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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!