterfront, particularly around Gurney Drive in George Town and Tanjung Bungah.
Penang is relatively a very safe place for travellers. However, as in most other places, Penang has its share of crime, so common precautions must be taken against snatch-thieves and scammers. Some other precautions:
- Don't walk alone in dark and deserted places.
- Don't accept rides from Kereta Sapu (passenger cars/unlicensed taxis).
- Don't carry valuables in motorbike-baskets.
- Don't leave valuables in hotel rooms.
- Don't place valuables on restaurant tables.
- Do be wary of snatch-thieves - especially when wearing jewellery and/or carrying bags. Some of these felons practice the art of 'ride-by' snatching of ladies' handbags which can result in serious injury to the victim. So ladies: walk against traffic and keep the handbag on the side away from the road or better still, don't carry one.
- Do be wary of the sometimes aggressive long-tail macaques at the botanical gardens.
- Be careful about your surroundings in waters off Batu Feringhi beach, where you may be harmed by unregulated jet skis or other water activities.
- Ambulance - Police - Fire, ☏ 999.
- Rescue (Civil Defense), ☏ 991.
- All the above mentioned numbers, ☏ 112 (from mobile phones).
- Tourist police, ☏ .
- Telegram service, ☏ 100.
- International and domestic operator assisted service, ☏ 101.
- Directory enquiry service, ☏ 103.
- Multilingual international service, ☏ 198.
There are about twenty consulates, all located in George Town.
- Alor Star - capital of Kedah state
- Hat Yai - the largest city in southern Thailand, about 4 hours away by road
- Ipoh - capital of Perak state
- Kota Bharu - capital of Kelantan state
- Perhentian Islands - Pulau Perhentian
- Langkawi - A popular tourist destination famous for beach resorts
- Taiping- a town at North of Perak state
- Phuket- at South Thailand
- Medan - at Sumatra, Indonesia. There is no ferry to Medan anymore, since the price of flights to Medan became cheaper than the ferry. You can go to Medan by airplane with several airlines.
- Bangkok - If planning going on into Thailand, your best bet is to hop on the Butterworth-Bangkok International Express. It's dirt cheap (RM112-Lower Berth), very comfortable, super clean sheets, and blankets laundered after each use) and wide cosy beds. Train leaves every day at 14:20 from Butterworth Station and arrives in Bangkok just about time for lunch the next day. You can, of course, jump off at Surat Thani (if going to the islands of Koh Samui and Phanga), arriving in the wee hours of the night like 03:00 or 04:00, as well as Hua Hin around 07:00. However, it's not worth your while for short trips such as Hatyai because all tickets are charged at sleeping berth prices and your berth is only readied at Hatyai station stopover.