One of the most popular destinations in Southeast Asia, Penang is known as the “Pearl of the Orient”. Malaysians are proud of their island - particularly when it comes to the amazing food - and they have good reason. Penang never fails to enchant first-time visitors to Malaysia. In 2008 UNESCO declared the entire city of Georgetown to be a World Heritage Site.
More than just a culinary destination, there are plenty of things to do in Penang. A vibrant mix of Indian, Chinese, and Malay culture makes for an interesting array of attractions, temples, and things to see around Penang.
- See images from Penang.
First and foremost, Penang is famous the world over for the street food. Whether from a sprawling food court or secret street cart known only to the locals - good food is cheap, plentiful, and never far away. Penang's historic role as a trading port has enabled it to blend and borrow culinary delights from China, India, and all over.
Kek Lok Si is the largest and most impressive Buddhist temple in Malaysia. Located around 40 minutes outside of Georgetown, Kek Lok Si is open to the public. Visitors are invited to wander the sprawling temple, ride a cable car to a 100-foot-tall statue of Kuan Yin, and view the Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas.
Perhaps most interesting about Kek Lok Si is that the construction conveys Chinese, Thai, and Burmese Buddhist ideals - a blend of beliefs rarely seen anywhere in the world.
- Read more about visiting Kek Lok Si Temple.
Located along the northeast coastal esplanade in Georgetown, Fort Cornwallis is an important historical landmark. Constructed by Sir Francis Light in 1786 to protect British interests in Penang, Fort Cornwallis bristles with cannons facing the sea.
The Seri Rambai Cannon was cast from brass in 1603 and given as a gift from the Dutch to the Sultan of Johor. The Portuguese captured the iconic cannon and held it in Indonesia for 182 years. In 1880 the Seri Rambai Cannon was raised out of the Straits of Melacca and returned to Fort Cornwallis.
- Read more about visiting Fort Cornwallis.
Located just outside of Georgetown in Banyan Lepas, the Snake Temple is literally crawling with poisonous pit vipers. The Snake Temple was constructed in 1850 to honor a monk famous for healing and harboring poisonous snakes from the jungle. Once constructed, legend tells that the snakes came to the Snake Temple on their own; the temple staff provided a home and in exchange have never received a bite.
Visitors are welcome to visit the Snake Farm - a private attraction inside of the temple - where hundreds of snakes are on display and can even be handled under supervision.
- Read more about seeing the live snakes at Penang's Snake Temple.
5. Balik Pulau
Found on the opposite side of Georgetown, the name Balik Pulau actually means the “back of the island”. Balik Pulau is a relaxed agriculture district where tourists can stroll rice paddies, visit organic farms, and sample the famous durian fruit grown in the region. Bali Pulau is far removed from the noise and traffic of Georgetown.
With sites around Balik Pulau being spread out, many tourists opt to rent a bicycle and spend a nice afternoon riding in the fresh air. A fishing village and belacan shrimp paste factory are among the interesting sites dotted around the green countryside.
- Read more about visiting Balik Pulau.
Far less visited than Taman Negara, Penang National Park is Malaysia's smallest and newest national park. Two primary trails cut through dense rainforest and finish at secluded beaches – arguably the best stretch of sand in all of Penang. Nesting sea turtles frequent the beaches at night; camping is allowed at the campground.
The modern Interpretation Centre is a great place to learn more about the plants and animals found in the national park. A canopy walk allows visitors a chance to see birds and other life normally unseen high in the trees.
- Read more about visiting the Penang National Park.
Located in the heart of Georgetown's Chinatown, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is an impressive piece of history just begging to be explored.
Five landscaped courtyards and 38 rooms carefully coordinated for optimum feng shui are a testament to the great wealth and hard work of Cheong Fatt Tze. The mansion was constructed in the late 1800s, but was restored and opened to the public only fairly recently.
Today, visitors can either tour the beautiful house or actually stay in one of the 16 rooms operated as a homestay. Era furnishings, artwork, and grand architecture are found throughout the historic home.
- Read more about Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion.
The Khoo Kongsi clan house is an enjoyable stop within proximity of Fort Cornwallis and the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion during a walking tour of Georgetown. Constructed in 1906, the Khoo Kongsi house is considered to be the most magnificient remaining clan house in Penang.
Carved reliefs on display capture the history of some of Penang's early Chinese settlers.
The compound which consists of walled enclosures, an opera stage, and temples is open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Read more about the Khoo Kongsi clan house.