A Penang Travel Guide – The Quick Version
Alright, welcome to the Penang travel guide!
If you have any queries feel free to ask, the best way to navigate the Penang travel guide is definitely by using the table of contents, I have tried to organise things in a semi-logical manner for everyone’s convenience.
Throughout the Penang travel guide we look to answer some of the more common questions, like where it is, what the weather is like, how to get around, and I will attempt to part with some of the knowledge I picked up during my visit along the way.
If you think of anything that’s missing from the Penang travel guide, leave a comment and feel free to contribute!
Penang Travel Video
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Penang Travel Guide Part 1 – Things To Know Before You Go
What is a Penang?
If you’re the curious type and are wondering about the name Penang, i’ll save you the trouble of a Google search;
The name, Penang, comes from the modern Malay name Pulau Pinang, which means The Island of the Areca Nut Palm (Areca catechu).
To read more about the history of Penang, Wonderful Malaysia have written quite the detailed post, but I’ll give you the gist of it;
– Penang had human activity throughout the 10th century, switching power between numerous hands, but for the sake of relevance we’ll skip all this.
– In 1776 the British offered military protection to the Sultan in exchange for the island of Penang. This didn’t take place until 1786 however. The capital city was name George Town in honour of the then king, King George III.
– The island became an important trading hub, one of the most valuable in the region until it was overtaken in the 1830’s by Singapore. It did still remain an important port.
– During these years there was a melting pot of cultures between the Malays, Chinese and Indians that exists to this day.
– Today it is renowned for having good food, and is sometimes referred to as the “Silicon Valley of the East” due to the large concentration of tech related industry on the island.
So there is a brief history, what you probably need to take away from it is that Penang’s big selling point is its cultural mix, if you want nice beaches in Malaysia then head to Langkawi. Alternatively, Thailand isn’t far away and has great beaches in Koh Lanta and near Ao Nang, with the world famous Railay Beach.
To give you an idea on the size of Langkawi though, check these stats. Everybody who is anybody loves stats!
700,000* (59% Chinese, 32% Malay, 7% Indian, 2% Other).
Longest Length Point to Point:
*Penang island only. Penang also consists of a mainland portion, which is just across the bridge from the capital city George Town, but not many visit here on a holiday besides the occasional day trip.
Where is Penang?
Penang is located on the western coast of Malaysia, as shown below.
What’s The Weather Like in Penang?
Penang, like the majority of Southeast Asia is warm, humid, and tropical. The “monsoon season” of the west coast is said to be between June – October, however the island is partially protected by Sumatra on one side, and mainland Malaysia on the other.
With all this in mind though, Penangs changes in weather are nowhere near as extreme as other places and can be taken with a grain of salt.
My personal observations were – It is stinking hot!
The fact that George Town is a built up metropolis means that it will trap the heat, you feel it radiate off the bitumen and get trapped in the street. It is a bit more taxing on the body, but it won’t kill you.
For a rough guide of all the months combined;
Average Rainy Days:
February averages the least with 8 days.
October averages the most with 22 days
Average Water Temp:
How Long Should I Stay in Penang?
Given that Malaysia has a 90 day visa free period, you shouldn’t really need to feel pressured into rushing your visit, but in saying that, this isn’t a place I recommend for long stays.
At an absolute minimum I would book 3 nights, but that is if you are in a rush and you can go flat out all day exploring, otherwise you will miss a lot.
4 or 5 nights to me is the perfect amount of time to see Penang’s most interesting attractions. That guarantees you 3 or 4 full days in Penang with 2 part days either side with travel. Of course it depends on what you want to see, and how flat out you want to be.
I personally only booked 4 nights, but I am always up at sunrise and will spend entire days out exploring, so I can cram a lot into one day. Other people like more time to relax.
I wouldn’t recommend anyone stay any longer than 7 nights, I think once you see what is of interest to you, then you will start to get bored quickly.
How to Get to Penang?
Fly to Penang if you need to, there is an international airport. Although it is the least likely way you will arrive, with many backpackers coming either by ferry or by bus.
However, flights are an option, direct flights are available from most of the major hubs nearby including: Singapore, Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
A popular way in or out of Penang is by ferry, with the main path of backpackers being to or from Langkawi by ferry, or to The Cameron highlands via bus.
There is also the option to go further on the ferry to Koh Lipe or Koh Lanta (both being Thai islands), but the ferry will stop in at Langkawi, then on to Koh Lipe, before finally heading for Koh Lanta, so most people stop in Langkawi on the way north.
LANGKAWI – PENANG;
($17 US, $27 AUD, £13.50, €15).*
The ferry takes approximately 3 hours, it is well air-conditioned and they play a movie for you. For booking the ferry, I recommend using 12go, which is one of the essential apps for travelling Southeast Asia.
THE CAMERON HIGHLANDS – PENANG;
($11 US, $16 AUD, £8.50, €10).*
KUALA LUMPUR – PENANG;
($9 US, $13.50 AUD, £7, €8.50).*
*Price and conversions are done at the time of publishing and are subject to change.
BOOK YOUR TICKET TO PENANG HERE
How Expensive is Penang?
I found Penang to be very reasonably priced, there are great night markets with all sorts of food available, and you can grab hostels from as little as $5/night and upwards.
Scooter rental is consistent with the rest of Malaysia and of course being an island of over 700,000 people there are still things you can do that will blow your budget out, but that applies to any city in the world of a similar size.
What Is The Currency?
As a part of Malaysia, the currency is the Malaysian Ringgit (RM) which is stylised by an “MYR” at the end of the number.
Conversion rates at the time of writing are;
- $0.25 US
- $0.36 AUD
Or alternatively, 1 of each of the above currencies respectively will give you;
- 4.05 MYR
- 2.80 MYR
- 5.50 MYR
- 4.50 MYR
They call it the floating mosque, but I went underneath and had a look, it is built on stilts. Everyone in Penang is a part of the lie!
(Shot with the DJI Mavic 2 Pro. Make sure they are not in prayer time before flying around).
Penang Travel Guide Part 2 – Things To Know Once You Arrive
How to Get Around in Penang?
Once you land or get off the ferry, you’ll be wanting to get a SIM card in my opinion (I went with Maxis Hotlink). Download the application called Grab, it is a ride hailing app.
Don’t link your credit card to Grab, always pay cash. That way if you cancel a ride for the driver not being on time he will not be able to charge you.
Grab is the way you will get around in Southeast Asia, when a scooter is not a viable option. The ability to pay cash helps to split between friends, and having the app also lets you know the price of a journey so that if you do take a taxi you won’t be ripped off.
If you arrive at the airport, a Grab will be 20-25 MYR to Georgetown.
If you come in by bus you will be dropped at Sungai Nibong bus terminal, which will be about 15-20 MYR for a Grab to Georgetown. The bust stop and the airport are both on the eastern side of the island, along the main ring road, so it won’t take you more than 20 minutes to get to Georgetown.
If you arrive by ferry, you may be lucky enough to be able to walk to your accommodation. For me it was about a 1km walk, which was easily doable even with a very heavy set of bags.
The 4 main ways of getting around are;
Walking: You will be able to walk the entire historical centre of Georgetown quite easily.
Scooter: Discussed below, my preferred method of transport.
Grab: The most relaxing, but also the most expensive.
Bus: You can get all the way out to the national park, going through Batu Ferringhi and to Escape Theme Park for only 4 MYR, but it will take you over an hour and a half to do so. Catch bus 101 from Chulia street.
The downside is of course that you can’t work to your own schedule, and you spend over 3 hours on a bus for the day including the trip back. But if you dedicate a whole day to the north-west of the island and are not confident on a scooter than this is a great cheap alternative to catching a Grab.
A lot of people in hostels or on the backpacker circuit will tell you that Penang is too busy to hire a scooter. Bosh! Flimshaw!
Yes the streets are much busier than the islands of Thailand or Malaysia, but this is all well controlled traffic, with roads in good condition. If you’re comfortable with controlling a scooter and are aware of your surroundings then I strongly recommend getting one.
I used Happy Ken Motorbike Rental, but I would just suggest you use any reputable company with good reviews, don’t go out of your way to rent just from him if there is somewhere more convenient for you. If you do meet him though, you’ll agree that he is quite an interesting cat!
Having a scooter is often faster than a car, at every traffic light you can sneak your way to the front of the traffic down the left hand side of the cars, just follow the locals.
Costs average about 30 MYR/day for smaller engined scooters, which is all you need.
Where to Stay in Penang?
There are two main locations for tourists;
- Batu Ferringhi.
To put this simply, stay in Georgetown. Forget about Batu Ferringhi, you can drive through the area on a day trip on your way to the national park. It is for an older crowd, full of resorts that all claim their own chunk of the beach as their property.
Georgetown is the heart of the island, it’s where the best hostels are, where the best food is and is the centre of the majority of the tourist attractions.
I can recommend The Frame Guesthouse, having stayed there myself. Just be warned that it is across the road from Kapitan Keling Mosque who will play the most annoying prayers over very loud speakers at about 5am.
But anywhere along Chulia Street or Love Lane will be fine, everything is walking distance within the UNESCO heritage area.
Where to Eat in Penang?
Ahh geez, I hate this question. Eat wherever you want, just take a walk through Georgetown at night and find a place that tickles your fancy, there are all sorts of foods available, street food, restaurants, fast food, take your pick.
Food is supposedly one of the main highlights here (I am no foody), so go explore the streets and try out different things.
One place that I went to three times was Mr. Shawerma, they do middle eastern type food and it is both filling and delicious.
I Love Coffee More Than Life Itself! Where Should I go!?
You know, I didn’t write down the specific names, but take a walk down Chulia street and you will find proper coffee, being a large city has benefits and the coffee is good here.
There’s a lot of little cafes that line the streets, take aways are offered, some will charge a tiny bit more for take away but it’s all reasonably priced. It is so hot during the day that you’re better off sitting down for a bit in the aircon.
Sunrise on Penang Hill 360° image. Grab it and scroll to look around!
(Shot with the Insta360 One X, a good travel companion).
Where Can I do Laundry?
You won’t have trouble here, the best bet is to keep an eye out when you’re walking the street for something close to your hotel/hostel.
You will see the signs everywhere. Usually it will cost about 6 MYR/kg.
I Need to Lift Weights, Any Good Gyms?
There was a really good gym called Ultimate Fitness Center.
The floor space was huge, the equipment was all in good working condition, there was a wide variety of machines and they had free water refills.
Cost for a day pass was 20 MYR, with protein shakes (6 MYR) and pre-workout shakes (4 MYR) also available to purchase.
My main complaint would be how hot it was inside.
Things to do in Penang
In the interest of keeping this Penang travel guide short and to the point, I have made a whole separate post covering all of the activities that I was able to do with just 4 nights in Penang!
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most popular tourist attractions in Penang, in the other post I will explain in more detail why I skipped some of these activities and which of the activities I did do are actually worth your time.
Things you can do in Penang;
Penang famously has more buildings than any other city with less buildings.
(Shot with the DJI Mavic 2 Pro. Malaysia has a positive attitude towards drone pilots, so don’t ruin it. Stay away from the operating port).
- Go out early exploring, then again in the afternoons. In the middle of the day put your feet up in the hostel. If you walk the streets late or early, you will find shade on the road from the buildings.
- Don’t pay to go into Fort Cornwallis, many reviews state that it is a ripoff for tourists and that there is a lack of informational plaques. The wall and the cannons you can see from the outside.
- Plan a day of walking, you will get around the historic centre of Georgetown without any dramas at all, pick and choose which activities you do.
- Don’t fly your drone at the national park, around the port, or up on Penang Hill. Besides that they were very relaxed about drones, but fly sensibly and not over the streets.
That just about settles it for this Penang travel guide, all questions are welcome.
The Browne Town.