Penang is an island off the northwestern coast of Peninsular Malaysia. It is also the name of the Malaysian state which is made up of Penang Island and the facing strip of territory on the mainland called Seberang Perai (formerly Province Wellesley).
Penang’s beaches are nice, though a little lackluster when compared to those in some other Malaysian states, but this is more than compensated for by the island’s rich multicultural history which is full of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and European influences. Penang is also well known for being the “food paradise” of Malaysia.
- Georgetown — the capital of Penang; a favorite spot for tourists as it has many quaint pre-Second World War houses, as well as 19th century churches, temples, mosques, and colonial buildings
- Batu Ferringhi — on the north coast with white sandy beaches, luxurious hotels & restaurants, a favorite spot for both locals & tourists
- Bayan Lepas — Penang’s main electronic manufacturing area and location of its international airport
- Balik Pulau — literally “Back of The Island” in Malay; a small agricultural centre surrounded by Malay villages, fruit plantations, and padi fields
- Teluk Bahang — quiet little fishing village at the northwestern tip of the island
Mainland (Seberang Perai)
- Butterworth — mainland gateway to Penang, drectly across the straights of Malacca from Georgetown
- Bukit Mertajam — capital of Seberang Perai Tengah district
- Bandar Perda — 20 minutes from Butterworth and 15 minutes from Penang Bridge
- Nibong Tebal — capital of Seberang Perai Selatan district
- Simpang Ampat — a small town famous for its nearby seafood at Bukit Tambun and Batu Kawan
- Seberang Jaya — satellite township
- Tasek Gelugor — a small town 20 minutes from Butterworth
Penang, like the rest of Malaysia, has an equatorial climate. This means temperatures of between about 22°C/72°F (night) and 30°C/86°F (day), between 70% and 90% humidity, and an annual total rainfall of about 2400mm. The driest months are usually January and February. The wettest period is usually from September to November with August also being quite wet; frequent thunderstorms can be expected in these months.
When to go
Penang’s high season is around Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Chinese New Year (check the lunar calendar; it could fall on the end of January or early to mid February), when the east coast of Malaysia is drenched and hordes of sun-seeking tourists descend on the island. Accommodation tends to be packed, and priced accordingly.
There are plenty of airlines offering flights to Penang from major UK airports including London Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester, Aberdeen, Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff, New Castle, London Gatwick.
Recently refurbished Penang Bayan Lepas International Airport (IATA: PEN) is one of Malaysia’s larger and better-equipped airports, operated by Malaysia Airports . The airport is on the southeastern coast of the island, some 30 minutes from Georgetown. Take Rapid Penang bus no. 401A from the terminal building to KOMTAR (first bus 0530 last bus 2335, every 30 min; fare 2.70 RM) The airport is serviced by Air Asia , Firefly , Cathay Pacific Airways , Singapore Airlines , Jetstar Airways , Tiger Airways, Thai Airways and Malaysia Airlines . Direct domestic flights are available to Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, and Langkawi. Direct international flights are available to Jakarta, Macau, Taipei, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Medan, Singapore, Phuket, Perth and Banda Aceh.
Penang is connected to the mainland and the North-South Expressway by the Penang Bridge, one of the longest bridges in Asia. There is no toll for vehicles heading to the mainland, but vehicles headed to the island must pay a toll as follows: motorcycles: RM1.40, cars: RM7.00, vans and buses with two axles and four wheels: RM12.00 .
KTMBoperates train servce to the Butterworth train station, within walking distance to the ferry to Penang Island. Tickets can be booked at the train station, the ferry terminal, or online . The journey to/from Kuala Lumpur takes 6 hours.
An overnight train departs Bangkok daily at 2:45PM Thai time, scheduled to arrive in Butterworth at 1:45PM Malaysian time. Trains are air conditioned, are all sleeper cars, and cost THB1,210, with a THB104 surcharge for bicycles.
Buses in Georgetown arrive/depart at the new bus terminal at Sungai Nibong, a fifteen-minute ride from the center, and about ten minutes from the airport. A taxi to the center costs RM20. Rapid Penang bus 301 and 401A goes to KOMTAR and Pengkalan Weld (Weld Quay). Major coach operators include Konsortium, Plusliner / Nice, Transnasional , and Mutiara.
The trip from Kuala Lumpur’s Pudu Raya bus station or Kota Bharu, Perhentian Islands each cost around RM35 and take around 5-6 hours. Buses to/from Johor Bahru and Singapore take 10 hours and cost RM 60 or SGD$40.
It’s possible to travel by bus to and from Thailand. Tickets are available from travel shops in and around Penang Road. Some journey times are:
- Krabi – 8 hours
- Phuket – 12 to 14 hours
- Bangkok – 18 hours.
Minivan service is more expensive than bus service and is available between Georgetown and cities in Thailand such as Ko Phi Phi, Phuket, Trang, Surat Thani, Krabi, Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan, Bangkok and Hat Yai on daily basis. Service is available to the Perhentian Islands for 160 RM, boat included.
Penang Port operates ferries to/from Butterworth daily from 5:30AM till 1:00AM. Ferry rates are RM1.20 for adults, RM0.60 for children, RM1.40 for bicycles, RM2.00 for motorbikes, RM7.70 for cars, and additional fees for larger vehicles
Langkawi Ferry Services operates ferry service from Langkawi to Penang at 2:30PM and 5:15PM daily. Tel: +6042642088 in Penang; +6049663779 in Langkawi. One-way trip costs RM60 for adult, RM45 for child (3-11 years old) and RM25 for infant (below 2 years old). Return trip costs RM115, RM85 and RM50 respectively. Trip takes 2 hours and 30 minutes. Advance booking can be made via the web site. Credit cards are not accepted at the terminal, although there are numerous ATMs in the attached shopping mall. The ferry in service is very old and offers no facilities other than simple air-conditioned seating. There is no access to the top, meaning thereby that no sight-seeing on the way is available. There is proper locked storage for luggage at the rear of the ship upon boarding. There is no restaurant. Check-in is at least 30 minutes before scheduled departure time.
One of the best ways to sight see is to walk around Georgetown; but wear light clothes, start early in the morning, and put on plenty of sun-block during the daytime. When crossing the roads, remember to look both ways, even on a one-way street!
RapidPenang , the local bus service, features new buses. All bus stations and bus stops which are serviced by the RapidPenang buses are labeled with proper signboards to ensure user-friendliness. Buses are somewhat frequent on the main artery to Batu Ferringhi. Rapid Penang bus 101 bound for Teluk Bahang goes through midtown Pulau Tikus, (northwest end of) Gurney Drive, Tanjung Tokong, Tanjung Bungah, Batu Ferringhi and terminates at the Penang National Park entrance. Avoid so-called ‘minibuses’ because they usually go as far as Tanjung Bungah and can be poorly maintained.
Rapid Penang bus 203 and 204 to Air Itam (RM1.50 Adult) departs westward on Lebuh Chulia (the main backpacker hotel road) or southbound from the KOMTAR building are handy for visiting both Kek Lok Si Temple and Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera) Funiciular Base Station, approximately 30mins south west of the city center. The driver will inform you of when to alight. Bus 204 departs from the funicular base station to return to Komtar and onward.
The main hub for buses in Georgetown is KOMTAR, the tallest building in town. The secondary hub is located at the Pengkalan Weld (Weld Quay) ferry terminal. All buses depart from the ferry terminal will stopover at KOMTAR, but downtown-bound buses destined for KOMTAR may not go all the way to the ferry terminal; ask the bus operator. There is a new long-distance bus terminal at Sungai Nibong, refer to by bus entry.
Municipal Council of Penang Island provides a free shuttle bus service in Georgetown which runs approximately between the Pengkalan Weld ferry terminal and KOMTAR every 20 minutes Mon-Fri 6AM-11.40PM, plus Saturdays 7:00am-2:00pm(no service on Sundays or public holidays).
Also, foreigners can purchase a Rapid Passport for only RM20 and enjoy a week of unlimited travel onboard all rapid Penang buses.
These three-wheeled human-powered vehicles might be the best idea for a pleasant city tour. One can stop at any point to take a photo or buy souvenirs. Many trishaw riders are also excellent ‘tour guides’. Negotiate the fare first before getting on a trishaw; it is advisable to hire them by the hour for extended sightseeing.
Car rentals may be a viable option, especially if you are planning to get off the beaten track and explore the western or southern coast of the island. Take note that Penang Island has quite a number of one-way streets and narrow roads. Many Penangites ride motorbikes and a minority of them have disregard for pedestrians, cars, and even their own lives, so you must be very careful when driving on the roads. Avoid driving during the rush hours between 7:30-9:30AM and 5:30-7:30PM. Motorcycle riders can be undisciplined and tourists should be extra vigilant of them.
Taxis in Penang are equipped with meters but most drivers are reluctant to use the meters. Always haggle with the taxi driver and agree on a price beforehand. At some high-end hotels, particularly on Batu Ferringhi, you may find blue SUVs marked “Teksi Executif” (Executive Taxi). These taxis do use the meter, but are hard to find on the streets.
Almost all locals in Penang are able to speak Malay, the national language of Malaysia. The ethnic Chinese in Penang (who form the majority) usually speak a localized variant of Hokkien known as Penang Hokkien, which Minnan speakers from Taiwan and Fujian may have some difficulty understanding due to the slang and some loan words from Malay. Most ethnic Chinese are also able to speak Mandarin, and many are also able to speak Cantonese. Ethnic Indians usually converse with each other in Tamil and ethnic Malays usually converse with each other in Malay, but quite a good number of Tamil and Malay Penangites can converse in Hokkien.
English is spoken fluently by most professionals and businessmen, as well as by service staff working in hotels and tourist attractions. Most other locals under the age of 50 will be able to communicate in broken English, supplemented by non-verbal forms of communication such as pointing and gesturing. When in doubt, gravitate toward younger locals, as English is a required subject in Malaysian schools. Nearly all teenagers or adults in their 20s or 30s should be able to speak reasonably fluent English.
Places to See
- Kek Lok Si – 极乐寺 – Temple of Supreme Bliss. A sprawling hillside structure that is reputed to be the largest Buddhist temple in South-East Asia, with the khmer/thai/chinese style Ban Po Thar (Ten Thousand Buddhas Tower) (RM4 to top via stairs) and various Buddha images in the main temple complex. Furthermore, a mini-funicular train (RM4) connects to the summit of the hill featuring a giant 36.5m high statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. The current bronze version was completed after donations from mainland Chinese in 2003. Currently, there is scaffolding around the statue since there is building work in progress for a giant open pavilion to protect the statue, due to be completed in 2009. Photographs taken while construction is in progress will not be optimal, but still worth the inclined elevator ride up. During the Chinese New Year period, the temple is decorated with hundreds of lanterns which turns it into a night-time wonderland. Located near the village of Air Itam; a taxi from Georgetown will set you back RM 20-25; catching a bus from the station next to the Komtar will cost you RM 2.00 (take Rapid Penang bus no. 203 to Air Itam, the last stop). A must-see place for visitors, although try to avoid the busy weekends.
- Bukit Bendera – 升旗山 – Penang Hill. Penang Hill probably has the best view of Georgetown and Penang Bridge, especially at night. Go up via the Penang Hill Funicular (Return Adult RM4, duration of journey, up or down 30min; frequency every 30 min; take Rapid Penang bus no. 204 to the last stop, 2 RM), a fascinating little cable train service that lifts you out of the heat and humidity of the coastal plain and up to a fabulous view and cool breezes. Unfortunately, the Funicular will be closed for 7 months beginning 22 February 2010 for upgrading work – until then you can charter a jeep to the summit for RM60 from the car park at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens. The 19th-century English travel writer, Isabella Bird, called the temperature on the hill ‘delicious’ because it can be very much cooler than on the plains. The more adventurous (and fit) may want to hike up the hill (remember to take along water). There are several starting points for a trek up the hill including from the Moongate (about 300m from the entrance to the Botanical Gardens) and from inside the Botanical Gardens itself (just before the Reservoir). You can also walk up the paved jeep trail which begins beside the entrance to the Gardens. When you reach the summit, you can walk around the hilltop, stop for tea, enjoy a leisurely lunch, buy a souvenir, try to photograph Georgetown and the Strait, or simply breathe deep lungfuls of cool, clean hill air. Leave a good 2-3 hours minimum to get to the top and return once buying your ticket. The trains can be crowded and you may have to wait some time in queue at the bottom and top, so try to avoid weekends.
- Penang Botanic Gardens, Jalan Kebun Bunga, Phone:+60 4 227-0428 (for group tour arrangement) Fax:+60 4 228-6075 . Open daily, 5AM-8PM. Take Rapid Penang minibus no. 10 from KOMTAR. Free admission. The gardens were established by Charles Curtis of Britain way back in 1884; it’s generally known as the Waterfall Gardens by the local community because of a little waterfall located within it. Many locals will come to the gardens to perform their daily exercises like walking, jogging, jungle trekking, aerobic dance, and to practice Tai Chi (太极) or Qi Gong (气功). The wild monkeys are supposed to be there but not to be seen. The garden hosts an annual international floral fest as well as a world music festival. .
- ‘Amazing Nibong Tebal. See the synchronised flashes of light gently hovering over mangrove trees that line the river bank. The specific species of mangrove tree which attracts these fireflies is the berembang (sonneratia caseolaris). Firefly watching at Sungai Kerian is increasingly drawing visitors and the fire fly is an icon of Nibong Tebal. The fireflies emit light at the lower abdomen not only to attract mates but also to scare away predators. Their abdomens are filled with a chemical called lucibufagens which in fact tastes pretty nasty.
- Bukit Jambul Orchid, Hisbiscus & Reptile Garden, Persiaran Bukit Jambul. Phone:+60 4 644-8863, Fax:+60 4 644-2236 / 228-5733. Daily 9:30AM-6:30PM (last admission at 5:30PM). This garden is close to Hotel Equatorial and is about 10 minutes from Penang International Airport. You can pose for a picture with Malaysia’s largest tame snake, a rare Albino Python or watch the Snake Show on weekends and public holidays, 11:30AM-3:30PM. Adult RM5 and children RM2.
- Penang Butterfly Farm, 830 Jalan Teluk Bahang, 11050 Pahang. Tel : +60 4 885-1253. Opens 365 days a year, Mon–Fri 9AM-5:30PM, Sat, Sun and public holidays 9AM–6PM. Houses a large collection of tropical butterflies, as well as rare tropical insects, scorpions, snakes, fish, lizards, and other reptiles. Also features an Art and Artifact Gallery, Souvenir Shop and a Cafe. Admission price is RM20 for Adult and RM10 for children.
- Fisheries Department Research Institute Aquarium, Batu Maung. Daily 10AM-5PM. Adult RM5, children (7-12 years old) RM2, free admission for children under 7. A medium-sized aquarium that showcases mostly fish found in regional waters. Nothing fancy but quite informative and enjoyable.
- Penang Bridge (槟威大桥). With a span of 8.4km over water, it is one of the longest bridges in the world. The bridge connects the island to the mainland (Seberang Perai) and offers great views of the port and city. You are not supposed to stop on the bridge but many people use the emergency stop areas for a quick photo shoot. The bridge opened to public in 1985 and still is a major national landmark for Malaysia. A second, even longer bridge, is due to be ready by 2012.
- Pulau Jerejak Resort, (Jerejak Island). Also known as the Alcatraz of Malaysia, because the island was once the location of the Jerejak Prison. This beautiful 362 hectare tropical island, is located directly across the channel from the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, on the south eastern coast of Penang island. The island is now open to the public as a recreational resort. Numerous outdoor activities including nature & historical trekking, mountain biking, and archery are available; personal care such as aromatherapy massage, tired foot treatment, body scrub are also available. Unfortunately, you are advised not to swim in the sea around the Jerejak island because it is not quite clean. Ferries from Penang start operations at 6:30AM and continue until 12:30PM. Return trip fare for guests with room / event reservations: Adult RM6, Children RM3. Day trippers: Adult RM16 (include meals), Children RM3. Various accommodation option available: tent for 2 person costs RM80 per night, 2-bed room RM115, chalet RM220 or promotional 3D/2N package for 2 person costs RM499.
- Snake Temple (蛇庙) was built in 1850 in memory of the renowned Chinese monk Chor Soo Kong. The Snake Temple is situated in the small town of Bayan Lepas on the edge of a highway and is famous for the fact that it has pit vipers living within the temple grounds. Legend has it that Chor Soo Kong, who was also a healer, gave shelter to the snakes of jungle. After the completion of the temple, snakes appeared on their own accord. Today, the snake population of the Temple of the Azure Cloud is very small, due to the urbanization of the area, but you can still see them coiled up on the altar tables, and you can touch them, if you are brave enough. Originally, the snakes were said to be rendered harmless by the smell of the burning incense, but today, to be safe, the resident vipers are devenomed. There is a snake museum beside the temple where there are snakes galore and you can see a staff member occasionally handling an albino Burmese python. Museum admission RM5 for adults, free admission for temple (9am to 6pm). Take Rapid Penang bus 401 or 401A from KOMTAR
- War Museum Lot 1350, Mukim 12, Batu Maung, Phone: +60 4 626-5142, 391-0067 Fax: +60 4 626-4142, 644-8015. Every day, 9AM-7PM (last admission). Located at southeastern tip of Penang, it is a large abandoned military fortress built in 1930s by the British to protect the southern approaches to the island. The British Royal Engineers and a work force of local laborers blasted and dug into the hill to create a fort with underground military tunnels, an intelligence and logistic center, halls, offices, ventilation shafts, artillery firing bays, sleeping quarters, cook houses as well as an infirmary.
- Tropical Spice Garden – The Tropical Spice Garden, which is in a 8 acre valley fronting the shores of Teluk Bahang showcases a landscaped garden that consists of tropical plant collections from all over the world. The garden has over 100 varieties of tropical spice and herb plants and a huge collection of other exotic flora.
- Fort Cornwallis – This brick-and-mortar fort was first built using bakau wood in 1786 by the British under Captain Francis Light at the site where they first landed. The fort was upgraded in 1793 to its current state. Located by the sea at the Esplanade (Padang Kota Lama in Malay), the fort has a small lighthouse, a chapel, and a gunpowder bunker within its walls. Several old cannons (including one that is believed by some locals to have magical ‘fertility’ powers) can still be found at the fort. There are also small displays of artifacts recovered from archaeological digs inside the fort. This well-preserved historical site is open to the public from 9AM to 6:30PM on Mondays to Saturdays. Admission costs RM3.00 (adult) and RM1.00 (children).
- Toy Museum, Jln Tanjung Bungah, 10km northwest of Georgtown beside the Copthorne Hotel (take Rapid Penang bus 101 or 103 from KOMTAR) – there are more than 100,000 toys on display. open daily 0900-2000, admission 20 RM for adults
- Tropical Fruit Farm – This 25-acre farm lies in the scenic hills near Balik Pulau. You can view the many kinds of fruit trees there and sample fresh fruit at reasonable price. A small stall near the entrance sells fresh fruit juice and fruit dishes. You can also enjoy a great view of the north-western coastline of the island.
- Penang Durian Farm – Located about 10 minutes from the Teluk Bahang Dam, the farm offers a durian buffet (early reservation required) and a variety of tropical fruits during the local fruit & durian season (May – August).
- Penang Bird Park – A small bird park located on the mainland (Seberang Perai) about 10 minutes from the Penang Bridge. Take a walk under nice shady trees and view dozens of kinds of birds including ostriches, sea eagles, peafowls, hornbills, flamingos, macaws, and grey parrots. There are also two walk-through aviaries and a fish pond. Some of the enclosures do need a touch of paint, but kids should love this place. Open daily from 9AM to 7PM Address: Jalan Todak (near the Sunway Carnival Mall), Bandar Seberang Jaya, 13700 Perai, Penang. Tel.: +60 4 399-1899.
Events and Festivals
- Hari Raya Puasa.
- Chinese New Year. Falls on 14 February this year (2010). This will be the year of the Tiger. Fourteen days later, during the full moon, there is a festival in which the gods from numerous temples around the island are brought out for a procession, with the route including Chulia Street.
- Thaipusam. A Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (Jan/Feb). This year it will be on 30 January.
- Vesak (Wesak). A Buddhist festival celebrated mainly by the Chinese community on the full moon of the 5th or 6th lunar month. It is characterized by a street parade. Temples will typically be filled with devotees and there will be a variety of activities by the various Buddhist associations and societies on this day.
- Penang International Dragon Boat Festival has been staged annually since 1979 and has successfully attracted teams from all over the world including Australia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia, the Netherlands, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Canada, and the USA. The event is now usually held at the Teluk Bahang Dam.
- Penang Bon Odori Carnival . A Japanese traditional carnival usually with drum and dance performances.
- The Feast of St. Anne . 29 July. Venue: St. Anne’s Church, Bukit Mertajam. A Christian religious festival that includes a candle-light procession at the church.
- Nine Emperor Gods vegetarian festival is held at Taoist temples for 9 days of the 9th lunar month in the Chinese calendar, normally at the end of Sept or Oct.
- Deepavali. Falls on 5 November, 2010. The Hindu ‘Festival of Lights’ which, according to legend, celebrates the triumph of Lord Rama over the demon Raavana.
- Penang Floral Festival. Held at the Penang Botanic Gardens annually.
- Penang Bridge Marathon. 21 November 2010. Participants run on the Penang Bridge (13.5 km long) and along a scenic coastal highway. This is the only time of the year when the bridge is closed for several hours.
Things to do in Penang
Beaches – The secluded beaches of Pantai Kerachut, Muka Head, and Teluk Kampi are located on the northern coast. There is an old lighthouse at Muka Head beach. You can reach these beaches by either hiking (1 – 3 hours) or by hiring a fisherman’s “sampan” (boat) from the small village of Teluk Bahang. The village itself has a kilometer-long beach and a small Scout campsite.
- Jungle Trekking & Camping – Enjoy walking through the reserve forest in Teluk Bahang, go to the northwestern cape of the island where there are unspoiled beaches and an old lighthouse. For a quicker and more relaxed way to reach the secluded beaches there, approach the locals at Kampung Nelayan for boat rides to beaches like Muka Head, Pantai Kerachut, and Teluk Kampi. Kampung Nelayan is located less than 1km down the road northwest of the small roundabout located at Teluk Bahang.
- Bukit Jambul Golf & Country Club 2 Jalan Bukit Jambul, Course designer: Robert Trent Jones Jr.
- Pearl Island Country Club 8 Persiaran Kelicap, Tel: +60 4 642-7888, Fax: +60 4 646-6999. Course design: Pacific Coast Design (Aust)
- Bukit Jawi Golf Resort Lot 414, Mlk6 Jln Paya Kemian Sempayi Sungai Jawi
- Watersports are on the agenda for many visitors, although the waters are a bit too murky for scuba diving and a bit too calm for surfing or more extreme pursuits. Swimming is OK along most of the northern coast especially near the international-class hotels as they do their best to keep the beaches and water clean. You can also try out jet skis and parasailing near most of the hotels along Batu Feringhi beach.
Food in Penang
Penang offers plenty of delicious and cheap Malaysian food, but is famed throughout the rest of the country for some specialities such as Char Koay Teow, Penang Laksa, and Nasi Kandar, which are found practically everywhere on the island. . Penang is an island of countless food stalls, a veritable “food paradise”. It is known to many around Asia for its culinary originality and diversity. However, Penangites find good food in many places usually unknown (and even odd) to tourists.
The best way to find good food is to ask the locals. Don’t be surprised that some stalls that are set up beside a busy road or coffeeshops located in some inconspicuous back alley are considered to serve very good food by the locals. The rule of thumb is to be adventurous with your tongue and to look at the condition of the stall and its surroundings. Generally, if a stall is being patronised by many locals, the food will be good to eat.
For the most well-known Char Koay Teow, try “Sister’s Char Koay Teow” at Macalister Road. Sister’s Char Koay Teow however, is widely regarded as overpriced and overrated by most locals. More popular albeit still relatively expensive Char Koay Teow can be found at Lorong Selamat together with a wide variety of other stalls which are popular with both locals and tourists alike.
If you’ve been traveling in Singapore or elsewhere in Malaysia, you’ll see some familiar names, but don’t be fooled: Penang laksa or hokkien mee are quite different from what you’d get in, say, Kuala Lumpur. Topping the list are:
- Assam Laksa – A far cry from the sweet, coconutty Singapore version, this noodle soup comes with sour broth flavored with tamarind (assam) with pureed fish, fruits, veggies and a generous helping of chili mixed in. Watch out, the combination is powerful and will have the uninitiated breathing fire! Famous assam laksa include Air Itam market, Gottlieb Road, Gurney Drive, etc.
- Penang Char Koay Teow (炒馃条) – The definitive version of the ubiquitous stir-fried flat rice noodles, tossed with bean sprouts, cockles, and anything else the chef has handy. Eggs are additional and cockles can be opt out, if preferred by the customer; request when placing order. Some say the best Char Koay Teow can be found at Lorong Selamat but it costs at least RM5 per plate and that only if you have the patience of a saint to wait for it. Another choice is Ah Leng Char Koay Teow and the Char Koay Teow in Bukit Emas Restaurant, Seberang Perai.
- Penang Nasi Kandar – White rice (nasi) with anything else that you want with it! Usually served with fried chicken, fried fish, prawns, squid, hardboiled eggs, various vegetables, and a curry (which is poured onto the rice). Be careful though! Taking too many of the ‘side dishes’ can be quite expensive. Can be found at various places around Georgetown.
- Hokkien Mee – Two types of noodles in prawn and pork soup with slices of pork, prawns, hard boiled egg, vegetable, beans sprout and sprinkling of deep fried shallots.
- Koay Teow Th’ng – Flat rice noodles (Koay Teow) in clear chicken soup (Th’ng) with slices of chicken, pork and fish cake. Garnish with chopped spring onions. Some places have duck meat and other organ meats as extras. Some say the shops in Hutton Lane and a couple of shops opposite Tandoori House are a good choices for this dish. You can also get good KTT at Gurney Drive, though at higher prices.
- Lobak, or Lorbak – Minced pork wrapped in tofu skin) – Very famous in Penang, Lorbak is similar to sausage (Lor means a kind of sauce whereas bak means meat in Hokkien). You can choose the accompanying servings of prawn fritters, tofu, fish cakes, Taiwan sausages, century egg (rotten duck egg, but very tasty if eaten with ginger) and others. Locals dip Lorbak in sweet sauce and chilli sauce. Can be found in rather consistent quality all over Penang. Also available at Gurney Drive’s hawker center and New World Park.
- Penang Sar Hor Fun (炒河粉) – A local dish with koay teow (flat rice cakes) in a delicious broth of beaten eggs and seafood bits. Goes best with pickled green chillies.
- Seafood – As you might expect on an island, seafood is abundant. Head for the fishing village of Teluk Bahang in the north, or go to Batu Maung / Teluk Kumbar in the south for fresh fare at local prices. You can also get good seafood at Batu Ferringhi beach.
- Or Chen (Oyster Omelette) – This is a popular dish available in multiple locations all around Georgetown. The food center at Gurney Drive is a tourist-friendly place to get an oyster omelette. It is next to the Gurney Plaza shopping center and a stone’s throw away from G Hotel. Expect to queue for ten to fifteen minutes; the price ranges from RM 8 to RM 16 depending on the portion you are ordering.
- Pasembor (Indian mixed fruits) – Despite its name, this dish does not contain any fruit. Basically it is cucumber plus your chosen ingredients covered in spicy peanut sauce. You can choose to add squid, sausage, tofu, local crackers, crabs, potato, eggs, and fish cake, among other possibilities. Prices range from RM 5 to RM 20, depending on the ingredients you want on your pasembor. Available at the food center at Gurney Drive.
- Lor Mee (Noodles) – A bowl of yellow noodles in sticky brown colored gravy. Unique to this part of Malaysia and a must try, lor mee can be found on the road called “Lebuh Presgrave” in town. There is a little link house converted to a restaurant that serves them. Also available in other hawker centers. Depending on the cook, it may or may not contain innards such as intestines, stomach, and liver. You can ask them first and if they do serve innards, you may request a serving without them. Lor mee are commonly served with shreds of chicken breast and some pork slices. Prices range from RM 3 to RM 6.
- Satay (Malay: sate) – the famous meat-on-a-stick, is a traditional Malay food typically made from marinated meat – chicken, mutton or beef, skewered onto bamboo sticks and grilled over hot charcoals. A fresh salad of cucumbers & onions are served together with a spicy-sweet peanut dipping sauce for dipping.
- Nutmeg (豆蔻) products – In traditional medicine, nutmeg oil or balm were used for illnesses related to the nervous and digestive systems. Preserved nutmeg strips either in dry or wet form are used as the snack by locals.
- Traditional biscuits such as Tambun Pneah (淡文饼), Beh Teh Sor (马蹄酥), Heong Pneah (香饼), Pong Pneah (清糖饼), Tau Sar Pneah (豆沙饼) and etc.
- Kaya (a type of jam) – A mixture of eggs and cocount milk to be spread over anything you want. According to some, the best kaya is at a little coffee shop at the end of Madras Lane. To impress the locals, order some kaya toast and dip it in some half-boiled egg.
- Coconut tart – If you have eaten egg tart before then instead of the egg put in some coconut and voila! You get coconut tart and definitely the best is at Cintra Lane.
- Cendol – A mixture of blended ice with big mushy red beans with gula melaka (brown sugar) thrown in. This will satisfy anyone even if it is raining. Cendol can be found anywhere but the best is at Penang Road.
- Durian Fruit – Penang’s durian is unique in the world. Best way to eat is at the stall. They open the durian for you. You pay what you eat. The medium durian will cost RM8-15. You don’t have to worry about buying rotten durians. Stalls are usually located by the roadside next to durian plantations, along the road from Teluk Bahang (almoust end station of bus 101) to Balik Pulau (end station of bus 401E or 401), and along the road from Air Itam to Relau. Within Georgetown, there is one at Jalan Anson, opposite Jalan Dunlop, and another along Jalan Macalister.
And wash it all down with some…
- Teh Tarik (literally, Pulled Tea) – This tea-with-milk drink is “pulled” by the vendor, that is, the drink is poured into the serving cup from a can/pot that is moved from near the cup to a considerable height above it. Some people might say that this is a bit unhygienic. Enjoy at any Mamak (Indian Muslim) stall or restaurant along Penang Road in the evening, chit chat with friends, while watching the culture of Penangites.
Penang is relatively a very safe place for travellers, however like in any other place, Penang has its share of crime, so common precautions must be taken against snatch-thieves and scams. Some other precautions:
- Don’t walk alone in dark and deserted places.
- Don’t accept rides from Kereta Sapu (passenger car / unlicensed taxi).
- Don’t carry valuables in motorbike-baskets.
- Don’t leave valuables in hotel rooms.
- Don’t place valuables on restaurant tables.
- Do be wary of snatch-thieves – especially when wearing jewelry and/or carrying bags. Some of these felons practice the art of ‘ride-by’ snatching of ladies’ handbags which can result in serious injury to the victim. So ladies: walk against traffic and keep the handbag on the side away from the road or better still, don’t carry one.
- Do be wary of the (sometimes aggressive) long-tail macaques at the botanical gardens.