A delicious crossroads of cultures

Penang, in Malaysia’s verdant northwest, is a laid-back but still uniquely cosmopolitan part of the country. With influences from Malay, Chinese and Indian culture, with a hefty dose of British colonialism thrown in, it offers fascinating architecture, plentiful culture, beautiful beaches and friendly locals. Not to mention the food…

The capital, George Town, boasts plenty of old-world charm. Explore its time-capsule-worthy neighbourhoods from the back of a trishaw bike or follow the many murals and discover the city’s thriving street-art scene. But don’t stop at the city – head up to the cool summit of Penang Hill, explore the Tropical Spice Garden, or soak up the sun at Batu Ferringhi beach.

You’d be remiss to not take Penang up on some of its signature dishes after a hard day of sightseeing. This part of Malaysia is a foodie’s paradise – think laksa, nasi lemak, char koay teow and cendol, a refreshingly icy dessert made from coconut milk and green jelly noodles.

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Things to do: Penang

  • A row of colourful Chinese shophouses along a street in Penang, Malaysia.

    Spend some time in George Town

    Penang’s capital, George Town, shows off the city’s position at the crossroads of east and west. Wander the historic centre and you’ll find a mix of grand British colonial buildings, colourful Chinese shophouses, ornate temples and imposing mosques. In fact, the history here is so palpable that George Town was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.

  • A pink bowl of assam laksa, or noodle soup with prawns, crispy shallots, wilted greens and a spoon of shrimp paste on the side, Penang, Malaysia.

    Find your new favourite food

    From steaming bowls of tangy assam laksa to piles of smoky, unctuous char koay teow, Penang’s street-food scene will deliver you straight to a higher level of being. Explore the many hawker stalls at your own pace and enjoy a cuisine that draws from Malay, Chinese and Indian culture, or join a street food tour with a local expert to make sure you don’t miss out on any culinary delights.

  • Two people walk along a white sand beach with a jungle-covered hill across the bay, Penang, Malaysia.

    Embrace nature at Penang National Park

    The small but perfectly formed Penang National Park offers serene jungles, idyllic (and often empty) beaches, and a thriving population of monkeys, otters, birds, turtles and other wildlife. There’s a number of hikes throughout the park for the intrepid, or you can simply jump on a boat and it won’t be long until you’re delivered to a beach that beggars belief.

  • Mural of two cats and a man doing martial arts on a brick wall, Penang, Malaysia.

    Go searching for street art

    Wander the lanes and avenues of George Town and you’ll soon notice the abundance of street art adorning the city’s walls. Local and international artists have been decorating the city with murals depicting slices of real and surreal life, adding a vibrant, colourful touch to even the greyest of buildings. Take a walk and pick out your favourite for an Instagram-ready photo op.

  • A lush, green hillside with a steep funicular track emerging from a tunnel and the city in the distance, Penang, Malaysia.

    Ride the funicular up Penang Hill

    You’ll see Penang Hill the second you reach George Town. Jutting straight up 821m from the edges of the city, it’s hard to miss, and the spectacular views from the top take in the entire island. But the summit is only part of the adventure – to get there, you’ll have to jump on the funicular and ride up the steepest tunnel track in the world.

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Airport information

Penang Airport (PEN)

Distance to George Town 16km

Taxi There’s a prepaid taxi counter in the arrivals hall – passengers are urged to use this to avoid paying an inflated fare. The trip to George Town takes around 45 minutes and costs about MYR RM38, with fixed rates to other parts of Penang. There’s a 50% surcharge between 12am and 6am.

Bus Rapid Penang buses depart every 30 minutes and take about an hour to arrive at George Town, with a number of stops along the way. Tickets cost MYR RM2-3. Make sure you have the correct money for the fare as drivers can’t give change. You can get a Rapid Penang Tourist Passport for MYR RM30 for a week’s unlimited bus travel.

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When to go

Penang enjoys a tropical rainforest climate with a daily average temperature of 28°C, with December to March being the drier, hotter months of the year. The wetter months are May to early November.

The George Town Festival in July celebrates the city’s heritage with two weeks of art, performance, music, dance, theatre, talks, workshops, and more.

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Getting around

Penang is well served by Rapid Penang buses; get a passport for a week of unlimited travel. There’s a free shuttle bus in George Town, the Penang CAT, which goes from Weld Quay to Penang Road, stopping at places of interest along the way. Most taxi drivers in Penang are reluctant to use the meter; always haggle with the driver and agree on a fare beforehand.

The narrow lanes of George Town are best explored on foot, or if you’re worn out, by pedal-powered trishaw – but negotiate the fare before getting on. Hiring a bicycle is a great way to get around and see the sights at your own pace; there are quite a few bicycle rentals around town.

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