Penang, also known as the pearl of the orient, is one of the most touristic locations of Malaysia. The island (285 square meters) is situated on the northwest side of the Peninsular Malaysia. There are loads of activities and sights on the island. Hanging around on the beach is also considered a fine option. About 700.000 people inhabit Penang Island, of which 59% are Chinese, 32% are Malay and 7% are Indian (2% are of other origin). The state of Penang has a population of 1,5 million (of which 43% are Malay and 41% Chinese). Penang has an eventful history; the diversity of the inhabitants clearly indicates this. Penang is especially known as the best place to enjoy wonderful local dishes; it is seen as the food capital of Malaysia. There are many hotels and resorts on the island, most are located in and around the city of Georgetown and around the towns Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah.
Our pages on Penang
- Getting around Penang
- Getting to Penang
- Historical Overview
- Resorts and hotels
- Shopping malls
On this page:
- Pearl of the Orient
- Modern Penang
- Cities & Villages
- Hotels & Resorts
- Scuba diving & Snorkeling
- Penang or Langkawi
- Map of Penang Island
Pearl of the Orient
Penang played an important role for merchants and pirates in the distant past. Partly because of the earlier mentioned diversity of inhabitants Penang is famous for its beautiful cultural diversity. With the majority of the inhabitants being Chinese the island has a very Chinese 'feel' to it. This gives the island something 'typical Asian', which cannot be seen as clearly anywhere else in Malaysia. Penang is a great destination, absolutely worthy of a visit. Not so much because of the beautiful beaches, but because of the great melting pot of cultures. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations within Malaysia. For years the island is referred to as 'The Pearl of the Orient'. Georgetown is the vibrant capital of Penang. The island is a good location for a holiday at the beach, or for example as part of a holiday package.
Most hotels are found on the north side of the island. This is the more developed part. The south and southwest still have a lot of old fashioned kampungs and other small authentic villages. A lot of hotels can be found in and around Georgetown. If you are only going to stay at Penang Island for a few days, it might be handy to stay at a hotel in the city of Georgetown. If you however plan on staying for a longer period of time, it is much nicer to book a hotel at one of the resorts at Batu Ferringhi or Tanjung Bungah.
For Malaysia's best beaches Langkawi is the place if you are only visiting the western part of Peninsular Malaysia. The eastern coast of Malaysian (Perhentian or Redang) and Borneo has even more beautiful beaches. For a lot of tourists the food and the cozy atmosphere is the main reason to come to Penang Island.
Ever since the 20th century pepper, tin and rubber became the main merchandise. Over the past few years Penang grew to become the Asian version of the American silicon-valley. Georgetown gained the status of 'Cybercity' in 2005. Especially in the area of Bayan Lepas one can find a lot of well known manufacturers of electronics and other components. Giants like Dell, Intel and AMD all have (or used to have) their Asian HQ on Penang. An important reason for this is the safety and the favorable financial conditions Malaysia has.
Shopping at Penang Island
Tourists are abundant on Penang, and local Penangites have one of the highest GDP's in the country; so multiple luxurious shopping malls are a logical consequence. The malls are mainly situated in and around the city of Georgetown. Chinatown is only a few 100 yards away from the Komtar complex. Just like other Chinese neighborhoods the streets are most lively during the evenings. A lot of leather wear and counterfeit watches can be found at these hours, during the day a lot of butchers and fishmongers can be found in this area. Tourists generally enjoy Penang's night markets (pasar malam). There are a few of them in Georgetown, but the most famous is the one from Batu Ferringhi. Loads of counterfeit clothing, watches and pirated DVD’s can be found here. The temptation to buy some of these goods can be quite big. But you will soon find out that it is a waste of money, for example if pair of socks at the shopping mall as oppose to the night market they will last a considerable amount of time longer. Same goes for the watches as they usually only last a few months. Read more shopping in Penang.
Cities and villages
Batu Ferringhi, which means 'foreigner's rock', is on the north of the island and is the most touristic resort found in Penang. The village is no more than a street full of hotels. A walk along the beach is not an option here; the hotels all have their private beaches. In the centre of the village, take a left turn at Bayou Road to find a public beach. So if you are not staying at a Batu Ferringhi hotel this is a fine option to enjoy the beach there. There is a nice hawker stall there called 'Blue Bayou'. Most of the hotels have a shuttle to Georgetown, the bus and taxis are also options. The bus costs a mere RM4.
During the day there is not much more to do than hang around on the beach or at the pool of your hotel. The seaside resort does however have activities, for instance you could rent a moped to go around the island. The earlier mentioned night market (from +/- 19.00 until midnight) found here is one of the things which make this place a lot more interesting at night.
There is a large central food court (hawker stall); tourists as well as locals eat here. Food is ordered at different stalls and then brought to your table this usually doesn't cost you much more than 3 euro's. The quality of the food is very good, no need to worry about getting sick to the stomach afterwards. If you are not sure what food court to go to have a look at which one has most people there, this usually means the food there is good. A few years a new food court was built on the eastern side of the island. There are about 40 stalls in a circle and a mini market to boot. The old-fashioned food court is however still very popular.
The village of Tanjung Bungah can be found somewhere between the capital and Batu Ferringhi. The beaches here are not very nice; there are still a few hotels though. One of the hotels 'the Crown Jewel hotel' is where we stayed at our first encounter with Penang. The village has a supermarket, an ATM and a fine food court. Both Georgetown and Batu Ferringhi are 10 minutes away on the bus. Tanjung Bungah is going to have a serious make-over; a lot of hotels are being built. The aim is to become similar to Batu Ferringhi.
About 4 miles to the west of Batu Ferrenghi a small fishing village named Teluk Bahang can be found. It is the first village you will come across pursuing the road from Batu Ferringhi. The village itself has not got much to offer but there some nice activities in the surrounding area. For example Penang Butterfly Garden or a batik factory where nice batik clothing can be purchased. The view of the small pier is astounding. Muka Head Lighthouse located at the islands most northern tip is only a short walk away. Teluk Duyung (monkey beach) an 'abandoned' beach and Pantai Kerachut, with a beautiful lake and breeding habitat for turtles can also be found here. These highlights can all be found within Penang National Park, the smallest national park in Malaysia.
Beaches at Penang Island
Beaches on Penang are not that good compared to other beaches in Malaysia. In a lot of holiday brochures they make the beaches seem much better than they actually are, crystal clear water, white pearly beaches, more or less what you would expect when visiting a tropical location. Same goes for the island Langkawi, even though it is much better there. The beaches cannot be compared to the beaches on the eastside of the peninsula and the island of Borneo where the beaches are astounding.
Most beaches on Penang can be found at Batu Ferringhi. To get to the private beaches you usually just enter the hotel and enter the garden through the lobby. The public beach at Batu Ferringhi has a few activities such as horseback riding, parasailing, jet skies, surfing and sailing. Be cautious while participating in any of these activities they are at own risk. Accidents happen quite frequent along the beach; these are not always covered by your travel insurance. Also beware of jellyfish sometimes they can be found along the coast of Penang in huge amounts.
When visiting Batu Ferringhi make sure to book a hotel that has its own swimming pool so you can use that for swimming. Go to the beach for walks, tanning and sunset. Teluk Duyung (monkey beach) is quite a secluded beach. It is accessible in 2 ways, by boat or by following a short jungle trail. When going to this beach it is compulsory you register in Teluk Bahang. This is free; it is just so they know who visited Teluk Duyung that day. If you go by boat you can book one from Teluk Bahang. Agree on the price before hand and make sure to let them know what time you want picked up. Walking there will take approximately 2-3 hours. The beach itself is quiet and by far the nicest beach on Penang.
Weather at Penang Island
Penang can be visited throughout the year. There is a relatively mild monsoon period between June and September. We have visited Penang during this rainy season; and did not really notice any difference between the dry and wet season. A normal day at Penang Island consists of sun throughout the biggest part of the day, followed by the occasional rain shower at the end of the day. Sometimes it can rain for a longer period of time (or even for days), but is normal as it is part of the tropical climate of Malaysia.
Popular restaurants (& foodcourts) on Penang Island
Below a list with some of the best restaurants on Penang Island:
- That Little Wine Bar
- Nyonya Baba Cuisine
- JenxDan Lifestyle (vegetarian)
- Sri Ananda Bahwan
- Living Room Cafe
- Helena's Cafe
- Long Beach Food Court
- Blue Bayou Seafood
- Red Garden Food Paradise
- The View
- Kopi Cine
- Passage Thru India
Best hotels and resorts on Penang Island
Below a list with some of the best hotels and resorts on Penang Island (view all hotels and resorts at Penang here in a new page):
- G Hotel *****
- Evergreen Laurel Hotel *****
- Traders Hotel *****
- Eastern And Oriental Hotel *****
- Parkroyal Penang Hotel *****
- Shangri-La's Rasa Sayang *****
- Shangri-La's Golden Sands ****
- Bayview Beach Resort ****
- Flamingo Hotel by the Beach ****
- Lone Pine Hotel ****
- Holiday Inn Hotel ****
- Vistana Hotel ****
- Hotel Royal ****
- Sunway Hotel ****
- Cititel Hotel ****
- Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion ****
- Bayview Hotel ****
- Paramount Hotel **
Diving and snorkeling around Penang Island
Scuba diving and snorkeling is not possible at Penang Island. People that would like to enjoy diving or snorkeling can book a day-trip to Pulau Payar (1,5 hours by boat from Penang Island). Another option is to take a flight from Penang to one of the islands that are renowned for diving and snorkeling possibilities like Perhentian, Redang or Tioman. Do know that diving and snorkeling around those islands is not possible between October and March because of the Northeast monsoon season.
Penang or Langkawi?
Do you need help choosing between Penang and Langkawi? Both islands are worth a visit; but sometimes there's only enough time to visit one of the two islands in the Andaman Sea. Read about the differences (and similarities) on our page 'Penang or Langkawi?'.