How to spend a perfect weekend in Penang, Malaysia.
Penang, Malaysia was just an hour’s flight away from Singapore… yet, I’ve never visited this city. It has a lot of parallels to Singapore, and perhaps that’s why I never felt the itch to visit. As a last minute decision for a quick weekend getaway, I paid the charming town a visit.
Penang is an island off Malaysia that’s very much a big city but with contrasting laidback vibes. This is my ideal itinerary for a weekend or a short trip to Penang.
I’ll be honest; the only reason I wanted to visit to Penang was to check out The Habitat, a new eco-tourism site on Penang Hill. A well-thought out park that nature lovers can’t miss out on. Though located within Penang Hill, the atmosphere completely changes the moment you step in. Think heavier foliage, denser jungle sounds and animal spotting.
Read up on my visit here.
Also known as Bukit Bendera, Penang Hill is a developed attraction located close to George Town. At 821 m above Penang, the temperatures dip cooler here. Penang Hill used to be a colonial station. There are colonial buildings scattered about the hill. It is also built around a tropical rainforest which has been protected since 1960. There are trails that you can follow where you might be able to spot some of Penang’s animals.
You can hike up to Penang Hill, or take the Funicular monorail up which will whizz you past some lush greenery and offer a panaromic preview of Penang down below.
I was up here for the sole purpose of visiting The Habitat. I found that and the view the only highlights of Penang Hill, unfortunately.
Explore George Town
Synonymous to Penang, George Town is a UNESCO Heritage Site and undoubtedly the main attraction here. In a lot of ways, George Town reminded me of Singapore’s heritage trails – but somehow more compact and with way more charm and character. Preserved clan jetties and clan houses are unique landmarks of George Town.
With colourful heritage buildings and colonial architecture intertwined with a multicultural atmosphere, you can expect to spend a couple hours walking through this town. You can also cycle through, or go on one of the rickshaw tour.
Go on Street Art Hunt
Perhaps the reason why George Town – in all its time travelling glory – still oozes cool vibes, were the street art littered all over. They are truly delightful and I loved how the art meshes well with the historical and cultural aspects of the town. There are maps available for you to follow, but we liked roaming about the town on our own and discovering the murals. We spent a couple of hours roaming in between meals.
Fact #1: you’ve not really been to Penang if you didn’t check out the street art. Fact #2: You’ve not been to Penang if you didn’t queue to take a photo with at least one of the murals.
Go on a Street Food Hunt
The street food in Penang is famous. Apparently people make pilgrimages to Penang solely for the food. As a melting pot of Chinese, Indian and the indigenous Malay cultures, you can expect one delicious hell of a time looking for and trying out the food. Our strategy was to walk around George Town, and see what suits our fancy at mealtimes. Yes, very strategic.
Some specific places to head to for street food include: Gurney Drive, New Lane street food market and Chulia Street.
Char Kway Teow, Assam Laksa, Chendol, and my personal favourite – Nasi Kandar. It’s hard for me to recommend specific stalls for the rest, but I have to give a special mention to Line Clear Restaurant for its Nasi Kandar. Basically you point at what dishes you want on your mountain of rice, and have them top it off with their signature mixed curry concoction. It can get a bit chaotic but if you get a little lost, no worries, they help you out.
Go on a cultural tour
Interestingly, Penang has a lot of notable temples, mosques and churches – all located close. Kapitan Keling Mosque, Penang’s first mosque and also the largest in the town. Nearby is St George’s Church, which bears the title of Southeast Asia’s oldest Anglican church. The ultra colourful Sri Mariamman Temple is Penang’s oldest Hindu Temple as well. Then make your way to Kek Lok Si Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia.
A special mention is the Snake Temple. Located closer to the airport than George Town, snakes reside in this temple. Apparently they’re tame from the incense.
Visit Quirky Museums
So in between meal times while on your epic street food hunt, what do you do? Apparently check out the many – and I mean MANY – themed museums in George Town. There’s a ghost museum, an upside down museum, a glow in the dark one even. If you’ve not had enough of Penang food, there’s even a museum featuring local bites… in supersized portions.
Penang National Park
If you’re up for some real nature trekking, get over the Penang National Park. This is supposedly the smallest nature reserve in Malaysia.
I was on the Pantai Kerachut trail, and this was a 1.5 to 2 hour moderately tough trek through the jungle. Pantai Kerachut, or Kerachut Beach, is a beautifully pristine beach. Swimming isn’t allowed, due to jellyfish and a sharp drop close to shore. I was fine with this; t it gave us a much-needed peaceful respite from the trek.
You go back the same way. We took the boat back to the main entrance in order to meet our hotel checkout timings.
Penang National Park is also just one of three places in Asia that a meromictic lake exists. It is a lake where fresh water and salt water do not mix. This creates a rare ecosystem where salt water and fresh water creatures can coexist.