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Steve

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Visited Penang in August 2018 for 3 days

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Asia > Malaysia > Penang > Trip Briefs
Updated on Aug 13, 2018 Trip Brief

3 relaxing days in Penang

Just getting back from 3 days in Penang, Malaysia. It's a somewhat "hidden" place in that it's not a high profile tourist destination, relative to the massively famous parts of Southeast Asia like Bangkok or Siem Reap.

It's an island off Malaysia that's primarily known for its main city - George Town - where the old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the well-kept mix of British colonial architecture and turn-of-the-century Chinese architecture.


Main logistics:

  • Get a SIM card at the airport. Mobile data is probably the single most useful thing to have in Penang, mainly for getting around on Grab (Southeast Asian version of Uber) and looking up directions with Google Maps and opening hours of places
  • There were 3 SIM vendors I saw at the arrival area. I went with a company called Digi because my friend recommended it. The cost was 35RM (~$9USD) for 7 days, 4GB of 4G-speed data per day. Payment was in cash only so I had to exchange some money at the departure floor (1 floor above arrival area)
  • Set up was super easy. I just gave my phone to the the lady at the counter and she took care of everything in less than 5 minutes
  • But for Digi I did notice that their coverage didn't extend to the entire island. Their coverage was quite good for George Town, as well as the entire stretch from the Airport to George Town. But on top of the Penang Hill the data speed was extremely spotty (mostly unusable). Inside the Penang National Park there was no service a few hundred meters after the entrance area
  • The vendor that my Airbnb host recommended is called uMobile. They didn't have a booth at the airport but I saw their shops in George Town. I'm not sure if their coverage is any better than Digi
  • Take Grab from the airport to the city: after I got my SIM card, getting a Grab was easy (I already have Grab set up on my phone). Cost was 25RM ($5USD). Pick up was quickly and hassle-free
  • How I got around Penang:
  • Walk: I mainly walked around George Town, the old part of the city is very walkable. The entire city is probably 30 minutes one side to the other
  • Grab: For places that are a bit out (like Gurney Paragon, the super modern mall with a Michelin-rated restaurant on top - Putien; or Penang Hill, which is a nice place with a gorgeous view over the city and mainland Malaysia), I just used Grab
  • Hop On Hop Off Bus: Another good option is the Hop On Hop Off bus. It has 2 routes - one called City Route for most of the main attractions in George Town, the other one called Beach Route to the resort town of Batu Ferringhi and the Penang National Park - and runs fairly frequently and runs between 9am and 7pm. The price is 55RM (13.5USD) for a 3-day pass and 45RM (11USD) for a 24-hour pass. This option is very similar to the HOHO bus elsewhere in the world, basically lets you to get on and off at any stop on any of the buses for unlimited number of rides. You can buy the ticket with cash on the bus itself, or apparently many hotels sell the pass as well so you should check with them first. Check their official site for map and schedule


Cost of things in Penang:

  • Penang is very cheap by developed country standards. Travelling here can be done really cheaply. I spent a total of $90USD over 3.5 days, plus $145 for Airbnb
  • For dinner at one of the food halls (basically street food) I spent anywhere between USD$2 to $6, depending on how hungry I was
  • Taxi was very cheap. I took a Grab (Uber of Southeast Asia) from the Airport to George Town for 25RM ($5 USD). Within George Town it's pretty much under 10RM (<$2.50USD) per ride


Where I stayed:

  • I got a cheap Airbnb for USD$37 per night, which was slightly less than the average nightly Airbnb rate for George Town
  • Location was very nice. 5-minute walk to Chulia Street, where most of the bars are concentrated. It's about a 15-20 minute walk to the main centre of George Town
  • I recommend staying close to the old town part of George Town, as that's where you'll likely be spending most of the time sightseeing. While there were a lot of Airbnbs on Gurney Drive and that general area (north west of the old town), it's a 30-60 minute walk to the old town George Town where the UNESCO Heritage site is


Food options:

  • Penang has a great food scene (even more so than many other parts of Southeast Asia). From what I saw, local food mainly consists of of Chinese, Indian, and Halal cuisines (and not fusion either; all separate cuisines)
  • There are a lot of food halls (think of them as food courts, but free standing rather than part of a shopping mall). These food halls have a lot of tables for people to sit at, surrounded by lots and lots of small vendors each selling slightly different foods of different cuisines. Prices at these food halls range from 5RM (USD$1.50) per dish to RM20 (USD$5) per dish. I think these are a step up from the night markets you see in many parts of Southeast Asia, because these are in dedicated enclosed spaces, so they feel cleaner, plus they have a lot of tables to sit at so you don't have to fight for seating spaces. The two food halls that I went to were Red Garden and Gurney Drive Hawker Centre
  • Penang also has some really upscale dining options, mainly in various shopping malls. The one my friend recommended is called Putien, which is a 1-Michelin star restaurant on the 6th floor of Gurney Paragon (a very modern shopping mall)
  • There are also a lot of old time cafes and restaurants in the city. In the old city, China House cafe is quite famous (it's basically a local institution at this point), so is Black Kettle, which is run by a German guy


Things I did:

Day 1:

  • Walked around in the old town. The old town area of George Town is well-kept with lots of historical buildings. It's a very walkable area. Health tip: wear sunscreen - UV is very strong (I got burned a little bit and I usually don't get sunburned)

User submitted photo of Penang

User submitted photo of Penang

User submitted photo of Penang

  • On my walk, I checked out the clan jetties on the southern water front area of the old town. It's called "clan" jetties because these docks used to belong to the various Chinese clans /families that ran trading businesses here. You can walk on some of the docks (it's free) and the view is pretty nice

User submitted photo of Penang

  • Street Art area: a collection of graffitis on the walls on various buildings around the intersection of Beach Street and Armenian Street. Lots of people taking photos here you'll have to get in line to take photos

User submitted photo of Penang

  • Penang Peranakan Mansion: a well-preserved mansion that belonged to a wealthy Peranakan (a term that refers to Chinese migrants in Malaysia in the last ~200 years or so).
  • It's now a museum that contains a collection of furniture, silverware, dresses, decorations, collectibles, appliances, etc. that this particular wealthy family used to own. Admission was 20RM (~$5USD) which included a guided group tour. It's located here

User submitted photo of Penang

  • Dinner at the Red Garden Food Paradise: my friend recommended this to me. This is a very typical food hall that's everywhere in Penang. Price ranges from 6RM per dish to 30RM per dish.
  • How to order food: 1) you need to first find a table to sit down (you do that yourself, no host/hostess). 2) Each table has a number; remember this number. 3) When you order food, give them your table number. 4) Once they bring the food to you, then you pay them cash

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Day 2:

  • Walked along Gurney Drive to Gurney Paragon (took about 45 minutes to walk to Gurney Paragon from the old town).
  • Gurney Drive is a waterfront road known for its luxury condos. The area is modern and much more upscale than the historical part of George Town
  • Gurney Paragon is a pretty big, very modern mall with an IMAX on top

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  • View from top of Gurney Paragon towards Gurney Drive

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  • Walked from Gurney Paragon to Penang Colonial Museum: I don't recommend this museum. I thought it was going to be a historical museum that explains the colonial history of Penang, but it turned out to be nothing more than a random collection of stuff, most of which belonged to various wealthy local Chinese residents in the past, and some were just random items collected by its current owner. The admission was also pretty expensive at 30RM (which included a guided tour)

User submitted photo of Penang

  • Penang Hill: after Penang Colonial Museum I took a Grab to Penang Hill Lower Station (cost was 20RM for the Grab), from where the funicular train ran to the top of the Penang Hill
  • Penang Hill is the highest point on the entire island, and you get an amazing view of the entire George Town area as well as mainland Malaysian
  • I recommend going here early in the morning to catch the sunrise (sunrise is 7:15am, the funicular starts running at 6:30am and takes only 5 minutes so just in time to catch the sunrise)
  • The funicular train is the only way for tourists to go up and down the hill. The cost of return tickets is 30RM (USD$7.3) for the regular lane and 80RM (USD$20) for the express lane. Make sure you get into the line to buy tickets first (on the right) before you get into the line to get on the funicular (on the left). I saw a couple of people lining up to get on the funicular without having the tickets (most likely because they were confused about which line is for what) and they were kicked out of the line
  • When I went there at around 2pm, the line was was ridiculous. I had the regular lane tickets and I waited 1 hour and 10 minutes in line on the way up and 1 hour on the way down (on the way down I started lining up at around 5pm). If you're planning to check out Penang Hill in the afternoon, I highly recommend getting the express lane tickets (with that you will likely wait no more than 10 minutes in line)

User submitted photo of Penang

  • View from top of the Penang Hill. George Town in background, as well as mainland Malaysia on the other side of the water:

User submitted photo of PenangUser submitted photo of Penang

  • Tip for avoiding crowds on top of the Penang Hill: most of the tourists on top of Penang Hill take photos from the main viewing deck (called Skydeck East, right next to where you get off the funicular train on top) and it's really crowded. Follow the map to go to Skydeck West and it's pretty much empty; you'll have the entire place to yourself to take in the view and take photos). You can find the location of Skydeck west on the official paper brochure they give you when you buy tickets at the funicular (here's the link to digital version on the official site). Skydeck West looks like this:

User submitted photo of PenangUser submitted photo of Penang


Day 3:

  • I took the Penang Hop On Hop Off Bus's Beach Route to go north to Batu Ferringhi and the Penang National Park
  • The Penang HOHO bus has 2 routes: city route and beach route. Both route costs 45RM for 24 hours (timer for this bus starts when you first get on the bus; so since I boarded my bus at 2 my ticket was good until 2pm the following day) and 55RM for 3 days
  • Service is decent but not perfect. Some buses breaks down from time to time so they may skip a scheduled pickup from time to time (as happened to me). The beach route runs once every 1 hour and 15 minutes. The city route runs much more frequently
  • You can see the HOHO bus routes and schedule on its official site here
  • Batu Ferringhi is the main local beachside resort town with a bunch of hotels and a main street with lots of street vendors. It's known for water sports and night market. 3 ways to get there from George Town:
  1. Take the Hop On Hop Off Bus' Beach Route like I did, starting from stop #1 right here. It took about 45 minutes to get to the stop in front of Holiday Inn, which is right in the middle of Batu Ferringhi. Again, the cost of this option is 45RM for 24 hours or 55RM for 3-days
  2. A significantly cheaper option is to take the Bus 101 operated by Rapid Penang, which will also get you to Batu Ferringhi (as well as the Penang National Park), for 4RM each way. This bus has various routes in George Town, check the links above to see where they are
  3. You can also take taxi / Grab there. I checked the price on Grab it was around 25RM one way to go from George Town to Batu Ferringhi. Not sure about the cost of regular taxis
  • HOHO bus going to Batu Ferrenghi:

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  • On the beach at Batu Ferringhi

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  • The Hard Rock Hotel seems to be the most popular hotel in Batu Ferringhi. I didn't stay there but I was able to go into the resort and chill on the beachside restaurant (simply called the Pizzeria) with a beer (thankfully they took credit card as my RM cash on hand was running low by this point)

User submitted photo of PenangUser submitted photo of Penang

  • Finally, after chilling at the Hard Rock Hotel, I took the HOHO bus to the Penang National Park: a forested area with a number of trails that go through the jungle to get to various points of interests (mostly beaches)
  • The entrance is 30 seconds walk away from the HOHO bus and route 101 drop off point. You won't miss it
  • No entrance fee. But they require you to register your name at the entrance (I think for safety reasons)
  • Instead of hiking, you can also take the boat from the entrance to the various beaches directly. Alternatively, you can hike to these beaches and then take a boat back if you're tired
  • Most of the hiking trails will take at 1-2 hours each way, depending on your fitness level, so plan accordingly. You'll likely be going up and down hills as well so be prepared to sweat a lot
  • Make sure you have at least 600ml of water with you (ideally 1.5L) as it's really hot and you will sweat a lot. And there won't be fresh water inside park
  • Park entrance

User submitted photo of Penang

  • The first bit of the park has a nice paved road

User submitted photo of Penang

  • There were some monkeys here and there all over the park. I don't think you're supposed to feed them (I think I saw signs that tell you not to feed them)

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  • There are various points of interest inside the park that you trek to. At the entrance they give you a map that shows you all these places
  • Most tourists seemed to hike to the Monkey Beach (based on what I saw on the park registration form). It's also not that highly rated on Tripadvisor and Google
  • So to avoid crowds, I hiked to Pantai Kerachut instead (much higher rated on Tripadvisor and Google). It took me about 1 hour of hiking in the jungle up and down a big hill to get there, and it was really nice and basically deserted so I had the whole place to myself
  • Here's what the Pantai Kerachut beach looks like:

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  • On my way back I saw this monkey on the bridge I had to cross. He was growling at me as I went past him and I was afraid he'll attack me. Luckily he did not

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  • All in all I spent 3.5 hours inside the park. Caught the last HOHO bus back to George Town, and saw this amazing sunset on the way back

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  • I ate dinner at the Gurney Drive Hawker Centre, right next to where the HOHO bus dropped me off. I splurged a bit and spent 25RM (USD$6) on various dishes

User submitted photo of PenangUser submitted photo of Penang