Penang is one of the most famous spots in Malaysia, and with good reason. Most of the state of Penang is located on an island. As such, you can enjoy beaches, sparkling waters, and a laid back island feel coupled with a boundless city experience. This part of Malaysia is also known for its food. Anyone who loves to eat will genuinely find a culinary paradise here. Much of which is down to the mix of influences in the city.
Penang enjoys a large Chinese and Tamil community, along with the indigenous Malay residents. You will find a fantastic and diverse food scene that includes fiery curries, toothsome noodles, and various street food delights. All of this is surrounded by gorgeous architecture. The traditional centre of Penang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right.
This means that you can explore pretty ancient buildings and museums, forts, gardens, and temples. Visitors to Penang will certainly not be short of places to visit and sights to check out.
Tour the Tropical Spice Garden
One of the highlights of Penang, particularly if you want to get out of the central areas, is the Tropical Spice Garden located on Jalan Teluk Bahang. The garden is an ode to all the gorgeous herbs and spices indigenous to this part of the world. The Tropical Spice Garden sits on what used to be a rubber plantation.
This is an incredible place to visit for anyone interested in Malay flora and fauna. You can even take a cookery class here. Discover how these herbs and spices make classic dishes enjoyed across Malaysia. There are also guided or audio tours of the garden and activities for younger visitors to help get them involved in various aromatic plants.
Learn some history at Fort Cornwallis
Fort Cornwallis is one of the most famous sights in Penang and dates from the 18th century. The British East India Company built it under the direction of Sir Francis Light, the founder of Penang. It was designed to defend the city in case of an invasion from the water.
The fort is still in good condition. You can see the remarkable statue of Francis Light that stands at the entrance to the fort and a variety of original cannons. Suppose you notice any flowers in the cannon. This is because a local legend says that anyone wishing to conceive should make an offering here.
Soak up the sun on Batu Ferringhi Beach
Anyone coming to Penang searching for some sun and sand should make their way to Batu Ferringhi. The beach is known for being one of the best beach areas on the island. Here you will find a long strip of golden beach, part of which is public and some of which is used by the resorts that line the coast.
Popular past times on the beach include sunbathing or swimming in the soothing waters, or just relaxing and sipping on coconut as you look across the water. If you can, try to come here at sunset as the views are stunning.
Visit Kek Lok Si Temple
Kek Lok Si Temple is famed for being one of the largest Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia. And as such, you should make sure not to miss it if you are travelling to Penang. Many Buddhist devotees consider this to be an important pilgrimage site. You can spot the beautiful towering Kek Lok Si Pagoda and the statue of Guanyin.
The statue is constructed in the shape of the Goddess of Mercy and stands at the height of 36.5 meters. The entire temple complex is built in a range of styles. As such, make sure to look out for the Chinese base, Thai style mid-section, and the Burmese inspired top level.
Visit the Penang Peranakan Museum
The Penang Peranakan Museum is dedicated to telling the Peranakan people, sometimes referred to as Straits Chinese. The Peranakans moved to Malaysia in the old days. A unique culture came with them, a blend of traditional Chinese and traditional Malay customs.
As such, if you want to know more about this fantastic culture, then the Penang Peranakan Museum will take you back in time. There are even recreations of traditional homes from the 19th century and galleries of photographs and antiques.
Scare yourself at the Snake Temple
As the name suggests, the Snake Temple in Penang is full of resident slithery creatures. And this makes it one of the unique temples in Malaysia. Most of the residents here are pit vipers, and the temple dates from 1805 when snakes found their way to the building and the benevolent monks allowed them to take up residence here.
Nowadays, you will see snakes coiled in corners all over the temple and lounging on the temple altars. You can also have your picture taken holding one of the snakes if you feel brave. This is a great place to come with all the family. The snakes are said to be safe and do not attack visitors.
Have lunch at Pelita Nasi Kandar
Pelita Nasi Kandar is known across Malaysia and is not to be missed if you want to try some of the best local food in Penang. Nasi Kandar is rice heaped with meat, fish, seafood, and vegetable side dishes and is then liberally doused in delicious curry sauce.
All the food is presented in a glass-fronted case, and you can point to what you want to eat and have it added to your plate. The food has a powerful Tamil influence due to the local Tamil community in Penang. So expect Indian style curries and flavours with cabbage and okra fried with mustard seeds and turmeric.
Explore Little India
Little India represents a small section of Penang, but it is unquestionably not dismissed because of its size. There is a strong Tamil population across Malaysia and in Penang. You could be forgiven for thinking that you have taken a wrong turn and ended up in a completely different country. As you walk around Little India, look out for shops retailing gorgeous vivid saris as well as fragrance emporiums and incense shops.
Other venues blast Bollywood music onto the streets, and this is also one of the best places in Penang to sample some street food. These include deep-fried pastries such as samosas. This is also a great place to find one of the most famous drinks in Malaysia, teh tarik or a kind of tea made with condensed milk and poured from one cup to another to create a thick foam head.
Tour Tanjung Bungah Floating Mosque
The main reason to come to this quiet part of Penang is to visit the Tanjung Bungah Floating Mosque, which was built on stilts over the water. Hence the reference to it ‘floating’. When the tide is low, you can walk directly underneath the mosque and check out this incredible feat of engineering, which was also the first of its kind in Malaysia.
Have a cup of tea at Huang Chen Tao Tea Art
One of the less known facts about Penang is that it is covered in dainty little tea shops thanks to the strong Chinese influence in this city. Many tea houses sit in shophouses, and it is easy to walk past and miss one without discerning the delights contained within.
Huang Chen Tao Tea Art is one such place, and you will find a traditional Chinese tea supplier here with packets of tea stacked all over the shop. There is also a range of little tables arranged in the front of the shop where you can sit down and have a cup of the delicious leaves on sale. This makes a great place to pick up some tea-based souvenirs from your trip to Penang.