Penang is a state of paradoxes. While you can expect to pay less than RM10 ($2.50 USD) for a street meal and only RM2 ($0.50 USD) for a bus ride, it’s usually much more expensive to visit standard local attractions. The exotic Entopia Butterfly Farm, for example, charges RM60 ($15 USD) per adult, while the well-frequented Tropical Fruit Farm charges up to RM75 ($18.75 USD) per guided tour. That being said, there are still ways to experience Penang without breaking the bank, and we’re sharing 10 different ways to do it.
Think Pandora in James Cameron’s 2009 film, Avatar. Ethereal fairy lights hang down from tall stately trees in varying hues of green, blue, purple and pink, and hundreds of flower bulbs light up the ground to turn it into a lake of light. It’s the perfect magical getaway for the romantic at heart. The Avatar Garden is located behind the Thai Pak Koong Temple in Tanjung Tokong.
Penang’s street art is fun and funky, but it can also be painfully realistic. Caricatures and life-sized murals stand shoulder-to-shoulder in George Town and Balik Pulau. Sometimes, you’ll see a nostalgic depiction of dwindling traditions or a silent political protest, and at other times, you’ll find a perfectly-executed piece of art. We recommend starting from the Hin Bus Depot in George Town and walking along nearby streets.
The Marina Mall may have one-too-many expensive bridal dresses, but move out to the quay front and you’ll come to a promenade with gently rocking white yachts, locals walking their dogs, and (hopefully) a good view of the ocean’s horizon. Even better, drop by during sunset and watch as the sky lights up with ribbons of fire.
Someone will convince you to take a boat to Monkey Beach or Pantai Kerachut, but if you’re prepared to walk and sweat, you can get into the park for free. There are two trekking trails; one takes you along the coastline and ends at Monkey Beach, while the other takes you up the forested hills towards Pantai Kerachut.
Malaysia is all about muhibah (intercultural harmony), and nowhere is this more apparent than on Jalan Kapitan Keling, where a mosque, a temple, and Malaysia’s oldest Anglican church stand aligned like Orion’s Belt. You can enter each of these religious sites or simply amble along the street where there are other stores and eateries.
Penang has many beaches, but the one in Batu Ferringhi is by far the best. The sand is soft, the shores are wide, and the waters are relatively clean. The only drawback is that other people like it too, and it can get rowdy and crowded. If you visit in the evenings, you can also take advantage of the night market, which operates between 7–12 p.m. every day.
If you’re feeling adventurous, why not put on those hiking boots and trek up Penang Hill? The 3-mile (5-kilometer) trail takes three hours to complete, on average, and you can begin from the Penang Hill Forest track or the Botanic Gardens. Bring water, bug spray, and sunscreen. Food is available at the peak for a small fee.
Every Sunday, Penang Road bustles with fishermen, farmers, butchers, and stall-keepers selling everything from toys and trinkets to clothing and jewelry. Join in the early fun—the market starts at 7 a.m.—and have your pick of kuih-muih (traditional rice cakes) or simply browse around for fun. If you feel like spending RM8 ($2 USD), the roasted chestnuts are a must!
Situated opposite each other on Burma Road, these two temples are easily accessible from central George Town. The Wat Chaiyamangalaram features a 108-foot (33-meter) long Sleeping Buddha, which remains the third longest Sleeping Buddha statue in the world, while the Dhammikarama Burmese Temple boasts traditional Myanmar architecture and wall paintings of the Buddha’s journey towards enlightenment.
Don’t miss this quirky handicrafts market every Sunday between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Hand-drawn portraits, hanging terrariums, and homemade ginger beer are all for sale. If you don’t feel like spending any money, just bring a picnic blanket and sit on the lawn to bask in the sun. The vibe is free.