Malaysia is a country of multiple nationalities, languages, cuisines, cultures and religions all rolled into one. It truly is a magical and mystical place where people from all walks of life and backgrounds live side by side in harmony. Lynette and I were excited to be spending some time exploring this incredible country.
Our first stop, recommended to us by another travelling couple, was the island of Penang; it gripped our interest from the first instant! We travelled to Penang from the south of Thailand, crossing into Malaysia by land, and were dropped (almost literally!) in the centre of George Town late at night, in the dark. After asking around, and with pointing and gestures from locals, we finally found our guesthouse down a quiet side road.
Our Accommodation in Penang
Our guesthouse was simple but absolutely amazing. In our experience it is the people that make a place and Malabar Inn is no exception. The owner, who we came to affectionately know as Uncle Tony, along with his wife and Henric, run this fantastic inn with basic yet clean and comfortable rooms. It also has a lovely little seating area with tea and coffee facilities and free crackers, making for a perfect wind down after a hard days sightseeing!
Pulau Penang (Penang island) is nicknamed “Pearl of the Orient”. George Town is full of historical sights, museums and architecture and, with amazing street art on the walls and intriguing gift and handicraft shops, you could simply amble for hours, drinking in the atmosphere.
Lynette and I followed the Lonely Planet walking tour, which we felt was a brilliant way to experience the culture of the town. Walking allows you to see, hear and even smell a place at your leisure and really gets you into the local way of life. It is definitely an experience just wandering the streets of the town, exploring the side roads and different areas. There is certainly something for everyone!
Eating in Penang
Penang is a foodies paradise with cuisine from all over Asia. With restaurants and hawker stalls galore you’re bound to find something that you fancy! If you have been following our adventures you will know that, as much as Lynette and I like seeing new countries, there is one in particular that is forever in our hearts – India!
In George Town there is a district called Little India; the sights, people, sounds, music and even the smells transported us right back, so much so that we could almost have BEEN in an Indian city!
Because we are great fans of Indian food we ate here every day enjoying pongal, dosa or uttapam for breakfast and then our favourite curries with bread or rice for dinner, all washed down with the most amazing chai. If you are looking for a slice of India outside of India… there is no better place than Penang!
Sightseeing in Penang
Penang is full to the brim with sights including Buddhist, Chinese and Indian temples, as well as mosques. Whilst we were there we literally saw everything there is to see on the island. Penang Hill, a viewpoint 821m above George Town, offers great views and makes for a fantastic sunset location!
There are also many other sights further afield, such as the large Kek Lok Si Temple, the Waterfall Hilltop Temple of typical South Indian style and Wat Chayamangkalaram with a distinct Thai design. We also visited Penang National Park and, within it, the meromictic lake, where a freshwater lake meets the open sea. The lake was a bit of a trek to reach but nevertheless it was nice to see.
Getting around Penang
Being a relatively small island, it is easy enough to get around on a scooter. We hired one for a few days to get out of the main town and see a bit more of the island. But getting out of George Town was a bit of a nightmare… Penang has an incredibly confusing and intense one way system! We got lost and and were very confused more than once. It was thanks to friendly locals, who helped us find the way, that we eventually made it to where we wanted to go.
Outside of George Town there are some peaceful places – greenery, temples and coastline – that make for great urban escapes. One day we made it to Batu Ferringhi, a stretch of beach that is the best and most easily accessible on Penang. It is by no means the cleanest or best beach in the world for swimming but it does make for a nice spot to relax in peace and quiet, just listening to the gentle crashing of the waves.
Getting to Penang
If you’re coming to Penang you’ll most likely come from Butterworth, the mainland port closest to Penang; the cheapest way is by ferry. This runs from 5:30am until 1am at different intervals. They only charge one way, thus going back to Butterworth is free!
It is also possible to access the island by road bridge, as we did coming by van from Thailand. The drive over is pretty atmospheric by day or night as you can see the island in the distance; once you are on Penang you will also have crossed one of the longest bridges in the world! The bridge is 13.5km long, a marvelous construction feat and a sight to behold!
We love Penang, so much so that we even went back for one last visit before we left Malaysia. The constant buzz and amazing food and people are just some of the things that draw travellers to the hustle and bustle of its streets. It is certainly a place in Asia that we will always remember fondly.
Whilst you’re in Malaysia don’t forget to spend a couple days in Kuala Lumpur, the buzzing capital of this vibrant country!