Penang, also known as the “Pearl of the Orient”, translated from Malay meaning island of pearls is a turtle shaped island in the northwestern coast of Peninsula Malaysia. It is an island that attracts many visitors each year due to it’s town being UNESCO World Herite site, other attractions and cultural charms. Penang offers exciting and unforgettable experiences and perhaps a few days may not be enough to do everything although there are some things that are a must see and do in that time.
Taking a walk or renting a bicycle to explore the UNESCO core heritage zone of Penang is a common and easy way to see the colonial, beautifully maintained and Chinese heritage buildings, temples, clan houses, street art and old but existing shop houses tucked away in scanty roads. Check out this big part of the city that is devoted to the heritage area especially on Sundays from 7am to 1pm as the area is car free and closed to vehicle traffic except for trishaws and biycles making it a perfect time to ride around at your own pace. Take in the fresh air and slow down whenever to snap some Travel Sixty kind of photos. Some of the more significant attractions to note is the Penang Peranakan Mansion, a unique house museum of a particular Chinese community that marked importance in the Straits Settlements, Khoo Kongsi Clanhouse, a magnificent historical building structures of the olden times, Kaun Yin Temple, the first and oldest temple in Penang, Kapitan Keling House, Sri Mariamman Temple and the Straits Collections of refurbshied shophouses.
Take a trip back to the past at the Blue Mansion formally known as Cheong Fatt Sze mansion, home of Chinese merchant in the 19th century who lived with his 8 wives and 6 sons. The entire mansion is covered in bright indigo blue, nothing too painful for the eye and in fact, quite alluring and far too exquisite to be mistaken for the Smurf’s residence minus the mushroom top and blue little beings. It’s continunig restoration and preservation of this site is has earned winning awards from UNESCO. It runs as both a private residence and bed and breakfast of 16 specific themed rooms by local designers. There are tour guides around and inside the mansion, courtyard and other designated areas during specific times of the day. A lot of the structure and design of the mansion is strongly influenced by Feng Shui beliefs so take away a few tips if you’d like more wealth, luck and all the nice things in your own residence.
For nature lovers who care for a short work out, the Penang Hill, also known as “Bukit Bendera” of Flagstaff Hill at 833 metres above sea level from the top would make an excellent climb up the hill to enjoy the breathtaking view of the whole island and other panaromic sights. It stands out from the lowlands as a hill and covered with forest and greens. From the base station in Air Itam, the best way is to hop on the Penang Hill Railway Train that takes you to the top of Flagstaff Hill. If you prefer a more physical adventure, there is a 5km “jeep track” route which is a tarred road that only hill residents with vehicles can use. Avid hikers use this route alternatively. When hiked leisurely, it takes about two to three hours to the top starting from the entrance of Penang Botanical Gardens. There are a few popuplar pit mountain stops namely 52 and 84 with a fantastic view of the island for the hikers. Nearby, locals stationed at the hill prepare water and tea to quench your thirst.
Not too far away, dive into the deep mystiques of the Kek Lok Si Temple, one of the most important Buddhist temples in the world. There are several entrances to the temple. If you want to be sure to make a full round of the place, start your way up from the bottom to the top. A little river with a bridge across can be the first entrance to the temple that can to start with. Along the way there are locals selling souvenirs, trinklets and jewellery. A little after the souvenir pathway, there is Liberation Pond where you can stick your noses over the grills to look at the moutain of tortoises with their big hard shells and little heads sticking out from time to time. You can find a crowd of devotees and locals at the Main Area Hall carefully hanging their prayers in little colored stripped papers. Be mesmerized by the different light colored papers that contain different types of prayers hanging over the trees. You could make a wish and prayer for your own just like the locals do but be careful what you wish for!
If you’d like to explore something quaint, cute and less religious, have a walk at the Clan Jetties which are a part of the Penang Heritage Trail. There are only six remaining jetties after one was destroyed by fire. The Clan Jetties is one of the last fortress or Chinese settlements on the island. Soak up the calm and lively atmosphere by walking in each of these clan jetty wooden home on stilts waterfront society that continue to live and go about their daily life and businesses. At Weld Quay, down from Chulia road next to the Kapitan Keling Mosque are the water villages that are over a hundred years old. Since there are six different jetties, they are each differentiated by the names of the jetty. Chew Jetty happens to be tourists’ most favourite with the longest walkway, most stilt houses, red lanterns lining from above and a cosy temple. It makes the perfect place for capturing some exotic photo moments in a local setting.
The Snake Temple is not for the faint hearted. If leathery and slithy creatures give you goosebumps, perhaps it’s good to skip this completely. The Snake Temple is not as popularly visited for obvious reasons but it is one of the only snake temples in the world. The snakes are mostly live green vipers and it is known that the venom in all of the snakes have been removed but their fangs remain intact. As a safety precaution, there is smoke burning from incense which helps to make the vipers tame and harmless. Some visitors are seen with snakes placed around their necks, trying their best to look unshaken and brave, while some are seen with half smiles posing for a photo shot as a one time experience.
Since Penang is known for being a food paradise locally an internationally, a good place to indulge into this all in one local experience of different dishes and meals is Penang Gurney Drive. There are public busses that will stop close to the area from Komtar. It faces the sea and it’s in the open air. A lot of locals have their dinner, supper and snack time there. You can slowly look over their shoulders to see what they’re having an ask them which stall they got it from if you dare. There are specific and signnature Penang dishes which include Char Koay Teow, Asam Laksa, Rojak, Chee Cheong Fun, Koay Teow Soup, Tau Fu Fa, Ais Kacang, and the list is just endless! Soya bean drink and cane juice is a pretty popular drink for the locals so its perfect to have after spending hours in the sun. There are lots of small plastic tables and chairs to dine and each table is marked with a number. The place is big, so let the stall or vendor know which number your table is so that he doesn’t get lost with your hot steaming food looking for you and giving it up to some other hungry diner.
When you’re a parent and your little ones are getting drained and bored from all the temples, art streets and weird old buildings that look like a thousand generations far from them that they do not care for, the Adventure Zone Theme Park is your savior. This place is perfect for parents who want to join in the fun as well. It is divided into three main sections – the special features area, the kids area and the toddlers section with flexible play equipment. The special features area is suitable for both kids and parents with three kinds of slides, one for all ages and the other two for children – astra slide and double drop slide with ball pit exit. Ladder climbs, pull up ramps, hurdles and more are found in the kids sector while padded ramps, climbs and tumble towers are where the toddlers could go. If parents need to rest from all the commotion, there is free Wi-fi at the cafe.
At last, if you are ready to move away from the hustle and bustle of town life, Batu Feringghi is a laid back beachy area to explore. Get wet and adrenaline pumped if you want to go on a gigantic bright yellow banana boat ride pulled by a speedboat, skirting the water on water scooters, flying in the air on a parachute and a ton of other fun water sport activities at the sandy beaches with shady palm trees. As the day comes nearly to and end, there is a beach night market in Batu Feringghi amounting to hundreds of stalls offering fake designer bags, copies of DVDs, clothes, souvenirs, snacks and more. Walk away with anything you like but have a look around a little first before stopping to bargain on what you decide to buy.
The journey and excitement never ends in Penang. There are still plenty of temples, parks, and other treasures that can be found in the little island town. A few days may not do it’s justice. You may even want to decide to come the 2nd time around to really discover everything that it has to offer.