Penang, Paradise in Malaysia: 9 Things to Do from Cooking Curries to Zip-lining
Find a mix of East-meets-West heritage, rich historical museums and mouthwatering food that will set your taste buds tingling.
1. Hunt for Murals in Georgetown
Hop on a trishaw and streak through the bustling streets of Georgetown as you ferret out Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic’s oil painting murals on the crumbling UNESCO heritage walls. This graffiti art, created as part of the Georgetown Festival of Arts and Culture back in 2012 and scattered across the capital, merges real-life objects with graffiti. Check out Cannon Street, where a painted boy “stands” on an actual chair; or make a turn into Armenian Street to see the artist’s best-known “Children on a Bicycle” mural (above), in which two painted kids ride a real bike perched against the wall.
2. Do a Street Food Marathon
While the better-known Gurney Drive Hawker Centre boasts a motley collection of tourist-driven food stalls, the New Lane Hawker Centre remains a local favorite thanks to its authentic Malaysian touch. Gorge on hot skewers slathered with nutty satay sauce, or some char koay kak—chewy rice cakes stir-fried with crunchy bean sprouts and pork lard. Having trouble sniffing out the best of the best? Enlist help from Food Tour Penang ($300), whose foodies will whizz you in and out of alleyways to taste the best of Penang.
New Lane Hawker Centre: Lorong Baru, 10400 Georgetown, Penang. Opens 4pm-2am, foodtourpenang.com
3. Satisfy Your Inner Architecture Nerd
Architecture lovers, assemble! Penang’s colonial history means that it’s brimming with beautiful buildings: Set out for the Blue Mansion (14 Leith St., Georgetown, Penang, pictured left), which got its name from its eccentric blue-washed walls. The 19th century mansion breathes a European flair into traditional Chinese architecture with Gothic louvered windows and geometric tiles. After that, swing by St. George’s Church (1 Lebuh Farquhar, Georgetown, Penang), the oldest Anglican Church in Southeast Asia, to catch a glimpse of its tall Doric columns and sharp steeple.
4. Go Back in Time
Brush up on Penang’s history (and duck out of the blazing sun) at one of the city’s museums. At the Colonial Penang Museum, you’ll uncover handwritten documents by Captain Francis Light, who founded Penang in 1786. Head up the hill in Batu Maung and you’ll find yourself in the Penang War Museum, a fortress built by the British army and later captured by the Japanese. You can still see the World War II-era interrogation chambers hidden in the maze of tunnels.
Colonial Penang Museum: 7 Jalan D.S. Ramanathan, 10350 Penang, (+60) 17-666-2789.
Penang War Museum: Lot 1350, Mukim 12, Daerah Daya, Batu Maung, 11960 Penang, (+60) 4-626-5142.
5. Ride the Funicular
Sit back in this historic funicular train and drink in the incredible views around you as you make the ascent up Penang Hill. Once you reach the top, grab a pair of binoculars and head towards the viewing deck, where you’ll be thrilled by the undulating landscape of the city. Make sure to book a guided nature walk ($29 weekdays, $38 weekends) for a mild trek through Penang Hill’s ancient tropical rainforest. You’ll feel reinvigorated as you breathe in the crisp air and watch birds swoop across lush canopies.
Jalan Bukit Bendera, 11500 Air Itam, Penang.
6. Learn to Cook Malaysian-style
Become the next Malaysian MasterChef at Tropical Spice Garden, a former rubber plantation which now boasts a cooking school enveloped in the jungle’s exotic fauna. Pick out your favorite herbs and spices amongst the overwhelming variety and cook up an authentic bowl of laksa under the guidance of professional local chefs. Classes are limited to 10, so book in advance to secure a place.
$447 per person. Lot 595, Mukim 2, Jalan Teluk Bahang, 11050 Penang, (+60) 4-881-1797.
7. Feel the Thrill at Escape Theme Park
Peel your eyes off your smartphones and send adrenaline pumping through your veins in this amusement park enveloped in a natural environment. With the motto of “low tech, high fun”, this amusement park is all about having fun in nature and will make you feel like a kid again as you swing like a monkey from tree to tree, climb to the top of Gecko Tower, or go zip-lining across ravines and treetops on The Flying Lemur.
$158, $105 for children under 12. Tue-Sun 9am-6pm. 828 Jalan Teluk Bahang, 11050 Penang, (+60) 4-8811-106, escape.my
8. Shop for Mementos from Chowrasta Market
Soak up the cheerful atmosphere and browse the fresh produce at this training ground for your haggling skills. Fill up your bags with nutmeg and pickled mangoes, or a pair of handcrafted Nyonya beaded slippers, as you make your way through the sea of crowds jostling for goods under enormous sun umbrellas. Don’t miss out on the street food stalls for authentic Malaysian eats.
Lebuh Tamil, Georgetown, Penang.
9. Eat the Best Chendol
Beat the heat with a big bowl of chendol: coconut milk brimming with worm-like pandan jellies and shaved ice, garnished with kidney beans and palm sugar syrup. Ask any local, and they’ll point you to Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul for the best chendol in town. It’s a refreshing respite from the beating sun and a must-try for the sweet-toothed.
27 Lebuh Keng Kwee, Penang Rd., Georgetown, Penang, (+60) 4-262-6002, chendul.my
Where to Stay
On a Budget: Below $1000
The Loft Suites at the Palanquinn Heritage Suites boast a spacious living room and natural sunlight in the bathroom equipped with a retractable roof. A stone’s throw from this boutique homestay, you’ll find a handful of attractions, including the Gurney Drive Food Market and the Reclining Buddha Temple.
From $571; accommodates three. 39 Bangkok Lane, 10250 Georgetown, Penang, (+60) 18-471-4039, palanquinn.com
In the Middle: Below $1500
Clove Hall will spoil you with its Peranakan décor steeped in colonial history. Enjoy a night of Anglo-Malaysian luxury in the signature Clove Suite, where you can laze on planter’s chairs and drift off to sleep on the king-size four-poster bed draped with mosquito nets.
$1,295; accommodates two adults and two children. 11 Clove Hall Rd., 10050 Georgetown, Penang, (+60) 4-229-0818, clovehall.com
High-End: $2000 and above
History has bestowed a touch of elegance on the Eastern and Oriental Hotel, a heritage hotel established over 130 years ago that has borne witness to both World Wars. The Corner Suite, a new addition to the hotel in 2013, will give you a taste of luxury with its expansive living area and sea views, while all the modern amenities bring you back to the 20th century.
$2,513; includes breakfast for two adults and two children. 10, Lebuh Farquhar, 10200 Georgetown, Penang, (+60) 4-222-2000, eohotels.com