After an amazing time in Kuala Lumpur, I headed north to the city of Georgetown, Penang Island. Penang Island is a popular destination when traveling within Malaysia. I was intrigued to go because many friends and backpackers told me about beautiful street art and the UNESCO World Heritage Site label. I couldn’t pass up a lovely city filled with street art.
Traveling within Malaysia is identical to other Southeast Asian countries, bus or plane. I was limited on time so I decided to take the quickest route and fly. However, be aware that there is tons of bus availability between these two cities. If you have time, busing is the easier option.
The only downfall to flying out of Kuala Lumpur is the location of the main airport. It’s located about an hour from downtown, and although it can be accessed by bus or train, I found GRAB was the most efficient way. However, keep in mind when flying that there are two terminals. AirAsia does not fly in and out of the main terminal of KLIA but out of KLIA2, so beware. Thankfully, the family I was staying with informed of this so I didn’t miss my flight.
Where I Stayed
Arriving into Georgetown, the main city of Penang was painless. The airport is located about 30 minutes south of downtown but easy to get between the two. I’m sure there are buses that run between the airport and Georgetown, but taxis are in high supply at the airport.
Penang Island is a popular beach getaway destination for many people in Malaysia. Located around the coastline are countless hotels with beach access. I was originally planning to take Penang as a “solo” vacation, so my initial search was a beach hotel. Plus, the family I spent time with in KL kept telling me about beaches and hotels I could stay at as they have been many times.
But, since I’m a budget backpacker, I decided it best to stay in a hostel in Georgetown. Hostels are located through Georgetown and many of them had great reviews on Hostelworld. It was hard to choose where to stay but ultimately I decided to stay at House of Journey.
It was centrally located and cost me roughly 10USD (41 Malaysia Ringgit) per night. I did book a 10 bed mixed dorm, but because of the Mulism culture, they do separate males and females into different dorms. I learned about this separation in Singapore and found it to be one of the unique aspects of visiting Mulism influenced country.
It was slow season when I arrived in April, so there was maybe 10 other guests at the hostel. In my 10-bed dorm alone, there were only 3 of us during my 3-nights/2-days stay. We became pretty close very quickly along with another guy. It was instant friends to explore the island!
The main city of Georgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is popular for its street art culture. Georgetown is also home to many historical landmarks like Fort Cornwallis, a Chinese clan house and a mosque. The combination of these landmarks show the centuries of influences from other cultures, creating a unique vibe.
My first official day in Georgetown wasn’t anything special. It just included hanging out with other hostel mates, grabbing drinks and dinner. My first night in new places usually aren’t exciting. I’m still getting settled in and Georgetown was no exception. I did make friends with a few people and we decided to spend the next day exploring.
As I mentioned early, one thing Georgetown is known for is it’s vibrant street art. We decided to do a self-guided street art walking tour, which one of my hostel friends lead us on throughout the city. Our hostel provided us with a “street art map” which is helpful in locating the murals through the gridlock streets.
In addition to the murals, Georgetown also has these metal piece of art located throughout the streets. They list UNESCO World Heritage Site and the street name. Some of them were quite funny.
Eating Around Georgetown
Eating local food is always a smart way to save money. In Malaysia, a place to eat local foods are known as hawker stalls. They are mini food courts and can be found throughout each city. We knew we were going to want to go to one of these food courts for lunch and after a quick google search, we found one close by our location.
We ate lunch at the Medan Selera Sri Weld food court. What exactly I ate, I don’t remember. The four of us just pointed to miscellaneous items from different stalls but everything was delicious. I remember we got some clay pot dish, some dumplings, a noodle dish, and a meat dish. We didn’t spend more than 15MYR each with a drink and we had food left over. Talk about bargain. Highly recommend visiting these food courts if you’re looking for delicious local foods.
Activities in Penang
Visiting Georgetown ended up including way more than just the street art murals. I learned about the many, many museums they had. From 3D museums to food museums, Penang has something to offer for anyone.
My hostel friends and I decided we wanted to visit one of these silly museums. We all decided to venture to the Upside Down Museum. Not going to lie when I tell you that it was way more fun than I anticipated.Walking through the museum is surreal. Each room has the design of a different room in a house with photographers in each room. They assist in placing you within the room and framing the photograph. It was pretty enjoyable when we exited and started turning the photos upside down.
The Top, Menara Komtar
After the museum, it was time for something a little bit crazy. Earlier that day we noticed a flyer at the hostel that read The Gravityz. After a quick google search, we realized it was a rope course located on Level 65 of the Menara Komtar building. But what truly intrigued us was that the rope course is outside on the side of the building.
There are 6 obstacles on the ropes course: the confidence path, the high bench, a great bridge, the X-point, the Z-wire and the G-Rocky. It costs RM149, which converts to about 38USD. For myself, a semi-adrenalin junkie, there was no way I was going to pass. Plus, we had already planned to go to the Rainbow Skywalk for sunset.
The Rainbow Skywalk is located at the very top of Menara Komtar building, 816 feet above sea level. It costs RM68 (17USD) and you must have a ticket to get the birds eye view from the skywalk. There is an observation deck located on level 65 (same as Gravityz), but it’s only a view through a window. I highly recommend visiting the Rainbow Skywalk for sunset. It’s a 270 degree view of Penang Island and the mainland. The sunsets over the mountains on the island and it’s one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen.
The next day was pretty relaxing. Two hostel friends and I decided we wanted to get out of the city and explore more of what the island had to offer. We knew the best way to explore was via scooters. It was pretty easy to find scooters to rent for the day for about RM30 (pretty reasonable).
We didn’t have any specific place in mind when we left the city, but it wasn’t far until we realized we never ate lunch. We knew we wanted local food to keep the cost low but didn’t know of any specific restaurant. Thankfully, we were quick to locate a street cart with a variety of options. It was a serve yourself design with vegan, vegetarian and meat options.
After lunch, we continued our drive and quickly located a beach in the neighborhood of Batu Feringghi. It was nice getting to put my feet in the ocean one last time on this 6-week adventure. The beach was very long with views of hills and the coast line. The sand was also super soft.
From the beach, we continued our drive along the coast. It was a beautiful drive with beach views on one side and mountain on the other. I never felt unsafe the entire time driving.
Tropical Spice Garden
Along the drive, we stumbled across this place called Tropical Spice Garden. For RM31, we decided it would be a nice break from the city life to explore a huge garden.
The garden itself has about 2km of trails that wind through the 6 acre property. A free audio guide is provided with each ticket. As you walk along the trails marked with numbers, the audio guide provides information about some of the 500+ flora and fauna located within the garden. The audio guide additional provides some of the history of Penang Island as it relates to the flora and fauna. I found it quite enjoyable and relaxing.
We left the spice garden with no true plans and started slowly making our way towards Kek Lok Si Temple and Penang Hill. During the drive around Penang Hill, we stopped for lunch at some street food booth and once more at a local coffee shop.
The coffee shop we stopped at was called 2F+ Coffee Roastery. It was located in the neighborhood of Balik Pulau right off the big highway. With a variety of coffees, drinks and dessert, it was exactly what our bodies needed. Did I mention dessert?
I’m a HUGE coffee drinker and one thing I love doing when I travel is try out local coffee shops. This coffee shop was delicious and had cold brew. It’s been ages since I had a good cold brew and this made me so happy.
Kek Lok Si Temple
The second to last stop on our tour of Penang Island was Kek Lok Si Temple, Kek Lok Si Temple was built in 1890 on the hillside on Air Itam right near Penang Hill by a Chinese buddhist immigrant. It is the largest temple in Malaysia and two nearly two decades to complete. It is made up of a combination of monasteries, temples, gardens, and prayer halls over 10 acres of land.
Amongst the most beautiful parts of the temple are:
Ban Po Thar, which translates to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Pagoda
The 36.5 meter high bronze statue of Kuan Yin, Goddess of Mercy, located at the high level of the temple
and the Hall of the Devas, which contains the Four Heavenly Kings statues.
It is free to enter the grounds but does cost about RM4 to take the life to the statue of Kuan Yin. Because of the proximity to Penang Hill, I recommend a visit to this beautiful temple.
Our last stop of the day was Penang Hill. Penang Hill is located in the center of the island with perfect views of Georgetown and Penang Bridge. Penang Hill also has a vast amount of hiking trails if mother nature is more your style.
To reach the top, you must take the train which costs RM50 (USD13) on the Penang Hill Funicular Railway. Not only the Penang Hill Funicular Railway the steepest tunnel track in the world, it is also the longest track in Asia.
Located along the top of the hill are several colonial style buildings. The blend of British and Asian influences can been seen throughout several of the buildings, some date back to 1789. There is also the Penang Hill Mosque, Masjid Bukit Bendera, built with touches of Islamic architecture. There is a strong representation of the heritage of Penang Island while looking at the various buildings.
If history isn’t your thing, don’t worry. Penang Hill offers something for everyone. From four different restaurants to a playground, to binoculars and various events hosted throughout the year, it can be easy to spend several hours on top of the hill.
My friends and I did manage to capture a little bit of the sunrise before heading down the mountain, but it took some wandering to find. The main view off Penang Island is to the East, whereas the sun sets in the West. However, we found a little break in the wall at the back of the mosque which gave us just a little view of the sky changing colors.
There were other activities and attractions that I unfortunately missed while on Penang Island. But, I only had a few days between Kuala Lumpur and returning home for a huge Thailand festival. If I ever make it back to Penang Island, I’m going to make sure to include a visit to:
- Cheong Fatt Tze Manion
- the Penang War Museum
- Fort Cornwallis
- Penang Khoo Khongsi clan house (pictured)
Penang Island was the perfect end to a crazy 6-week backpacking adventure through Southeast Asia. My last night couldn’t have been any better. It was spent laughing with hostel friends talking about all of our crazy travel stories. Although I was sad my longest travel adventure had to end, I was ready to return home and decompress before another 2-week trip.