Penang is a small island, but it packs in a big number of great travel experiences.
From peeking above the skyline from the top of 200-meters-high KOMTAR to skimming through the beautiful UNESCO-inscribed heritage streets of the city of George Town, Penang has something for everyone. You can also enjoy some of Asia’s best street art. Relax on a beach or at a stylish Penang cafe, or lose yourself in a tropical jungle, “Penang has it all”, as locals like to say.
Survey Penang from the Top of KOMTAR
At 232-meters in height, KOMTAR is the tallest building in Penang. It was made taller in 2015 to reach 65 levels of elevation. There are many things to do at KOMTAR. The most popular is taking an elevator to the top floor to enjoy walking on the Rainbow Skywalk. It is the highest glass bridge in Asia.
It is not something you will want to try if you suffer vertigo. If you do not, you may as well contemplate trying the Gravityz. It is an obstacle course with zip lines perched right outside one of KOMTAR’s top floors. It is one of the highest sports platforms in all of Asia.
The views above George Town and Penang island from The TOP at KOMTAR are sublime. The best time to come is right before sunset when the sun goes down. You can watch the lights of the city flare-up below you.
Check out the famous Penang Street Art
The first “murals” were a series of 50-something iron-rod caricatures. It was completed to spruce up the most historical corners of the recently UNESCO-inscribed old George Town. Street art in Penang exploded in 2012 after Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic created the “Mirror of George Town” series for the George Town Festival.
The nine murals and art installations represented life scenes on the island. The most famous today, “Little Children on a Bicycle”. The Guardian voted it as one of the world’s best street art pieces in 2013. The Insta-craze started shortly afterwards. The murals are repainted on the farther end of Armenian Street. On weekends, crowds of local and foreign tourists queue up to get a chance at the perfect shot.
Visit the Clan Jetties
Set right on the water, the ancestral homes of the immigrant Chinese workers during Malaya’s colonial times. A piece of advice would be to avoid Chew Jetty on weekends. Still, they are a very scenic place and a real chance to understand how life was in Penang earlier.
History says that the Clan Jetties, each was called with one of the popular surnames of migrants from China, such as Tan, Chew, and Lee. They were built to cleverly avoid paying a land tax imposed by the British colonial rulers. These giant wooden homes are made on stilts over the water.
There has been a big deal of commercial upscaling going on here, which someone called UNESCOcide, but a visit to the Clan Jetties is a must. The homes have barely changed in a century, and the charm of walking above creaky wooden planks has remained unchanged. Until a few years ago, it was most charming to come here at night and soak the atmosphere. But as of late, the residents have imposed a 9 pm curfew to have some much-needed peace. Please respect that, but by all means, come here for a stroll. It’s within walking distance from the end of Armenian Street, where some of the most known Penang street murals are.
Visit one of Penang’s Night Markets
Night markets are the prominent yet straightforward places where you can get away from tourists and have a more down to earth local experience.
It’s best to go on a light stomach so that you may enjoy a bowl of local food as you browse for home appliances. However, souvenirs are not sold here.
Have a night out at one of Penang’s famous speakeasy bars
There are also many things to do in Penang at night, and visiting a speakeasy bar is good. Fancy finding your drink by hitting a Wing Chun dummy like Ip Man, pushing a hidden partition in a dimly-lit shopfront, or maybe even enter through a refrigerator? Well, Penang has got you covered.
Precisely what it means, “speakeasy” hints at the world of hidden bars and secretly hushed entry passwords. The whole thing has been done to death in Penang, in the sense that now there are more secret bars than one can handle, but some of them are pretty good for a chilled night, and most make a fun surprise for friends who have come to meet you from outside town.
The first to launch the trend was Magazine 63, an Old-China-themed bar with waiters dressed like Chinese coolies and cocktails in traditional rice jars. There are many now, the most notable being Out of Nowhere, accessed by a refrigerator, the cool Backdoor Bodega, a tiny and funky place that doesn’t sell drinks but drink-themed pins, and 12 Senses, with its fun martial art-themed tricky entry stunt. Try one if you feel like having a night out.
Party with Backpackers on Chulia Street and Love Lane
Once the thriving home of the Indian community of Penang and a lane for mistresses and prostitutes, the intersection of Lebuh Chulia and Love Lane is Penang’s equivalent to any cookie-cutter backpacker haven.
It is undoubtedly the place for a night out. You will find plenty of bars and some of Penang’s most popular western restaurants.
The place is alright for a stroll, grab a bite in a casual, shabby-chic atmosphere, and meet travellers passing through.
Check out a Museum (or even 25, if you fancy)
After street art, George Town has seen a proliferation of museums. Yes: and there are more than we can remember from the Wonderfood Museum, with its quirky larger-than-life replicas of Penang’s most famous dishes.
If there is one museum that we feel like recommending, that has to be Penang House of Music, set inside of KOMTAR. Curated by local musician and connoisseur Paul Augustin, the House of Music offers a unique insight into another of Penang’s primary creations: popular music.
Go for a Trishaw Ride
Trishaws were the main form of transportation in old Penang, and today, the 200-something last trishaw drivers are an authentic living heritage.
It may be a bit touristy, but sitting for a half hour or more as the man cycles you around town, frequently dispensing some insider secrets that only street-savvy men like himself know, is a delightful Penang experience.
To ensure you get a fair price and a trishaw at the best time to suit your holiday (consider that right before sunset, let’s say starting at 6.30 pm, is a perfect time to see George Town switch gears into the night).