Five Quick Tips: Penang

With the beginning of a new month, The Crowded Planet leaves Jordan and moves to Malaysia, our focus for the month of April. There was no other way to kick-start this month: Penang is our second home. Nowhere else have we ever felt at home as in this little island off the coast of Malaysia.

In this post, we’ll give you five quick tips on how to get the most out of this beautiful city, how to enjoy the unique mix of cultures and flavours that make Penang our favourite place in the whole world.

Penang Pot and Lantern
Incense burner in Kuan Yin Teng Temple

1. Get lost in Georgetown

If there’s one place that symbolises the melting-pot of history and culture that made Penang the special place it is, it’s Georgetown. Locally known simply as ‘Penang’, Georgetown is the island’s capital. My father lived in Singapore in the fifties, and he told me that the historical centre of Georgetown transported him back in time.

Spend a day exploring the historical centre at your own pace, exploring temples, museums and places representative of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Nyonya culture. Make sure you pay a visit to the lively and smoky Goddess of Mercy Temple (Kuan Yin Teng), before touring the Nyonya Pinang Peranankan Mansion and sapphire-blue Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion. And what to do for lunch? Check out our Penang in Ten Dishes post!

Penang Blue House
The roofs of Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

2. Kek Lok Si Temple

Quite simply the most beautiful temple in Penang. Kek Lok Si is a Buddhist temple dedicated to the goddess Kuan Yin, similarly to the smoky temple in downtown Georgetown. It’s dominated by a seven-storey pagoda and a 30 meter statue of the goddess. Just after the entrance is a turtle pond, where turtles can be fed to achieve merits.

Kek Lok Si is a magical place, with smoke wafting from candles and joss sticks, a tranquil atmosphere broken only by the clang of ritual bells. Try to time your visit with Chinese New Year, when red lanterns light the entire temple complex.

Penang Blue House Incense Holder
Burning joss sticks at Kek Lok Si Temple

3. Snake Temple

If Kek Lok Si is the prettiest, this one is the quirkiest. Located in the small town of Bayan Lepas, this temple’s clame to fame lies in its name. Legend goes that a monk living in the temple gave shelter to jungle snakes; nowadays the temple is home to pit vipers, which you can see curled up on the altar.

Despite the legend claiming that the goodness of the monks and incense smoke have made the vipers innocuous, they’re actually devenomed.

Penang Snake Temple Pit Viper
One of the infamous Pit Vipers

4. Butterfly Farm

This is a great place to visit if you are travelling with young children, or if you love pretty things. It is also an educational experience, teaching visitors about butterflies, their breeding patterns and variety.

The feeling of walking in nature surrounded by thousands of fluttering butterflies is surreal, and it is made even more so by the presence of fat caterpillars, blue scorpions and other strange resident critters.

There are over 1000 butterfly species, including some endangered ones that are the focus of breeding programmes. Check out our photo story for more butterfly pics.

Penang Butterfly Side Flash
One of a thousand resident butterflies

5. Hike Penang Hill

Ditch the touristy funicular train and hike to the top of Penang hill, an 883 meter-high hill that dominates the island. There’s a 5 km paved road, locally known as the ‘jeep track’, starting at entrance of Penang Botanical Gardens and running all the way to the top, through a lovely forested area.

It’s common to see monkeys and other small mammals such as civet cats and flying lemurs on the way. The day we visited, we saw a cobra. No kidding!

Penang From the Hill
A view of Penang From the Hill


45 thoughts on “Five Quick Tips: Penang”

  1. Looks like we’ll have to get ourselves to Malaysia (and Penang)! The hike up Penang Hill looks great! (Talk about you spotting a cobra on your hike. We saw a green pit viper on the side of the trail hiking in the Mae Lai forest near Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Just added spice to the scenery :-).

    • Thanks for your comment! Glad you liked the article. Wow, a green pit viper, that must have been really cool (and scary, perhaps!)

  2. Gorgeous pictures – so colourful. We haven’t been to Malaysia yet but have heard great things about it.

    I can only imagine how much fun the Butterfly Farm would be for my kids.

    • Thanks for your comment! Glad you liked the pics! Check our new Butterfly Farm photostory if you’re interested! Hope you like it

  3. Nicely written from a first timers point of view. Do tag me in your future postings, especially on food as I would really love to see a travelers perspective on the local food and what you encounter. As for me, I cannot write on the local commercialized food anymore, too many people are writing the same old same old. So, I have embarked on a mission to explore something different every time I visit Penang.

    And, have a great time in Penang! It is indeed a beautiful island.

    • Thanks for your feedback David. I really appreciate it, I wanted to contact you to get a local’s opinion on my tips. Have a look at our new photostory on the Butterfly Farm, hope you like the pics!

  4. Hi guys! It’s actually funny reading, because I did not like Penang at all. However, I only stayed there short and it was raining the complete time, so that may have had something to do with it ;)! Anyway, these photo’s and tips look great. I should probably give it a second chance :)!

    • Thanks for your comment Manouk! Glad you liked the pics! Sorry you didn’t like Penang… yes, you should definitely give it a second chance!

  5. Wow, beautiful post! Very informative and stunning pictures. Malaysia is one of these places on our bucket list. Now we wanna go as fast as possible, thanks to you! ๐Ÿ™‚ Cheers from Jempi & Nina.

    • Thanks for your comment guys! Glad you liked the article and pics! You should definitely visit Malaysia, it’s amazing!

    • Thanks for your comment Bianca! Glad you liked the pic! You should definitely visit Malaysia, especially Penang, it is amazing. Happy travels!

    • Thanks for your comment! Glad you liked the pics! Penang is amazing, isn’t it! Love the place!

  6. I love your report on Penang – concise but thorough, just enough to make me want to go there again. And the photos are lovely!

  7. I was feeling a little wary of that Snake Temple until you mentioned that all the snakes are all devenomed. What a relief! Looks like I will be adding Penang to the long list of places where my wanderlusting heart must go.

  8. Great list! We’ve been in Penang over a month and haven’t made it yet to the Kek Lok Si Temple or the Snake Temple. I’m more encouraged to go now hearing that they are devenomed though!

    How long did your hike up Penang Hill take you?

    • Thanks for your comment Maria! You should go, they’re both great places. So envious you live in Penang!

  9. I’ve never been to Malaysia, but now it definitely on my bucket list ๐Ÿ™‚ Amazing Pictures ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Same here! I guess technically you’re right, flying lemurs are neither lemurs nor they fly! Interesting creatures though.

    • It makes two of us then, I’m also a big fan of snakes. Fascinating creatures, totally misunderstood!

    • I love Penang so much, I wish I’ll be able to call it home too one day. The snake temple is not too scary, the snakes are actually quite tame – and devenomed! Grab your courage and go visit!

    • Thank you! Those snakes aren’t dangerous… they are very safe to look at and photograph!

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