Affectionately known as the Pearl of the Orient, Penang – like the finest of its namesake gem – has layers of multihued depth. Georgetown attracts tourists with its eclectic colonial architecture, temples and museums, lively Chinese culture, nonstop shopping and great food. But don’t forget the rest of the island! The petite Penang National Park with its secluded monkey beaches; Batu Ferringhu, a mainstream resort town on the northern coast; Penang Hill with its funicular railway and colonial hill station; and the enormous, brightly painted Kek Lok Si Temple are all drawcards in themselves.
Taking a ride around the island, you’ll go through sprawling urban mediocrity that suddenly gives way to primary rainforests, rocky coastline dotted with white-sand beaches, fruit plantations and rickety fishing villages. You could choose a tour where you’ll be led through all the major sights or spend a day or two to meandering through forgotten corners with your own transport. The beaches aren’t as spectacular as on Malaysia’s east-coast islands or even just north on Pulau Langkawi, but they do offer a peaceful respite from the city.