Head up north to West Malaysia from Kuala Lumpur to visit the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, Penang. Here are some of the amazing sights for travellers to check out for Penang’s wondrous island culture.
Kek Lok Si Temple
Built in 1891, Kek Lok Si Temple is one of the largest temples in Southeast Asia. The magnificent images and structures of Buddhas are displayed inside and outside of the temple, in the halls, pagodas and archways. Discover the Chinese culture and Buddha teachings as you explore the temple. Be in peace at the temple while exploring its distinct architecture and inspiring daily worshippers. Take a brisk walk at the beautiful outdoor temple garden. Be sure to say hello to the turtles at the Tortoise Liberation Pond.
Penang is the oldest British hill station in Southeast Asia. Its funicular train services started in October 1923 followed by four generations of system which still operate today. Make your way up to the peak of Penang Hill via train, and you will see an amazing panoramic view of Penang. Stop by to visit Bel Retiro bungalow, one of the historical buildings – it’s a mix of British colonial and modern architecture. Alternatively, hike in one of the tracks in Penang Hill to discover its luscious flora and fauna.
Penang National Park
Known to be the smallest national park in Malaysia, Penang National Park is an ideal place for hikers to walk through the rain forest and relax by the connected beaches. Hike through the rain forest that links to the beaches of Monkey Beach, Teluk Kampi and Kerachut Beach. Explore its flora and fauna and enjoy the scenic beach views. The right trail takes you to Teluk Aling, Monkey Beach and Muka Head Lighthouse Trail. The left trail leads you to Kerachut Beach and Meromictic Lake Trail.
Monkey Beach is home to the enthusiastic long-tailed marques. It is a wonderful beach to enjoy a picturesque beach view and hang out with the monkeys after a long walk in the Penang National Park. Have a picnic or camp overnight. To reach it, take either a boat from the park entrance or hike through the rain forest. Take note: This beach is frequently crowded during the weekends and public holidays.
Murals in Georgetown
The murals in Georgetown are one of the most popular street arts scenes to visit in Penang. The old walls are painted by local and international artists to showcase their creativity and Penang’s traditional culture and modern lifestyle. A few of the murals that you must take photos with are Little Children on the Bicycle and Children on the Swing. Little Children on the Bicycle, painted by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, focuses on happiness in an Armenian Street by using the bicycle as the prop along with a little girl cycling while her brother holds her tight. Play on the swings with Children on the Swing, designed by local artist Louis Gan.
Snake Temple is built in 1850 to honour a Buddhist priest and healer Choo Soo Kong. Legend has it the priest provided shelter for the snakes. After his passing, the snakes made it their own home. These snakes were believed to be the priest’s disciples. You will see many pit vipers and green tree snakes living there. Don’t worry, the snakes are not dangerous due to the temple’s incense. Visit the snake pool at the back of the temple filled with fruit trees where the snakes are coiled up at the branches.
Chew Jetty is a traditional village by the shore built on stilts, home to the eight clans of early Chinese settlement. Chew is the surname of the residence. Each clan lives in the same area. Today, generations of these clans are in the village, although they’ve adapted to the changes of social and economic times. As you walk along the wooden walkways of Chew Jetty, you will be fascinated with its nostalgic and modernism in the traditional wooden jetty. Walk further down, and you will be amazed with the serene views of the port.
Khoo Kongsi is an iconic heritage site that represents the Hokkien community in Penang. Back in the 19th century, the temple was built to provide moral support for the immigrants, based on clans. The clan house provides Chinese families with the same surname a gathering place to worship their ancestors. It signifies the families’ commitment in supporting their close relatives and community. Khoo Kongsi has ‘divine architecture’ that presents luck and prosperity. It is also known as the Dragon Mountain Hall and is decorated with stone carvings and murals of divine guardian deities, immortals, carps and dragons.
Penang Botanic Gardens
Situated in a valley along Jalan Kebun Bunga, Penang Botanic Gardens is known as the Waterfalls Garden, which has a vast array of plant species. It used to be an old quarry site, built by the British gentleman Charles Curtis in 1884. The garden is divided into 12 sections to explore: Formal Garden, Lily Pond, Perdana Plant House, Tropical Rain Forest Jungle Track, Fern House, Fern Rockery, Aroid Walkaway, Cactus House, Orchidarium, Horticulture Centre, Nursery and Quarry Recreational Park. There is also a path near Moon Gate that leads to the Penang Hill (an hour hike). There are some wildlife along the path, including the macaques, dusky leaf monkeys, black giant squirrels, insects and butterflies.
Pinang Peranakan Mansion
Learn about Penang’s Pernakan culture at the Pinang Peranakan Mansion. This mansion used to be the residence and office for of Kapitan Cina Chung Keng Kwee, a merchant, a secret society leader and a pillar to the community. The rich 19th-century mansion is refurbished into a museum, displaying more than 1,000 antiques and collectibles representing the Baba and Nyonya culture. Its classic Straits Chinese architecture is must to explore – English tiles, Scottish ironworks, continental European furniture and Chinese carved wooden panels. There are free guided tours (11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., in groups of five) that will take you in learning about its history and culture.
Cheong Fatt Tze – The Blue Mansion
The indigo-blue mansion is built with traditional Hakka and Teochew style, commissioned by a Hakka merchant Cheong Fatt Tze in 1880s. The merchant was a poor teenager who established himself as a successful person in the late 19th century. The mansion has 38 rooms, five granite-paved courtyards, seven staircases and 220 timber-frame windows. The mansion was refurbished with Strait Chinese design. It has become a boutique hotel with 18 rooms. You can either book a tour to visit the mansion or stay a few nights at this beautiful mansion.
14, Leith St, Georgetown, 10200 George Town, Penang, 04-262 0006
Thanks to the preserved heritage buildings in Georgetown, it has been listed as one of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in Malaysia. Along the old streets of Georgetown, you will be amazed by the refurbished shophouses and mansions, vibrant cafes, pubs and restaurants, artistic boutiques, temples and traditional clan houses. Venture into Georgetown to discover its culture and history, including Captain Francis Light’s time in establishing Georgetown in 1700s. Stop by at some cafes and restaurants to savour both Western and Malaysian cuisine. Book a local tour to explore the town.
Another beach to relax after hiking through Penang National Park is Kerachut Beach, one of the secluded beaches in Penang. It takes two hours to get to the beach from the entrance of Penang National Park. You will notice a meromictic lake – layers of water, one salt water, the other fresh. If you are not keen to go hiking, take a boat ride from Teluk Bahang. Besides relaxing by the beach, visit the Pantai Kerachut Turtle Conversation Centre to learn about how turtles are being taken care of before sending them back to the sea.