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.
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Our top picks for Penang
The well-maintained, landscaped Municipal Park, formerly known as Youth Park, has good playgrounds, some splash pools, basketball courts, walking trails, biking and roller-blading trails and, generally, lots of room to run around. For older kids there are chess tables and an internet station, and there's a cafeteria where you can get basic fare. It's near the Botanical gardens, and signposted as Taman Perbandaran.
If your kids have seen Toy Story 2, they might feel bad for the more than 100,000 toys locked up in the Toy Museum with nobody to really love them; no one has tried to break Woody free yet. Don't miss the Chamber of Horrors (not suitable for very young or sensitive kids), Chamber of Monsters, Cave of Dinosaurs, Hall of Cartoons, Chamber of Comic Book Heroes and Hall of Beauties (for lovers of Barbie).
Holiday Inn Resort
Big, family-friendly resort with accommodation blocks on either side of the main road; rooms in the sea-facing Beach Wing are more expensive. There's a wide range of rooms to choose from, including themed 'kidsuites', which come with TV, video and playstation. There's also a well-equipped kids' club, tennis courts and a gym.
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