One of the best ways to see Malaysia is with Slow Travel. This is why we planned a six-night stay in George Town to experience the best things to do in Penang. We were excited as we had heard the food in Penang was exceptional in flavour.
But having been spoilt with the fabulous food in Ipoh, Penang had a lot to live up to. With so much to see, including a day trip of local fauna, would we be saying of Penang: spiders, scorpions and monkeys? Oh my!
The capital city of Malaysia, Georgetown, proved to be a great city to explore.
How to Get to Georgetown, Penang
To get to Penang, you need to get the local ferry to George Town, Penang. There’s no need to book as the ferry constantly runs across the 3 km east of the Penang Strait. The ferry ride takes about 20-30 minutes.
We got an early morning ferry for only 1.20 MYR each. Passengers and cars on one level together with walk-on passengers disembarking first.
What to Eat for Breakfast in Penang
Well, there’s no way we wanted cereal or toast. As it was still early morning, we headed in the direction of our hotel for the next six days. After 30mins of walking, we came across a busy Dim Sum restaurant and decided to stop for breakfast.
Yum yum, as we chose various dumplings and pork buns and a custard bun to have with our coffee. The custard bun was so good we had to try another.
Where to Stay in Georgetown
The Travelodge Georgetown (aka Glow Hotel) describes itself as ‘funky, colourful, a modern hotel in the heart of George Town. We have to agree that the artwork is colourful, clean, the pool refreshing, and the staff were great.
Address: Travelodge Georgetown – Macalister Road
Having settled into our luxurious big room, we took some time to see a little more of Georgetown. The hotel is situated on a major historical road of Penang, renowned for its food. But we needed a beer as it was darn hot.
We saw lots of advertising for Carlsberg beer but not a bar in sight. Terry was getting a little frustrated and grumpy. On the bright side, we found a local bakery down one street. The Chinese biscuits (pastry with various fillings) had just come out of the oven, so delicious.
We found a bar called Narrow Marrow. This is a very cool bar; it is very narrow and filled with many recycled items recreated as art.
Tired from our early 4.30 am start to the day, we returned to the hotel.
Exploring the Places of UNESCO George Town
Breakfast at the hotel is a mixture of western and eastern flavours. We ate our fill to give us energy for a day exploring.
1. Go shopping at Clan Jetties
Once the sun had gone down, we headed out to the Clan Jetties. These are piers that have been in place for over a hundred years where various Chinese families live and work and have shops.
2. Have fun with Penang Street Art
One thing not to miss in Penang is finding street art. It’s so much fun to add yourself to the picture.
3. Admire Penang Temples, Buildings and Structures
The next stop was the Sek Tek Tong Cheah Kongsi (circa 1810), the local history museum of Penang. It was built by an ancestral clan and had an exquisite ornate Chinese design.
4. Visit Fort Cornwallis
Fort Cornwallis with its large cannons atop short stone walls where seven Chinese women kept us entertained with their poses in front of the cannons.
5. Stroll the Esplanade
The Esplanade on the waterfront of Georgetown has some impressive buildings of the Town and City Hall.
Those buildings in a state of disrepair are quite historical. And instead of knocking them down and rebuilding, the government has plans to do them up to retain some history.
6. Walk the Promenade to Gurney Paragon Mall
The promenade we enjoyed but with the tide out, the waterline was muddy and a little smelly. However, a few birds and mud crabs were enjoying their ecosystem.
And with plenty of trees along the walk, even the locals had a reprieve from the heat.
From the Travelodge Georgetown (aka Glow Hotel), you can walk down Gurney Drive, along the promenade, to Gurney Paragon Mall. Here you will see a feature of Penang’s buildings where they have incorporated the old building into the new structure.
We had the best coffee so far on our tour of Malaysia from Coffee Elements at the mall.
7. Finding a Malay Village in busy Georgetown
On the way back to the Travelodge, we came across a Malay village in the middle of a bustling city. The old houses and lanes were from a bygone area, with the villagers gathered for lunch when we passed by.
There was a bit of excitement in the evening when Maura looked out our 8th-floor window to see a huge amount of smoke coming from a nearby neighbourhood.
The strange thing was there were no fire engine sirens; we didn’t know what was going on. We kept an eye on it, and after an hour, it started dying down, so all under control.
The next day we noticed piles of ashes in a few driveways, so we figured it must have been some ceremony burning these huge paper candles.
8. Browse the Markets of Georgetown
While looking at an old Chinese family residence of Cheong Fatt Tze, we noticed nearby Little Penang St Market. This market had a lot more activity here than at the Beach St Market.
But our favourite street market was the busy Chowrasta Market. It had some of everything, wet market, vegetables, clothing, electronics, toys and fruit.
We were given a warm welcome to Penang from this small older man, who seemed very happy to see us.
A nearby shop was celebrating its opening with lots of drums beating and a dragon dancing.
By now, it was getting sweltering, so back to our hotel for a refreshing swim in the hotel pool.
9. Enjoy the Exotic Foods of Penang
One of the reasons we came to Penang was to taste the incredible variety and flavours of food. We love flavoursome and spicy food, something Penang is renowned for.
Staying at the Travelodge Georgetown, we were in the heart of our culinary delight.
We had the nearby restaurants of Jalan Kek Chuan in the colourful terrace houses plus a whole lot more.
Eating The Claypot Chicken
We ordered a meal from the menu. Next thing, they placed a pot on an element on our table. The pot was filled with half a chicken cut into little bits, along with a myriad of veggies and herbs.
As we tucked into the delicious food and rice, we realised other tables added more food to their pot from a big fridge. So we got up to have a look and got a couple of containers of seafood and tofu to add to the Claypot for cooking.
The waiters kept topping our Claypot up with a broth. We really enjoyed this food experience, such a cool concept.
Try Nasi Kandar
We found a restaurant near our hotel that specialises in Nasi Kandar, a recommended dish. It was interesting to watch it being made, as they cover a serving of rice with various five sauces with vegetables.
The meal was ok, but nothing special, maybe we have been spoiled with all the good food we have had lately.
Soy Coated Chicken
A recommended dish we finally found from a street vendor is soy coated chicken. It’s another great flavour of chicken to taste, as well as the chicken and veggie soup with noodles he was selling.
Try the Kedai Biscuits
When you need something sweet with your coffee, make a stop at Kedai Biskut Haiki. The coconut cake is delicious, as well as everything else you see.
Ghee Hiang Biscuits
The oldest biscuit shop in Penang is Ghee Hiang. We sampled some of the tourist prices. We thought the quality was not as good as the local bakery. Oh well, we enjoyed the experience.
Taste an array of Street Food
Lunchtime and as we walked along the pavement, there were two large trollies full of an assortment of food – we were given a plate of rice and started selecting dishes of meat, veggies, seafood, omelettes. There were at least 18 plates of food on each trolley – Terry was in heaven, and we blew the lunch budget.
Dine at Restoran Kapitan
Rest, swim and time for dinner.
Tonight we headed to Little India for tandoori chicken at Kapitan, recommended by our favourite YouTube food guru, Mark Wiens. The flavours were spicy with a skinless tandoori chicken with naan and 3 curry sauces. We added a veggie curry to add to the flavour.
Choose a Selection of Dim Sums
Try the Street Food markets
Nearby the Travelodge Georgetown, we found street food for dinner with so many choices.
While standing watching the elderly cook, we chatted with a lady waiting for her meal and asked her what was on offer.
The next minute she had ordered Seafood Char Koay Kak for Maura, who was given a card and told to find a seat; the meal would come to her when cooked.
Finding a seat was the next challenge as the street was busy. So we shared a table with other tourists in Penang.
Terry chose a meal of Duck Koay Teow Th’ng. And we both enjoyed some fresh dragonfruit and mango juices, with Apong Telur and Kuih Ketayap (coconut pancakes).
10. Day Trips away from Georgetown
Maybe not a Day Trip from Georgetown to Langkawi
We passed a ticket office for the ferry to Langkawi the day before and decided to book an 8.15 am trip, returning at 5.15 pm. But when we awoke and all ready to go, we realised a giant mistake.
The ferry takes nearly three hours, so we wouldn’t get there until 11 am at the earliest. Then it would take about an hour to get to the beach, so probably 12.30 pm by the time we were settled. We would then need lunch, making it at least 1.30 pm. Leaving us maybe two and half hours before catching the ferry back to Georgetown.
Screw that! So we decided not to go, sorry, no refund. Ouch. Oh well, let’s find something else to do.
Book a Day Trip to Penang Hill
We decided to take a bus to Penang Hill as we had heard and read it was worth a trip. We bought a day pass, and it felt a lot better to spend the day exploring Penang island.
And one way to escape the heat of Georgetown is a day at Penang Hill.
Visit the Kek Lok Si Temple
The pagoda was superseded in impressiveness by the beautiful hall of golden statues.
We saw a huge temple close to Penang Hill, so we got off the bus to explore. This was the impressive Kek Lok Si Temple complex (built 1890-1930). However, getting to the temple became complex to find our way up to it.
We had to take an unmarked back alley pathway that wound its way through what seemed like people’s backyards, eventually through a host of small shops to the temple.
Anyway, the climb was worth seeing the tall pagoda that apparently has a Chinese base, a Thai middle and a Burmese top.
To top them all was the massive Bronze Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) statue that is 30.2 metres tall.
Take the Funicular on Penang Hill
Despite the day heating up to 30plus degsC, we decided to walk the 2kms to Penang Hill funicular.
We had thought about walking up Penang Hill but instead took the funicular up its 2km track. And thank goodness we did, or we would have died on the way up. It’s so steep and quite a long way.
Once at the top, you have had some great views over Penang despite the haze. But finding cute monkeys, including a mother with a baby, was memorable.
Finding Huge Spiders on Penang Hill
Penang Hill has lots of different viewing platforms for views of Georgetown. You can wander the gardens, admire the variety of trees, and visit temples.
But for coffee, visit Monkey Cup Garden. Take a walk along the summit road from the funicular.
But we were stopped in our tracks on the road. Swinging above our heads, we saw massive cobwebs containing some huge spiders!
These were literally the size of your open hand.
Holding a Black Scorpion at Monkey Cup Garden
Finishing our coffee and while waiting for a ride back to the funicular, one of the garden’s staff came out with a big black scorpion in his hand!
He offered it to us to put on our hand.
Terry took the challenge while Maura took the photo! It was a bit freaky, but the gardener advised that this type was not poisonous. It’s the little scorpions that can kill within 30 seconds.
Challenge completed, we headed back to George Town on the bus to find some lunch.
Walk the Penang National Park
It’s Maura’s birthday so, after a leisurely breakfast, we chose a day trip to Penang National Park at the island’s northwest corner.
The local bus was a 45min trip past Batu Ferringi, a beachside tourist spot, to the last village on the road Teluk Bahang.
The recommendation was a 90min walk to Turtle Beach conservation beach. Then I pre-booked a boat from Turtle Beach to Monkey Beach for a swim before returning to Teluk Bahang.
Buy a Permit for Penang National Park
You need to register your name at the Penang National Park entrance and buy a permit to enter. You can also book your boat for the ride from Kerachut Beach to Monkey Beach.
Remember to bring snacks and water as it’s a minimum of a one hour walk to Kerachut Beach. And don’t be fooled by the swept paved pathway at the entrance of the park. It soon disappears.
We thought our walk today would be a breeze, with the swept paved pathway, friendly monkeys, and swing bridge. Until that swing bridge unexpectantly moved, and we nearly hit bottom.
But it was when we turned left off the bridge, the paved pathway disappeared, and the bush track appeared. With tree roots and vines, broken steps, the path looked like the latest monsoon had come by.
And with the temperature at a little over 30degC, we needed to conserve that water.
We are pleased to report no spiders or scorpions were eyeballed. Only the piercing noise of a local cicada and butterflies keeps us company, plus a tourist or two on the path.
Stop at Meromictic Lake
Sixty minutes later, very hot and sweaty, we were at Turtle Beach, having passed by Meromictic Lake.
The lake is one of the few lakes where the saltwater and the freshwater do not mix, visible by the two colourations.
See the Turtles at Kerachut Beach
Kerachut Beach is a breeding beach for turtles. At the conservation hut, we found 6-day old turtles and an unusual white turtle. Its shell making it stand out from the other day old turtles.
As we wandered the beach, we found the turtle nests for the hatched turtles.
Unfortunately, due to stinging jellyfish, the beach was off-limits for swimming. We found a big rock that had shade to climb up on and relaxed for a while until our boat arrived.
With the boat arriving half an hour early and only us on board, we sped off along the rocky cliff coastline.
Spying four eagles (native to Malaysia) appeared, soaring up and along the tree line was fantastic. Majestic looking birds, we couldn’t catch on film as the boat crashed along through the waves.
Monkey Beach was a disappointment with floating rubbish and venomous jellyfish. So no swimming today.
We waited while more people climbed aboard and sped back to the village. We had enough time to grab a drink to go – Malaysian style – and a coconut birthday cake – yum.
But the birthday drink of the day would be the yummiest milkshake at Travelodge Georgetown. The flavours of strawberry/cream and chocolate/peanut butter were sensational.
A perfect birthday treats to end the day.
12. Stop at The Snake Temple
We had booked a taxi to take us to the airport with a stop at the Snake Temple on the way.
This is a colourful temple built in the 1850s and located only 5 minutes from Penang International Airport.
The temple is in two areas:
- the first area is the temple with snakes lying about
- the second area is where you can get up close and personal with the snakes
We walked into the temple and were looking at the usual statues of deities. Then we noticed some green snakes wound around a stand; then we noticed some more and a few more.
The snakes were very relaxed and not moving at all. It was a bit unnerving that we had been in there for 5 minutes with snakes all around.
Some say the snakes are calm because of the burning incense.
And when we went next door, we found green vipers (poisonous) hanging from posts and the rafters.
It was here we were approached to have our photo with a python. The photo wasn’t great, so we asked them to give us another go and use our camera.
Maura got hold of the Python’s head and had glee in wrapping it around Terry’s neck That was fine until the python started gripping Terry’s neck that bought a rapid end to the photoshoot!
Is Penang Worth Visiting?
Penang is a travel destination where you can experience lots of cultures, be amazed at street art, admire old buildings, and savour exquisite cuisine.
To escape the heat of Georgetown, you can explore Penang Hill or Penang National Park. Getting up close to fauna, flora and animals in their native environment.
Stay at least three nights with Travelodge Georgetown to experience the best of Penang.