The last time we visited was in 1995. We were there as part of a Western Australian team competing at the Penang International Dragon Boat Festival along Gurney Drive. We didn’t do a lot of touristy things, mainly went for long sweaty runs along the roads and beaches, and paddled madly at the regatta, although we did have a few days after the regatta finished to have a look around.
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We stayed at the Park Royal Hotel along the tourist strip along Batu Feringi in the north of the island. Here hotels cluster along the beach front, and shops and restaurants huddle together on either side of the main road. In the evenings hawker stalls set up along the narrow footpath along Batu Feringi selling everything from thongs and TShirts to watches and camera gear. It is a great place to buy gifts to take home.
To be fair, on this last visit we did a lot of laying by the pool. It is what we needed after the last few months. So there was a lot we didn't see. Next time.
But it was a nice pool.....
Remember when you read on below I am not a Penang travel authority, but here are my tips from an almost first timer Penang tourist.
- Buses – Local buses are easy to use. The buses into the capital, Georgetown, from Batu Feringi are very frequent. Catch a 101 bus. Have correct change as they don’t give change. Should cost approx. 2.70 ringgit to get to Komtar tower in Central Georgetown.
- Komtar used to be the main shopping hub, but now there are several major shopping complexes interconnected to Komtar particularly if you are looking for western goods. Komtar is a very tall round building - 65 stories high - so it is a good landmark if you get a bit lost walking around. You can see Komtar in the image below. Across the water you can see mainland Malaysia.
- Gurney Plaza – there is an upmarket shopping plaza along Gurney Drive.
- ATM machines may not be readily available outside of Georgetown (look for a bank or ask at your hotel). Some places don’t accept a credit card for less than 50RM or don't accept credit cards at all, so always carry cash. We found that a travel card loaded with funds before we left Australia worked well for us, especially as it wasn’t connected to our main credit card. We used this card for paying for some purchases such as tours or entrance fees, and shopping in the major shopping malls, as well as for taking money from an ATM. You could also purchase some ringgit from your bank before you leave home. Both of these methods avoid using a money changer. You can now buy security wallets and sleeves that protect your credit card from fraud while you are carrying them.
- Taxes - generally add 16% taxes to the advertised price.
- Food halls – a big open air food hall, Long Beach Cafe, on Batu Feringi was excellent for evening meals and much cheaper than restaurants. You can't go wrong if you pick a place that looks popular and this food hall certainly was. They open around 6pm in the evening and is great for families. There are plenty of choices from local favourites to western food and the food is fast, good, and cheap.
- Night markets are a good place to buy cheap goods or gifts to take home. But the big shopping complexes in Georgetown may generally be better quality. Walking back to the hotel, if you stay along Batu Feringi, you have to make your way through the hawker stalls but the sellers don’t pester you if you say no, though I did feel pressured to buy if I stopped to look. They are all trying to make a living from the tourist trade.
- Taxis – always ask for the price before you get in. They might say the taxi is metered but generally you ask for a price first. You can book a taxi for several hours for approx. 40RM an hour which will take you where you want to go and then wait for you. You can design your own tour like this.
- Toilet paper – for some reason I can’t fathom they don’t seem to have toilet paper in Penang toilets. So I suggest you take a roll with you in your bag.
* Georgetown - you can do a walking tour around the old Colonial buildings of Georgetown. I love old shutters. So many stories to tell behind them I am sure.
- We also took a stroll to see the street art. Some of these are starting to fade due to weathering. They are mostly clustered around one area and you can get a map from the Tourist Information Centre. I liked the way some incorporated actual pieces like a bike and a chair into the art. This is also a good opportunity to see some of the older parts of Georgetown, shopfronts, and shuttered windows.
and more great info here from the Occasional Traveller - Where to find Penang street art
Penang Hill - is the coolest place in Penang is Penang Hill, affectionately known by locals as "Bukit Bendara", because it is also the highest place. The easiest way to get to the top is via the Funicular train which leaves the terminal every 20 to 25 minutes. Take a bus to the terminal from Komtar. The Funicular train takes you up to the top of the hill where there is a food hall and other attractions and panoramic views over Georgetown to mainland Malaysia. The cost of the train includes admission to the hill. You can buy an audio guide when you get to the top. If you are up to it, you might enjoy the walk paths through the jungle. You might even see monkeys and tree schrews as well as many birds.
You can find out more about Penang Hill by clicking here - Penang Hill
- Ke Lok Si Temple - The Temple of Supreme Bliss. You can take a bus from Komtar Tower but it drops you a distance from the temple and you will have to walk up a steep winding road, or up the steps. In the tropical heat I wouldn’t suggest this. We took a taxi from our hotel which took us right to the entrance for 45RM. Ask for the price from the driver before getting into the taxi. We were able to get a return taxi by asking one of the taxi drivers waiting for his pick up at Ke Lok Si.
Please respect requests to take shoes off, be silent, or not take photos. When you have finished viewing the temples and gardens, there are many shops waiting to sell you souvenirs or a cold drink.
- Tropical Spice Gardens – Take a bus for about 2-3RM from your hotel along Batu Feringi. It is too dangerous to walk as the narrow road winds around the mountain side and there is no footpath. Entry cost includes audio guide. The 8 acre garden displays over 500 species of tropical flora and fauna. There is even a cooking school. For more information click here - Tropical Spice Garden
I wanted this old door for my garden at home
- Further out are the Butterfly Park and the Tropical Fruit Farm. Tropical Fruit Farm.
- Durian. You can't take Durian on the bus - when you see and smell one you will know why. They put nets under the trees to catch the durians as picking them before they are ripe ruins them. You wouldn't want one to hit you on the head! They smell awful but evidently are quite sweet to eat but are an acquired taste. We were told that eating too much Durian will cause you to become ill as the fruit heats you up. For this reason drinking coffee or alcohol is not advised when eating Durian.
Although Nancy at Budget Traveller's Sandbox and Travel Photo Thursdays says she was recommended December to February. You can see her post about the Tropical Fruit Farm here - Penang Tropical Fruit Farm
Some tourist attractions like the Spice Gardens and Penang Hill are FREE for disabled people - well done Penang!
- Walking – Always wear a hat and carry water. It is very hot in the humidity. An umbrella is useful for shelter from both rain and sunshine. Sneakers are recommended if you are walking. Be careful as often footpaths are non existent or cluttered with goods and you may need to walk out on the road to pass parked cars.
An umbrella is even good on the beach in the rain or sun!
- Local mini parts – you can buy drinks and basic supplies. Buy your own drinks and put them in your hotel mini bar.
- There are water sports along Batu Ferringi beach such as jet skis, parasailing etc. How about this parsailer's sunset view!
- Friday afternoon traffic is very bad. It can take 2 hours to get from Batu Ferringi to the airport (usually 45-50 minutes). Our taxi driver instead took us around the top of the island via Teluk Bahang Dam and Balik Pulau which only took 1 hour. It was a scenic route, and much less hassle than through the city traffic. We had an informative driver so it was a really enjoyable drive back to the airport.
- There are plenty of business where you can buy a tour to places of interest in Penang or to the Malaysian mainland across the bridge. Or hire a taxi and design your own tour.
Thinking of visiting and want more information?
This looks like a great website for Penang information - Penang Vacations
Another good place for Penang information from an expat who lived in Penang, is to visit Michelle at her Malaysian Meanders blog - Things to do with kids in Penang
Thank you Michelle for sending me your travel tips before I left home.
I hope you have enjoyed this little trip to Penang. Have you been to Penang? Do you have some travel tips? Please share them in the comments.
ps - sorry about the font and formatting in this post - I don't know why it is doing it and my computer won't let me fix it!
I think I need to sit on this stool and have a moment of quiet solitude.
Thanks for stopping by. I value your comments and look forward to hearing from you. Have a wonderful week.
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Would you like another look at those sizzling prawns? Delicious!